The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 03 – Turtle Soup

The time for talk has passed—this episode is all action. The Spirit Tortoise—that is, the somewhat janky CGI Spirit Tortoise—must be stopped, and with an alliance of nations at his back, Naofumi is never going to have a better chance to do it. I have to respect an episode that is devoted to one thing and one thing only: covering the battle from start to (apparent) finish.

That said…deary me…Shield Hero is to be commended for its ambition. The execution, however, is very much a mixed bag. Often times animation is dispensed with in favor of panning stills or, in the case of the masses of soldiers and the tortoise, the aforementioned janky CGI. There’s quite a bit of suspension of disbelief in viewing this grab bag of battle visuals.

But if the animation can’t cash all the checks the composition writes, Kevin Penkin sells the hell out of what we get. I can’t stress enough just how important the quality of the soundtrack contributes to a sense of gravitas and awe. That, and seeing Naofumi not only recognized but celebrated by the marching troops is something of a revelation. He’s come a long way, baby.

While things get a little hairy due to the Spirit Tortoise firing a flurry of deadly purple thorns that decimate the allied forces, those forces are still able to stop its advance by taking out one of its legs. The mage corps then pierce the skin of the tortoise’s neck, allowing Raphtalia and Filo to go in there and deliver a devastating combined strike that beheads the beast, which was the whole objective of the operation.

Throughout the battle, Ost selflessly (and awesomely) offers her not inconsiderable magical powers to assist in both offense and defense. But she’s also something of a canary in a coal mine; everyone expected her to disappear when they beheaded the Spirit Tortoise, since she’s it’s familiar and all. But even after the head has been detached, Ost lingers on. While I’m glad she’s not dead, the fact she isn’t means the Tortoise isn’t either. Thus the threat endures.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 02 – We Are Who We Are

After showing us the current state of their relationship in the premiere, Koiseka takes us back six months ago to when Desumi and Fudou first met. Standing atop a building and looking down on him, backlit by a crescent moon, he found himself immediately captivated by her gleaming green eyes shining through her cartoon skull mask.

From there, we’re given more world-building through action as the Gelato 5 battle Gecko while “Hero TV” copters hover and record. Under the pretense of going somewhere to duel where collateral damage would be minimal, Desumi and Fudou are almost caught, but Desumi wisely plays dead as he and his comrade Misaki (Yellow Gelato) are interviewed by a reporter.

When they’re alone again, Desumi is feeling a little lonely since she just saw how popular Fudou is with the ladies. Then he asks how he can make it up to her, and she says she wants to go on an ordinary date. The only problem is, neither of them have ever been on a date, so Fudou relies first on Google and then a drunk Misaki to help him plan one.

The two meet on a lovely day in the park, with Fudou wearing glasses and his hair different as a “disguise”, and he marvels at how resplendent Desumi looks in normal clothes. However, under the assumption that the best date is one where they do something they both enjoy, Fudou has planned a date mostly of weight training and running.

By the time Fudou breaks out a backpack full of sugar-free protein bars, Desumi excuses herself to “go to the bathroom”, and it sure looks like she’s noped out on Fudou’s sorry excuse for a date. A sober Misaki calls him from a hot spring to tell him to ignore all the advice she gave him while drunk, then proceeds to tell him he’d better not do all the things he just did on his date.

Fudou, suddenly an emotional wreck, wanders the park looking in vain for Desumi, whom he’s sure took off because his date plan sucked, and just wishing with all his heart that she’d give him a second chance…and then he feels a cold drink on his temple, and Desumi is there, wondering why he’s acting so strange. When he tells her, she laughs. Of course she’s been having fun on their date, because she’s on a date with her sweetheart!

The two then hold hands and lean in for a kiss, but are rudely interrupted by their respective alarms calling them to duty. In the ensuing battle between Gelato and Gecko, both the Reaper Princess and Red Gelato are understandably out of it, still soaking up the pure bliss of their wonderful date…no doubt the first of many!

While a gold-standard series like Kaguya-sama blows Koiseka out of the water in both comedy chops and production values, Koiseka is by no means a slouch in either department. It looks as good as it needs to, and the chemistry and sweetness of its couple is impossible to resist. I also enjoyed the cute little post-credit segment introducing Desumi’s kitty Hellko, who is glad her mistress is smiling and laughing more.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 02 – Do It, Then Think Later

Remember when the latest season of TenSura started with a bunch of long, boring meetings? Well, in the first half or so of this episode Shield Hero takes the same tack, putting Naofumi and Queen Mirellia in a room full of crotchety generals bickering over who should take command or lead the forces against the rampaging Spirit Tortoise. It’s all…a bit dry?

It seems more fun outside as Filo and Rishia are joined by Elrasla, noted tough old broad, and Eclair, whose dignity and decency I admire even as I rack my brain trying to figure out who voices her (I’m sure ANN will list it eventually). They’re basically at the kids table on standby while the brass talks things out.

That brass is soon joined by the same woman voiced by Hanazawa Kana who asked Naofumi to please kill her last week before suddenly disappearing. We learn her name is Ost Hourai, and while everyone knows her as the concubine of the now-deceased king of the Tortoise Kingdom, reveals that she’s actually one of the Tortoise’s familiars in human form.

