Shin no Nakama – 02 – Party of Two

As expected from the spoilery ED, Red doesn’t remain alone in his shop for long, as he’s joined this week by Rizlet of Loggervia, AKA Rit, whom we learn is both a B-rank adventurer and a princess. She took it upon herself to leave her kingdom, lest those who favor her over the crown prince instigate a power struggle.

She’s very happy to have run into Red, an old “comrade” from back when his party crossed paths with her in a pub. A huge chunk of this episode consists of flashbacks to those times, which on the one hand gives the episode a static quality, but on the other, at least shows us who these two people are, through who they once were.

Rit was all gung-ho about fighting on the front lines for her people until she was hoodwinked by a general in the Demon Lord’s Army, who killed her sword shishou and assumed his form. Red (then Gideon) swooped in like a trusty knight to save her, but a lot of people she cared about died, for what she believed to be her mistake.

Rit holes up in her lavish royal bedroom, but Gideon sits beside her and tells her that while he knows she’s afraid of losing more people, he also knows she still wants to fight, and gives her an opportunity to do so. They end up handing the Demon Lord’s Army a satisfying defeat…off-camera. If there’s one thing this somewhat action-packed episode of Shin no Nakama taught me, it’s that it has no business trying to do action—you can actually hear the animation budget creaking and straining.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to lean on that as a strength. Instead, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how much you buy into Red and Rit’s once-and-future relationship. The two try their damndest not to get too lovey-dovey, but at the end of the day Rit is asking not just to work at Red’s shop but also move in with him, and Red isn’t really putting up much resistance after an initial moment of shock. I enjoyed their chemistry, and the balance of their attraction.

So this episode took a step away from its borderline iyashikei premiere, but in the service of showing us how Red used to be in the party and how Rit used to be before their sudden reunion. I look forward to watching them working and living together. As for the party, the apathetic behavior of two of its members suggets Ares’ move to banish Red was a wholly unilateral one that doesn’t sit well with them.

Shin no Nakama – 01 (First Impressions) – La Vida Tranquila

What’s this…the second-straight new Fall fantasy series that’s neither pervy or nasty or reveng-y? Don’t get me wrong, all of those things can and have been done and done well, but that’s precisely why I don’t need any more of them anytime soon.

If a fantasy or isekai series wants my attention, it needs to play a different tune, and despite its ludicrously long full title, Shin no Nakama ja Nai to Yuusha no Party wo Oidasareta node, Henkyou de Slow Life suru Koto ni Shimashita does that by simply taking it easy.

After a typical fantasy/isekai introduction showing the Hero in battle while describing the geopolitical situation, the gentle, upbeat, relaxing OP shifts tone gears and gets us in the right state of mind for what’s to come. Our protagonist Red, the hero Ruti’s big brother, was cast out of the party for being a liability, so he sought the slow quiet live in remote but verdent outpost of Zoltan.

With an affinity for navigating dense forests and identifying and locating medicinal herbs, Red’s modest but very achievable dream of opening an apothecary shop and kicking back while letting higher-level adventurers save the world, is an admirable and relatable one. Not everybody wants everything…for some—maybe most—a certain amount is sufficient.

This is why despite a promise of a feather in his adventurer’s resume and promotion from D-rank to C, Red politely declines to joing Zoltan’s local party to take down an owlbear (which is a wonderful hybrid beast IMO). But then  his friend Gonze’s little brother (or was it his son?) Tanta comes down with a rare fever.

Red braves the forbidden mountains (and risks guild expulsion) and brings down the owlbear in order to gather the needed blood needles needs for Tanta’s medicine. Red didn’t jump at the chance to undertake this, as he cares little for honor or glory, only the dignity of a comfortable and rewarding life.

But to help a friend in need, he’ll do absolutely anything he can. It’s great shorthand for the fact Red is…a pretty nice guy! But being a nice guy and being good at collecting herbs meant it was taking a very long time for him to save enough to have his apothecary shop built.

By saving Tanta’s life, Red inadvertently put Gonze, an accomplished carpenter, in the position of having to repay a life debt. Red has enough money for the materials for the shop, so with Gonze more than willing to build it for free, Red finds the plans for his dreams suddenly accelerated. His good deed was rewarded.

A bit later, another hero arrives in the beautiful and chivalrous Rit, wondering why the guild girl Meg is dressed differently. Meg tells her all about the party for Red’s shop’s grand opening, as well as what kind of adventurer and man Red is.

