86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Dropped

With a full slate of shows to follow this Spring, I needed Combatants to really knock one out of the park in its third week to justify keeping it around and…it just didn’t. It was a dull, dreary affair, full of sloppy character models, sketchy animation, unfunny comedy, and a cast that are rehashes of Konosuba characters, only less likeable. Agent Six it probably the show’s biggest misfire, as the show is well aware that he’s supposed to be an dishonorable bastard, but gives us zero reasons to want to watch him.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 02 – Assembling a Team

With far less exposition to dump on us, this week’s CWBD is an improvement, flowing much better structurally and focusing on its kooky characters, like the artificial combat chimera Rose and Grimm, archpriest of Zenarith, god of undeath and disaster.

While both are eccentric to say the least, Alice deems them two of the more powerful assets at their disposal. With their ultimate goal of defeating the Demon Lord in mind, they can’t be picky about personalities.

And just like KonoSuba, there’s nobody here whose personality you’d call “normal.” Alice comes closest, but she’s an android. Six continues to be a cad, racking up Evil Points. Rose is a timid glutton who has a sinister chuunibyou side. Grimm wants a man, and Six would seem to do. Grimm and Rose were both exploited by the military as frontline weapons.

The newly-formed party first tastes battle after harassing a demon lord army supply train, which distresses Snow because she wants more exciting frontline combat so she can affort to pay off her sword (the news she clawed her way to where she is from nothing makes her character more interesting).

Then two of the Demon Lord’s Elite Four arrive: the voluptuous Heine of the Flame (whose “cosplay” reminds Six of his comely bosses back home), and Gadalkand of the Earth, who straight up murders Grimm, just like that!

Even though his sole interaction with her was catching a glimpse of her thong, Six still wants to avenge Grimm, but Gadalkand and Heine both withdraw before he can fight them. Then he learns from Snow and Rose that due to her demon blood and position as Zenarith priest, she comes back to life no matter how many times she dies…which should prove quite handy!

While Six continues to be, for the most part, pretty scummy, he comes off far better this week, especially when he sits vigil over Grimm’s corpse in the temple of Zenarith. When she wakes up, she’s surprised he’s there because he didn’t want her to be lonely.

The episode closes on a sweet note, as Six orders her a spiffy new Kisaragi-brand wheelchair and the two go on an adorable date racing through the wastelands and breaking up couples in a village. This is still no KonoSuba, but I came away from this second episode feeling like it’s starting to find its own voice, and liking everyone just a little bit more.

Re: Zero – 50 (S2 Fin) – Number One Knight

The only thing standing between Subaru & Co. and winning the day is one of the Three Great Mabeasts, the Great Rabbit, who surround the Graveyard just as Subaru returns from the mansion with a newly-revitalized Beatrice. What with the weakness of her contractor (Subie) and the length of time since her last real battle (400+ years), Beako deems she has just the right handicap to make the fight interesting.

With that, she unleashes El Minya—a shower of pink crystal shards that obliterate bunnies on contact. They keep coming, but her contractor, Subaru maintains hand contact and uses El Minya as well until the Rabbits, not being truly infinite, reach their maximum number. Subie then builds a crystal paddock to restrain them, which Emilia traces and reinforces with her ice magic, rising them off the ground.

Having been given sufficient time to prepare it, Beako finishes the Rabbit off with Al Shamac, transporting it in its entirety to an isolated space—like the forbidden library—from which it will never be able to return. A great psychological weight lifts from everyone—and myself!—when they realize that the battle is over, and they won.

Just when Beako is hoping for a little more enthusiastic celebration, she gets more than she bargained for when Subie lifts her up and spins her around in elation. Beako and Roswaal pay their respects to Echidna, their mother and teacher. Beako realizes for the first time that the Roswaal before her is the Roswaal she knew—the product of soul transcription, Echidna’s dream was realized.