She was created to seduce her way to the highest levels of human political power, and then use that power to get them to start wars. The Spirit Tortoise, ya see, uses human souls to stop the Waves. But someone has gone and unsealed the Tortoise itself, and its resulting rampage is not by choice.

Ost is there to help in any way she can, but rather hilariously, none of the advice she offers is anything anyone in the room doesn’t already know. I love how offbeat and quirky she is, it really spices up the otherwise dull meeting scenes (as does the Kevin Penkin score, as always). Also nice is Raphtalia meeting Naofumi on a moonlit bridge that night, telling him if the other generals will follow a good plan, they just need to come up with one.

Naofumi thinks he has one, and will utilize the unique qualities of the various allied kingdoms to pull it off. Manpower, siege machines, mages, and explosives, there’s a wealth of resources with which he will stop, pin down, and eventually behead the Spirit Tortoise. Everyone pitches in, even Rishia and Ost pulling Tortoise research duty at the library.

One night while Naofumi’s suddenly much bigger party is gathereda round a fire, Ecliar mentions that she brought some new weapons and gear from Elhart in Melromarc, including a new sword for Raph, a new gauntlet for Filo…and a stat-boosting Filo mascot suit for Rishia, which is pretty adorable.

It’s while she’s in that bird suit that Ost picks up on Rishia being in love with the Bow Hero, and encourages her to “get intimate as soon as possible” and not overthink things. Honestly I can’t imagine what Rishia sees in that stuck-up prick, but hey, you can’t choose who ya love!

While a bit stronger than last week owing to Ost’s weirdness (and Eclair’s profound uprightness), this was still a table-setting episode packed with exposition and information leading up to the trip to the Tortoise-beheading fireworks factory…and is thus scored accordingly.

Magia Record – 25 (Fin) – A Record No One Knows

Step One of the Magia Record finale: dig poor Tamaki Iroha out of the yawning chasm of despair into which she was cast by losing both Ui and Kuroe. First, Iroha shoots a Kyuubey or three in the face, not wanting to hear his platitudes about extending the universe. Harder to silence is her own doppel, who says she couldn’t save Ui or Kuroe because she didn’t ever truly know or understand them.

Iroha is no doubt in a bad way, but thanks to the timely arrival of Yachiyo and the rest of Mikazuki Villa, she’s able to share her pain and failures with them, just as they shared joy and happiness in brighter days. They connect with both hope and despair, sharing everything about each other. This maximum understanding means Iroha is able to conjure a giant crossbow airship that conveys the quintet to Embryo Eye.

Mikazuki and a huge army of magical girls manages to restrain Embryo Eye, while Iroha is able to fly through any and all obstacles to end up with her two remaining little sisters in her arms. Nemu and Touka insist she fall back, stay safe and let them keep her alive for a long, long time. But Iroha assures them more time won’t make her happy if it means they must sully their hands, or disappear. She wants to share as much time as they have left together.

While she’s finally able to get Nemu and Touka to stand down, the victory lasts only a few moments when we’re reminded that the wild card Alina Gray is still on the board, and crazier than ever. Of all the hundreds of magical girls deployed in this battle, it only takes one to muck everything up, and that’s Alina, who above all must be entertained and engrossed by art and excitement, even if it means sacrificing herself to merge her doppel with both Embryo and Walpurgisnacht.

Alina’s destructive actions threaten everyone, magical girl or not, and Iroha can’t hold Nemu and Touka back from doing what they can to stop her. In this case, that is summoning their own doppels, going into overdrive, then catching up with the Alina-Embryo Eye and destroying it before it can merge with Walpurgisnacht—sacrificing themselves in the process.

The resulting explosion turns everything white, and Yachiyo wakes up on a train in space, wondering if she’s dead. She’s soon joined by former villa sisters Mel and Kanae, and then by Momoko and Mifuyu. They tell Yachiyo they’re not ghosts, but fragments of their magic that live on within her. Thus is Yachiyo’s magical ability finally confirmed not as the power to survive by sacrificing friends, but the power to carry on their hopes.

After meeting with Ui and saying goodbye one last time (though Ui also says a part of her will remain with Iroha, specifically every time she experiences happiness), Iroha ends up in one last discussion with her doppel. But since she no longer fears her doppel, and has come to understand her, Iroha is able to remain in control, and even draw upon her doppel’s power, combined with Ui’s collective power, to connect each and every magical girl on the battlefield with glowing pink threads.

They’re not threads that collect despair, but seek understanding and sisterhood. One big happy magical girl family, all of whom know each other, and all of whom have a part of themselves in their others. She and Yachiyo connect and conjure a mammoth half-spear, half-crossbow bolt. Declaring that no matter how sad or regretful she gets, she’s going to keep living, Iroha fires the bolt, finishing the Alina-Eye off and dispursing Walpurgisnacht.

The clous part, the blue sky and gleaming sun bathes Iroha and Yachiyo in its warm light. The rest of Mikazuki Villa joins them, and they revel in their hard-fought victory. After the credits we see new occupants arriving at Mikazuki Villa in some undetermined but not necessarily distant future, with framed pictures of former tenants, including Yachiyo and her original group, as well as Iroha and her little sisters.

