Summertime Render – 12 – The Kitchen’s Closed

Tokiko reveals Hiruko no Mikoti, Mother of Shadows and God of Hitogashima, also known as Haine, the form of the first human Hiruko copied. To the outrage and disgust of her friends and brother alike, Toki also reveals her family’s solemn duty to feed Haine the bodies of the dead to restore her power.

When Sou bristles, Toki hits back, saying she had no choice; with Sou “being the way he is” he could never be told about the fam’s secret, while feeding Haine is the only way to keep their mother, now a Shadow, alive. As for Ushio, Toki says she got herself killed sticking her nose where it didn’t belong out of her own sense of justice.

Among the two bodies presented for Haine tonight by Nurse Negoro is Ushio’s original corpse; a double was cremated and the bones printed. When Ushio frees herself and snatches up her original body, she’s able to repair her arm and fight at full strength, which is good because Haine transforms Nurse Negoro into a musclebound monster.

Shinpei tries to take advantage of the chaos to shoot Haine with his nailgun, newly printed from Ushio’s hair, but before he can shoot both the gun and his fingers are sliced off by Haine’s Shadow bodyguard, who is holding an unconscious Mio by her head and threatens to crush her skull if anyone moves.

The bodyguard shoots at Tokiko, who was unaware that Haine plans to kill and eat everyone on the island, but Sou takes a bullet for his sister. It doesn’t matter; the bodyguard simply shoots her dead too, now that she and the Hishigatas have fulfilled their duties to Haine.

As Tetsu finally encounters the wounded Hizuru and agrees to carry her deeper into the cave, Haine decides not to kill Ushio, but reprogram her brain and use her as another tool. She also snatches Shin’s time-looping eye—the one in which he “renders” different realities—but it soon disappears from her hand and returns to his socket; not even a god can take away his power.

But what Haine and her hulking bodyguard can do is restrain him and keep him alive until her plans come to full fruition. The bodyguard kills Mio, and Shin’s last chance to be killed and loop seems to rest with Tetsu and Hizuru, who arrive just in time. Tetsu distracts the bad guys with his boobery, giving Hizuru a clean shot at both the bodyguard’s head and Shinpei.

Alas, the bodyguard shields Shinpei and kills Hizuru, so Shinpei uses his last resort: drinking an entire bottle of mercuric chloride from the abandoned clinic, which will most definitely kill him, albeit slowly and painfully. He uses time it takes for the poison to do him in to promise Haine that he’ll defeat her and save everyone. At the same time, Ushio’s powers have advanced to the point she can not only resist Haine’s corrosion, but reverse it and free herself.

Ushio’s final effort is to lunge to where Ushio is dying and take his hand, and she goes through the time loop with him. As long as they’re together, Ushio promises to go anywhere with him, as many times as it takes. But lest we forget, every time he returns to a new loop—this newest being the fifth—he starts a little later. He and Ushio arrive hand-in-hand just as he’s telling Hizuru and Nezu that he’s a time traveler, her book in his hand.

Shinpei now has a lot more information about the bad guys and their plans, but less time to act. The good news is Shadow Ushio is with him, along with all of the amassed memories of the previous loop. Her powers may also already surpass those of the weakened Haine. This episode at the series’ halfway point delves into the bloody depths of despair but ends on a note of hope and optimism that Shinpei and Ushio can turn this train wreck around.

Summertime Render – 10 – A Leaf in the Forest

This week is a no-holds-barred Scooby-Doo adventure almost from start to finish. After watching what Ushio went through to warn Shinpei, there’s no way Sou isn’t going to tag along as they head to his family’s old abandoned clinic up in the mountains. Ushio also struts her Shadow Power stuff, able to transform into a shell necklace Shinpei wears, and explaining how her swimsuit is her armor.