Given some time to themselves outside the graveyard during a gorgeous sunrise, Emilia bashfully, adorably broaches the topic of “the baby in her belly!” It’s a phrase that nearly causes Subie to jump out of his shoes, but is only the result of some god-level trolling on Puck’s part, who convinced Lia that a mere kiss like the one she shared with Subie is enough to create life!

What follows is a “purification ritual” at the chapel, in which everyone in the main circle Roswaal wronged is given a much deserved slap or slug to the face. Ram, who is recovering quickly thanks to Beako, doesn’t stop them, as not even she can deny he’s made mistakes—one of them never being aware how much she loves him until now.

Emilia and Subaru knows they need Roswaal’s power for the Royal Selection and Battles to Come, but what’s stopping him from turning on them again? He removes his shirt to show just that: an oath sealed by a curse, which he received after losing to Subaru (on whose chest it would have appeared had he lost). Gar and Petra object anyway, but defer to everyone else, while Lia is sufficiently satisfied upon hearing a simple “I’m sorry” from the margrave.

A little time passes, but not much. With Roswaal’s mansion in ruins, the house of Annerose Miload, of a Mathers branch family, serves as the venue for the knighting of one Natsuki Subaru by one Emilia. Before the ceremony, Roswaal informs Subaru that he still intends to bring Echidna back, blood, breath, and soul.

Because he lacks the Tome of Wisdom, and the pain of losing what may be lost in his quest to revive teacher might surely cause him to Burn Everything Down, he instead vows to keep a close eye on Subaru and the path he walks. Like Roswaal, Subaru has lost so much, but every time he picks up the pieces, refusing to lose anything, bearing every wound those initial losses create.

After some flowery dialogue, the deed is done; Subaru officially becomes Sir Subaru. Subaru marks the occasion by telling Emilia how sexy and cute she looks in her be-knighting outfit, and in another sign of how much stronger she’s become, Lia laughs it off and sticks out her tongue rather than crumbling before praise. More importantly, Subaru now dons world-appropriate clothes that match Emilia’s white-and-purple theme.

As the well-earned party rages indoors, Subaru goes out onto the balcony for some quiet contemplation, and Emilia soon joins him, accurately accusing him of being drunk…on himself and the atmosphere, not booze. Emilia tells him there’s something she wants to talk to him about, and asks him to come to her room later to do so, employing a pinky swear to seal their agreement.

Subaru assures her no matter what she needs to say, he’ll never become “disenchanted” with her. After all, she just made him her Number One Knight! Emilia compliments Subaru’s sweet face, and remarks that the scene they’re beholding just might be her “ideal”, and she’ll never forget it. It was at this point I was convinced a shoe or two would drop, pulling the rug from everyone’s feet and plunging the celebratory mood into some fresh devilry as White Fox often does.

But it didn’t! The fact Rem never woke up aside, this was a totally happy ending, not leaving us with any cliffhanger we’d have to stew with for an unknown duration until a third season arrived to sate our hunger anew. And I’m very happy about that, and where everyone stands at this stopping point.

The gorgeous way the episode fades to white as Subaru and Emilia dance a waltz while surrounded by friends and allies—that’s pretty much my ideal too! Emilia finally got the character-building arc she deserved, and cemented her role as Best Girl. The Royal Selection, Rem’s reawakening, and dealing with the Sin Archbishops can wait. For now, Let’s party!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 11 (S1 Fin) – Sharing the Load

Roxy comes upon a bulletin board outside of Roa (at least I think it’s Roa) and is relieved to find Rudy and his family’s names missing from the lists of the dead. She also finds a letter from Paul to Rudy, saying he’s not worried about him making it home, while asking anyone who knows his family or the members of their old adventurer group to help him find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha (Norn is with him).

The Fangs of the Black Wolf to write back to him care of the adventurer’s guild in Millis. Roxy happens to encounter two former Fangs—a she-elf and a dwarf—forming party of three in search of Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. Meanwhile, Rudy’s party of three are taking jobs and starting to make money, thanks to their arrangements, thanks to the cooperation of the two remaining pet kidnappers, Jalil and Vizquel.