But they’re just photos of girls. As the girls in those photos narrate that nobody knows nor will know the struggles they faced, the sacrifices they made, the tears they shed and the blood they spilled. They won’t know they failed, were deceived, were stolen from, or that they fought each other, made up with each other, comforted each other.

The damage caused to the city is explained by a combination of earthquakes, typhoons, and terrorist attacks. What actually happened will never be recorded, and to the rest of humanity, magical girls and their record never existed.

It’s a expectedly sobering and haunting way to close the curtain on this bizarre world. But it doesn’t matter to Iroha if she was remembered, only that she got to be a magical girl, save people, and live and share in the lives of those she loved.

Magia Record – 24 – No Choice at All

As Alina Gray revels in the chaos Touka and Nemu have resumed (and paints a picture of it) and Yachiyo chases after Embryo Eye, Kyuubey calmly waxes philosophic about how he’s actually doing magical girls a favor, since their sacrifice is a small price to pay for, ya know, extending the life of the universe.

He also goes on about how “what is right” depends entirely on when you live in human history. In some times “justice” hast meant protecting the weak; in some times it has meant eliminating them to make humanity stronger.

Those lofty areas of rumination are of no interest to Iroha, who is now safely within Little Kyuubey, which means she finally gets to reunite with Ui. Her goal is to get out of there with Ui, but Ui tells her it’s too late for that. However bad a big sister Iroha believes herself to be, Ui believes she’s been a worse little sister.

She’s not herself anymore, and hasn’t been since she became a magical girl with Touka and Nemu. Unlike those two, Ui is content to admit they failed and gracefully back away (and say what you want about Kyuubey’s designs, the plan ws and is short-sighted at best).

Ui tells Iroha they must part, because while her story is over, Iroha still has a lot of people left to save, starting with Kuroe. Iroha breaks Iroha out of Little Kyuubey just when Kuroe’s doppel is overwhelming her. But while Iroha wants to save Kuroe, Kuroe doesn’t want to be saved, because she doesn’t believe she’s worth saving.

We finally learn why (or at least part of why) Kuroe feels that way. Whether she became a magical girl because Iroha did or for some other reason is not clear. However, once she became one, she was weak, and barely able to scrape by. But just as there’s always a bigger fish in the sea, there’s always a weaker magical girl.

When Kuroe meets one who is stuck in a witch’s labyrinth, she rescues her and the stray cat she meant to save. We never see this magical girl’s eyes or learn her name (nor does Kuroe). But when the girl asked for a spare grief seed, Kuroe lied and said she didn’t have one, when in reality she did have one to keep her above water.

Kuroe believes the choice she made back then was no choice at all. She went so far as to save that girl, only to abandon her to a longer, slower death. She has no idea what happened to her, but it’s likely to have been nothing good, considering her Soul Gem was already in bad shape.

So now, having had to say goodbye to her dear little sister, Iroha now finds herself trying to convince her friend that she can and should be saved. Kuroe is far from keen on the idea, especially as her darker side replaces that mystery girl with Iroha in her mind, thus upping her guilt and despair.

While she’s under the heavy emotional influence of her downer doppel, Kuroe decides she’ll make it so that she doesn’t have to save anyone and doesn’t need to be saved. Her doppel breaks through Alina’s barrier and she transforms into a full-on witch, Iroha watching helplessly as Kuroe’s blackened vestigial human body is torn to pieces.

As the witch soars out of earth’s atmosphere, likely up to no good at all, Iroha’s defeated face turns to one of grim duty and determination. If she couldn’t save Kuroe, she’ll at least put her out of her misery, and spare a great number of lives she’d claim as a witch. Three episodes into this four-part finale, I earnestly hope we’ve reached the lowest depths, and that Iroha and her remaining friends can soon begin to ascend from the shadows.

Magia Record – 23 – Sticking to the Plan

Outside, Yachiyo, Mifuyu, and the other girls are confronted by the Amane twins and Magius acolytes, and it looks like a magical girl-on-magical girl battle is about to take place. But to the twins’ credit, they seem to stand down at least to hear Mifuyu out; such is their respect and love for her. Mifuyu tells them the time has come to stop hurting each other and others, because the Wings of Magius’ plan failed.

Inside, Nemu stops the time suspension, the hourglass shatters, and suddenly Touka remembers everything: life with Nemu, Ui, and Iroha in the hospital, and all of the things she’s done since then to end up where she is. It’s a tearful reunion, but Touka also finds herself crushed by guilt. Kugimiya Rie does some excellent work here.

After hugging Iroha, Touka wants to know why Nemu didn’t tell her the truth when she knew it all along, and the answer is simple: Nemu didn’t want Touka to abandon the plan. The collective fear and misery of countless magical girls who came to Kamihama City drove Touka mad, but Nemu’s knowledge of not only losing Ui but knowing no one knew but her must’ve have driven her mad, too.

That’s because even with the benefit of hindsight, and the fact their efforts thus far almost killed their big sis Iroha, Touka and Nemu decide to press on. They don’t believe the Doppel System to have failed, but simply isn’t finished yet. They decide to keep the promise they made to Ui, even if she wouldn’t want them to, and “get back to making their mistake.”

