Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Alice to Zouroku – 02

Last week Sana met the ‘vinegar’ (Zouroku); this week she meets the ‘honey’, Z’s lovely, kind, and capable granddaughter Sanae, voiced by Toyosaki Aki. Sana is in Defense Mode at first, but Sanae manages to disarm her with a pig puppet, something, incidentally, Leon did to get Matilda’s mind off the trauma she’d just endured.

Sana didn’t witness her family’s murder, but she did witness…something very bad, which is why she had to leave the facility. But outside the facility is extremely hazardous, both in terms of what could happen to Sana and what she could accidentally do to others with powers she’s not 100% in control of.

Still, the Kashimura residence is a great safe house to demonstrate her powers writ small, so to speak, if “writ small’ means conjuring a whole herd of pigs upon seeing Sanae’s puppet, to creating a mammoth pancake when she can’t wait the nebulous “a bit” for seconds.

Sanae gets Sana into more contemporary clothes, fixes her hair by hand, and fills her belly. All the while, Sana inspects the home, which is a stark contrast from the cold, sterile research facility. Also, that big pancake, like any food, required a massive transfer of energy, leaving Sana tuckered-out.

When the research facility comes up in conversation, Sana starts to talk, which is the best way to process what happened, deal with it, and move on. She mentions how everybody was either very professional or very nice, and how she didn’t even know how to communicate before meeting the twins, expanding our knowledge of Sana’s abilities. Interestingly, the memories seem to be narrated in two voices: the young Sana, and an adult Sana voiceover.

When talk of what she found in the deeper levels of the facility (which involved huge crystals and lots of blood), Sanae is there to give her a needed hug. This new place may be ‘weird’, and more cramped and less clean than the facility, but it is where she currently belongs, at least until a proper plan of action can be formulated. Sanae makes sure Sana knows she is safe, and that everything will be okay.

Energized by her meal, her nap, and her hug, Sana is ready to take on the facility now, and when she decides they’ll look for Zouroku, she and Sanae end up teleported to, in quick succession: high over Tokyo, on a tarmac as a plane lands, clinging to a rushing freight train…and Antarctica.

It’s clear, then, that while Sana has immense power to conjure anything and travel anywhere, she’s still a long way from controlling her powers, either their level, or keeping whims from becoming reality. Tackling the facility in this state would be reckless.

In another example of the unpredictability of those powers, Sana and Sanae finally return to Tokyo, it’s to Zouroku’s flower shop, and the pigs come along for the ride, destroying the shop in short order. It’s another blunder, but far better for such blunders to occur in a controlled, safe environment than at the facility where many other ability-users will be deployed against her, even the twins.

Sana still has her ability-using ally whom we caught a glimpse of last week—she said they’d “meet again soon.” But I’m glad Zouroku’s granddaughter has been introduced to smooth Z’s rough edges, and the warm and cozy slice-of-life with Sanae and Sana was appreciated and a nice respite from what is sure to be more action and danger going forward.

Alice to Zouroku – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Sana, who belongs to a group of supernatural power-wielding humans known as “Dreams of Alice”, has escaped the research facility where she’s been held as long as she can remember.

While being pursued by the facility’s director, armed with other Dreams of Alice, Sana meets Kashimura Zouroku, an elderly florist, who gets caught up in the ensuing chaos.

He eventually agrees to let her stay at his place “for a while” as long as she helps him out and doesn’t use her powers.

A2Z, as I’ll be shortening it to, is a seinen anime, and as such, deals with what could have been a moetastic mess with a clear-eyed sobriety, a deliberate pace, and with a refined attention to detail. Zouroku is truly an Old Man’s Old Man, who wouldn’t be out of place in a show like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and the way the young Sana instantly starts cramping his old man style is highly believable as well as entertaining.

We’ve seen plenty of “I don’t need this” characters, but Zouroku immediately earns that attitude by having so many years under his belt, and to a degree, having earned the right to live his life the way he wants. If a bunch of magic-using urchins start messing up his Shinjuku, well, he has a problem with that. Of course, once he learns where Sana is from, and how she’s no doubt had to deal with stuff no little kid should, his position softens, without breaking down into 3-gatsu no Lion Gushy Grandpa Mode.

I also liked the application of the magic itself. It’s weird, fun, and creative without getting too whimsical. As soon as we saw Tachibana standing on the palm of a giant hand, I knew we were in for some weird stuff, and her short but exciting dual with Sana’s mysterious benefactor, as well as the Mini car chase with the chain-and-arrow-wielding twins, are very well-directed sequences. The CGI is very much noticeable, but not distractingly so.

