Giant Beasts of Ars – 02 – Covenant of Convenience

With no time to waste, the Paladin Jirou performs the Covenant Ritual that allows him to become a vessel for the Cleric Kuumi’s godlike power. He wields that power in the form of an expandable spear, which he plunges into the eye of the beast to kill it, saving the town from devastation. After the battle, Kuumi returns to her normal state, and Jirou passes out.

The next morning the Imperial commander inspects the pier where Kuumi accidentally dusted some soldiers with her miasma. He deems the prototype successful and orders his underlings to leave no stone unturned in their search for her (or as he calls her, “it”). Clearly, this isn’t someone in whose clutches you want Kumi to be.

Jirou comes to inside Myaa’s airship, waking up from a dream from the past when his former cleric, whom he loved, died in battle. When he overhears Myaa talking about marriage to Kuumi, he makes it clear he only formed a covenant with her because there was no other choice in the matter. But as it was Kuumi’s first time, she’s rightfully confused.

When Kuumi won’t elaborate on why the Empire is after her, Jirou peaces out, not wanting to get involved. But he leaves his spear behind, so Myaa knows they’ll meet again. Once again, she and Kuumi show horrible judgment by walking around town in broad daylight and then having a meal at the tavern, where they’re quickly spotted by Imperial guards. When miasma starts emanating from Kuumi and she kills a guard, Myaa surrenders and the two are taken away.

Because Jirou’s spear is drawn to him like Mjolnir is to Thor, he soon locates them aboard the commander’s hovercraft. Because he’s a former elite Paladin, he has no trouble getting aboard the ship and neutralizing any hostiles. And because it would simply be rude to take his spear and leave the girls behind, he breaks them out of their cell.

He tells Myaa to ready his airship while he and Kuumi merge once more so he can disable the pursuing hovercraft. I wish we had gotten to see more of his ship, but after they get away the ending of the episode is very rushed and awkwardly edited, suddenly sapping the escape of energy and urgency. The animation in general did not impress this week, but I’m still sufficiently intrigued by this world and premise to keep watching for at least one more week.

Giant Beasts of Ars – 01 (First Impressions) – The Cleric and the Paladin

Twenty-Two, AKA Kuumi, is a cute, well-adjusted, hungry young woman who has decided that she doesn’t want to be detained any longer, and overpowers everyone with her speed and strength when she escapes. Her captors’ boss is a grinning jerk who takes drugs and refers to Kuumi as “the prototype” and “it”, so we know he’s not a good guy.

Kuumi ends up in a nearby town that subsists on the various products harvested from the carcasses of titular Giant Beasts, which have to be hunted or they’ll level said town. After getting new clothes from a kindly florist, Kuumi meets a little catgirl shopkeep who sells her a magic ring. It’s said whoever bears the ring will save the world. It fits itself around Kuumi’s finger like the One Ring.

Jiiro “The Already Dead” is a drunk fella who briefly met Kuumi as she fled, and takes up a job hunting the latest Giant Beast. While no one has high hopes for him, he shows he’s not dead weight when he shows off his quick thinking and agility rescuing one of his fellow hunters from certain death. The beast is felled and the hunting crew celebrates into the night.

The Imperial fella who had been holding Kuumi captive introduces himself to Jiiro. He can tell the guy’s a cut above the rest of the rabble in the tavern, and notes that in an imminent war that will split Ars into two sides, he needs all the good fighters he can get. Jiiro not-so-cordially declines and shuffles off, not interested in fighting fights that aren’t his.

That night, Kuumi does a terrible job staying hidden and is immediately spotted by guards. When cornered on a dock, their offensive attacks set off her latent magical powers, which include a black mist that atomizes some of the guards. When she starts to glow out of control she warns the others to stay back, which is when Jiiro swoops in, grabs her, and leaps into the ocean.

There, he connects with Kuumi on what seems to be some kind of shared telepathic plane, and asks her what a Cleric is doing without a Paladin escort. A prologue from 30 years back shows the potential of a Cleric-Paladin partnership—total badassdom and the ability to defeat Giant Beasts with ease.