As they ride off aboard the awakened Embryo Eye bound for Mitakihara, which they plan to fuse with Embryo, I had to hand it to these two for doubling down on their bad bet. It’s not surprising at all that two girls with the hubris to believe they could take on Kyuubey’s powers and control them would believe that they alone can save everyone.

But the immediate effect of Embryo Eye’s awakening is that nearly every magical girl in Kamihara City is overwhelmed by their Doppels. I suppose they’re all simply necessary sacrifices for the greater god to Nemu and Touka. But Mifuyu is determined to protect every last one of them with what power she has. She tells Yachiyo to leave everyone in her care while she heads off to try to stop Embryo and get Iroha back.

Mifuyu puts up barriers around all of the Doppel-ified girls to pr otect them from themselves and each other, but when they all start banging against those barriers, it takes a toll on Mifuyu. Enter Momoko, who offers physical, emotional, and magical support. Their mission is nothing less than reaching out and touching the soul of every affected girl and ripping away the darkness causing the Doppels to form.

To do this, Mifuyu and Momoko enter some kind of “soul realm” where the overwhelmed girls are represented as being confined to their own individual four-poster beds. Sana, Felicia, and Tusurno are all freed, but every time Mifuyu and Momoko free someone, their soul avatars crack and threaten to shatter.

Mitama, ashamed by how she’s played both sides for so long, is eager to help, but Mifuyu warns her not to. She and Momoko have made their choice, and there’s no going back. But the girls who remain when they’re gone will still need a Coordinator, so Mitama must live on.

The last magical girl Momoko helps save is Kaede, who finally reunites with Sena. But once all of the magical girls who had been Doppel-ified by Embryo Eye awaken back in the normal earthly realm, they find Momoko and Mifuyu lying beside each other, hand in hand, their soul gems shattered.

Thanks to Nemu, Iroha is trapped in some kind of protective dimension, while Yachiyo is headed off on her own to face overwhelming odds as Embryo Eye and Walpurgisnacht will soon clash and cause unfathomable destruction.

Two girls driven mad by their master plan, another who may be the only one strong enough to stand against them. And then there’s the wild car, Kuroe, slinking along with quite a lot of black goop in tow, followed by a translucent Kyuubey. On to round three.

Attack on Titan – 83 – Putting Together a Team

Levi is lucky his companion in the woods is Hange, who is able to stiches him up and keeps his wounds clean. The two are in the dark until Eren’s message to all Eldians. Hange thinks the only option is to run, but even in his awful state, that’s not how Levi flies, so the two make contact with Magath and Pieck and propose an alliance.

We catch glimpses of Jean, Mikasa, and Annie at night trying to sleep through the din of the Rumbling, while Armin and Gabi ride through the night, trying to catch up to Connie in time to save Falco. Little did I know everyone in this little sequence would not only eventually reunite, but also have a plan involving Magath, Pieck, Hange and Levi. But first, Armin has to stop Connie from doing something he’ll regret.

Connie’s lie about “brushing the titan’s teeth” is not that convincing even to a dummy like Falco, but Armin and Gabi make it there in time, and Connie gets Armin to stand down by essentially forcing him to save him from his mother’s jaws. Almost losing Armin—and almost subjecting her mom to becoming the Colossal Titan—snaps Connie out of his crazed plan, as does realizing his mom would not have wanted him to kill a friend anda kid to save her.

After a downer of a scene where Mikasa gets her scarf back from her would-be protégé Louise (who is dying of shrapnel) and another scene of Floch going full Fascist, Armin, Connie, Gabi and Falco stop in town for some much-needed food and just happen to sit at the same bench where Annie is scarfing down her first food in four years. Sure, it’s convenient, but I’ll totally allow it, as well as Connie’s not-so-nice ribbing. These guys once trained together as kids, so after all that’s happened it’s nice to be reminded they still are kids.

Back at the ruins of the fort, Floch, who believes Jean has chosen a side, prepares to execute Yelena and Onyankopon. The former has no final words, but Floch wants Jean to prove his loyalty by killing Onyankopon first, and Onyankopon, who was dealt a terrible hand in all this, has a lot to say. The camera cuts away as Jean shoots once, twice, four times, all of the shots missing…on purpose. He pushes Floch away as the Cart Titan pounces, swallowing Jean, Onyankopon and Yelena.

The four shots were a signal to “continue the plan”, meaning Armin, Mikasa, and Connie had a plan, working with Magath, Pieck, Hange and Levi. Armin and Mikasa leave the city driving wagons packed with supplies, with Connie, Annie, Gabi, and Falco all along for the ride. Annie notices someone watching them leaving, something that will most likely come up later. But it’s just thrilling watching all these characters I like teaming up.

Pieck stops by a stream to regurgitate Jean, Onyankopon, and Yelena, the latter of whom was saved because she’s part of Hange and Levi’s deal with Magath and Pieck. Jean explains to Onyankopon that he just couldn’t plug his ears and remain a part of Floch’s xenophobic Jaegerist regime. Like Connie, he held on to his pride as a soldier.

In his cabin hideout, a recovering Reiner is kicked awake by Annie, someone he probably never expected to see alive again. He’s even more confused by the odd combination of people around him: Mikasa, Connie, Armin, Annie, Gabi, and Falco. He asks what’s going on, and he gets an answer: they’ve assembled a team…to save the world. Despite the magnitude of the difficulty of their goal considering the Rumbling is already underway, in that moment, I believed them.