Her abilities combined with Shinpei’s courage and Sou’s loyalty make them the perfect team to investigate a creepy haunted hospital. One great detail is a rare statue of the ancient Japanese deity Hiruko-sama, in the form of a limbless leach-like fertility idol. The fact that legend suggests it was heteromorphic creates an enticing connection to the clearly equally-ancient Shadows. Shinpei, Ushio and Sou end up in what seems to be a Shadow nursery.

Turns out there’s something even more terrifying than a Shadow … a baby Shadow, one that seems docile and harmless enough right up until Shinpei tries to shoot it with a nailgun. It dodges and rolls and bounds all over the place until Sou hits it with his baseball bat.

But then it wraps around the bat (again, Shadow) and very nearly kills him, only Shinpei has been practicing his nailgunning and gets three shots into the Shadow. Ushio finishes it off with her Shadow hair, and cue Victory Fanfare for the Scooby Gang. As much as I fear for their safety, it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching these three old friends get shit done.

At the end of the battle, Ushio gives Sou a playful shove forward as the three continue their investigation, but her arm starts bleeding, like the injury that occurred to a previous copy of the arm has returned. After her powers are essentially a cheat code for most of the episode, it’s good for the episode to self-level and demonstrate she’s far from all-powerful.

Shinpei knows this, and he also stands by his promise to always protect her (which made her blush earlier), and his foreknowledge of the nightmares to come even make a dark cave full of Shadow babies seem…not that bad? He knows firsthand it can always be worse! That said, considering how much effort it took to defeat one baby, the trio have their work cut out for them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 06 – Killing Her Properly

A part of me was disappointed with how relatively cleanly Menou’s path to redemption became when Orwell went full Genie Jafar levels of evil. But I shouldn’t have worried; Virgin Road pulls off a rip-roaringly epic mid-cour finale that’s both ass-kicking and heartwarming.

While Menou fights Orwell down below, Akari’s “blanching” is interrupted by an automated time magic spell, which revives who I’ll call Akari Prime, who knows everything that has happened in all the previous time loops she’s experienced.

It’s thrilling to see this knowing Akari easily dispatch her captors, as well as to learn that she knows Menou has been trying to kill her, but she loves her so much that if she must die, she wants no one but Menou to kill her.

Akari ZAPs herself back to a simpler, earlier version of herself, but keeps a sense of deja vu and her love for Menou, which is clearly the most important part of her existence. No wonder Akari fell for Menou so hard in such a brief time together. Akari Prime also does something pretty “mean”, but also necessary to defeat Orwell.

In the bowels of the castle, Momo and Ashuna are stalemated against the demon and red dragon. But then Akari remotely ages Momo’s most prized possession: the ribbons Menou gave her when she was little. Now, we know Menou is excellent at wielding ether but has a very short supply. But her aide is no slouch in the ether-wielding department, and possesses vast stores of the stuff.

She is so freaking pissed when the dragon’s flame burns away what’s left of her ribbons, she goes absolutely ballistic, unleashing an attack that brings half of the castle down on top of her. For one terrible moment I thought she’d ethered Ashuna, but not, the swole princess not only escapes, but has never had more fun.

Following Momo’s lead, she whips out a mega-blade to defeat the demon with no regard for the corrupt castle where she was brought up. Then it’s Game Over for Orwell at the halfway point of the episode, because Akari and Menou are reunited. That means Menou’s ether supply is no longer of any concern.

That said, it’s her against Orwell and her Red Angel automaton, but the advantage doesn’t last long when Momo, still super pissed, brings down the cathedral’s barrier and beats the red angel to a pulp. Momo takes advantage of her competent aide’s distraction to create a diversion of bubbles…and etheric camouflage.

By appearing as Flare, she’s able to make Orwell hesitate for just the few moments she needs to throw a knife at her unguarded head. But it still is guarded, as the apparently not-too-judgey cathedral itself protects her simply due to her position as Archbishop. This even surprises Orwell, who thought for a second she was a goner.

She isn’t, which means she’s still quite a handful for Menou what with her RGB wand, and Menou knows it. In order to defeat her she’ll have to use Akari’s Pure Concept and delve deeper than she ever has into Akari’s subconscious.

