The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

The Faraway Paladin – 11 – The Other Side of the Coin

At the start of this outing, everything’s coming up Maryblood, as he, Menel, Anna, Reystov, and his merry band of adventurers march throughout the Beast Woods, clearing them of demons. With help from Bee and Tonio, the newly-safe villages are gradually revitalized. When Will returns to places he’d seen at their lowest point, he can see firsthand what his good works have wrought.

Then one grey day Reystov reports that one of the more talented adventuring parties is two days late from a scouting mission. Will rolls out with Menel, Reystov, and two capable parties in search of them, and eventually find their corpses. They’re then led into a ravine and surrounded by demon beasts, led by a particularly ferocious chimaera.

Will & Co. put up a stout front, but the bottom line is they’re very nearly outmatched, which comes down to a lack of caution and preparation. When Menel is severely injured by the chimaera’s dragon breath, Will flies into a panic. He tries to cast lightning on all of the beasts, but is interrupted and hits himself, a rare unforced error. He has to resort to pure adrenaline and matching the beasts in viciousness with his demonblade to survive the day.

When he wakes up, he learns from Reystov that he and Menel were carried out after the Chimaera fled, and that he burned himself out fighting too hard. Even so, Will doesn’t see this as an inevitable occasional slip-up. Rather, he suffers a total and complete crisis of confidence, cursing himself for believing he could treat Menel and the others as equals despite being so much stronger than them.

We even get the first glimpse of Will in his previous life before coming to this world, just when I’d come to grips with the fact the show didn’t care about that part of Will’s story at all. But the person he was is crucial to how he’s feeling now: full of guilt and regret for expecting too much of his comrades because he doesn’t want to be lonely. He doesn’t have to say anyting to Bee and Tonio for them to know something’s very off about him.

Will decides he’ll never let something like this happen again, visiting the still-unconscious Menel and healing him a bit more before going off on his own. However lonely he might feel, he’ll feel even worse if he ends up killing those who have stood beside him. Still being an impressionable young whelp, he instantly agrees with the chatter of passing soldiers referring to him as a “monster”, and concludes that he must walk his path alone.

You can tell from Gracefeel’s expression that Will is off-base here. He never forced Menel or anyone else to stand beside him or be his friend. It’s pretty clear Menel, and Bee and Tonio, and Reystov and Anna, are with Will because they believe in him and his strength and want to do everything they can to make a difference in this world with him. The question is, will they be able to bring Will out of these doldrums, or does his new self-imposed isolation represent the new normal?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 10 – Kicking Despair in the Face

When last week ended with the sour note of Prince Ethelbald considering killing him, Will does what Lugh Tuatha Dé would have done when he first entered the room: size up his opponents in a potential fight. He thinks better of starting anything, and instead puts his faith in his ability to speak from the heart and plead his case earnestly.

Will tells the Prince that as the bearer of Gracefeel’s torch, it is ones like him who must march first into the darkness. Ethel says such a path will only lead to despair, but Will is well aware; he has business with that despair, and will be sure to smack the shit out of it when he sees it.

Ethel is charmed and disarmed by Will’s utter frankness, which makes the sudden intrusion of Bishop Bagley almost unnecessary. I say almost, because it’s a key moment when we see that despite Will being an official novice of the temple for barely a day, Bagley will go to bat for him, even standing up to the Crown Prince.

Ethel acknowledges Bagley and the temple’s authority, and proposes a collaboration: he wishes to appoint William as a knight, and since he is also a warrior priest, that will officially make him the titular paladin. Both the responsibility and profits of Will’s exploits as paladin will be shared by the temple and the crown.

We also meet one of the final two unknown characters in the end credits: Anna, the bishop’s lovely adopted daughter and attendant. She’s one of many adopted children from an orphanage he once ran—demonstrating again that beneath all the bishop’s brusqueness is a heart of gold. Anna already knows this, and that her father’s façade is a misleading yet very necessary portrait of the real man beneath.

When Will later asks Bagley why he eschews the blessing bestowed on him by his guardian deity’s divine protection, Bagley tells him he’s known far too many with such blessings who eventually lose them by making the mistake of thinking the power is their own to use how they please. I’ll just say here: the dialogue this week really is a cut above.