This is the first episode of this cour of Titan that was actually fun to watch more often than not. Turns out there are a few good guys (or the closest thing to it) in this world, who never asked Eren to destroy the world for them, and are committed to stopping the slaughter or die trying. This episode was thrilling (and at times pretty damn funny) enough that I’m content to wait for the next episodes to explain exactly how they’re going to do that.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 17 – Having It Easy

Lest last week’s episode make us too hard on Paul, we flash back to the same disaster that sent Rudy and Eris to the Demon Continent. Paul suddenly finds himself a stranger in a strange land, with only Norn with him. With Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha nowhere to be found, all Paul could do is keep Norn safe and try to find the rest of his family. Just as Rudy did everything he possibly could to keep Eris safe, Paul did the same with Norn.

Back in the present, Paul once more escapes into drink, but he just so happens to know Geese, who tells him that actually, if he stops and thinks about it (preferably while sober), he was pretty harsh on his eleven-year-old son. Yes, Rudy was an amazing and special prodigy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is also a little kid who went through a lot and still managed to come out of it with himself intact.

Geese’s man-to-man chat with Paul really provides a key assist to Rudy, as Paul dries himself out and visits Rudy once more at the tavern. Eris is ready to attack him, but Ruijerd stops her. As the two leave to allow Paul to be alone with his son, Ruijerd reminds Paul that the grievances he has with Rudy are only important because Rudy is still alive. As in, Paul still has much to be thankful for.

Last week, both Paul and Rudy learned a lot about themselves and each other. Rudy learned that yes, he actually was kind of treating this like a game this whole time, because he didn’t know the extent of the disaster that befell Fittoa (Paul warns him there’s basically nothing left of their home). When the bartender tells Rudy to look his father in the face, he sees a face he hadn’t seen since the last friend who hung out with him when he was a shut-in in his previous life.

When that friend was doing his best to help Rudy feel like what he was and what he was doing wasn’t bad or wrong, Rudy at the time took it as nothing but patronization and pity. He lashed out at his friend, who never returned to his place. But Paul did come back, to apologize for being too harsh with his son. So Rudy, in turn, suggests they simply forget the previous day happened and start over with a simple father-son hug.

Back at the inn, and with Paul present, Rudy has another Dead End strategy meeting with Eris and Ruijerd. He tells Eris that the home they knew doesn’t exist anymore, and to his surprise, Eris had long ago already accepted that possibility. Thus their mission is no longer to return home, but to find the rest of his family.

Now his party will be active in the same search Paul’s party and Roxy’s party have been involved in since the disaster. That means there’s a good chance one of those groups will find someone. After all, Paul and Rudy found each other. And while it was initially a tough reunion, once both of them committed to being grown-ups they were able to be honest with each other.

The Promised Neverland – 20 – Emma

Instead of being slaughtered for meat, Norman was introduced to Peter Ratri, his “new father”, and asked to assist with his research. No matter how much they up the difficulty of the tests, Norman always scores perfectly.

Peter is trying to wrest control of the farms from James, presumably his brother or father. Norman also observes how gently he’s treated compared to the other children at the Lambda facility, who undergo all manner of horrific surgery and used as fodder for experiments.

Norman eventually meets Vincent, and together they clandestinely plan a prison break, which is initiated when Norman grasps the king while playing chess. He gives the surveillance camera a blank look, immediately followed by the blast of an improvised bomb.

Norman and Vincent rush through the facility, now in total chaos, and save what humans are still able to be saved, like Cislo and Barbara, the latter of whom asks Norman if he’s a “god” when he frees them. Standing over his great victory, Norman tells the captured demons he won’t stop until their kind has “died out from this world”.

I’m glad we were shown these events, as in this case where it’s important to see the horrors he saw, showing is better than telling. I only wish Norman and his comrades hadn’t spent so much of the last couple episodes spouting so much exposition, which in hindsight feels redundant.

Still, we get a very foreboding shot of a robed Norman at sunset, looking quite a bit like Anakin Skywalker after being seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t care if he has to be a god or a devil if it means Emma and the other children will be able to live in safety and peace.

This episode suffers from a considerably less interesting middle act involving the four days and change Emma, Ray, Gilda and Don are searching for Mujika and Sonju. They basically trudge from one point of the forest to the other in their demon disguises, coming up empty until they reach final search area.

Naturally, this area is crawling with those giant creepy wild demons, and naturally Emma almost gets her head bitten off not once, but twice. The first time, Ray shoots the demon in just the right eye to bring it down. The second time, Sonju and Mujika arrive In the Nick of Time.

But before Emma can even get out how they need the two demons’ help, there’s a blast from afar: Norman has started the operation a day early. Bombs detonate all over the town, releasing the degenerative drug in a sickly purple cloud. It spreads and affects the demons precisely as Norman calculated, turning them into wild vicious beasts that rip each other apart.

This creates a horrifying situation in which demons watch their loved ones degenerate, but beg other demons of sound mind not to hurt or kill them, only to themselves be killed by those transformed loved ones. Soon the streets are full of the cries of terrified children, their mothers and fathers either dead or transformed and about to kill them. It is the scene of hell.