I lit up when I heard that, because that means Menou is going to catch a glimpse of Akari Prime, who is still in there somewhere. A trippy dream sequence ensues as Menou enters Akari’s mind while dealing with her own subconscious, which admits she was never able to become the villain Flare taught her to be.

Just as Akari always has Akari Prime in the back of her mind ready to protect her, Menou always harbored a desire to be a non-sarcastically pure, just, and strong priestess. And in a way, she has remained that, as she didn’t go along with Orwell’s scheme.

Subcon Menou is ready to take her own life with her blade when she’s stopped by Akari in the classroom of her school. There, Akari tells her she’ll be her best friend, no matter what happens.

This acknowledgement of their bond allows Menou to unlock her and Akari’s combined powers, against which Orwell’s RGB wand is absolutely no match. The white beam overwhelms the rainbow beam, and rather than her planned de-aging, Orwell’s aging is ultra-accelerated to just a few moments before her death.

She almost seems to regret having cast aside all that was just and pure for her own path, and considering it led to her ruin, I can’t blame her. But this isn’t her story, it’s that of Menou and Akari, and of Momo and Ashuna, the latter of which finds the former sleeping off her berserkness. She tells the slumbering Momo that she genuinely enjoyed fighting by her side.

In the aftermath of the battles that claimed both the Noblesse’s castle and the Faust’s cathedral, the public report is that Orwell died in battle, her heretical crimes never to be revealed. She wasn’t too big to fail, but the Faust are, which means Menou still has a job, and still has values to uphold.

In a beautiful callback to last week’s shopping, which feels like a dang year ago, Menou instantly cheers a contrite, weepy Momo up with twin red scrunchies, which immediately become her new most prized possessions. Menou also explains how the Akari now among them is a regressed version of one from a distant future, but despite “resetting”, she maintained her affection for her. As we saw, that’s a feature, not a bug, of Akari’s magecraft.

Menou decides she’ll stay by Akari’s side in order to find a way to kill her. After all, Akari is still an existential threat to the world, something Prime Akari is aware of. Because of that and her love for Menou, she not only doesn’t hold it against her, but welcomes the day Akari will kill her.

We catch a glimpse of that future in the form of a nightmare non-Prime Akari has before waking up in her hotel room with Menou. It’s definitely a nightmare for Akari Prime, because it’s the day Menou dies before she can kill her, leaving the deed to Flare.

All Akari Prime can do is keep going back, making adjustments, and maintaining her faith that one of these times around, her beloved Menou will kill her properly.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 05 – Old Age Having a Go at Youth

Having seen where Menou came from and who trained her, it’s entirely possible her bonhomie is merely a carefully practiced act. Hell, even her sense of style, which Akari admires, was developed as one more arrow in her executioner’s quiver. But gosh darn it all if she and Akari have the most adorable date in Garm on the eve of Akari’s ethering.

I honestly didn’t know why so much attention was spent on Menou delegating her investigation mission to Momo, but now we know: because as Menou skips around town with Akari, Momo is scouring Garm’s massive underground tunnel network. There, she not only finds forbidden Faust tech under the Noblesse royal palace, she also finds Ashuna, who is conducting an investigation of her own.

Ashuna and Momo’s dynamic continues to get better and better, especially here where they don’t take up arms against each other but simply co-exist as two people with a shared goal: uncovering the truth, whatever it is. Meanwhile, the absolute truth that Menou feels nothing for Akari starts to show its cracks the closer they get to zero hour in the creepily white ceremonial hall.

As the apparent magecraft to eliminate Akari starts up, Menou’s scripture lights up, indicating a call from Momo. Momo, along with Ashuna, have already discovered that there are Faust conspiring with the Noblesse for some dark purpose. Menou is just a little too late to realize it, for Orwell is right beside her when she does, and she can tell Menou’s figured out she’s doin’ some dirt.