Rit is intrigued, but unfortunately she and Red don’t end up meeting this week. Instead, we’re treated to another lovely, relaxed, Yuru Camp-like ending theme played over visuals of Rit and Red becoming fast, close friends…and possibly more.

Red may have been cast away by his elite party-mates, but he still has something important to contribute in this world. It says a lot that someone with such honest and modest designs for their life should have the misfortune of having fallen behind in his party mitigated by having his dreams essentially made true in the first episode.

This isn’t a show about him achieving the goal of running an apothecary…that part is done. Now we’ll get to see if that goal ends up being what he wanted (I’m guessing yes by the “slice-of-life” label of this series), and more importantly, I can’t wait to see him and Rit meet, as the ED wrote some very pleasant checks I’m hoping to be cashed soon.

At the same time, brief cuts to his sister Ruti at points in the episode suggest that even if he’s moved on from his past as an adventuer in the Hero’s Party, that past, and that party, might not quite be done with him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 12 (S2 E01) – Eyes Forward

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, Mushoku Tensei is back, and I’m pleased to report it’s just as good—and occasionally unnecessarily lewd—as ever. There’s a new OP, and it’s awesome. There’s a new ED, and it’s beautiful. Rudy, Eris and Ruijerd are still on the Demon Continent, and learn that largely due to Ruijerd’s Superd status, booking passage on an above-board ship back to Millis Continent will cost a literal fortune.

While Rudy is always quick to determine and execute a course of action all on his own, Dead End is a party, and both Eris and Ruijerd wish to help him share the burden of figuring out just how to make that fortune without taking their entire lives to do so. Meanwhile, training with Ruijerd is only making Eris a more formidable fighter; I don’t know if their combat animation counts as sakuga but it remains top-notch and extremely fun to watch. Ditto her wonderful expression of joy when she scores her first hit on Ruijerd (who was distracted by Roxy!)

After having another dream with the creepy smooth god dude Hitogami, Rudy learns he actually entertained the guy more by going off-script. This time he decides to do exactly as Hitogami’s advice says, and he is promptly rewarded. By feeding a starving urchin the food Hitogami told him to buy at the vendors, he ends up befriending the scantily-clad Kishirisu Kishirika, the “Great Emperor of the Demon World”, who could pass as a member of Zvezda.

As thanks for sustaining the life of her physical body for at least another year, Kishirika gives him one of her twelve Demon Eyes: the Eye of Foresight. She does so by roughly replacing his existing normal eye on the spot, which looks…painful! But upon returning to their inn he ends up saving a man he bumped into form a falling pot, and within a week he’s able to sue the eye to defeat Eris in combat. This understandably makes Eris very upset, but Rudy was too excited about his new eye to foresee that.

New eye or not, Rudy reminds himself that his mission isn’t to “power up” but to get Eris home. And even if he were to exploit the eye for profit, it would likely take too long to make the necessary cash to book passage. So he decides, on his own, again, that he’ll pawn off his staff in order to get the cash. Only when he leaves in the night to do this, Ruijerd stops him.

While the party has meshed well in the last year, seeing Rudy again try to go off on his own and solve everything frustrates Ruijerd, because it makes him feel like Rudy still doesn’t trust him. Rudy counters that he doesn’t want to do anything illegal and thus “evil” that Ruijerd would not approve of, like stowing away or smuggling, as it would likely fracture the party.

Here, Ruijerd once again exposes Rudy’s biggest blind spot—Eris—by pointing out that selling the staff she gave him (and which clearly means so much to him) would fracture the party too. So Ruijerd makes a compromise: he’ll turn a blind eye to smuggling and the like if Rudy keeps his staff and keeps him and Eris in the loop about what they should do from now on.

Right on cue, the man Rudy saved the day he got his new eye introduces himself: Gallus Cleaner. Could he be the sort of unsavory figure who can help get two noble humans and a Superd across the ocean? Are Roxy and her two Fang companions trying to avoid crossing paths with Rudy, or victims of back luck and timing? I’m excited to find out, and to watch more of Rudy, Eris, and Ruijerd’s adventures this Fall.

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 08 – Too Much of a Good Thing

After a thoroughly unpleasant cold bath in her cramped metal tub, a hungry Jahy wanders the streets until picked up by a giant white limo sent by, who else, her trusty attendant Druj. A sumptuous feast of sweets awaits her, and a remote control transports her into starry space. She doesn’t want the ultimately short ride to end; she wants to live in that limo.

However, duty calls. Druj, who is the president of a profitable consulting firm, wants Jahy to give a motivational speech to some young corporate recruits. While I thought Jahy might get stage fright from being out of the spotlight for so long, she ends up having no problem taking the stage and speaking…if only the overeager Druj would let her speak.