As his comrades stand atop brick columns watching their vengeance unfold with glee, Norman enters the town square and finds one of the young demon girls alone, scared, and crying. Norman, determined not to waver, prepares to kill her with a sword, but he’s stopped in his tracks when her grandfather—the same elderly demon who visited the kids’ hideout—calls out the girl’s name: Emma.

A fresh cloud of the drug falls over the square, infecting the little one but not the old man, who Norman suspects to have devil’s blood like Mujika, and is thus immune. He stabs the old man, but he has Emma drink his blood, reversing her degeneration, and begs her to run.

Before Norman can re-commit to killing the old man or the demon Emma, someone calls to himhis Emma, with Ray by her side. Thanks to Sonju’s horse they managed to make it back to town just in time. When Norman sees Emma he starts to tear up, and when Emma sees him she sees him as the little boy at Grace Field House, in whose hands a bloody sword just doesn’t look right.

While Norman has the intellect to know what exactly to do, and that it may be the only way to save Emma and the others, and he even possessed the will to do the horrible things that needed doing, he still doesn’t have the heart to follow through, at least not without the wavering we saw.

I’ve heard many rumblings about how dissimilar and inferior this second season is to the first due to the fact it’s passed over large swaths of the original manga’s story and basically doing its own thing. I’ve also learned that this was apparently the author’s choice to do this, so it isn’t as if his work was getting short shrift against his wishes.

Whatever the case may be, a second season that takes place after escaping the farm was always going to be a thoroughly different kind of show, despite the same title, and that’s certainly proven the case. But now that Norman, Emma, and Ray are reunited once more in the epicenter of his grand plan, I remain thoroughly engaged and excited to find out where in the world things go from here!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 20 here. They know their stuff!

The Promised Neverland – 19 – A Future Without Regret

By bringing up Mujika and Sonju, Emma clues Norman in on a major threat to his plan. He’s never met either, but heard stories about a mutation of demons who could maintain their human-esque form and intellect without eating meat. He thought they’d all been hunted down and killed by the Demon King and royalty committed to maintaining the status quo that lines their pockets.

With the “Evil-Blooded Girl” still out there, the demons presumably have a defense against his degenerative drug. Emma sees it the other way: instead of eradicating the demons, they can treat them all to be like Mujika and Sonju, so they won’t need to eat human meat anymore. But that misses the whole point: the Demons in charge would keep eating humans even if they didn’t have to, simply because they want to.

If that’s the case, then Emma thinks they should escape to the human world rather than committing demon genocide. Again, Norman has researched this, and the only gate he knows of is deep beneath…Grace Field House. It’s too dangerous and there are too many unknown factors, including whether the humans would even accept them.

Emma can’t accept a future she has to kill her friends and countless other innocents to achieve, in which she’d never be able to smile again. Norman knows the kind soul Emma is and always was, but here again they disagree: he says it isn’t “tough” to do what he’s doing, because he’s working towards the future he desires.

The debate would seem to be over, with the two sides at an impasse and Norman politely shuffling Emma and Ray out of there, but Emma proposes a deal: give her ten days to find Mujika and Sonju before proceeding with his plan. Norman gives her five…because he doesn’t expect her to succeed.

When Emma and Ray leave, Norman joins Cislo, Barbara, and Vincent in the bowels of their headquarters, and tells them that his siblings from the farm don’t want to annihilate the demons, and have also met with and are friends with the Evil-Blooded Girl. Just the thought of not eradicating the demons sends Barbara into a jar-shattering rage, leading to a “Lambda seizure”, which seem to be happening to her and the other two with increasing regularity.

They’re running out of time fast—just when Emma asked for more of it. Cislo is disgusted by Norman’s siblings’ “naive nonsense” but understands they’re good kids. So he asks Norman on behalf of the other Lambda survivors: Is Norman still on their side? Norman tells them he agreed to wait five days, but nothing else has changed. If Emma returns successful, Norman will kill the Evil-Blooded, but his plan will go forward without further alterations.

To show how far he’s come and why he can’t back down now, he shines his lantern on a massive Lilith-like demon, which he’s no doubt used for research and development of his anti-demon drug.

So now we know—if it wasn’t clear from the end of their conversation—that Norman has no intention of cancelling or changing his plan to commit genocide. Even if he wanted to, he has more than just Emma to think of. If the Lambda kids feel he’s betrayed them, he’s just as sure to die by their hands than demons’. And then there’s the matter of him doing what he did when he got shipped away: putting all of the burden on his own shoulders.

Of course, Emma thinks deep down the same Norman she knew and loved is still in there somewhere, and will honor his part of the bargain. Ray seems to want to trust Norman too; clearly being around Emma so much has blunted his cynicism. So they return to their mountain hideout, and there Emma presents her view and gets everyone onboard, even the terrified Gilda.

She uses the kids own grumbling bellies to drive home the point that killing all the demons would only spread more fear and hate, making the world a worse place. Emma can’t accept any other path but a peaceful one, but what she doesn’t yet grasp is that she’s already on the path Norman has paved for everyone—he just gave her five more days to pretend otherwise.