Of course, Kuumi is unescorted because she’s some kind of overpowered prototype Cleric. That makes her extremely valuable to the Imperial dude. But now that she’s free, has that ring, and has met a washed-up but still serviceable Paladin, this all seems like destiny.

Giant Beasts of Ars offers a well-rendered, understated, efficient fantasy adventure premiere that builds just enough of its world to leave me interested in more, and notably isn’t an isekai. I definitely want to see that airship from the OP in action, not to mention Kuumi and Jiiro collaborating.

The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

The Faraway Paladin – 11 – The Other Side of the Coin

At the start of this outing, everything’s coming up Maryblood, as he, Menel, Anna, Reystov, and his merry band of adventurers march throughout the Beast Woods, clearing them of demons. With help from Bee and Tonio, the newly-safe villages are gradually revitalized. When Will returns to places he’d seen at their lowest point, he can see firsthand what his good works have wrought.

Then one grey day Reystov reports that one of the more talented adventuring parties is two days late from a scouting mission. Will rolls out with Menel, Reystov, and two capable parties in search of them, and eventually find their corpses. They’re then led into a ravine and surrounded by demon beasts, led by a particularly ferocious chimaera.

Will & Co. put up a stout front, but the bottom line is they’re very nearly outmatched, which comes down to a lack of caution and preparation. When Menel is severely injured by the chimaera’s dragon breath, Will flies into a panic. He tries to cast lightning on all of the beasts, but is interrupted and hits himself, a rare unforced error. He has to resort to pure adrenaline and matching the beasts in viciousness with his demonblade to survive the day.

When he wakes up, he learns from Reystov that he and Menel were carried out after the Chimaera fled, and that he burned himself out fighting too hard. Even so, Will doesn’t see this as an inevitable occasional slip-up. Rather, he suffers a total and complete crisis of confidence, cursing himself for believing he could treat Menel and the others as equals despite being so much stronger than them.

We even get the first glimpse of Will in his previous life before coming to this world, just when I’d come to grips with the fact the show didn’t care about that part of Will’s story at all. But the person he was is crucial to how he’s feeling now: full of guilt and regret for expecting too much of his comrades because he doesn’t want to be lonely. He doesn’t have to say anyting to Bee and Tonio for them to know something’s very off about him.

Will decides he’ll never let something like this happen again, visiting the still-unconscious Menel and healing him a bit more before going off on his own. However lonely he might feel, he’ll feel even worse if he ends up killing those who have stood beside him. Still being an impressionable young whelp, he instantly agrees with the chatter of passing soldiers referring to him as a “monster”, and concludes that he must walk his path alone.

You can tell from Gracefeel’s expression that Will is off-base here. He never forced Menel or anyone else to stand beside him or be his friend. It’s pretty clear Menel, and Bee and Tonio, and Reystov and Anna, are with Will because they believe in him and his strength and want to do everything they can to make a difference in this world with him. The question is, will they be able to bring Will out of these doldrums, or does his new self-imposed isolation represent the new normal?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 10 – Kicking Despair in the Face

When last week ended with the sour note of Prince Ethelbald considering killing him, Will does what Lugh Tuatha Dé would have done when he first entered the room: size up his opponents in a potential fight. He thinks better of starting anything, and instead puts his faith in his ability to speak from the heart and plead his case earnestly.

Will tells the Prince that as the bearer of Gracefeel’s torch, it is ones like him who must march first into the darkness. Ethel says such a path will only lead to despair, but Will is well aware; he has business with that despair, and will be sure to smack the shit out of it when he sees it.

Ethel is charmed and disarmed by Will’s utter frankness, which makes the sudden intrusion of Bishop Bagley almost unnecessary. I say almost, because it’s a key moment when we see that despite Will being an official novice of the temple for barely a day, Bagley will go to bat for him, even standing up to the Crown Prince.

Ethel acknowledges Bagley and the temple’s authority, and proposes a collaboration: he wishes to appoint William as a knight, and since he is also a warrior priest, that will officially make him the titular paladin. Both the responsibility and profits of Will’s exploits as paladin will be shared by the temple and the crown.