What I appreciated was that mundane scenes of Shinjuku are treated with as much care as those action scenes. This may be a first episode and the animation quality may well dip, but for now the world of A2Z is lively and lived-in, avoiding being too flashy, surreal, or stylized. Similarly, the character design is very simple, but effective, calling to mind that of Madoka Magica. A little kiddy, belying its more mature themes.

We don’t know exactly what’s up with Zouroku and his granddaughter, but my take was that she passed away or maybe moved out on bad terms (it’s suggested she’s older than Sana in any case). The sudden appearance of Sana in Zouroku’s life suggests this won’t be a one-sided relationship: both parties will get something out of it.

Sure, at first, that means more trouble for Zouroku, but whether he was planning on it or not, it also afford the opportunity for him to do something more important than a floral arrangement for a yakuza’s girlfriend.

What exactly that is, and whether or not he’ll simply stay out of the way when Sana & Co. go off on each other again, I look forward to finding out. This confident double episode was a surefire way to get me quickly invested.

Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou – 01 (Quick Glance)

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Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou feels like it was designed by a committee. “What’s stylish?” “How about some retro characters and big one-on-one fights?” “Invisible aliens with conspiracies and quasi-government agencies that fight them?” “How about a transforming sports car with a gun sword?” “How about magic girls, complete with a transformation sequence, and cleavage?” “It can’t be a linear story though —we have to reveal the mystery through multiple time frames and out of order!”

…I could go on.

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To be fair, CR:CG’s Crock-Pot of miscellaneous tropes manages to gel into a coherent package. I don’t know why Aliens want the position of the zodiac, but I understand that they do and that it’s important that the super-human bureau to stop them and/or protect humanity’s super human allies, including a ditzy magic girl, which they induct into their ranks by the end of the episode.

I just don’t really care.

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No matter how much quantity this show presents, no matter how varied it gets, every aspect feels derivative. All the pretty colored outlines and halftone used in the background can’t change that.

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DanMachi – 08

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Syr makes Bell wash a lot of dishes, and Ryuu helps out. She says he has a difficult task ahead of him, and she’s only joking about the dishes, but it turns out to be true on another level, as he won’t be able to level up until he goes on an “adventure”, the definition of which is different for everyone.

There were also enough closeups of Syr for me to wonder if she’s up to something nefarious, or merely giving Bell a chance to clear his head with mindless dishwashing.

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Hestia doesn’t get a lot of time with Bell, who is so intent on discovering what his adventure is and executing it that he doesn’t even stick around for her to read the latest report on his stats. As far as he’s concerned, whatever that paper says, he’s not yet good enough.

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In his final spar with Aiz before her familia goes on a mission to a floor in the dungeon never before reached, Bell is finally able successfully counterattack her. She counters his counter, but his immense growth in so little time impresses her, and they part on amicable terms, telling one another good luck and to do their best.

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Still, Bell likely wishes he could have sparred more with Aiz and gotten to the point where he could fight on her level, but he is told to his face and behind his back that he may never be able to catch up to her. Not that he shouldn’t try, but surpassing her is not his “adventure” Ryuu speaks of.

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When the Minotaur that the Strong Dude in cahoots with Freya toughened up confronts Bell and Lili (just as they apparently planned), Bell freezes, and only survives thaks to Lili putting her body (and huge backpack) in harm’s way. She’s knocked out, but Bell tosses her aside to fight the Minotaur. When she wakes up, he ignores her desperate calls for retreat, telling her just to run while he buys time for her. Cue Epic Boss Fight Music!

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The Minotaur destroys the armguard Eina gave Bell on their sorta-date, and it looks like it’ll be curtains for our young adventurer, but Aiz, hearing he’s in trouble from her comrades, breaks protocol and rushes to his aid…again. This is when Bell shakes off his pain and gets stubborn.

At first I questioned what was so wrong with her saving him again, but that wasn’t going to do this time: This, he decides, is his adventure. He gets back up, dusts himself off, and re-engages with the beast, in a grudge match that’s as brutal as it is thrilling. He swipes his foe’s sword, carves him up, then shoots firebolts into him, literally blowing him up.

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The minotaur goes up in smoke, but so do the Loki Familia’s preconceptions of Bell’s ability, as they were all spectators to his convincing victory. An examination of his back by Riviera indicates all of his stats are “S-rank”, indicating even more astonishing growth in an unheard-of pittance of time.

Unfortunately, he also passes out on his feet, unable to savor that victory or see the impressed looks of the Loki familia. He’s placed in bed to recover, tended to by Hestia, glowing with both relief and pride for what Bell achieved, but assuring him it’s only the first page of their journey, with far more trials in store. That’s certainly true if Freya—who seemed to get off on his fight with the minotaur—has her way…and I’m pretty sure she will.