Their first high-ranked job is to investigate a monster in the Petrified Forest—a suitably dark and spooky venue—but they find the job has been triple booked, both by Kurt and his two young comrades and a third group led by an older orc. The three groups go their own ways, but Kurt & Co. immediately run into trouble.

Rudy sees an opportunity to improve Ruijerd’s rep by rescuing them, but wants to wait for the right moment. While delaying Ruijerd from charging in to save them, one of Kurt’s buddies is brutally killed; his body flying gracefully through the air before hitting he ground with a horrific splat. Ruijerd and Eris don’t wait for Rudy’s signal, and deal with the two monsters themselves.

Rudy explains he thought it would “work out better” for them if they waited, but Ruijerd is furious. Instead of Eris, it’s Kurt who grabs Ruijerd’s arm, insisting that neither he nor his dead buddy are “kids”; they’re adventurers who knew this job could mean their deaths. As the leader of his party, it’s his fault.

When Ruijerd sees Kurt take responsibility and weep for his fallen friend, his hand hovers over the kid’s head before resting on firmly on his shoulder, demonstrating that Ruijerd acknowledges Kurt as a full-fledged warrior, and apologizes for treating him like a child.

The monsters Ruijerd and Eris weren’t the monster the job mentioned. That turns out to be the forest boss, a redhood cobra, who has already killed all of the orc’s party but himself. Ruijerd manages to slash along one side of its body, but when Eris’ blade bounces off its thick skin, she’s blasted backwards. Fortunately she’s able to use her own sword to cushion the impact, and recovers quickly.

Rudy launches magical attacks that lure the cobra to him, and Ruijerd stops it in its tracks before it can swallow the boy. Eris then tries again with her sword, launching a devastating attack from above that called to mind Haruko smashing away with her Rickenbacker bass in FLCL. She manages to slice clean through the cobra’s body, allowing Rudy to blast a hole through its hood, finishing it off.

Unfortunately, they’re too late to save the orc adventurer’s life, and when they return to town to claim the reward, Bojack Horseman is there to tell them he knows they switched jobs with Jalil and Vizquel, and unless they pay him half of all their earnings monthly, he’ll make sure their licenses are revoked. After lowering his head in frustration, he raises it, as if to ask the heavens themselves why everything he’s done since coming to the city has gone so wrong.

Eris can tell he’s troubled and takes his hand in concern, and he tries to reassure her with a fake smile. She reminds him of his solemn duty: to get her home to her family. He’ll bring down the whole goddamn city if he has to. His staff begins to glow through its cover, and storm clouds begin to gather…then Ruijerd dumps a jug of water on his head, revealing his green hair, and he then threatens a thoroughly terrified Bojack to back off before fleeing the city on his own.

Rudy and Eris leave the city to search for Ruijerd, and eventually find him. To Rudy’s surprise and shame, Ruijerd apologizes to him, when he thinks it’s he who should be apologizing. He was so focused on making money as efficiently as possible and improving his reputation that it became too much to juggle and got away from him.

But Ruijerd doesn’t hold it against him. He sensed Rudy’s resolve to kill Bojack, and could tell Rudy was trying to protect something—someone, in Eris—which makes him a warrior, not a child. To Ruijerd, warriors protect children and treasure their comrades. Helping Rudy out back there was more important than his tribe’s reputation.

The two shake hands, which of course leads Eris to add her hand to the pile so as not to be left out. The next morning, Ruijerd shaves his head so it will be easier to move around, and the three wear matching head/armbands to denote their status as members of Dead End.

Going forward, Rudy stops trying to figure out everything on his own, and trusts both Ruijerd and Eris to help share the load on their mutual quest to reach the Asura Kingdom. As the credits roll, we watch them camp and travel on a ground dragon, watch Ruijerd pull Rudy away from snooping on a bathing Eris, and Eris punching Rudy when he opens a dressing room curtain before she’s dressed (she acquires some super-cool knight’s armor for heavy-duty battles).

