Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 07 – Creative Differences

Whelp, color me surprised the Festival of the Chosen-whatsit never took place! Prince Wein is beset by a plethora of challenges both in Cavarin and Natra, but manages to overcome them all by the end by following his own advice: “trust gains value when there is the potential for treachery.”

King Ordalasse didn’t expect Natra to defeat Marden, but now seeks to bring Wein to heel via the lucrative Holy Elite nomination. Zeno asks Wein if she can accompany him to the meeting, promising she won’t assassinate him…and using his own words to convince him.

King Ordalasse’s “right of blood” policy is gaining disfavor in Cavarin, and he’s gradually losing support, which could eventually lead to a coup. I like how the show makes us aware of this before Wein greatly accelerates the natural course of events by slaying the king with his own damn hand. Yes, Wein becomes the “uncultured barbarian” he warned Zeno about, after hearing how Ordalasse killed his consort and disowned his only daughter.

But the real kicker is when the king asks Wein to loan him some Flahms to hunt for sport. Wein’s barely-masked contempt is plain to see to all but Ordalasse and Holonyeh. After Wein kicks Ordalasse in the face and stabs him in the heart, he gives Zeno leave to kill Holonyeh, traitor to Marden.

It isn’t until Wein, Ninym, and Zeno have fled the capital that word comes of the noble rebellion back in Natra. But Wein is confident that with Zeno and Marden’s freedom forces on their side, they’ll have a fighting chance to quash the attempted coup.

Sitting by a campfire, Ninym playfully kicks Wein, asking him to confirm he devised this plan before killing the King of Cavarin, saying killing him and then coming up with a plan is the same as having no plan at all. Wein isn’t going to say he did it to rid the world of another Flahm-hater…but he didn’t need to. Ninym knows he did what he did, in part, for her sake.

General Levert’s cavalry forces give chase, but Wein arranges things so they meet the Natran rebels at the border before they encounter Wein’s traveling party, then pincers them with a combination of Marden freedom fighters and a loyalist Natran contingent led by General Hagal—at the sight of whom I’ll admit I pumped my fist!

Hagal pulling a Jordan was Wein’s plan all along: make the rebellious Natran rebels think Hagal retired, thus bringing them out of the woodwork. In the ensuing melee both the Natran rebels and Levert’s cavalry are annihilated, taking troublesome pieces off the board and truly killing two birds with one stone.

“Prince Helmut” eventually pays a visit to Wein in Natra, and quickly reveals herself to actually be comely Crown Princess Zenovia of Marden, who’d assumed the alias of Zeno during her time with Wein.

Ninym’s lovely blend of protectiveness and jealousy is plain to see, especially when she wordlessly refuses to help Wein when Zenovia offers to swear allegiance to Natra, thus making Marden a vassal state. Once again, Wein loses by winning, more than doubling his kingdom’s lands while also butting them up against a fresh western enemy.

Last week’s density of political entanglements made me weary, but this week resolved most of them in thoroughly satisfying fashion. That said, the fact Ibis (the woman who helped stoke the Natran rebellion)  is working for Caldmellia—who wants nothing more than bloody chaos to reign—means Wein’s troubles are far from over.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 06 – Little Fish in a Big Pond

Prince Wein heads to the western kingdom of Cavarin, whose king has invited him to the Festival of the Spirit. Naturally Ninym is by his side, but has dyed her hair black, as there’s little tolerance for Flahms in the west. She uses their journey to flirt with and tease Wein over which hair color he prefers.

Between the news that one of Natra’s greatest generals has retired and Wein and Ninym crossing lands where remnants of Marden’s armies still lurk, the time is ripe for some kind of unpleasantness. Sure enough, soldiers disguised as brigands (an important distinction) wreck Wein’s coach. The “brigands” are chased off by members of the Free Mardenian Forces.

Wein wishes to speak to their Prince Helmut, but he’s met by Zeno, Helmut’s Ninym. When Wein tells her he’s headed to Cavarin for the festival, she takes the very words as a provocative act and threatens to cut him down. But the silver-tongued Wein manages to forge a temporary alliance with Zeno and her scant but disciplined forces.