Will can admit to using it for the sake of convenience at times, but the reasons have always aligned with Gracefeel’s teachings of stamping out evil, helping the week, and ending suffering. Bagley keeps all of his blessings and prayers stored within him, and uses his own gifts of playing the role of the loud, greedy, borderline corrupt asshole so well, people believe that’s who he is.

After demonstrating perfect praying form that reminds Will of Mary, Bagley tells Will not to accept Ethel’s offer of knighthood, for his own good. But Will has already made his decision—or rather, the decision was made when he was first given Gracefeel’s blessing: She wishes to achieve something through him, and becoming a paladin is the way.

Will then meets the final mystery character from the ED in the tavern, who I’d simply been calling “Aragorn” to this point since he reminds me of his “Strider” ranger persona. His real name is Reystov, and Bee knows him as as one of the strongest adventurers who nevertheless never gives her detailed enough accounts to write proper songs about him.

In this way, Reystov, like Bagley and Will, is merely acting as a corporeal agent of his guardian deity (if that is indeed where he gets his power). He doesn’t care about fame, only getting shit done; getting paid and having fun are nice perks. When Will says he’s assembling a team to go to the Beast Woods and defeat the demon boss, Reystov is in.

With that, Will is officially created a paladin by Prince Ethelbard in a ceremony officiated by Bagley’s Number Two and public pious face of the Temple. With Menel, Bee, Tonio, and now Reystov and additional adventurers, he has the beginnings of the holy army with which he will purge the Beast Woods of evil and suffering. Can’t wait!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 08 – Fellowship of the Sing

When Will saves the tiny halfling troubadour Robina “Bee” Goodfellow and her merchant companion An”Tonio” from a giant ape (simply by staring it down!), his traveling party suddenly doubles in size. They make a deal with Bee and Tonio to travel to the various villages on the way to Whitesails and make money together. Bee attracts customers with her song and lute play; Will heals the injured, and Tonio sells them stuff.

It works out pretty well, and to Will’s delight, Bee also happens to be a font of oral history, including the legends of Blood, Mary, and Gus. While not mentioned by name in Bee’s songs, the trio of are nevertheless still remembered fondly for their heroics. There are times early and late in the episode when we’re clearly just getting an infodump along with Will, but Bee at least makes it interesting by applying music to the stories.

Indeed, we’re transported back to when Blood, Mary, and Gus were human and took on a giant wyvern in order to save a beautiful half-elf girl from being sacrificed. The human boy who loved her gave every coin he could to pay them, which wasn’t nearly their going rate, but it didn’t matter. The two lovebirds are sent off to make something of themselves with a dagger and a bag of coins, and Gus tells them he’ll come to collect the debt, using his name as the password.

That half-elf woman is still alive, waiting at her home for Gus or his representative to come. It’s almost as if Will’s parents inadvertently laid out a path for him to walk, serving Gracefeel and spreading word of her grace to all he encounters. Tonio admits he finds Will an odd duck; someone who doesn’t seem capable of being sold anything in the classical sense.

Of course, as someone who considers his formidable powers not his own but only being borrowed from his goddess, Will doesn’t care about trinkets or riches, only friends, good times, and the revitalization of Gracefeel’s following. A bit port city like Whitesails should be a grate place to gain all of those things.

The Faraway Paladin – 07 – The Paladin’s First Pal

I don’t make much about it until Will mentions it, but his first night camping with Meneldor is his first such night with anyone who wasn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus. As ready as those three made him for the outside world, making connections with others would be all up to him. That said, it helps to have been raised pious, polite and amenable…it’s just that that personality initially comes off to Menel as a stuck-up, privileged rich kid.

If we’re honest, Will was a rich kid, just not monetarily. Add modesty to his virtues, as after absolutely mopping the floor with an entire ruins complex full of demons and lizardmen without breaking a sweat, he simply tells Menel he owes his ability to “having great teachers”. He does what he does so well because he was taught well.

While this episode brings Will and Menel closer together, Will’s placidness can quickly become dull in the absence of those three colorful teachers. After all, he was basically a sponge soaking up their training and life lessons. But that’s why I like the introduction of Marple, or at leas the ghost of Marple, whom the long-lived Menel met and befriended many years before when he was at one of his many nadirs.