The raucous applause that follows Jahy’s time on stage doesn’t please her in the least, because Druj kept interrupting her with what she expected her to say. In a way, perhaps Druj was actually protecting Jahy from embarassing herself by sounding like a chuuni, but on the limo ride back Jahy looks suddenly disillusioned with all the preferential treatment. When Druj invites her to a party, she cheers up a bit.

At work, the manager notices Jahy is smelling a little ripe, the product of only bathing once every three days—and without hot water or soap. This is how Jahy discovers an absolutely kick-ass bathhouse within walking distance of the pub. In addition to vicariously enjoying the simple pleasures of hot water, steam, and sweet-smelling shampoo, Manager can’t help but pamper Jahy (especially when she’s in child form), all while Saurva creepily lurks in the background.

The night of Druj’s Dark Realm party arrives, and at first it’s a lovely simulacrum of Jahy’s former lifestyle, complete with decent approximations of Dark Realm delicacies and using Druj as a chair. But there are constantly little real-world interruptions that ruin the fantasy for Jahy, such as when Druj, while still being sat on, switches to Corporate Mode on her cell.

I have no doubt Jahy appreciates Drujs’ not inconsiderable efforts to make her feel like she’s back home, but the bottom line is she’s not home, and her home doesn’t exist anymore because she wasn’t strong enough to protect it. After the evening of fun, Jahy returns to her ratty apartment and cries bitter tears over things lost, and frustration at her lack of progress.

So she runs inside and basically howls at the moon that she basically won’t let herself be defeated. It’s moments like these when we see the real vulnerable Jahy that have really endeared her to me as a character. Much like Nagatoro, she contains multitudes…nearly all of them charming and adorable.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 11 – The Logbook

Viola’s mom kicks her bitchiness up to 11, not only insisting her daughter dress a certain way, but accept the fact that she can’t wear what she wants or live her own life. For her mom, Viola’s future consists of being married off to the eldest possible son of the richest possible family.

Not content to sheepishly accept her status as a mere commodity to be traded, Viola “runs away” from home with her luggage, though she only ends up having a girl’s sleepover with Alice and Caph. Viola’s situation reminds use that she suffers a curse just like her brother: one that threatens to limit her prospects for life. If, say, Bocchan were to lift his curse and become the head of the family, he’d likely let Viola live her life as she saw fit.

That’s one reason why Viola gives Alice an old servant logbook which may hold answers about when and how Bocchan’s curse was first established; that, and Viola really does care for her brother. Alice ends up discovering a passage about two women in white nun’s habits visiting the main house right around the time Bocchan was cursed. It’s clearly no coincidence.

One of the white nuns in question is Daleth, leader of Zain and Caph’s order, and thanks to her being able to use the eyes of various wildlife to spy on Alice, Daleth knows the maid has her hands on the logbook. She orders Zain to take it and destroy it, with the implication that if he doesn’t harm could befall Caph. But when Zain is honest about what he’s doing and why, Bocchan offers the book back for Zain to burn. He knows Zain would do anything for Caph, just as he’d do anything for Alice.

Zain ends up “destroying” the book with his magic, but retains a tiny scrap with which he can fully restore the book once Daleth’s eyes are no longer watching. But it’s doubtful he was able to fool Daleth, who finally reveals her face this week, as wel as the bombshell that she has the corpse(?) of Alice’s mom Sharon in her possession.

The slice-of-life episodes made sure we thoroughly cared about Bocchan, Alice, Viola, Caph and Zain so that when the plot-heavy episodes like this come around, they have some bite. There’s now a non-trivial possibility the curses is lifted next week. But even if it isn’t, I don’t see Bocchan and Alice’s love for each other waning anytime soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 10 – Not Weird at All

While sleeping in her little cabin, Alice dreams of when she was a little girl, hiding behind her mother Sharon’s skirts at the sight of Rob but always waving to young Bocchan, who always waved to her. Even back then, he didn’t see her as a servant, but a normal girl he wanted to befriend. We’re not talking about Prince Joffery here!

After that dream, there’s a sequence involving Caph going food shopping for the first time while Zain keeps an eye on her. Once she figures out what it means to “pay” people “money” for things, she gets the hang of it, and even stops a boy that was trying to pickpocket her from getting impaled on a sharp cast iron railing. Zain only comes in to “bail her out” insofar as he helps her pick up the dropped groceries.