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DanMachi – 07

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With her new animal transformation and unbuckled and Unbuttoned miniskirt, Lili is now officially Bell’s assistant, but she feels guilty about being forgiven so easily for all the crap she put Bell through.

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In order to officially officially be Bell’s supporter, however, she has to meet with Hestia and meet with her approval. Hessie believes Lili when she says she’ll never betray Bell again, but warns her to keep her grubby mitts off her man, making no bones about the fact that she sees Bell as a romantic target.

But being possessive only presents a challenge to Lili that she resolves to meet, the typical “I won’t lose to you” attitude. She later shows what a good team they make by providing long range support with a rapid-fire crossbow against some goblins and trolls.

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Both are at a disadvantage, because the girl Bell likes the most is Ais (or Aiz, depending on who’s subbing your anime). Only he’s deathly afraid of contact with her should he say or do the wrong thing and get rejected.

Up to this point he’s been able to believe he has a shot at her because he hasn’t had much contact with her. But she’s the one who initiates contact, and wants to apologize for causing him trouble. He in turn apologizes for making trouble for her. They’re like two peas in a pod, these two!

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For now, though, Aiz agrees to train Bell, who is still not that confident in his fighting skills, despite the fact he’s gotten to the tenth floor. Every day, and some nights, Bell spars with Aiz, and gets beaten up by Aiz, who doesn’t go easy on him, and acknowledges his skills are lacking in her stoic  way.

I like how much dignity Aiz carries at all times; not letting Bell embarrass her as he embarrasses himself, not being able to resist trying to kiss her as she takes a catnap, before backing off. She also tells Bell that being a coward isn’t always bad thing: cowardice breeds survival, after all. It’s an extention of fear being necessary in any kind of combat or life-and-death situation. Those entirely without fear have a huge blind spot against opponents who have a healthy amount of it.

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Naturally, when Hestia (working another part-time job to pay of Heph) spots Bell at the market with Aiz, she wigs out, making it as clear to Aiz as she did to Lili that Bell is hers, even if Bell doesn’t see her that way, and probably never will. Bell seems content in seeing Hestia as family; as sister—not a girlfriend or lover.

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Interspersed with the Bell and Aiz training and the Hestia jealousy and territory-marking, we see a very large and powerful man beating an even larger minotaur into submission, and starts to train it to use a more powerful sword. His training of the minotaur mirrors Aiz’s training of Bell, and in both cases, the training pays off, with the minotaur being able to withstand a magical weapon attack from an adventurer.

It would seem muscular guy has recruited the minotaur as his supporter…or maybe he has darker plans. In any case, I can’t imagine these two won’t be crossing paths with Bell at some point.

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DanMachi – 06

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As her cold open makes almost too clear, Liliruca Arde is a well-traveled student of pain, suffering, helplessness and loneliness. Orphaned by her parents who were killed in the Dungeon, the Soma familia took her on as a supporter and proceeded to screw her over at every turn, treating her like garbage. The bad guys are so irredeemably, comically, Nobuyuki Sugou evil in their treatment of her, it leaves no room for nuance.

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With her past, and present in mind, it makes sense that she wouldn’t trust Bell, and also would deceive him just as she was deceived. It worked for her tormenters, why not her? Besides, she hates adventurers…ALL adventurers. She’s just trying to do what she can to free herself from subjugation. She’s just going about this all the wrong way, and very nearly gets Bell and herself killed in the process.

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Hestia doesn’t trust Lili, nor does Eina, though they come to this opinion of her independently. As Bell heads into the dungeon to fight on the tenth floor in an obvious trap set up by Lili, both Eina and Ais overhear her Soma familia planning to take out a guy who matches Bell’s description, and Eina asks a favor of Ais.

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Setting up the naive Bell is child’s play for Lili, and when the time comes to reveal her true colors and re-steal his knife, she doesn’t hesitate, and actually shows off some pretty good skills…if only she focused her energies for good instead of selfish purposes. Mind you, with everything she’s been through I can’t really begrudge her doing what she thinks is best for herself, but we also happen to know this isn’t what’s best.

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That becomes painfully clear when her ridiculously evil familia show up, ambushing her and taking everything she has, while getting some good stomps and punches in for good measure. The episode really lingers on this disturbing scene, but when a bruised and beaten Lili is left for dead, a decoy for a host of killer giant ants, Bell shows up with his Firebolt to take them all out, saving Lili once again.

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That resolution was a pleasant surprise. I expected Eina and Ais to corner Lili, rather than her fam, but instead Ais takes care of the orcs while obscured by the gloom, allowing Bell to rush to Lili’s aid. And why does he save her, as she asks, almost hysterical at the sight of his dopey, noble face? Because he felt like it.