I’d like to think Marple would have no trouble sharing some booze with Will’s parents, and if it seems that Menel hasn’t sufficiently matured for someone of his age with someone like Marple, we can chalk it up to Menel not bein explicitly raised at birth by someone of Marple’s caliber. Instead, she pulled him out of the mud and encouraged him to move forward.

Despite his many tsundere moments, by episode’s end all of Menel’s skepticism of Will has dissolved, replaced by ungrudging respect and even a bit of awe, as he decides to make Gracefeel his guardian spirit and asks Will to help him form a contract with Her. When the two go back to the village they saved to party, you can tell Menel is as happy to have befriended Will as Will is to be making his first. It is surely the first of many friends to come, as you can’t spell paladin without pal….I’ll show myself out.

The Faraway Paladin – 06 – Warrior Priest

Will’s first episode On His Own is a good one. It starts out quiet and contemplative, as we just watch a tiny Will traverse grand vistas. He’s searching for humans, but finds only more dead cities and towns. He can always pray for bread and purify water, but he’ll soon need other things for sustenance. Sure enough, his patron saint provides—just not in a straightforward way.

The first person Will meets who isn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus is the extremely pretty half-elf Meneldor, an hunter who was pursuing the giant wild boar Will kills in self-defense. They agree to split the boar and share the liver, which spoils fastest. Whether Menel is Will’s age or much older, the two have an immediate easy rapport…right up until Menel says he wants nothing more to do with Will, and warns him not to follow.

Will was just going to follow the river to the nearest settlement, but he receives a divine vision in his dreams from Gracefeel which seems, at first, to depict Menel’s village being attacked. When Will arrives, it turns out Menel is doing the attacking. Here we see just how well-trained and ready for anything Will is thanks to his three parents, easily neutralizing all the bad actors.

Repeatedly addressed as a warrior poet by the grateful villagers, who are a collection of adventurers, bandits, fugitives and various outcasts, and thus always at each others’ throats. Their no-nonsense elder is barely keeping it together, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the half-elf and his five co-bandits should all be hanged.

Will, who wants to avoid any more killing due to the edicts of his goddess and teachings of his family, negotiates a fine compromise: the village will be compensated in gold, while Will hires Meneldor to help drive the demons out of his village. When Will proposes they just rush in and take care of it, Menel is skeptical, but again, this is Will, who we’ve already seen kill a god. Clearing the village should be a piece of cake…but that won’t make it any less fun to watch him do his parents proud. Who knows, maybe Menel will become his official first friend in the process.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 06 – Aw, No…Hana!

While there’s equal or greater Miko at either end, the middle of this episode is All Hana, All The Time, starting with her waking up to find her clock stopped, eating a giant stack of pancakes for breakfast, and lights flickering and going out around her. This is because one of the bigger and more grotesque ghouls to appear in Mieruko-chan is following Hana around, even using her dazzling aura as a kind of grill to sear smaller ghouls to snack on!

I love that as sinister and deadly as this monster looks, the only thing we know for sure is that he loves barbecue…that could be the only reason he’s haunting Hana! For while he gets awfully close to Hana and messes with lights and clocks around her, he doesn’t seem capable of actually hurting Hana, even when she braves a haunted abandoned building to retrieve a crying boy’s dog.

Once both boy and dog are happily home, Hana swears she’ll never put herself through something that terrifying again. And Hana didn’t actually see any ghosts! Like most people, she was simply scared of the unknown in the darkness. It’s probably for the best she can’t see what’s actually there, like Miko.

This proves especially true when Miko takes Hana to a shrine with an ulterior motive: pray to the local deity to do something about the monster still haunting Hana’s steps. While Hana soaks in the Ghibli vibes (even humming a bit of a tune from Nausicaa), Miko watches all paranormal hell break loose…or is it heaven?

Why not both? The black shadowy monster seemingly bests the two golden fox deities, only to be destroyed by what seems to be their big, big brother.

After the shadow monster is pulverized, the golden monsters converse in a strange language neither we nor Miko understand, then the larger of the three does…something to Miko while saying the one thing we do understand: “Three times,” then vanishing with a gust of wind.

Did this deity protect Miko from three future hauntings? Both we and Miko will have to wait to find out what, if anything, these deities did. All the while, Hana grabbed some sweet Insta pics that don’t even need filters!