So no sooner does Menou know than Orwell knows she knows, and after that, Menou finds herself in a hopelessly lopsided battle against the Archbishop of the Faust. Her most powerful attack is leisurely swatted away by Orwell, who then unleashes a terrifying counterattack that destroys Menou’s book. She tosses it at Orwell like a bomb, but ends up falling through the hole Orwell makes below her, leaving Akari on her own against eight priestesses.

Orwell follows Menou to the space below the hall, where Menou finds all of the missing women who have literally had the life and vitality sucked out of them. Orwell’s face game is epic, as she gives her bad guy speech about how she’s sick of helping people and wants something in return: her youth back. She’s planning on using Akari’s Pure Concept to make that happen, and was willing to conspire with the Noblesse to do so.

The scripture-less Menou is probably already toast in a one-on-one battle with Orwell, but Orewell still decides to make it interesting by summoning a red automa in angel form to do her dirty work. It’s not just Akari she wants for her Pure Concept, but Menou she wants as a catalyst, revealing she’s played the long game for ten years.

The title of the episode is “Goodbye”, but it’s not about Menou saying goodbye to Akari. It’s about her saying goodbye to the righteous life she thought she was living. With Orwell not just turning heel, but having been a heel all along, the bottom has dropped out from Menou’s world. She and Akari are down, but they’re not out…not as long as Momo and Ashuna are still out and about.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 03 – All Things Strong and Beautiful

First, kudos must be dispensed to the OP and theme “Paper Bouquet” by Mili, which absolutely slaps. Second, kudos to the cool head and hewn granite abs of Princes Ashuna (MAO in a non-cutesy voice for once), who doesn’t flinch when a band of terrorists attempt to take her hostage.

The muscle princess is naturally on the same train as Menou and Akari, who also have to deal with the terrorists. One of them orders Menou (at etheric gunpoint) to strip, revealing any hidden weapons. To Menou’s shock Akari not only comes between them, but offers to strip in Menou’s place, protecting not only her person but her virtue as well.

Naturally, these thugs are no match for an established priestess like Menou. Momo, stashed a few cars back from them, makes similarly quick work of the terrorists before encountering Ashuna on the roof of the speeding train, also having no problem dispatching them.

Momo and Ashuna, not just a bodybuilder but a knight in her own right, proceed to exchange semi-cordial shit talk, complimenting each other’s strength, beauty, and fashion. Then, because Ashuna’s dad is on trial for heresy, she decides to go toe-to-toe with a Faust.

Their fight is marvelously epic and badass, but Menou’s got shit going on too. Turns out all of the terrorists swallowed red gems. This means once activated the gems consume the bodies in which they reside, then combine to form a summoned golem, in this case a red knight. Because Menou fights this knight in the engine room, the etheric engine is naturally damaged, causing the train to go out of control.

The extra speed doesn’t faze either Ashuna or Momo. Ashuna is enjoying the fight while Momo, still a novice but a Faust novice, laments how big of a hassle this “crappy little princess” has become. Momo turns her garrote-like saw blade into a humming sword, then a boomerang, which she uses to shoot some branches and twigs at Ashuna’s front, leaving her back wide open. Unfortunately for Momo, Ashuna manages to grab her and both are thrown from the train.

Menou’s fight with the red knight golem (such a cool concept btw) is complicated further by the arrival of Akari, whom Menou told to be a “good girl” but who thinks she is being a good girl by worrying about her new friend. Unwilling to find out what happens if the red knight swallowed up Akari (and her powers), Menou uses more ether than she’d like to defeat it quickly.

It should be noted that during both her battle with the knight and Ashuna and Momo’s duel, all three women experience a funky time shift of some kind. This almost certainly means Akari either consciously or unconsciously activated her time powers.

While the red knight is history, the train is still runaway and they’re nearing a station where another train is parked. With insufficient ether to stop it, Menou takes Akari by the hand and asks if she can borrow some of hers, something that normally wouldn’t be allowed…but her options are limited.