He tells Hestia as much before he heads off to what he might have known could have been the trap it became. But he doesn’t care; he knows Lili’s kind, because he used to be the same before he met his goddess. And he’s not going to stand by and let her be destroyed or destroy herself. I especially like how Hestia defers to Bell here, and it pays off.

The villains were a bit over-the-top, but I’m glad Lili’s eyes are now open to the possibility not everyone in the world is awful.

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DanMachi – 05

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Another DanMachi, another sweet domestic scene between our quasi-husband-and-wife duo of Bell and Hestia, with the goddess being out too late getting her drank on and the adventurer providing not only a moist washcloth, but the offer of a fancy dinner sometime, due to all the cash he’s raking in. Since the whole reason Hestia had a little too much was because she saw Bell “cheating” with Lili, she decides she doesn’t have a hangover anymore, and that “sometime” will be “today.”

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Alas, while cleaning up at the divine bathhouse (boob comparo alert) Hestia attracts the attention of a bevy of curious deities, and she and Bell end up spending their entire date running and hiding from them. They end up in a romantic starlit spot, and Bell promises dinner another time. Hestia tries to say something, but doesn’t, choosing instead to lean her head on him. So…no real progress in the romance arena.

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That same night Lili is busy paying off her fellow Soma familia members with the generous cuts she’s getting from working for Bell. She seems to think she’ll be close to completing her debt soon, but c’mon, how naive can you get? I don’t see those guys calling it square anytime soon.

To protect Bell, Lili reflexively uses a magic weapon she’d been concealing from him. He, in turn, continues to surprise her with his kindness, letting her have all the days off she wants, and even sharing the lunch Syr made with him. She still doesn’t fully trust him. To be fair, he does seem ridiculously nice, to the point of “weirdness”…at least among the sorta people she’s been around most of her life; i.e. scum.

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In a rather clunkily-deployed plot development, on his day off Bell asks Syr what she does on her days off, and she says “reading,” and the one book in the tavern she just happens to lend him is a magic grimoire. His reading of the magic tome is a half-trippy, half-goofy sequence in which he’s talking to different colored copies of himself, before being shaken awake by Hestia, as if he’d just gone on a Salvia trip.

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Hestia discovers he now possesses a magical fire ability; one he can cast without an incantation. She urges him to try it out in the dungeon tomorrow, so of course he runs off on his own that night after she falls asleep and gets so drunk with his new power he overextends himself and “minds out,” leaving him deep in the dungeon and at the mercy of any number of beasts and bosses.

I understand his excitement with his new power, but honestly, this was a clown move on Bell’s part. Had Ais and Riviera not just happened to be in the same part of the dungeon and found his unconscious idiot self, he’d have been killed and Hestia would have been alone. All because he couldn’t hold his horses. Then again, maybe at this point Bell expects to be bailed out by his increasing phalanx of friends, admirers, and supporters.

Among them is Ais, who blames herself for Bell’s minotaur mishap in episode one, and whose battle damage conveniently created underboob she proceeded to put right in Bells face. Subtle!

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The next day Bell learns that the grimoire is now blank now that he read it, meaning he has to go back to Syr and the landlady with hat in hand. While it struck me as odd Hestia doesn’t give Bell any significant dressing down for his blunder last night, I did enjoy Syr’s cute attempt to distance herself from Bell’s “spot of trouble”—something he calls her out on.

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From there, it’s back to the dungeons with Lili…only when he arrives at the meeting place Lili is being accosted by brutes, while a slimy-seeming guy sidles up to Bell and asks him if he wants to get in on their racket working Lili to the bone and taking her earnings.

Frankly, Bell lets both these thugs and Lili off too easily. The thugs should have gotten a beating, and Lili should have been made to explain what the heck is going on. Instead, Lili seems to think because Bell was talking to one of the thugs, he may be in cahoots with them, acting as the “nice guy”…or maybe Lili just doesn’t want Bell involved in her problems.

Whatever the case, we know Bell isn’t putting on an act, and won’t hesitate to help Lili if he senses she’s in trouble, even if she doesn’t want his help.

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DanMachi – 04

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Hestia isn’t the only one who wants to support the underdog Bell. When his hunting mentor Eina Tulle (Tomatsu Haruka) sees how hard he’s worked to raise his levels, she takes it upon herself to help him out even more. There’s a little mutual attraction in there. Eina is a kind and attractive half-elf a bit older than him (19 for the record), and Eina because her hapless lil’ Bell has grown stronger, and she can see him as more of an equal than a mere beneficiary.