Back at Norman’s HQ, he suddenly coughs up blood into the same hand Emma took into hers when forging their doomed bargain. It would seem that whatever happened after he said goodbye to Emma to be shipped off, he didn’t fare any better than the other Lambda victims. His time grows short too, to the point even if Emma’s plan was most certain and logical, there wouldn’t be enough time to realize it.

Irina and Crow had a discussion on this episode. Check it out here!

 

 

The Promised Neverland – 18 – The Norman Invasion

After a recap week, Neverland is back, and as good as its been all season, although not for the reason you’d think. Norman’s back, and that’s great! Emma can’t believe it’s not a dream, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. This literally doesn’t seem real that their old friend is alive, well, and not just deep in the anti-demon resistance, but its leader. It changes everything.

Norman comes to the Temple where he receives a hero’s welcome from the other kids. Like Emma, they initially can’t believe it’s really him, but unlike her they weren’t in charge of ensuring everyone’s survival all this time. They see how they’ve fared, and how things aren’t going so well, and how now that Norman’s here everything will be fine.

Of course, they don’t consciously put it in a way that diminishes Emma’s leadership to this point. Instead, they see it as a great lifting of a weight from her shoulders she never should have had to bear alone. But with the lifting of that weight naturally means there will be a shift in power and authority.

That’s especially apparent when Norman regales the group with what he’s been up to since he left Grace Field House. Rather than processed for food, he was sent to Lambda, a facility for testing and experimentation. There, he made use of his superior intellect to wreck the place, freeing himself and many other captives who had suffered horribly.

Ever since then, he’s been developing a means of utterly defeating the demons: a drug that will cause them to degenerate into wild beasts who will turn against each other. In effect, it’s a biological weapon, and Norman intends for its widespread use in order to decimate their tormentors.

There’s no doubt that if the drug works as Norman claims, it will usher in a new era of freedom and peace for humanity. This is a big deal. And when you consider all he’s accomplished in the same amount of time Emma and her group have only barely managed to feed themselves, it really puts Emma’s relative lack of progress in relief.

Of course, Emma’s overwhelming concern with Norman’s plan is that it’s so barbaric, and renders humans as no better than the worst demons. Demons have names, thoughts, family. She wants a future where they don’t have to hate, fight, or kill. Ray can sense this, and he gets it out of her fairly easily, which means those so-called “secret” thoughts could have come out at a far worse time, in front of a far less receptive audience.

Ray doesn’t agree with Emma. He’s fine with annihilating the demons, but he also wants to make sure Emma makes her feelings known to Norman. They don’t know, for instance, if Norman knows about demons like Mujika who can maintain their intellects without human meat, so it could be an exchange of information that could help Emma better determine and articulate a more peaceful counterproposal.

As soon as they reach Norman’s holdfast and meet his fellow Lambda escapees, the immense scale of Emma’s task becomes clear. After what they and their friends both dead and alive endured at Lambda, Cislo, Vincent, and Barbara harbor a pure and intense hatred of demons. Cislo can’t wait for the high that comes from massacring demons, while the suspicious-looking haunch of meat Barbara is chomping on turns out to be demon meat.

That’s right: Barbara says her anger melts away when she eats their meat. She believes every single demon should suffer what they endured, and worse. The atmosphere wasn’t altogether welcoming at the beginning of the scene, but as the Lambda kids start talking about how much they hate demons, the mood of the scene turns that much more sinister, to the point I feared for Emma’s safety!

Indeed, when Barbara can see what she’s saying is disturbing Emma, she makes it clear that Emma better not have any disgusting ideas about changing Norman’s plan. Cislo and Vincent tell Barbara to take off and cool down, but they feel the same way: the demons must go. When they leave Emma and Ray to wait for Norman, Ray tells her there’s no stopping hatred like that once it’s begun.

I honestly couldn’t help but think of the current situation in Attack on Titan’s final season, in which the “good” and “bad” sides have long since melted away, and everyone arms themselves with enough hatred to commit any atrocity against anyone who stands in their way. I’m with Emma that this isn’t the right way to forge a future, but I’m also with Ray: in this climate she’ll be steamrolled by the hate long before she can come up with, let alone implement, an alternative plan.

When Norman is free, he sits down with his brother and sister, and shows them a bottle of the drug that will be used in the plan. Emma doesn’t even get to the part where she objects to that plan when Ray mentions the demons who didn’t eat humans. Norman reacts in a way neither Ray nor Emma expected: like someone who had staunchly believed their nemesis was dead and buried suddenly having to call that into doubt.

Referring to Mujika as the “Evil-Blooded Girl” while glaring and grasping his face dramatically, Norman shows a side of himself Emma has never seen, and part of the New Norman with whom the other Lambda kids are familiar and comfortable. No doubt Norman cast away those parts himself that weren’t relevant to The Cause. And now she and Ray may be the bearer of news that could ruin his intricate plan for demon eradication. Not the reunion anyone wanted!

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of the episode here.

The Promised Neverland – 17 – Living On Grace

It’s been almost a year since the children escaped from Grace Field House. Rumors of how they have yet to be hunted down spread in a demon city, but more often than not they’re dismissed as having died long ago. All the while, those same children who escaped a year ago are walking among the demons who’d do almost anything for their high quality meat.