The yuri undertones of this scenario and Menou’s proposal are all too clear already, but become even more explicit when Menou actually borrows Akari’s seemingly bottomless stores of ether to bring the train to a stop. Menou mentions how she’s “lost most of herself a long time ago”, which means whenever she shares or combines ether with another, it causes a great deal of pain.

But while it may be painful for Menou, it merely tickles for Akari, who makes a few noises that could be construed as suggestive in addition to calling out Menou’s name during their, er, “ether transfer.” I apologize here as I’m not trying to make this seem hornier than presented (it’s actually presented quite matter-of-factly)—but Menou and Akari clearly share and go through something here.

The result of that something is that the train comes to a halt a mere inch from the stopped train. Somewhere in the woods Ashuna and Momo continue to spar, but thanks to Akari, Menou was able to save all of the innocent people on the train and deal with the terrorist threat. You have to think that with all of their wholesome interactions and Akari’s inherent goodness, at some point Menou has to start questioning her duty to execute her.

That’s not just true because Menou stood between her and a terrorist and offered to strip in her place, or give the little girl on the train courage to tough out the ordeal, or lent her the power to save everyone using a semi-taboo practice. No, what Menou contemplates—and which is vividly dramatized—is what really went down on that train before the day was saved.

Did the train actually crash in a timeline, killing everyone, and then Akari’s  time magic kicked in, rewinding things to before the point of no return? If so, how many times did Akari die and time reverse to get the right set of conditions for the train to be stopped safely? Like Menou, I can’t help but shudder to think, but it’s also fascinating to think about.

It’s a rare episode that can pull of so many cool concepts and action set pieces and still hold together beautifully thanks to skilled direction and pacing. It always helps move an episode along when it’s a train, but the technology, tactics, and emotions behind the characters were firing on all etheric cylinders here. I’m tempted to go back and immediately re-watch it, so thrilled I was by this ride. Time magic, indeed.

P.S. Somehow, the ED theme “Touka Serenade” by ChouCho kicks just as much ass, if not more, than the OP.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 01 (First Impressions) – Pure, Just, and Strong

As isekai anime go, this one starts out pretty ordinary: after a stinger involving someone’s dream about being in a class where everyone likes them and they have one “best friend of all”, a boy, Mitsuki, is suddenly summoned into the court of a king, but when judged to be lacking, Mitsuki is promptly tossed out of the castle, where he meets the lovely priestess Menou.

Menou offers a roof under Mitsuki’s head and food and money if he’s willing to work for it. Menou informs him that he’s not the first “lost one” from Japan; in fact, this world has been so influenced by summoned Japanese, the culture there in full force. That said, this world still has its own strict social ladder in which the Faust, or members of the church like Menou, sit even higher than kings and lords.

Mitsuki laments he has no powers, saying the wizard back at the castle said they were “null”, but when Menou gets him to summon his powers, they learn that he actually has the power to nullify anyting, as in making it cease to exist. Once the kid realizes what this means, he immediately start to show signs that suggest he might well abuse that power if left unchecked…

…And so Menou checks him, plunging a dagger straight through his skull. Turns out her true duty is as an executioner of Lost Ones, neutralizing their threat to her world and its balance of power. This wasn’t Mitsuki’s story. It was never supposed to be. It’s Menou’s.

Mind you, Menou doesn’t enjoy doing this, it’s simply her duty, and considering how much chaos carnage a Nullify power could have caused, it’s a damned important duty at that. It’s just great to see the typical isekai (and typical dull MC) formula subverted so promptly and completely.

Menou understands all too well how important her role is, as she is the sole survivor of a calamity that resulted from a Lost One—another high school student from Japan—accidentally turning an entire town into snow (or something white and powdery).

Menou is saved when Flare, the priestess who will become her master, kills the girl. When the girl comes back as a giant snow monster, Flare’s old master Orwell takes care of it. I loved the haunting bleakness of the scene, with the snow (or whatever) serving as a stark contrast to the usual flame-themed dark flashbacks.