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Bell too is a lot more confident with the blade Hestia gave him, and with good reason: it’s a great knife. When he sees an unsavory chap meanly chasing down a wee urchin, he steps in to protect her almost reflexively, though it’s Ryu who scares him off with the threat of violence she’d rather not use, lest she go out of control. Which is for the best; Bell isn’t used to these types of situations.

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I loved how Eina’s shopping date with Bell allowed him to inadvertently check in on Hestia at Heph’s shop, dutifully working her debt of. I also loved Bell and Hestia’s lovely domestic moment where she’s still in bed, exhausted from her hard work, while he’s off to his own work in the dungeon. We’ve got a power couple in the making here!

Eina also suggested Bell hire himself a supporter to make things more efficient in said dungeon, and lo and behold, the little waif he saved turns out to be eager to take on that role for him: a cat-eared girl named Liliruca (Uchida Maaya). She seems capable enough just from the visual of her bearing a comically huge pack on her slender shoulders.

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But something isn’t right; the camera keeps cutting to Lili smiling, as if enjoying a private joke. She and Bell have a great day in the dungeon, but to Eina notices Bell’s knife isn’t on him. He fears he dropped it (just when he was saying how much he relies on it; perhaps too much), but Lili frikkin’ stole it and tries to pawn it off.

Yet again, she crosses paths with Ryuu (she’s everywhere!) along with Syr, and Ryuu knows immediately what’s going on, and knocks the knife out of Lili’s hand with a coin.

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Liliruca done fucked up thrice: first, by stealing from someone as kindhearted and honorable as Bell, who gave her a job in good faith; second, by stealing a knife that’s only sharp when he’s holding it (Yeah bitch! Biometrics, Oh!); and third, messing with a guy who has allies all over town, invested in his well-being and always looking out for him, like Eina, Ryuu and Syr. It ain’t just Hestia!

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Another great moment: Syr leaning in to a clearly guilty Lili as if to say “See? You mess with the Bell, you get the horns,” and giving her a friendly unspoken warning not to try to pull such a stunt again. Not only would she probably not be successful, but it’s just not what she should be doing.

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Lili just came at Bell from the wrong angle, out of an expectation he’d be like all the other adventurers she’s dealt with, who screwed her over. But without the slightest hesitation, Bell splits their huge dungeon cash haul down the middle, virtually stupefying her.

But he’s right: he couldn’t have made that money without her. Without realizing it, she’s become a part of his support system, only she’s unique because she’s in the dungeon with him.

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What else? Oh, Ais is up to her usual activities, hunting something big, Freya changed into a ridiculous get-up even Victoria’s Secret would be embarrassed to sell (IMO Eina and Eis’ more modest outfits were sexier) and is planning to use a grimoire (next week’s episode title) to “draw out Bells power”, meaning it’s good he has another set of eyes watching his back.

Finally, Hestia is super-jelly upon spotting Bell and Lili holding hands…not long after letting Eina and Hestia cross paths, and getting all touchy with Ryuu in front of Syr. Not cool, Bell. Gotta learn to compartmentalize your harem!

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DanMachi – 03

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I don’t think there’s a relationship this Spring as good or as balanced as Hestia and Bell. Part of that greatness lies in its simplicity: both were alone and no one believed in them, until they found each other. Now that they’re together, they can do great things. But first Hestia had to break Bell out of his insistence he protect her, even at the cost of his own life. Her line after finally succeeding in this says it all:

I didn’t want to just watch, or you to just take care of me, or just to have you save me.

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First, the giant silverback stalking Hestia has to be dealt with. It looks like Bell is going to be bailed out by Ais, but in a clever bit of misdirection she’s actually slaying a different beast on the other side of town. Bell is saved by Hestia running the other way around and putting herself right back in harms way, which initially angers Bell.

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He grabs Hestia in his arms (which makes her very happy!) and they find a hiding spot, where Hestia is finally a able to present the “Hestia Knife” to him, promising him he’ll now have the strength to defeat the monster. All he has to do is keep his chin up, believe in himself, believe in her, and believe in them.

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I just wanted to pause and voice my appreciation for the producers’ restraint in building a beautiful yet not overly ecchi rapport between these two. They really come off more as soulmates than a goddess and her child, and they really do make each other better.

I’m also glad Bell has the good sense to listen to Hestia and not the voice inside his head demanding he be her sacrificial knight when that’s neither what she wants nor what’s best for him or her. Dying for her, after all, would only leave her alone again, going back on his promise.

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Having physically and emotionally charged Bell up and literally lent him her strength, Bell blasts out of his hiding spot like a bat out of hell, and suddenly the silverback seems slower and more plodding against his lightning-quick moves. Bell dodges its blows, smashes its chain and armor, and places a critical, surgical strike on its heart.