A central pillar of the Levetian faith that holds sway in Cavarin consists of the Holy Elites, and Wein convinces Zeno to accompany him to the gorgeous of Tristoria for the chance to meet with them, and perhaps sway one or two them to her cause (or kill them). In any case, it feels like Wein and Ninym are about to enter a very pretty hornet’s nest.

While Wein meets with Cavarin’s boisterous King Ordalasse, Ninym and Zeno go scouting, and when the latter encounters former Mardenian advisor and possible traitor Holonyeh (the Wormtongue-looking guy), Ninym has to pull a knife on Zeno to stop her from assassinating him and blowing what’s meant to be as low-profile a visit as possible.

Unfortunately for Wein, King Ordalasse has much bigger plans for him. Specifically, he takes him to a meeting area where the Holy Elites are already assembled, and declares his intention to recommend he become their newest member. The Arbalasts of Natra carry the blood of Levetia, but he’d be the easternmost of the elites if his nomination succeeded.

Wein ultimately decides the pros of such a position outweigh the cons, so he decides to meet with the Elites one by one with Zeno by his side. The first of them is the femme fatale Lady Caldmellia, a ruthless operator who, despite her priestly garb, makes no qualms about proposing Wein prove himself by wiping out the Mardenian forces and displaying their corpses to sent a message.

While Wein is away, a rebellion of sinister cloaked nobles, led in part by Lady Ibis, begins to make their move in Natra. In Cavarin, Ninym learns that Holonyeh is conspiring with Levert, a distinguished general, to get rid of Wein.

There are a lot of faces to remember and a lot of turning cogs to consider, but my main takeaway this week is a sense of gathering dread, for even Wein admits he has very little control over anything in this scenario, and while he has few but quality allies, he seems beset by a vast quantity of foes from all sides.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 06 – It Was Spring When We Met

With the Culture Fest imminent, rehearsals for Romiya and Juliot are well under way, but when Nishikata first lays eyes on Takagi in her princess regalia, he forgets half of his lines as Dumpling A and gets an earful from Director Yukari. Nishikata knows he needs practice, so he arranges for Takagi to meet him…on a rooftop…at sunset.

It’s not until he’s almost to the top of the steps that he realized that in his absent-mindedness he set up the perfect conditions to ask Takagi out, recalling an iconic chapter of 100% Unrequited Love, in which he should know by now Takagi is also well-versed. But such is her knowledge of the workings of his mind, she knows he’s up there to practice their lines…though she’s a little disappointed it’s not for more than that.

The day of the festival arrives, and Nishikata is 5 billion percent certain he can beat Takagi in a contest of who can get out of the haunted “diner” first (can I just say how wonderfully random a haunted diner is?). Takagi gets in and out in 43 seconds, dashing his hopes of her getting freaked out. But for a moment there, he considered going in, so concerned that she’d be too scared. Sure enough, Takagi wants to go through the house with him together, not separately.

Intertwined with Nishikata and Takagi’s slow dance of love are Houjou and Hamaguchi, the latter of which initially disappoints and pisses off the former by telling her not to come to his class café. When she arrives anyway to spite him for being a jerk, she discovers why he didn’t want her there: all the guys in his class had to dress like maids!

But the big draw of the fest is the play, and things get off to a smooth and encouraging start. Even Nishikata knows all of his lines and delivers them with confidence, no doubt a product of his thorough off-camera practicing with Takagi. But when Kimura is “turned into a ham” and leaves the stage, the chestnut atop his scepter pops off. Then Kimura has digestive issues after winning the eating contest.

This leaves Nishikata to fill in for him, but things don’t go as Yukari, Sanae, or Nishikata planned. That’s because during the scene where she’s about to take her life, Takagi trips on the chestnut, and Nishikata darts onto stage to catch her so fast his pig head falls off. The crowd believes this is all intentional, so he runs with it—emphatically declaring his return to human form is a “miracle born from our love.”

Surely the adrenaline has him, but that doesn’t matter. Takagi is loving every moment of this improvisation, as it means she gets to be in the arms of the boy she loves for real, and Nishikata has nowhere to hide. It’s only when an entire gym full of eyes are on them that they’re finally able to say how they truly feel, even if Nishikata would dispute that’s what’s going on.

At the after-festival karaoke party, I was glad to see Nishikata and Takagi sitting next to each other. She praises him for the improv, and he claims not to remember any of what he said on stage. Takagi assures him she remembers “each and every second” of it, and probably will never forget it.