Back in the present, Menou meets with her aide Momo, who unlike Menou treats this whole business like a fun game, perhaps her way of coping with the things that must be done to uphold balance and peace (not agreeing with that philosophy per se, jut acknowledging it’s there).

Momo is also infatuated with Menou, an attempt to add some levity to a very dark and bloody business. When the king’s guards come to the church, Menou deals with them quickly and efficiently, while Momo takes care of the one who got away.

Momo determined that the second Lost One the king summoned after the boy Menou already killed is a “guest” of the castle. The king, being of the Noblesse class below the Faust, is hoping this Japanese girl could be used as a weapon to being the Faust down. The episode ends with Menou descending on the girl on the castle balcony.

Menou is immediately a complex and thus fascinating character to watch: ever since she was rescued from that disaster she’s been trained for nothing but what she’s doing, and even parrots Flare’s slogan that a priestess must always be pure, just, and strong. There’s a bitterness in the way Menou says it.

You could say she really is all three of those things, and that the potential threat of the Lost Ones justifies her cold vigilance and laser focus on duty. But to see her master Flare and her aide Momo seem to revel in their bloody deeds in the past and present, while she gives the boy she executed a proper burial, there’s definitely a kernel of moral conflict that this second Lost One will likely help to sprout.

Her Way of Life borrows a lot from its isekai predecessors, but I’ve always been one to say if you can tweak the formula enough that it’s fresh and execute it well, you’ve probably got me as a viewer. Menou’s complexity, concise world-building, the dark comedy of the would-be MC boy’s fate, and combat scenes that pack a punch all conspire to make this one a sure keeper.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 06 – A Model of Peace

While an armed guard keeps Naoya hostage, Kazama’s sketchy-ass Free Speech Alliance takes over the main news government propaganda TV station. After a brief and frankly hackneyed speech about corruption, oppression, etc., Kazama intends to put Naoto and his power on display for the entire viewing public to behold.

Needless to say, with so much of the population brainwashed hook, line, and sinker, it’s patently silly for this guy to believe seeing someone demonstrate “powers” on a TV program will win hearts and minds. Just as Naoya warned several times, the operation fails when the super-skeptic guy—whose treachery, in hindsight, was telegraphed within an inch of its life—reveals he’s an undercover SWE agent, and kills Kazama.

Despite being surrounded by the newly-awakened SWE oficers, Naoto still manages to slip away, until he’s cornered in the parking garage by Takuya. The Kuroki brother has a lot of questions for Naoto, but Naoto is in no mood to answer them, and at least at the start of the battle he’s a better psychokinesis user; or at least a more controlled one.

Ultimately, Naoto, along with Naoya, Emily, and Masayuki’s mom (Shouko’s old friend) end up vanishing in a big ‘ol flash of light. While I shouldn’t assume anything with the limited information we’re given, I’ll go out on a limb and theorize that it was Masayuki’s mom’s connection to Shouko that led to everyone being sent…somewhere in a similar manner to Shouko herself in previous encounters.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 12 (Fin) – Quite the Day

After Drewes and Aira join the battle in the forest, we’re back in Krausner’s capital experimenting with crops with the Alchemist lady. Both she and the Gran Magus really put Sei to work such that she’s exhausted by the evening, but Drewes knows she’ll have to perfect her conjury and speed it up if they’re going to win the war against the monsters. The next morning, Aira joins Sei along with Leo, Drewes, and Al on the next adventure into the woods.

We get Saint’s Magic Power’s longest and most sustained battle, as both toxic slimes and demonic monsters hassle the expeditionary force. Both melee and elemental magic attacks fly freely, with the various magic users employing teamwork for maximum efficiency. All the while, Aira and Sei perform healing and protection duties. There are number of close calls, but someone, usually Al, always has Sei’s back.

When they come close enough to the miasma-infected swamp for Sei to begin her purifying conjury, she is distracted from the task when Al and Aira end up in danger. Drewes insists Sei keep herself focused on her conjury duties, and when the enemies start to surround them, he goes back on his promise to hold back and unleashes a devastating Inferno attack that destroys both nearby fiends and burns the forest. Sei is able to purify the swamp, but that’s all she has the energy for.