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The huge THUD and kicked-up cloud of dust is an immensely satisfying moment, as is the cheering of the crowd and Hestia’s warm embrace after a brief pause. But then Hestia goes down. I didn’t see this as being as bad as it looked (or as Bell thought it might be), considering she had stayed up to make his knife and expended a lot of energy. Up in the rooftops, Freya smirks, as Bell apparently passed her test, and she looks forward to their next meeting.

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Sure enough, Hestia just needs a lot of rest after a couple of very intense days. Bell dutifully guards the inn room lent to them courtesy of Syr and the landlady. Syr apologizes, as her lost wallet (which apparently wasn’t intentional) got Bell into this whole mess. She also works up the courage to tell him she fell in love with him for sure after his heroic display.

When Hestia wakes up, she gives Bell the quote above, and tells him she wants to help him in any way she can, and always will, because she loves him. Her words move him (and me, almost!) to tears, happy as he is to have someone in his life so devoted to him and only him. Also, two confessions in one day and an admiring look from Ais: Not a bad day’s work for Mr. Cranel!

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DanMachi – 02

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The increasingly symbiotic patron/servant arrangement between Bell and Hestia reminded me of Chaika in DanMachi’s first outing, but it’s second is all about its similarities to SAO—and not just because Bell has the same seiyu as Kirito, but the whole rpg-like setting, where experience and equipment matter, as do relationships. And it’s relationships that DanMachi excels at in the early going.

The dialogue is very leading at times, but it’s also heartfelt, moving, and quite solid in general, starting with Hestia’s little speech to Bell about her commitment to supporting him no matter what, so he needn’t be so rash. It’s not just their official arrangement she’s concerned about, but Bell himself: she doesn’t want to be left alone, and neither does he. This is an important break from SAO, where it took time for Kirito to trust, work with, and love others.

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There’s even a hearty helping of SAO-style arbitrary fanservice! Yes, despite her slight build, Hestia is quite well-endowed. I knew a girl like that in high school, and though I had to tip my hat, I also worried for her back.

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It’s also nice to see the show follow up on things like Bell running out on his bill, but being forgiven by the landlady thanks to the silver-haired Syr, who’s taken a liking to the white-haired rookie. Bell has a nice face and a kind heart, and he’s a classic underdog with hidden value, so it makes sense that he’d attract more than just Hestia, even if he’s as inexperienced with girls as he is in the dungeon.

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I have to applaud this episode not just for bringing the heart and the world-building and that comedy, but for delivering so much in one episode without overwhelming me. Just as Hestia tells Bell not to leave her alone, she leaves him alone to attend a Banquet of the Gods. Unfortunately, Nanami didn’t get a cameo. ;)

But the banquet does a very efficient and entertaining job of laying out the various gods in play here on DanMachi, from the fiery, plucky Loki (the Norse trickster god) to the floating-above-the-fray Freya (Norse goddess of love). Heck, even Ganesha is here, throwing an arena extravaganza.

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Ah, so that’s why she has such big boobs…so she has rhetorical ammo against those of lesser endowment who would mock her stature!

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While they spend the middle section of the episode apart, Bell is foremost on Hestia’s mind. She attended the banquet in hopes of bumping into Hephaistos (god of blacksmiths and other craftsmen and artisans), and prostrates herself and begs for Bell’s sake for her to make him a weapon to match his potential. Hephaistos is initially dubious, but sees Hestia’s devotion to her child and agrees, as long as she helps her make the knife, and promises to eventually pay for it.

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In a nice bit of misdirection Freya is initially portrayed as a neutral if not benevolent goddess, but shows her true colors in seeking out the new up-and-coming talent in Bell, whom Hestia hasn’t been able to keep under wraps. Here’s hoping Freya isn’t just a female Nobuyuki Sugou, and there’s some nuance to her impending villainy.

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As for Ais Wallenwhatsit (as Hestia amusingly refers to her), we only get the slightest glimpse of her, catching a glimpse of Bell in the crowd outside. Ais looks to be the Asuka to Bell’s Kirito (while Hestia is definitely a Suguha…and Syr a Lisbeth), but with the added twist that her goddess also seems interested in him, and perhaps not in a wholesome or honorable way—Freya is the god of sex, war, and death after all, and Ais is beholden to her.

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But meanwhile, Bell fights hard to protect Hesita, while Hestia works hard to support him, in a very sweet, equitable, believable relationship. Bell would probably see Hestia as his little sister were it not for the fact she’s a goddess, while Hestia seems to have more romantic feelings for Bell, in an inexperienced goddess-courting-a-mortal kinda way.

She insists they go out on a date for the Monsterphilia festival, and Bell can hardly refuse. Frankly, he’d be a fool to do so, even though he’s trying to get Syr’s wallet back to her. I wonder if Syr “forgot” it on purpose so her co-workers could put Bell on her trail?