Then Nishikata asks why one of her improvised lines mentioned how they met in spring when Romiya and Juliot met in the fall…to which Takagi says, while looking straight into Nishikata’s eyes, that “it was spring when we met each other.” We, not the characters they played. While Nishikata’s 8-bit brain tries to process these words and their meaning, Takagi is called to the mic to sing another lovely vintage song. A perfect ending to a perfect episode.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 05 – All Out in Antgadull

Lord Geralt’s untimely demise threw a wrench into Wein and Lowa’s plans, but they waste no time pivoting to an alternate gambit, aiming above else to claim the initiative from both the rest of the empire and the nascent rebellion against it.

This results in Wein brazenly arriving at Marquess Grinahae Antgadull’s front door and trying to sell him a rather dastardly fiction of Geralt being the mastermind behind the rebellion, giving Grinahae the option to throw himself at the mercy of the empire (i.e. Lowa) for a relative slap on the wrist in exchange for revealing all about the rebellion.

Grinahae has Wein depart his manor believing he’s agreed to the proposal, but Wein knew there was a 50-50 shot of doing so. When he and his handful of guards are ambushed by the leader of the rebels, Wein quickly pivots once again, managing to best their leader (whom he believes to be a spy from the west) by taking his sword arm and forcing them to retreat.

Back at the manor, the rebels execute their plan to assassinated Grinahae and burn his manor down, along with all evidence of the rebellion. This plan fails thanks to the skill of Nanaki, Falanya’s bodyguard whom Wein borrowed to ensure the rebellion couldn’t cover their tracks.

By then, Grinahae is already in hot pursuit of Wein with a speedy mounted force of around 100, with plans to eventually seize the princess. Wein seems hopelessly outnumbered—which is exactly what he wants Grinahae to think as they crest a hill.

Wein knows Grinahae knows his own lands, and that the speed of his force will be able to overtake and defeat Wein’s once they’re out on the wide plains beyond. But Grinahae didn’t consider that Wein brought a Natra force that is puny compared to Antgadull’s combined forces, but in this instance outnumbers Grinahae’s host.

Then Grinahae’s escape route is blocked by another large force, this time of Imperial and Provincial forces. When brought before Princess Lowa, the only defense Grinahae can think of is to condemn Wein for bringing an invading force into Antgadull.

However, Lowa and Wein have this covered too: Wein’s Natran force is part of a joint military exercise, made possible thanks to one Ambassador Tallum, who didn’t want Geralt’s sudden death ruin the meeting of Wein and Lowa. Grinahae has no choice but to surrender.

Back in Natra, Lowa enjoys a cup of tea with Ninym, with everything in Antgadull having worked itself out to both her and Wein’s benefit—or at least to neither of their detriments. It certainly could have gone worse, but the quick and careful planning and adaptability they were famous for at the academy helped them win the day.

Lowa confirms that she’s called off the marriage proposal for now, citing the advantage of remaining unwed when it comes to expanding the empire’s influence, and the fact the empire remains in a state of instability. But Lowa’s cup suddenly gets unstable when Ninym brazenly points out that Lowa has feelings for Wein!

We see that Lowa has a blind spot when it comes to this, as she didn’t think anyone knew when it was blatantly obvious to Ninym (and others) for years. What’s great about this show is there’s an actual good reason she likes him, beyong his looks and brains.

That reason is demonstrated when Lowa asks Wein why he didn’t play things differently in Antgadull. Basically, he broke Grinaahae so he’d be easier for Lowa to control. He promised to help her if she ever got them in a mess, and he kept that promise.

As she returns to the empire, she not only admits she likes Wein, but also yearns to have a relationship like Wein and Ninym: one of absolute mutual trust despite their vast differences. For Lowa, becoming empress means being able to stand proudly beside her two old friends.

It’s a noble, nuanced, and very satisfying mindset that eschews the obvious love triangle dynamic for something less zero-sum. And while I’m sure the show will keep its focus on Wein and Ninym as he resumes his efforts to raise Natra out of debt, I hope we get more Lowa again soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 04 – Lord Gerard the Airborne

Whew…I must confess my head is spinning a bit after all that political ballet, which basically proceeds from the opening minutes (after the newly finished OP airs) to the final ones (there’s no ED this week). It begins with Wein revealing that he knows Lowa’s real real reason for being in Natra.