Eventually they reach a new port city…which I believe happens to be the same port city at which Roxy and the two Fangs arrive via ship. Whether Rudy & Co. are still in the Demon continent or have reached Millis isn’t clear, but one thing’s for certain: there’s potential for a tearful reunion of master and apprentice, and should that happen, they’ll be an even more formidable party of six.

Unfortunately, as Mushoku Tensei is a split-cour series, we’ll have to wait until July for the continuation of the story, just as it’s getting seriously awesome. Not that it wasn’t before. MT completed a masterful transformation from excellent fantasy isekai slice-of-life in a sleepy rural setting to an excellent grand-scale fantasy adventure romp packed with colorful characters, gorgeous locales, and breathtaking action. The finale could not have done a better job getting me pumped up for season two!

Read Crow’s review of episode 11 here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 10 – Not So Black-and-White

Armed with her new Migurd blade, Eris has no trouble taking out the low-level beasts who roam the wasteland, leaving no one for Rudy or Ruijerd to fight. She’s taken to the adventurer’s lifestyle like a fish to water. Their first true test occurs upon entering their first demon city, Rikarisu, which I have to say is a looker of a city, with dramatic terraced blocks clinging to massive cliffs and a central palace seemingly made entirely of a strangely pristine material.

Rudeus buys Eris a new cloak with cat ears which she vows to treasure forever, then they head to the city’s adventurer’s guild to commence his scheme. Ruijerd was granted access to the city because Rudy dyed his hair Migurd blue. When he arrives at the guild and says he’s got a genuine Superd in his party, the guild members simply laugh, because Ruijerd’s hair is blue, not green, and he’s wearing the necklace Roxy gave Rudy.

They don’t end up taking any jobs, but the guild visit is still a success … and not because Rudy got to leer at the three-breasted clerk (which blessedly the sum total of his perviness this week). He intended for the guild members to laugh at Ruijerd, as it give the impression he’s no one they have to fear. It’s the first step to rehabbing the Superd’s reputation.

After Eris marvels at the way the evening light turns blue when filtered through the crystal embedded in the stone cliffs, the party of three, calling themselves “Dead End” (which is one of the names for the feared Superd) heads to an inn. Another young adventurer takes interest in Eris, but she can’t understand him and ignores him. When he grabs her, the button of cloak Rudy gave her falls off, and she absolutely wails on the poor guy.

Rudy keeps the situation from escalating out of control (and incidentally getting kicked out of the inn or worse) by healing the party Eris attacked with his magic, impressing them and leading them to invite him into their party. Rudy politely declines, but he knows one thing for sure: the three of them can’t live off F and D-ranked jobs, the only ones newbies are allowed to take.

That night Rudy dreams he’s in his old body in that strange white void with the even stranger Man-God. The guy insists all of Rudy’s choices are his own, but strongly suggests he take the lost kitten job the next day. Rudy wakes up to find Eris is still up. She can’t sleep because she’s worried about whether they’ll ever get home.

Running around in the wastelands killing beasts is one thing, but I imagine once everything quieted down and Eris had a chance to think about their situation, I’m not surprised she’d get scared and worried. Rudy sits next to her and assures they’ll make it back, and Ghislaine and her grandpa will be waiting for them.

The next day Rudy takes the lost-kitten job as the Man-God recommended, which lead them to discovering another party of three running a pet-kidnapping racket. Rudy turns the ground beneath their feet into mud, then Eris and Ruijerd push them back against the wall so Rudy can bind them with earth magic.

When Rudy tries to question their insectoid leader, he gets shoved back hard, taking the wind out of him. Before he can get up, Ruijerd hacks the guy’s head off, and it rolls right beside Rudy. Ruijerd’s explanation for why he just killed someone: “he hurt a child.” This is when we and Rudy learn that Ruijerd is a  very black-and-white, good-and-evil type guy, especially where kids are concerned.