We also meet one of the final two unknown characters in the end credits: Anna, the bishop’s lovely adopted daughter and attendant. She’s one of many adopted children from an orphanage he once ran—demonstrating again that beneath all the bishop’s brusqueness is a heart of gold. Anna already knows this, and that her father’s façade is a misleading yet very necessary portrait of the real man beneath.

When Will later asks Bagley why he eschews the blessing bestowed on him by his guardian deity’s divine protection, Bagley tells him he’s known far too many with such blessings who eventually lose them by making the mistake of thinking the power is their own to use how they please. I’ll just say here: the dialogue this week really is a cut above.

Will can admit to using it for the sake of convenience at times, but the reasons have always aligned with Gracefeel’s teachings of stamping out evil, helping the week, and ending suffering. Bagley keeps all of his blessings and prayers stored within him, and uses his own gifts of playing the role of the loud, greedy, borderline corrupt asshole so well, people believe that’s who he is.

After demonstrating perfect praying form that reminds Will of Mary, Bagley tells Will not to accept Ethel’s offer of knighthood, for his own good. But Will has already made his decision—or rather, the decision was made when he was first given Gracefeel’s blessing: She wishes to achieve something through him, and becoming a paladin is the way.

Will then meets the final mystery character from the ED in the tavern, who I’d simply been calling “Aragorn” to this point since he reminds me of his “Strider” ranger persona. His real name is Reystov, and Bee knows him as as one of the strongest adventurers who nevertheless never gives her detailed enough accounts to write proper songs about him.

In this way, Reystov, like Bagley and Will, is merely acting as a corporeal agent of his guardian deity (if that is indeed where he gets his power). He doesn’t care about fame, only getting shit done; getting paid and having fun are nice perks. When Will says he’s assembling a team to go to the Beast Woods and defeat the demon boss, Reystov is in.

With that, Will is officially created a paladin by Prince Ethelbard in a ceremony officiated by Bagley’s Number Two and public pious face of the Temple. With Menel, Bee, Tonio, and now Reystov and additional adventurers, he has the beginnings of the holy army with which he will purge the Beast Woods of evil and suffering. Can’t wait!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 10 – Into the Maw

Upon entering Dr. Moreau’s laboratory of torture and death, Vanitas makes sure to play nice, pretending to be reuniting with his old pal. As long as they’re chatting all friendly-like, Moreau is no threat. The good doctor recalls that unlike the other children, Vanitas (or rather “69” never cried no matter how cut up or battered he got, but he’s probably got a selective memory.

Soon, the casual conversation over coffee becomes a bit too much for Noé, who slams Moreau against the table once he’s heard enough, ruining Vanitas’ plan to keep things nice and copacetic. Then again, Moreau wanted to gouge out one of Van’s eyes so he could study it, so you can’t blame Noé or Roland for wanting to mop the floor with the guy.

Unfortunately, Moreau slips away before he can divulge the “exalted one” with whom he’s currently collaborating. Spider, one of the members of Charlatan, drops in to whisk Moreau away, while one of Moreau’s most deadly experiments breaks out of its cell, looking every bit like Spirited Away’s No-Name, and with just as big an appetite.

Because this Prédateur is a monster made of shadow, Roland and his underlings’ weapons have no lasting effect. Vanitas gets slammed hard against a wall and starts to give up hope, but Noé, who doesn’t know as much about the beast as Vanitas apparently does, insists they can defeat from the inside it if they work together.

Sure enough, Noé provides cover with his fists and legs while Vanitas uses the Memoir to heal and release the child from his curse. The Prédateur turns to stone and crumbles, leaving only Vanitas, Noé, and the rescued child. After Noé admits he grossly underestimated how close they were to dying, he and Vanitas break out in spirited laughter.

Hearing a human and a vampire charms Roland so much, he decides to let Noé and Vanitas escape, using his authority as Paladin. He admits that vampires had nothing to do with this incident, and if anything, it was the Chasseur’s mess for letting Moreau operated under their noses. But more than anything, befriending Noé has turned everything Rolly believed about vampire relations on its head. No doubt he can be a valuable ally in the future.

When Vanitas and Noé finally make it back to the surface, they take a few minutes to rest, with Vanitas leaning against Noé unexpectedly. Noé wonders if it was Vanitas’ duty as a doctor and the presence of a curse-bearer that kept him involved with this incident, of if he uses his crusade to save all the vampires whether they hate him or not as a crutch to get through his days.