That night, Sei finds it hard to sleep, both due to the forest having been destroyed and her unannounced feelings for Albert and what to do about it. Albert escorts her to her tent, but before she heads in to retire, she turns around just as Al does, and they share a tender moment that fades to black and could be interpreted as sharing a chaste kiss. The next day, Sei is back at 100%, and with Al holding her hands, she’s able to revive the forest to its former glory, wowing Aira, Leo, and everyone else in the process.

After the exertion, Sei loses consciousness, coming to in Al’s arms as he princess lifts her back to the city. Sei insists she can walk on her own two feet, but doesn’t pass up Al’s offer to hold her hand as she does. Aira is loving it the whole time! When it’s time to return home to the capital, the old alchemist tells Leo that the Saint’s Magic Power is…love. Well, duh, that’s been pretty clear for a while now! And that love is more often than not focused on a single individual: Albert Hawke.

After the bombast of the forset battles, this very quiet, steady, and pleasant show ends on a characteristically quiet, steady, and pleasant note: Sei and Al enjoying the gorgeous view of the capital from a good vantage point at sunset. As the sun sets on Sei the Saint and her dashing and valiant love interest, I came away nodding agreeably. MAL is often very wrong in its scores, but 7.32 is just about perfect for this show. Never terrible, but also never game-changing, and bolstered by the warm and expressive Ishikawa Yui, whose voice I’m always happy to hear in non-dystopian series!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 11 – That Time I Got Ambushed by a Slime

With Sei off on an expedition with Al, Yuri takes a shine to Aira. Sei confirms that the best way of summoning her saintly power is to think of Al, the man she loves. The thing is, she’s in no particular hurry to confess to him or start any kind of official relationship, despite the fact she’s already saved the guy’s life and they have superb chemistry. Meanwhile, the hulking Leonhart (no relation to Annie) thinks he might have a chance at Sei, but he’d only be setting himself up for Leonhartbreak—if Al doesn’t kill him first!

With the newfound realization of her feelings for Al, Sei has taken to blushing so much he asks if she’s ill…thought that might be less him being dense and more being courteous or playful. He’s not one to talk about blushing around someone, as he does it a lot around Sei. But besides the insertion of Leonhart, who is shaping up to be more of a big (or big little) brother to Sei than the vertex of a love triangle, there’s not much movement in the Sei x Al romance, which at least for Sei is the way she wants it, at least for now.

When the expeditionary group enters the deep forest, they come afoul of several nasty dark slimes, not at all like our pal Rimuru Tempest from TenSura. Sei is able to purify a bunch and shield herself, Al and others, but they’re soon pinned down by superior numbers. That’s when a column of flame heralds the arrival of Yuri…and Aira, who I’m glad to see in the field. It seems likely she and Sei will be fighting side by side next week, which is something I’ve been waiting for since they were first summoned!

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 10 – The Secret Ingredient Is Love

Sei and Al arrive in Klausner’s Domain and meet Lord Daniel Klausner, who hosts him at his castle. Sei comes to dinner in her Saint’s Robes to show she means business, and it soon becomes clear that this region’s need for her is dire. But that doesn’t mean she can’t have a tasty meal that employs the capital’s new trend of seasoning food with herbs that she started!

Before joining Al and the knights, he says his unit will be scouting for the next few days, giving Sei time to check out the Alchemist’s Holy Land. But while escorting her to her room, Al cannot avoid telling her how stunning she looks in her robes. As one would expect, Sei blushes and runs away from Al, wishing him a curt goodnight.

The next day Sei is more in her comfort zone: making potions at a clip that’s nothing crazy for her but impresses one of Klausner’s venerable court alchemists. It’s clear from the lord and alchemist’s knowing look that her goal is to ascertain whether Sei truly is the Saint. Sei also gets to meet yet another hunk in the alchemist’s grandson Leonhardt, whom Sei regards as a gigantic, dumb puppy.