One side-effect of Ruijerd spilling blood so easily is that the other two adventurers’ lips are instantly loosned, and they spill the beans about kidnapping pets then claiming the rewards. When Rudy learns they’re a D-ranked party, he decides he’ll have them advance to C-rank, and use them to nab higher-paying B-ranked jobs.

Ruijerd is extremely opposed to teaming up with “villains”, and even grabs Rudy by the shoulder in protest, breaking his own don’t-hurt-kids policy. Eris punches and kicks him as hard as she can, reminding him he too did bad things in the past that don’t automatically make him evil, and that he should just shut up and leave it to Rudy, who only has his and her best interests at heart.

Ruijerd calms down, and reiterates that he won’t walk away from his promise to get the two of them home. They escort the D-rankers, a lizardman and bee-woman, to the guild, where they upgrade to C-rank. Rudy orders them to take a B-rank job, while he’ll take an F-rank job, with the understanding they’ll be swapping jobs. A nosy horse-man adventurer whom I’ll call Bojack for now almost catches wind of this plan, but assumes the lizard guy is just trying to look cool in front of the newbies.

The episode ends somewhat awkwardly right there, but that’s ultimately okay, as it accomplished a lot. We got to see Eris in action (and absolutely loving it) and saw our first demon city in all its glory. Rudy doesn’t grope anyone or make any gross comments, and is even thoroughly shaken when Ruijerd demonstrates his far-too-rigid code of morality. Now I look forward to their first monster-slaying quest. Here’s hoping Rudy can keep his green, now blue-haired friend in check.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 10 here!

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

Hortensia Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Glimmer of Hope in an Age of Turmoil

What have we here….an un-ironic, non-isekai, no-nonsense Euro-style medieval fantasy epic? Welcome to Hortensia Saga, which plunges us right into the thick of an attempted coup…what odd timing

One of the king’s loyalist retainers transforms into a giant werewolf and kills him right before his daughter’s eyes, and then goes on to kill one of his baddest-ass knights, Fernando Ober (or Albert, depending on the subs).

The late Fernando’s brother Maurice Bauldelaire (Hi, Tsuda Kenjirou!) arrives at the Ober estate to tell his nephew Alfred the news that his father is dead, making Alfred the new Lord of Ober.

Maurice also rescued the adorable Princess Mariel, who cut her hair short and poses as a young lad named Marius whom Alfred takes under his wing as his squire. That’s fine with Mariel, who wants to become stronger so she can protect those she cares about.

Marius and Lord Alfred were brought together by shared tragedy and grief and become fast friends. If Alfred is aware Marius is actually a princess in disguise, he never mentions it, even after four years pass and she becomes his trusty squire. That’s a helluva time jump, and I kinda wish a little more time was spent on developing their friendship, but alas, this saga has a lot of ground to cover.

In those four years both were trained by Maurice and feel ready for their first real battle against the forces of Camelia (the retainers who betrayed the Hortensian crown). It doesn’t go particularly great, as their allies were pre-slaughtered and both youngins have to be saved by Maurice, but the two had each other’s backs, didn’t give up, and escaped with their lives, so call it a learning experience.

Marius is sufficiently injured that she doesn’t wake up for days, but when she does, Ober’s maid Nonnoria (Ueda Reina, pushing a bit too hard) is there to welcome her back to the land of the awake.

Marius joins a discouraged Alfred at his family grave where they met four years ago, Alfred declares his resolve to become much stronger, and Marius declares she’ll become stronger right beside him. The one thing they can’t do is give up hope. Little does Al know his squire is a girl and the heir to the kingdom he serves!

I was ready to pass on Hortensia when its opening sequence involved a hefty helping of lazy CGI extras, and featured characters who weren’t that much better designed or animated. If you’re going to go as arrow-straight with your milieu as this, you’d better bring it with the execution.