Clearly Vanitas suffered a good deal of trauma by Moreau’s hand; I just with Moreau wasn’t such a goofy caricature of a mad scientist. But Vanitas also seems to bear a good deal of guilt for what happened to his white-haired little brother, “Number 71”. Noé notes that while Vanitas is hell-bent on delivering salvation unto every cursed vampire, he may just be the one who needs salvation most of all.

As for Lord Ruthven apparently putting out a hit on Noé for what happened to Moreau’s lab, well…I guess I should have known a dude that powerful and mysterious was up to no good.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 09 – Qui Chasse Les Chasseurs?

As soon as Noé blurts out Vanitas’ name, Roland Fortis not only treats Vanitas gently and warmly, but with pity. Roland is as immune to Vanitas’ barbs as he is to the idea that a vampire who trespassed in these catacombs shouldn’t be slain. And while Roland proves he’s a tough opponent in a battle thanks to his ability-enhancing drugs and a Durandal that’s full of tricks, he’s no match for the duo of Vanitas and Noé.

Even when they’re almost constantly bickering like an old married couple, the two manage to slip away from one of the church’s most powerful chasseurs. But it isn’t Roland’s power, but his personality that rubs Vanitas entirely the wrong way. Noé can see why: Vanitas has met his match: someone who will not for one second stop being the person they are. The only difference is Roland still works within the structure of the church while Vanitas is his own master.

As they evade Roland and his underlings, Vanitas reveals why he knows his way around the labyrinthine catacombs: he basically grew up there after vampires killed his parents and the Chasseurs took him in. While they intended to train him, he caught the eye of one Doctor Moreau—yeah, that one—and became his guinea pig.

That’s a pretty dark past for our boy, and explains a lot about his reluctance to get to close to anyone, Noé included. But when Vanitas keeps making “that face”, and then decides to take one of the Chasseurs hostage, Noé objects, the two have a fight, Vanitas says more than he should, gets Noé angry enough to use him as a hostage.

Noé’s plan, while hastily hatched, ends up working perfectly, as tossing Vanitas into the air for Roland to catch ensures Roland is exactly where he wants him when he wants him there. But rather than deal a potentially killing blow, Noé holds back: and not just so he doesn’t kill Vanitas.

As Noé said before, he kinda liked the cut of Roland’s jib. So do I, now that I know his airhead act wasn’t really an act, but that he can flip a switch and enter Serious Badass Mode whenever he feels like it. Noé intentionally doesn’t seriously injure Roland because he’s hoping he can be reasoned with and a truce can be struck…and he’s right!

Despite his underlings’ objections, Roland not only decides to sit down and listen to Noé and Vanitas, but even agrees to be friends with Noé. After a lifetime of hunting and killing dangerous, insane, or downright evil vampires, Noé is a breath of fresh air, so much so that Roland can’t believe he’s really a vampire.

As for the reason Vanitas is there in the first place, Dr. Moreau is up to his old tricks, operating right under the Chasseurs who cast him out. Moreau himself seems to have a screw or two loose, and looks like Dr. Robotnik’s cousin to boot. It’s an odd choice to introduce someone who clearly traumatized Vanitas as a goofy eccentric, but that kinda also adds a layer of menace to the guy. Hes so caught up in his experimentation he’s long ago abandoned all notions of human morality.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 08 – The Lord’s Eternal Blade

When they’re in the royal castle where the Queen herself dwells as a guest of Lord Ruthven, Noé is like a giddy kid, while Vanitas is all business. Indeed, he wears out their welcome right fast when he insinuates that Her Majesty could be the cause of the curse-bearers. He even goes so far as to question why she’s become a hermit, and even ask if she yet lives!

This almost gets him killed by Ruthven—with Noé and Jeanne almost dying simply by being in the same room as Ruthven’s wrath—but Lucius, whom we learn is one of the highest ranking members of the court, is the only vamp who doesn’t become overly enraged. Indeed, Luca acts as though Vanitas stumbled upon the truth…because he kinda did: the Queen is not doing so hot!