The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

The Faraway Paladin – 04 – Divine Protection

Gus manages to fight off Stagnate, but it turns out Stagnate split himself in two. Stagnate’s second half arrives and puts Blood, Mary, and Gus out of commission, and gives Will an ultimatum: join him, or lose them all. He’s clearly the more charitable, patient half, because he gives Will 24 hours to decide. Will uses that time to sulk.

It’s at this point that the show reminds us that Will was, as he calls it, a useless garbage person in his past life, something he’s kept from his parents to this point. But when he wakes up and starts ranting about how useless and garbage-y he still is, Mary won’t hear it. She slaps him, tells him to stand up and get ahold of himself. Will may not have cried for his parents in his first life, but the fact he’s so shook up about his new parents proves he’s not the same person in this life.

Will turns Stagnate down, then has to fight a bunch of skeletons, which he does successfully, leading Stagnate to once again ask Will to join him. Will can tell Stagnate is genuine in his passion for and desire to create world without life or death, but simple everlasting…stagnation. The thing is, Will already had his fill of that in his past life, and is now in a position to reject it.

That’s because, even after Stagnate offers Will a cup of his blood, Will cuts of Stagnate’s hand holding the cup, and then the hand turns into a snake that injects Will with the blood like venom anyway, Will wakes up in the divine domain of Gracefeel, Goddess of the cycle of death and rebirth. A caring, benevolent God not unlike Mary in personality offers Will her divine protection.

All he has to do is what he wants to do anyway: move forward. Live. Not stagnate. When Will comes to, he’s able to use the Divine Torch, which spooks Stagnate into launching an emergency destruction spell. But Will realizes almost too late that Stagnate was using that as a smokescreen so he could get to his true target: Mary and Blood. Will Will make it in time to save his parents? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 12 (Fin) – I Want You to Live

In the first half, Nasa lets his tendency to get really involved in something get the best of him, and he works on a computer project all day and through the night. When he’s done, he has a fever, and Tsukasa is committed to being the “cute newlywed wife” who sees to his every need until he’s better.

That includes making him food and administering medicine, but also more intimate things like having him strip (as much as he dares to) so she can wipe down his sweat. By the end of the day, he’s feeling much better…better enough to get frisky in bed.

But Tsukasa again warns him to know when to “apply the brakes”—she’ knows he’s still not fully recovered enough for strenuous activity. As for Tsukasa, she drops one last hint about her mysterious origins by declaring she “can’t get sick or hurt”.

The remainder of the episode is actually the reason Nasa worked so hard he got sick: he wanted to be able to go to the summer festival with Tsukasa. He makes what he believes is not an unreasonable request to watch Tsukasa change into the yukata Kaname lent her, and doesn’t forget his camera—mostly to take pictures of his cute wife, not fireworks.

Nasa shows he’s not good at everything when he instantly fails at goldfish scooping, and Tsukasa confesses that the way they made takoyaki at their party is not her favorite way, and she’s super stoked to get the traditional kind at a food stall. Finally the two make and offering and pray for a long and happy marriage, for their health, and for better luck scooping fish in the future.

Then they join the others to watch the fireworks, Nasa looks forward to going to next year’s festival with his wife, and they return home together, husband and wife. Nothing too fancy! Certainly no other further revelations about Tsukasa’s possibly immortal status are revealed.

In this regard, TONIKAWA ends just the way it should have, with the lovely status quo of a happy Nasa and Tsukasa continuing to enjoy their lives with one another and their little circle of friends. It’s simple and mundane, but in the very best way, and I wouldn’t mind more heartwarming comfort food of this kind at some point in the future.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 11 – Their Little Dream

Suddenly, we’re back where we began: Ordinary Person gets off work on time and spots a takoyaki stand. Instead of being accused of not paying, she pays without interacting with Courier and the two go their separate ways. Of course, if this is how things had gone down in the first episode, there wouldn’t be a story.

This is clearly not reality. What is reality is Pupil waking up in a hospital bed to find that not only have nearly 6,000 ordinary people been marked as Akudama, but nearly a third of them have been executed, and his senpai seems perfectly fine with it, as is their Boss, who is praised by Kanto. Order in Kansai has been restored—even if the odd orphan has to be tossed off their parent’s corpse into the cold.