What actually kept me watching was the voice acting of Horie Yui and Hosoya Yoshimasa, two seiyuu I admire but haven’t seen in a lot of leading roles of late. Their work elevates a classic but bland premise, a rushed narrative, and merely serviceable production values. I’m putting this in my “maybe” pile for this season.

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 11 – Perfect T.A.K.O.

Chitose is about to drop in on Tsukasa when she discovers her apartment is gone. She spots Tsukasa passing by, and Tsukasa tells her she’s living in the park now, lures Chitose into one of those big plastic domes with holes, and leaves her there.

Back home, Nasa has found a pan for grilling takoyaki, and suggests they have a takoyaki party (or Takopa), since that’s what the young people are into these days. Tsukasa isn’t sure where Nasa learned that, but thinks a party will be a good opportunity to get to know Aya. I’m also reminded of the similar fondue parties that were so popular in America back in to 60s.

Chitose and her maids track Tsukasa to the bathhouse, where Kaname tells them to have a nice refreshing bath to cool their jets. Chitose and Aya clash over the worthiness of Nasa to be with Tsukasa and vice versa, respectively. Chitose very nearly insults the bath, but insists to Kaname she wasn’t.

Tsukasa and Nasa decide to invite everyone to their little home for the Takopa, and the maids have helpfully done the extra shopping needed. Tsukasa proves she’s prime wife material to Aya when every single thing she makes is delicious.

But culinary skills aren’t all it takes, so Aya decides to test Tsukasa another way: with video games, specifically Street Fighter V: Champion Edition. Not a parody, mind you: the actual real-life game, released back in February.

I’m not sure if Capcom provided promotional consideration, but the episode is able to avoid feeling like a commercial because it’s the personalities of the characters, not the game, that take center stage, especially when the maids propose a competition among the girls with the prize of having Nasa do any one thing they ask.

Kaname backs out due to her inexperience, and while Chitose is game, she is quickly torched by Aya. Tsukasa puts up a better fight but ultimately Aya beats her too, and Tsukasa hates losing so she keeps playing. Soon, the contest format is forgotten.

Once it’s clear she can’t beat Aya at SFV she whips out the original game, for which she had Nasa use his electronics expertise to create the necessary retro proprietary controllers. Tsukasa gets a lot of early wins, but Aya is a natural gamer and soon figures out the controls, resulting in a Double K.O. in their final game.

Tsukasa and Aya do a fist-bump to express their mutual respect, and Kaname reminds them that, as it’s a takoyaki party, perhaps they should start making some takoyaki? Chitose watches as Tsukasa shows Nasa the proper way to turn them, sees how much fun they’re having and how happy she is, and decides to more or less drop her disapproval of the marriage.

A good time is had by all, and once everyone is gone, and Tsukasa and Nasa clean up in the kitchen, Nasa asks Tsukasa what she would have done if she’d won the video game contest. Rather than tell him, she just does it: she leans in and kisses him.

Stating that she can do that whenever she wants, she responds “Sometimes, then…”, and the two shift a little bit closer to each other and lean on one another. They’re in an adorable state of true spousal bliss, brought on by the fact they were able to pull off one hell of a lively party—an indication of further growth in an otherwise slice-of-life episode. After all, entertaining isn’t just about having fun with friends, but showing yourselves off as a couple.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 08 – Out of the Space Loop

Hoo boy, this was one extra-stuffed, extra-caffeinated episode of Lower Decks! We begin by being thrown into an unknown situation with the core quartet: a sinister dungeon, then an alien trial on K’Tuevon Prime in which they are apparently being forced to testify against the senior staff.

One by one, they must speak into a Horn of Truth about the events of a specific stardate, starting with Mariner, who regales the court of a day when she and Boimler are late for bridge duty and have no idea what’s going on, only that the aliens they’re dealing with consider gratitude an insult.

Unsatisfied with her testimony, the aliens suspend Mariner over a vat of eels. Rutherford is next, and one would think his cybernetically-enhanced memory would be perfect, that is not the case as on that particular stardate his implants were undergoing constant system updates that caused multiple blackouts.