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But the date goes sour when a beast (controlled by Freya) escapes the arena and goes after Hestia, forcing Bell into another fight he’s not ready for; he has to shake off his fear, and his regular weapon shatters against the beast’s hide. I have to say, the sudden shift in mood is very well done, thanks in part to a nifty chase scene and some truly kickass battle music that reminded me of GARO’s boss fights.

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What’s also great about Bell is that he’s not a fool. He knows he’ll win if he survives, as the landlady said, but he won’t abandon Hestia. That said, he also knows he probably can’t win this fight as he is now, but after getting Hestia to a safe place (though behind bars is a bit harsh), he decides he’ll at least buy her as much time as he can.

Little does he know as he runs from Hestia and towards the danger, that the blade Hestia made with Hephaistos; the one that can probably defeat Freya’s beast, is strapped to her back. She needs to keep reminding him that they’re in this together.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 12 (Fin)

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Kami-Haji wastes no time piling on the adorableness in its final episode. Lil’ Nanami is button cute, just the kind of person you want to hold and squeeze and protect for all time. But we learn along with Tomoe that that cuteness is tempered by a steely resolve to look out for herself and be wary of men; advice given by her mother, who herself could not escape a life of bad luck with a crappy excuse for a man. We also learn that the women in her family only ever bear more women, all of them beautiful.

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Tomoe is positively transfixed by this educational foray into Nanami’s past, and even though Mizuki tries on numerous occasions to nudge him to put an end to it, Tomoe watches on, even as things go from bad (Nanami’s mother dying, as expected) to worse (Nanami living with her awful dad, who does nothing but goof off and burn their house down). The things that happen to Nanami are almost comically cruel, but for all the slapstick mixed in with the narrative, the episode never makes light of her plight.

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It also makes it clear these are the experiences that made Nanami the young woman she is today, and that something great and beautiful can come out of all that suffering and hardship. With that, Mizuki again confronts the lil’ Nanami to try to coax her back to the present, and again, she flees from Mizuki, who if we’re honest doesn’t have the most trustworthy aura about him.

Tomoe is different, though. Even though he’s a man, Nanami seems to trust him implicitly. Is it the connection she has with him in the present shining through here, or the connection between her family lineage and the god who granted them beauty at a heavy yet bearable and character-building cost?

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Tomoe isn’t just a fan of lil’ Nanami because she’s adorable. He also likes the fact that everything she desires is clear to him here in her flashback world, as things she concentrates more on appear with more detail and in greater focus. Seeing everything she wants to clearly, and having the power to grant it all, Tomoe’s devotion for her grows. Here, when asked if he truly loves her and is someone she can count on, he can answer directly: yes he does.

Heck, he even proposes marriage, and she accepts…but when the grown Nanami wakes up, she’s seemingly forgotten everything about her dream, which deflates Tomoe quite a bit, because he thought he’d actually made progress.

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He laments the fact that the happy-go-lucky yet delicate girl he was able to confess to so easily was lost in the twelve years since, especially when she’s able to single-handedly convince the zodiac sheep to allow the new year god to shear him. Then Nanami surprises Tomoe again and makes him rethink everything when the Year God furnishes her with a photo of her mother.

Now, that wouldn’t seem such an impactful gift, but considering her mother died when Nanami was very young and all photos of her were lost in the fire (a heartbreaking fact), it means multitudes for Nanami to finally see her face clearly. And in doing so, Tomoe sees that neither Lil’ Nanami nor her mother really vanished; they’re still within Nanami.

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Back at the Shrine, Nanami is back to work on her talismans, and Tomoe is back to work denigrating their poor quality, earning her defiant scowls. But when relaxing after a long day ushering in the new year for worshippers and the like, Nanami settles down for some tea and TV with her shrine family, whom she’s been with now for a year.

When she steps outside, the falling snow reminds her of what a shadowy figure once said to her in a half-forgotten memory of the past (which we know to have just happened at the Torii gates), in which Tomoe tells her younger self she won’t always be alone and wary, but be “the lady and mistress of a household more rowdy than she could wish for.”

And so it’s come to pass. She has a family, without having resorted to marriage she’d sworn off. And yet, when asked again, Nanami adds the qualified “probably” to that swearing-off, opening the door for Tomoe, if he wishes to walk through it.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 11

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“Dang it Mom, I’m working on my science project!”

Kami-Haji is really in the zone in its home stretch, such that it can abruptly change gears from the Tengu arc to Kirihito without breaking a sweat. Mind you, I was a little skeptical of the choice of gear—there’s only two eps left; get back to Nanami and Tomoe!—I decided to be patient and see where the show was going with this. It was a good decision, and my patience was rewarded handsomely.