Swindler at first revels in the comfort of her ordinary apartment, and could presumably continue living there as if all of the crazy events in which she participated was all just a very weird dream. But this is the dream, just as a young Courier discovering his mentor, the previous (and female) Courier murdered is a dream.

Bunny and Shark—in crisp HD for the first time—deliver their latest lesson with Swindler and Courier as an audience: they explain the “Butterfly Dream” in which one asks themselves if they’re dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly’s dream. Apparently, in Kanto, it doesn’t matter: you can be both or neither.

The animal stick puppet characters assert this is where Swindler and Courier “truly belong”: a place where they can dream of whatever and whenever they want and live in their happiest moments forever! Swindler even has a little Shoujo Manga moment with Courier…before both he and the takoyaki stand beging to digitally degrade and evaporate, leaving only the interior of the Shinkansen.

Swindler and Courier escape this world of coddling and restraining illusion thanks to Hacker’s Haro bot, with which the real Hacker is able to interface and which serves as a kind of dream totem for Swindler and Courier; their means of realizing they’re in a dream. The Bunny & Shark program is a form of brainwashing meant to separate body from mind (and free will) when entering Kanto. It is the effect of the Decontamination Zone.

Why would Kanto insist anyone who enters have their mind separated from their body? That becomes clear when Hacker leads them outside of the train to see something even stranger than their dreams: an endless deep blue sky full of eternally floating wreckage of old Tokyo.

As for Kanto, its true form is that of a complex quantum computer with a morphing geometric black structure resembling an Angel from Eva. Everyone in Kanto converted their consciousness to data and stored it in this structure (again, like Eva’s Human Instrumentality Project). Hacker turns back and cheekily breaks the fourth wall, commenting on how crazy a twist this is!

Swindler’s first priority is the kids, whom Hacker points out are currently being restrained by the Kanto structure. It’s presently breaking down, and the siblings were always meant to be Kanto’s new and everlasting vessels. All of Kanto’s data is being transferred to them.

Needless to say, Swindler isn’t cool with the kids being used once more as mere tools. She’s long since completely devoted her mind and body ensuring brother and sister’s one “little dream”—to be alive, safe, and together—is fulfilled. Whatever else they are and whatever Kanto perceives their use to be, she insists they’re ordinary kids who deserve and ordinary life.

Unfortunately, her attempts to physically attack Kanto are repelled by its gravitational wave defense system, which means it’s up to Hacker to go into Kanto and play the toughest—and most fun—game of his life. That’s just fine to him, as the whole reason he’s helping Swindler and Courier comes down to profound boredom. If he can die doing what he loves, he’s okay with that.

This is definitely Akudama Drive at its most baroque and psychedelic, and even though The Day I Became a God had a quantum supercomputer and trippy virtual hacker fight first this season, Akudama is able to put a different spin on both. Hacker’s battlefield resembles FFXIII’s final dungeon, Orphan’s Cradle, while the floating wreckage reminded me of FFXIII-2’s final dungeon, Labyrinth of Chaos.

Hacker ends up succeeding in freeing the siblings, but only by sacrificing his digital self, which is all that’s left of him. He lies about being “just fine” to Swindler and offers her a final token of gratitude for returning his Haro drone intact: coordinates to “a mystical place nobody’s heard about, let alone been to,” which he deems a “perfect place” for them.

He then urges everyone to hurry aboard the Shinkansen, which he programs to return to Kansai, and from there they can presumably head to those coordinates. As Sister surprises Brother with her new street smarts (and potty mouth—”You were shit at protecting me!”), Swindler thanks Courier for all his help. Of course, for Courier, finishing the job wasn’t a choice, but a necessity.

That’s when we return to Kansai where the approaching Shinkansen is placed in crosshairs. Three choppers open fire on it, knocking it off the tracks in a huge fireball as Pupil and New Pupil look on. Here’s hoping Swindler and the kids alighted before the train blew up!

Assuming they did, there are likely to be more hardships—and a likely final showdown with the Executioners—before they can reach their promised haven. Whatever happens in the finale, this episode was a master class in twisty, surreal, mind-bending, truth-dropping, beautifully batshit fun.

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