When Bocchan can’t sleep, Alice offers to sleep in his bed with him until he can, then runs off to change into her pajamas without waiting to hear if he was okay with that. Having Alice next to him is stressful at first, but when he sees her beauty up close and how calm and relaxed she is, he manages to calm down. Granted, that would have happened faster if she hadn’t tried to strip out of her PJs more than once!

The meat of this mostly slice-of-life episode involves what should happen if Bocchan lifts the curse. Yes, he’ll presumably return home and take his place as the next family head. But what of Alice? While Bocchan professes his love for her and assures her if his family objects to their marriage, he’ll cut ties with them. That is the last thing Alice wants, but believing his future to be more important than hers is the last thing he wants.


After singing a lovely, pure duet of the nursury rhyme “The Owl and the Pussycat” together, Bocchan ends up insisting on escorting her back to her cabin, armed with the scarf and gloves she lovingly knit for him.

Assuming the curse will end some point before the end of the show’s run, Alice seems convinced she and Bocchan won’t be able to see each other anymore, at least not they way they currently do. But who says that’s the way it has to be? Doesn’t Bocchan get a say?

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 09 – Secondborns Roasting on an Open Fire

It’s Christmas, and for the first time, Bocchan is going to host a party. Caph and Zain are coming, and so is Viola with the gift of a handkerchief for Rob. When their mom insists that Viola spend Christmas with “family” she does just that: by spending it with her dear brother. Strangely enough, Walter ends up doing so as well, as he replaces Viola’s driver in order to get a better idea of who he’s dealing with in Bocchan.

Zain ends up finally telling Caph she’s pretty while she’s apparently napping, but she was actually awake and heard his words. In her haste to see Rob, Viola drops her gift, which is picked up by Walter, who then finds a Santa costume in the hall and puts it on just as Caph crosses paths with him. Since Caph still believes in Santa she assumes the gift is for her.

As Caph and Viola bicker over the gift, Walter comes down the chimney in a cloud of soot and issues a challenge his older brother: the first one to discover the secret of the curse will become the new head of the family. As for their mother, well, she gets to eat dinner alone, because she’s an awful bitch who tried and failed to ruin at least two of her three kids!

As the new prologue to episodes states, Bocchan is never lonely, ever since he decided not to give up, and to instead spend his days together with Alice, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Alice very much wants a kiss under the mistletoe, and part of me thought this was the moment they learned the curse didn’t affect her…but she settles for sharing the “coldness” of the snow by lying down next to Bocchan after he trips and falls.

It’s a pleasant if somewhat static episode. I couldn’t care less about Walter and his challenge, but it was sweet to see Zain and Caph’s relationship take a baby step forward. As for the curse, there’s still three episodes to break it. Better get cracking, Bocchan!

TenSura – 37 – Fellowship of the Slime

Rimuru and the gang are back, and like most TenSura premieres, it’s far more a quiet easing into the hot spring than a cannonball into lava. That said, there’s nothing quiet about this opener, thanks to Mr. Veldora Tempest, now possessed of his freedom and a shredded human form. Despite his new look, Veldora feels like an old friend and treats Rimuru like a brother and “BFF”. He’s way to brash and jovial, but I just can’t hate him.

His return to the Forest of Jura—now a powerful federation with a bustling capital thanks to his BFF—is awkward at first, but once Rimuru’s compatriots realize he’s the Lord Veldora, they welcome him with their usual exuberance, and a giant party ensues. During this time, we are reminded how gross Shion’s food is, but one benefit of being resurrected is that she now has the ability to make her food taste great no matter how she cooks it, which is…random!

If you look above, you’ll see that no fewer than two dozen characters sitting at a single conference table during another one of TenSura’s interminable infodumpy council scenes. That’s a lot of characters, and for the vast majority of shows I’d say it was way too many, but they were all introduced gradually enough, and are individually distinctive enough, that even if only a handful get lines, they all feel like old friends, just like Veldora.

The episode serves as a platform for Rimuru to make clear he intends to come out as a Demon Lord to the whole world. His plans include cleaning up Falmuth (whose army he annihilated), keeping the Holy Church “in check” (I imagine he can hold his own against Sakaguchi Hinata by now), rescue Lord Carrion, and eventually deal with Lord Clayman himself.

Among his usual allies, he also has Blumund, Dwargon, and a newcomer in the Elves of the Sorcerous Dynasty of Thalion. That last and most floridly named nation is led by Elalude, who just happens to be Eren’s dad! Small world. In any case, the elves seem to be top magic users and should prove to be a valuable ally. Rimuru and his grand alliance have a lot to do, but this week they just talk about it. Maybe next week they’ll start doing it!

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.