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Having built a new portal to the Netherworld…in his house (probably not the best idea), Kirihito—or I should say Akura-oh—prepares to dive back in to look for his body. What’s interesting is the means with which he does so: by using the bracelet he made from Nanami’s hair (quite a bit of it…yikes!) to keep his human body intact while down there. That’s right, Mr. Big Bad can’t do a thing without Nanami’s (indirect) help, and he knows it.

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The Netherworld is just as dark and dreary and unpleasant as it was last time, but it doesn’t take long for Akura to find his body. Just a slight niggle: it’s on top of a volcano, in an eternal cycle of being simultaneously burnt and regenerating.

Yatori tagged along as is ridiculous 90% of the time, but we see why he came when he gets serious and stops Kirihito from doing something reckless. His hair bracelet will be of little use; what he needs is the ability to quell the volcano’s fire…and the best thing for that is fox fire; specifically Tomoe’s.

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So, okay, Kirihito will be paying Tomoe (and by extension Nanami) soon. Is there really time for that? Never mind; Kirihito’s side of this episode comes to a beautiful end: once Yatori gets him back to the mundane world, the portal starts leaking poison from the Netherworld. At first Kirihito/Akura is unconcerned, even after one of his shikigami turns to dust; he slaved over that portal and he’ll be damned if he’s going to seal it.

But then he remembers he’s in Kirihito’s house, and his mother is at his door with a late night snack. And he seals that portal right up. It’s an incredible feat for someone so nasty and self-concerned, but Akura-oh clearly inherited more than just Kirihito’s body.

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Embedded in Kirihito’s side of the story is a cutaway to Tomoe, the guy who betrayed him by falling for a human woman and thinking he could be a human himself, who is in that moment making hamburger steak for his human/god master, because it’s her favorite.

First of all, BAAAAAAAAW. Secondly, Kirihito may poo-poo Tomoe’s love and devotion for a human (first Yukiji, now Nanami), but he kinda loses his philosophical ground when he puts the safety of his host body’s mother before his own.

Like Kirihito sealing the portal later, Tomoe suddenly feels guilty removes the shiitake mushrooms he meant to sneak into the mix after Nanami expresses excitement about him making her favorite dish. DOUBLE BAAAAAAW.

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The second half begins with Nanami watching a wedding on TV, and brings up the fact she’s agreed to host Himemiko’s wedding when it happens. Mizuki and Tomoe briefly misunderstood her phrasing to mean she was getting married, to which she responds “I’m not getting married. Ever.” And she says it with a creepy face that suffers no debate.

Her stance is harsh, but understandable, considering she comes from a broken home, and the marriage she’s most familiar with—that of her parents—obviously didn’t end well.

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How apropos then, that when Nanami tags alone with Tomoe and Mizuki to visit the Year God, she ends up revisiting those rough years, even transforming into her twelve-year-younger self.

One wonders why in the world Nanami would ever think looking back on her past twelve years would “sound fun”, but call it curiousity and awe at her surroundings, combined with her special brand of hard-headed recklessness Tomoe both loves and hates about her.

And while I maintain Tengu Nanami remains The Best, Lil’ Nanami is no slouch in the adorableness department!

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Tomoe and Mizuki fail to catch Lil’ Nanami (who lands a fantastic jump-kick on the latter, believing him a kidnapper), but they’re able to bear witness to her experiences at this age, from being given a chocolate bar by her deadbeat dad just before he runs off for good, to her mother being hounded by debtors.

It’s a lot for a little kid to take in, but even at her young age, she becomes overcome by shame at enjoying a luxurious chocolate bar as her mother struggles to scrape by. (Mind you, it’s her Dad’s fault, not hers).

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Even in the face of such hardships, the moment Nanami’s mom notices her daughter, her face brightens and she embraces her treasure, as if to assure her that everything will be all right. I had no idea Nanami’s mother was so kind, decent, and loving. Fortunately for us, Nanami took after her mother in that regard.

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So the question is, what happened to make Nanami family-less and homeless? Tomoe learns this after getting a good look (and possibly feeling the aura of) Nanami’s mother: she’s very ill, and doesn’t have long to live. Her mom didn’t run off like her dad…she died.

Being a little kid, Nanami has no knowledge of her mother’s impending death. And as we know, once she’s gone there’s no one else to take her in, until she comes upon the earth god shrine. But Tomoe tells Mizuki not to interfere; he wants to see a bit more. After all, he’s witnessing a side of the woman he loves he’s never seen before. Maybe seeing that side will finally give him the courage to tell her of his love. Here’s hoping.

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