Vanitas and Noé are kicked out of Altus and suddenly we’re back in Paris, with Vanitas wrapping up his report to Count Orlok and his servants (who also lose it when they learn how rude he was to Her Majesty). It’s a neat way to transition to the Next Case, which involves missing vampires.

Noé’s dhampir (half-vampire) associates Dante, Johanna and Riche report that it’s the doing of the church’s anti-vampire army, the Chasseurs. They all take a trip into the famous and haunting Paris catacombs hoping to find the captured vamps, but they find nothing but a tourist trap. We also meet one of those chasseurs, who seems to have a soft spot for Vanitas, considering him a victim being hounded by the vile vampires.

However, the only vamp hounding Vanitas is Noé, who decides of his own volition to accompany him on his investigation. Noé is amazed that Vanitas knows his way around the super-secret catacombs beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This is a wonderful adventure deep into the bowels of the ancient city, eventually ending up in a special fancy ossuary containing the remains of slewn vampires.

It’s there where they meet Sixth Paladin Roland Fortis, who is initially a big dumb happy puppy, like the male version of Sarasa in Kageki Shoujo!! He takes Vanita’s quickly improvised story about getting lost, and Roland says he himself is lost, adding to his dopey cred. I myself was fooled until Roland very emphatically asks Vanitas to come over and take a look at something.

Roland ends up shoving him into a cell, then unleashes a flash grenade that renders Noé blind and nauseous. He declares that no vampire who walks through these hallowed halls can leave alive. Will Roland stand down when he learns he’s in the presence of Vanitas, and hear him out regarding not killing Noé? We’ll have wait until next week to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assassins Pride – 03 – A Fight in the Museum

What initially appeared to be a rest episode following the excitement of the tournament suddenly becomes much more in a well-structured, satisfying outing that elevates the series and makes me excited to keep watching.

The foreshadowing for what’s to come is right there at the start, as Melida echoes our curiosity about Kufa’s mysterious past. She rightly points out that there’s almost nothing he doesn’t know about her, so she wants to learn more about him. He even casually mentions he hails from “the land of eternal night”, beyond any safe human habitations.

That exploration has to wait, as Melida has a festival to attend, in which all the girls in her class wear the same dresses handed down by their senpais. Melida is looking forward to wearing the same dress as Elli, and vice versa, but Elli’s maid Othello has other ideas, and hand-makes a garment that, while gorgeous and of higher quality, brings bitter tears to Elli’s eyes as she has to run from her classmates’ harsh gazes and comments.

Melida and Elise aren’t just related, they’re the best of friends going way back, so it’s heartbreaking to see the adults (other than Kufa) treat them as if they’re enemies and pawns in the struggle for control of the Angel family. Neither of them want to fight one another; they want to support each other and have good times together. Is that so much to ask in a world of eternal darkness?

When the two are kidnapped by the Grimface Guild, their bond is tested once more when the shady man with the bandaged face announces his plan to forcibly take Elise’s Paladin Class and graft it onto Melida, overwriting her current Samurai Class. A dastardly plan, but good thing the guy isn’t too great with details.

While he sealed the mana of both girls, he failed to realize that the materials in Elli’s fancier outfit and tiara are packed with mana. Applying Kufa’s lesson about using whatever you can to survive, Melida fashions a torch with which she dispatches the low-level Lancanthropes of the kind Elli has always been afraid.

Melida’s pluck and resourcefulness buys time for the big guns to arrive and mop up, and it’s in his fight with Bandage-face that we learn that Kufa Vampir is, well, a half-vampire, or half-the strongest of Lancanthropes. It’s great to finally get a smirk out of the guy, and now I know why he had such a sedate performance in earlier episodes; he was repressing his true vampiric nature.

It could also explain why Melida is so smitten with him (since vampires can glamour humans), though I chalk that more up to the fact that among adults, he’s the only one to actually put faith in her abilities and not treat her like a pawn to be discarded if she doesn’t shape up. He’s also handsome, well-spoken, kind, and doesn’t forget that the one festival thing Melida was looking forward to most (other than being with Elli in the parade) was have a dance with him, so they do.