Neverland does a lot of efficient world building this week, and this opening scene lays bare the general social strata of the demons. Ordinary demonfolk who shop in the street markets will never see, let alone taste Grace Field meat. As for the kids, they’re older and wiser and more capable and resourceful than ever, but food is still scarce. The struggle for survival is constant.

While each and every one of the younger kids are absolute troopers, not even complaining about eating only thin soup day after day, the decision to leave the farm weighs heavily on Emma each night. When she can’t sleep in the night, she faces a wall, cursing her shortsightedness and arrogance.

Ray reminds her they all made the right choice—the only choice—to leave. If they hadn’t, Ray would be dead, and the others would soon find themselves on the wealthier dinner tables of the demon world. Better underfed than dead.

Their hilltop temple hideout is periodically visited by a solitary demon, who is blind and walks with a cane. He knows there are children there, but it’s left up in the air whether he knows whether they’re human. Perhaps he can’t smell so well anymore, or perhaps he’s just a very nice demon.

For the first time, Emma helps him when he drops his offering, and he thanks her before leaving. Gilda scolds her recklessness, but even if the old man is a human-eating demon, she couldn’t let him continue to fumble in the dark.

Returning to the pair of demons from the market, we see that they are trying to keep two starving demon children from degenerating to wild (and presumably vicious) state. But the low-grade, vat-raised human hand is hardly enough. When one of them reminds them of the Grace Field stock is still at large, they start to seriously consider searching for them.

These aren’t the plans of evil monsters who kill for sport, they’re desperate adults trying to save children with no other options in sight. This is the state of the demon side of the world a thousand years on. While there are certainly bad actors, demons are no longer homogenously “evil”, any more than the humans on the other side. There have no doubt been generations living under this system, and know of no other system.

It’s in this newly expanded picture of this world that we find Emma and the Kids fighting against the long-established norm, daring to sneak into towns to collect enough food to keep everyone alive. This week Thoma and Lannion convince Emma to accompany her, Ray, Gilda and Don, but they end up bumping into that desperate demon pair, and a stiff wind fills the demons’ noses with the scent of humans.

An tense and intricate chase ensues, one that demonstrates just how extensively the kids have trained and practiced evading pursuers. Emma and Ray end up luring the pair away while the others melt into the crowd, only to end up cornered by the pair and a group of other demons who have taken interest.

Then one of the other demons kills the pair who were chasing Emma and Ray, and a blue-cloaked demon lifts his mask to reveal none other than Norman. HI NORMAN! Not only is he still alive, he’s got some friends. Looking back at the beginning of the episode, he’d already  spotted Emma & Co. Months after losing their blessed shelter and on the cusp of losing hope for survival, the universe has graced Emma and the kids with a blessed break.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

See Also: Irina’s review of episode 17, via Crow

The Promised Neverland – 16 – Too Good To Be True

Last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t all that dire for the kids: Minerva’s phone call is merely a recording apologizing for not being able to meet them in person, revealing he once worked for the farms before revolting, and providing the password for the pen to display map to the human side of the world. The creepy messages and journal were from a previous batch of escapees, only one of whom remained before they chose to make a run for the border.

What our kids don’t know is what ever happened to that lonely last escapee. All they know is they can use the shelter as the headquarters for their plan, which still involves returning to the farm, freeing Phil and the others, then freeing all of the other children in the other farms. Far from not pragmatic, this plan seems far too difficult and doomed to failure, considering how few grown kids there are to pull it off.

Still, it’s clear Emma isn’t going to the human side without fulfilling her promise to Norman to free everyone, so they set to work making the shelter a sustainable place, including growing crops, hunting birds (and later gathering slimy fish) for food, and teaching the younger kids marksmanship.

As they settle into a happy and all-too obvious false sense of security, we check in on their former “Mother”, Isabella, who is in jail for allowing the escape. When the demons come, she’s pretty certain they’re there to execute her. Back at the shelter, a peaceful evening is shattered by an explosion blowing one of the hatches clean off, knocking out the power.

A human strike team then infiltrates the facility, where all the kids escape using the hidden passage behind the piano. Don’s one of the last into that passage, and Gilda gives him a huge hug of relief when he arrives. Ray changes their plan on the fly: with the shelter no longer safe, they have to get out of there and seek refuge in the forest…again.

Unfortunately, the enemy forces seem to have a good grasp of the shelter’s layout, since they trap them at every turn. The kids are saved by the fact that these guys are supposed to deliver the merch back to the farm, not harm it in any way. It makes me wonder why they’re not using tranq darts, honestly.

Emma and Ray cover the others as they head to the forest, but again the soldiers are waiting for them. It looks like Game Over, but for the giant wild forest demon bursting out of the trees to kill the soldiers one by one; the muzzle flashes from their guns makes them easy decoys while the kids scatter. But even if they’re all safe for now, they won’t be for long. In the end, shelter might as well have been a mirage!

We learn the farm demons were prepared for this operation to fail, and rather than execute Isabella at once, they’ll leave the matter in her hands as a means of redeeming herself for her failure. If she can successfully retrieve every escaped child, she’ll be granted her freedom and more.

Isabella seems eager to take on the job, claiming that her children “betrayed” her…but that’s just a bit disingenuous considering she was secretly raising them for slaughter. In any case, Mama’s back…and this time, it’s personal.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review here.

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