Everytime he comes to, it’s in a totally different situation. One minute he’s in a Cerritos corridor, then on a stolan Vulcan warp shuttle, then a kind of starship museum, then in outer space clinging to the hull of a cloaked Romulan Bird-of-Prey, and finally at a Gorn wedding.

Needless to say, Rutherford gets suspended over the eels along with Mariner, and it’s up to Tendi to tell her story. She was the assigned cleaner of the conference room when Ransom and a team of handpicked commandoes are briefed on a top secret mission. Ransom wrongly assumes Tendi is a cleaner cleaner, as in part of their covert operation.

The op unfolds as follows: they use the stolen Bird-of Prey acquired by Rutherford & Co. to slip past Warbird patrols, transport down to Romulus, and retrieve a secret “package”. Tendi shows off some Trek Fu on some Romulan guards, and the team manages to get out without detection.

Having failed to get what he wants, the alien consigns Tendi to the vat and all three are dumped in. That’s when Boimler saves them by telling the court that they are Lower Decks, the senior officers almost never fill them in on what’s going on, so they truthfully don’t have the info he wants.

Boimler goes even further to state that oftentimes even the senior staff doesn’t know what’s going on, such as whenever Q(!) shows up. But that’s okay, part of Starfleet’s mission of exploration is facing the unknown and…muddling through.

But it turns out this isn’t an alien trial at all…but a party, held by Magistrate Klar to honor the senior staff for rescuing him from Romulan captivity. As is the case with all Lower Decks episodes, it’s a subversion of the old Trek trope. Back on the Cerritos, Freeman promises to do a better job of briefing the Lower Decks, but as Mariner aptly puts it, “knowing things means more work”, so it’s probably better to keep things need-to-know!

So yeah, there was a lot going on this week—almost too much for 24 minutes—but it was still a hell of a fun ride, and the trial/party conceit held together all the loosely connected vignettes well enough.

Stray Observations:

  • The design of the “party silo” is heavily influenced by the Klingon courtroom in Star Trek VI.
  • There’s a mention of Roga Danar, a supersoldier from the TNG episode “The Hunted.”
  • Mariner warns Boimler if they wash out of Starfleet they’ll end up on Earth where all there is to do is drink wine (at Chateau Picard) and eat soul food (at Sisko’s dad’s New Orleans bistro).
  • Boimler suggests a Crazy Ivan, which is really more of a Submarine thing.
  • Shaxs warns about a Denobulan parasite that infects the peen from the same planet as Dr. Phlox on Star Trek Enterprise.
  • Tons of Trek ship references this week. The Vulcan museum contains Starfleet shuttles from both TOS and TNG, the Vulcan ship from First Contact, the timeship Aeon from the 29th century, a Klingon battlecruiser, a yellow Work Bee, a Ferengi shuttle, and a Jem’hadar attack ship.
  • The shuttle they use to airdrop into the museum is a Vulcan Warp Shuttle of the exact kind that transported Spock to the Enterprise in The Motion Picture.
  • Rutherford is asked to distract the guards with the “fan dance”, last performed on screen by Uhura on Nimbus III in Star Trek V. He really should be nude when he’s doing it.
  • The eels in the vat sound just like the Ceti Eels Khan uses to control minds in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Dr. Crusher’s ghost lamp pertains to the very bad TNG episode “Sub Rosa”.
  • Q shows up! Voiced by the inimitable John de Lancie. Love how he adds a little more floridness to his animated Q.
  • Klar is voiced by another Trek guest star, Kurtwood Smith. Known primarily for That 70s Show, he was the Federation President in Star Trek VI and Annorax in “Year of Hell”, my personal favorite Voyager two-parter. If he was going to yell “DUMBASS!” in a Trek episode, this would have been it. Alas…
  • When the guy tells Klar he only paid for the party silo for 22 minutes, exactly 22 minutes of time had passed in the episode.

Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.