He also reiterates his undying commitment to her, having told the bad guy earlier that even if she ends up surpassing him and will set about hunting him, he’ll gladly stick his neck out. He’s all in on Melida, and I can’t blame him; the girl hustles and never gives up. She’s got nowhere to go but up…as long as Kufa can keep other assassins off her back!

P.S. Elli eventually changes into the same dress as Melida. Daaaaaaaaw.

Assassins Pride – 02 – The Right Time to Shine

In a welcome scene of student and teacher bonding, Melida learns that despite his stoic look and manner he’s both embarrassed to have to examine her body (her being a girl and all) but has been trained to hide his true emotions. While that was implied last week, it’s good to hear him actually voice it, as well as voice his sincere hope for her success.

While Melida’s mana has awakened, she’s not a Paladin, but a Samurai class, like Kufa. Kufa warns her to keep her awakening secret and forbids her from using mana against anyone but him. Since he estimates she’s currently only able to summon half of her mana, she’ll rely on the element of surprise to win in the school tournament.

Keeping cards close to one’s vest, and waiting for the opportune time to reveal them, are all part in parcel of what Kufa is all about. But he learns something about her too when she defends him against the mocking words of her “friend” Nerva: she’ll more readily summon what strength she has for others before herself.

When the tournament begins, even Melida’s allies aren’t aware she can use mana, and she doesn’t use it until Nerva is at the very height of her arrogance. Thankfully it’s not a one-sided affair, as there’s a lot of back-and-forth as Nerva ups her game. But in the end, there’s a card in Melida’s hand she kept even from her tutor, taking a page from his book.

That card is a phantom-blade technique he only demonstrated to her once, meaning she either learned it from that one time, or trained a bunch on her own. She thought mutliple moves ahead in her fight with Nerva, making it seem like she was totally out of mana, only to summon the rest of it when Nerva opened herself up to finish her.

In the end, Melida surprised Nerva to the point that after their match she returns the book she took from her and apologizes, apparently continue to value the “friendship” she said they’d have no matter what happens. I appreciated that extra dimension to Nerva, who isn’t just a sneering, bullying bitch after all.

Melida also addresses her father and master of the house, and as Kufa remarks, just the fact her father responded to her (by basically telling her not to get too cocky until she’s accomplished more) is another victory. If she continues to improve, it’s looking less and less likely Kufa will have to kill her, or worry about getting killed himself for failing.

But even with a chastened Nerva and an semi-acknowledging father, Melida faces a lot more adversity, both from her overachieving Paladin cousin Elsie to some unsavory lancanthropes lurking in the shadows.

Assassins Pride – 01 (First Impressions) – Change of Heart

Right away, Assassins Pride impresses with its striking setting: a world coated in unending darkness but for Flandore, a city-state in the form of a massive chandelier with city blocks within its lanterns. Even within these lanterns there’s an eerie feeling that it’s the middle of the night and always will be.

It is a world in need of a protagonist slightly more interesting than Kufa Vampir, who despite his cool name and profession (assassin), is dull as dry toast. At least he’s good at healing cats and catching clumsy young women like Melida Angel, whom he’s to serve as tutor and attendant. She’s a little more interesting thanks to her story, which is provided through Kufa’s narration as he writes in his journal.

Like him, Melida is a member of a noble family. Only nobles possess mana which is used to fight the lacanthrope hordes outside (and sometimes inside) the city. Her dream is to join the elite Crest Legion as a battle maiden, but…things are not going well.

While mana awakens in most noble children at around seven years, Melida’s has yet to awaken. As such, she’s an easy mark for mockery by her mana-using noble peers at the academy, and pity by her cousin Elise from a branch family, who has already surpassed her.

As Kufa watches Melida try in vain to best her particularly arrogant classmat Nerva and run off in tears, he considers his duty should it be determined Melida has no chance of ever awakening her mana: he’s to assassinate her. The rumors going around are that she’s not a true member of the Angel family, but the illegitimate child of her mother and a man who is not Lord Mordrew, explaining her lack of mana.

Watching Melida initially disgusts Kufa, to the point he believes offing her would be a “professional mercy” (and referencing the show’s title), since he’d be ending her suffering, knowing she’ll never be rewarded for it due to her true lineage. But when he enters her room to do the deed, she’s not there. Instead, she’s being chased through the streets by low-level Lacanthropes in what could be an attempt by her father to get her mana to awaken through combat.