The alchemist leads her to a dark office where a special book is held in a safe. It is the diary of the Great Alchemist who made Klausner’s Domain the herbal paradise it is. She writes of famine and disease that plagued the land, and how everyone, including her beloved younger brother Curt, seemed doomed to starve. That is, until she unleashed Golden Magic upon the land, healing both the people and their crops.

It’s a moving, inspiring tale, and what happened to her by accident sounds exactly like Sei’s ability…because it is. Soon she pulls it off once again, but first gets warmed up by healing Leonhardt’s mercenaries after they were ambushed by a rare monster. When she hears the Knights were also attacked and didn’t fare any better, she casts a big ol’ Area Heal and runs to the knights…and to Al.

When she spots him covered in blood, she fears the worst, and unleashes her Golden Magic, healing and purifying the entire vicinity. However, Al is actually just fine; the blood on his jacket wasn’t his. He may not make the connection that it is he specifically who fuels her Golden Magic, but Sei confirmed it in the diary of the Great Alchemist, who may well have also been a Saint: the magic is made possible by the power of love.

But even if she accepts that, it’s just too embarrassing for Sei to just come out and say it. So once again she flees before her confused knight. Perhaps, in time (preferably before the series ends!) she’ll be able to tell Al how she feels. I don’t think there’s any chance of him not returning those feelings.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 09 – The Selfish, Mistaken Prince

For her role in saving everyone from the horde of monsters with her purification magic, Sei is rewarded by being teased by Grand Magus Drewes, much to Albert’s displeasure. Upon returning to the palace, word of her great saintly deeds precedes her, and she’s even more of a celebrity with the nobles.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince Kyle specifically waited until Sei returned in order to stage his spat in the courtyard with Elizabeth, who both wants to be a friend to both Sei and Aira. Kyle lays it on rather thick, calling Sei an “impostor” and “most definitely not the Saint”, making things even more uncomfortable for poor Aira.

Liz, unaware that Kyle is carrying out a ploy, takes him to task for his foolishness, but then both she and Aira spot Sei, and Kyle takes aim, pretending not to know who she is and even trying to put his hand on her. Albert comes out of nowhere to prevent that.

Drewes, who slinked off, returns with the king himself and his retainers, and takes Kyle to task for spreading fake news. Kyle continues to maintain that despite Aira having no accomplishments of note, she’s still the only person he summoned. The king orders them to continue this discussion in private.

There, Kyle bears all, admitting he was intentionally acting like a boorish lout so that all the heat from the public would fall on him, while Aira would be seen as a victim in his craven schemes. After learning he played the fool for Aira’s sake, Liz is no longer angry at her fiancé, and in fact seems to have come to admire him even more, while lamenting how awkward he is.

As for Liz, Aira is left in her care, and she arranges a tea party so that Sei, who is now officially recognized by all as the Saint, can finally meet Aira, and vice-versa. It’s a little awkward at first (due to the age difference, among other things), but Aira soon learns that Sei is a gentle, kind person who is eager to spend more time with her.

She and Liz also suggest that if she wants to continue her magical studies, she should join the Royal Magi Assembly. Considering how long Sei and Aira were kept apart, this first meeting has a very understated, almost anticlimactic quality. And maybe that’s for the best: one thing Sei and Aira have in common (besides their homeworld) is a general distaste of the limelight. A laid-back tea party was the perfect place to begin their friendship in earnest.

The king, striking an Ikari Gendo pose, consults with his chief of staff about the region in most need of assistance against the scourge of monsters and miasma: Klausner’s Domain, AKA “The Alchemist’s Holy Land”, the kingdom’s primary source of medicinal herbs.

When Sei learns Albert and his knights will be headed to Klausner’s, she volunteers to come along, surprising her director who assumed Sei would want to stay put at the institute and was preparing excuses for her. Albert says Sei’s safety is paramount, but what’s a safer place for her—or him—than by each other’s sides?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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