But with zero mana, Melida is no match against the three pumpkin-headed scarecrow monsters. Kufa very much is, and exhibits a small measure of his power in dispatching them before they can cut her hair, which she cherishes as her mother’s legacy.

Watching her endure the beating, too proud to call for help, causes a major shift in his thinking, from pity bordering on disgust to admiration and a powerful desire to support her, even if it means hiding secrets from his bosses. He sees his own pride in her pride, and wants to validate if he can…because no one else will.

When Melida firmly agrees to do “the one thing” that could awaken her mana, but could also end up killing her, Kufa administers a dose of a potion to her (through a kiss), and for a moment, she seems to die, falling backwards into a deep, dark ocean, all of the color peeling from her body.

But after the end credits, not only is she still alive, but is impressing her maids with mana tricks. Was her mana really awakened, or did Kufa simply transfer some of his to her? Perhaps only by transferring some of his is there a chance to awaken hers? In any case, he knows he’s treading carefully, and the day may yet come when he’ll have to kill her. He just hopes it doesn’t.

Assassins Pride is…fine. It’s a no-nonsense opener that introduces the place, the players, and the stakes, but often lacked energy. The stateliness and good repair of Flandore calls into question the seriousness and urgency of the Lancanthrope threat (especially as we only see Level-1 scarecrows). The atmospheric setting and clean animation/character design did most of the heavy lifting, while Kufa and Melida felt more like archetypes than distinct characters. I’ll stick with it for now, but so far it’s nothing life-changing.

Ao no Exorcist 24

Yukio is possessed by Satan, who swears a lot and laughs like a jackass. Shura, Shiemi, and Rin try to get Yukio to snap out of it, but only Rin succeeds, after sufficient yelling and a few tears. They manage to free Yukio, but Satan is still on the loose, and the massive Gehenna Gate remains open.

The Satan in this series just doesn’t work for me as a character. I just hate him. I know, we’re supposed to hate him, but he’s so implacably evil and unlikable, there’s never any doubt that he will ultimately be cast aside and defeated. I hate that he’s a weak, goofy, one-dimensional villain. Why there was a flashback episode with Yuri and Satan I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t rouse any sympathy for the Satan character. He’s a big jerk, period. And yet this whole episode does nothing but prove that point ad nauseum, along with provide the predictable heartfelt beseeching Yukio to wake up.

Thankfully, Cardinal Ernst didn’t have any stupid longwinded religio-political speeches, but the line of the episode had to be (former) Paladin August’s: “But genocide using a weapon of mass destruction contradicts the Order (of the True Cross)’s principles!” Seriously? That line was written? And it actually had to be spoken by somebody?


Rating: 2.5

Ao no Exorcist 22

Ernst overthrows the existing bureaucracy and names himself Pope, and rises Yukio to the rank of Paladin and head of the Japanese branch. Rin and all the other members of True Cross Academy are armed and given a new edict: kill as many demons as possible. The weapons absorb demon blood for a ritual to open the Gate of Gehenna and destroy Satan for good. Rin is the sacrifice to unlock the gate, while Yukio transforms into a demon himself.

This episode covered a lot of ground. One could almost say the series is now in a hurry to wrap things up. Ernst showed up a couple episodes ago, and we have no idea who he is or what made him so evil; all we know is, he’s a Bad Guy with plans for world domination, and he’s ensnared an extremely naive (and stupid) Yukio with a promise to save Rin by restoring his full humanity. The force of all the sudden change is so great this week it sweeps everyone up before they can even complain.

This episode also sets a firm morality concerning the fundamental role of exorcists. They’re supposed to slay demons, but not all demons. There are good ones, like Kuro the Cait Sith, Izumo’s foxes, and countless demons who protect forests, rivers and the like. In this regard, our protagonists should be on the side of Princess Mononoke. Like humanity, there is an entire spectrum of demonhood stretching from good to bad. What Pope Ernst has ordered upsets the balance of things. He’s bad, and our ragtag group of students – and Rin, if he’s still alive – must stop him.


Rating: 3

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