First, the weapons shipments meant to bolster the empire against civil war are distributed evenly among the three princes, to maintain the three-way stalemate. Their resulting collective weakness will lead to rebellions, but Lowa’s warnings fell on deaf ears, so her plan is to control which nation rebels first so her brothers would be persuaded to take the rebellion seriously.

Mind you, Lowa doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed, but she wishes both for the peace and security of the empire and to ascend as its empress. The nation she’s chosen to bait with an offer of marriage is Marquess Antgatal, who has a dimwitted boor of a son, Lord Gerard.

Lowa had hoped Antgatal would invate Natra to claim her hand, then have Wein and Natra thwart them to protect the throne. But then Lord Gerard arrives, apparently uninvited but lured by a letter to meet with and propose to Lowa in person.

Wein remains friendly and polite despite Gerard looking down on him, which makes Ninym so upset she has to calm herself by enjoying a brief spell sitting in Wein’s lap. As Wein unravels what he believes to be Lowa’s scheme with Gerard, we cut to Lowa discussing these same matters with her retainer Fisch.

The two have a little battle of wits in separate rooms, each tipping their caps to their respective geniuses. Wein intends to support Lowa in her manipulation of Gerard, but won’t go so far as to lend military support in the crushing of the rebellion.

At that evening’s banquet, even Lord Gerard can tell that Wein and Lowa go way back from their glances at each other. But he cannot possibly fathom how many intricate gears are turning in his host’s nor his would-be-fiancée’s pretty heads. He plays every bit the predictable pawn, putty in their collective hands…until he hears that Wein can handle himself with a sword.

Wein and Lowa’s internal duel of wits is totally usurped by Gerard’s desire to put the prince in his place and impress his future bride with a mock duel of wooden swords. Wein has to delicately balance not totally whooping Gerard’s ass but also not losing so blatantly he either comes off as taking a fall, or just plain weak.

I love how he only has moments to consider what amount of force and skill he should employ against his opponent, and the long and wide-ranging ramifications of such a seemingly innocuous activity. I also love how Lowa reacts to him having to duel someone well beneath his ability.

It’s just that neither one of these schemers could have predicted in a thousand years how the mock duel would end: with the drunken Gerard charging Wein, missing, and then crashing through the window of the banquet hall, and over the damn balcony, breaking his neck. It’s an expertly delivered and timed bit of absurd slapstick that also happens to instantly blast all of Wein and Lowa’s carefully laid schemes into smithereens.

Gerard’s father, Marquess of Antgatal, soon becomes convinced his son was lurder to Natra to be assassinated, and that the princess must’ve had a hand in it. War between Antgatal and Natra seems certain. Wein wants to be the first of the three parties to take the initiative in this newly swept-clean game board, but Lowa beats him to it by visiting his office…to surrender.

She’s decided that preventing the rebellion and saving her empire is more important than claiming the throne—for now—so that’s what she’ll focus her efforts on from now on. Wein has bad news for her if she was planning to borrow Natra’s armies: his kingdom can only afford to deploy 500 troops against Antgatal’s 4,000+.

With a military solution untenable, Wein seeks a political one, in which he and Lowa get Antgatal to confess to his knowledge of the brewing rebellion before a mass uprising occurs. Wein, Ninym, Lowa, and Fisch hole themselves up in the parlor for a long night of planning all new devious schemes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 02 – Heart of Gold

After bathing and dressing, Ninym goes to wake Prince Wein up, only to find he’s dreaming of a woman with a bigger chest than hers. What would have been a sweet moment was marred by a dumb boob joke. It’s kind of a harbinger for what’s to come: a tolerable story marred by poor execution.

Last week I forgave the fact that armies looked like grey blobs, and that CGI chess pieces replaced the combat animation for the most part. But after this week’s siege of the gold mine Natra just conquered, I no longer see clever workarounds, but cheap shortcuts. Weeks supposedly pass in this episode, but the action is so poorly portrayed it feels like a long afternoon.

The whole premise of the show is that Prince Wein is a genius, but this week it’s abundantly clear that it doesn’t require a genius to defeat Marden’s larger numbers. Not only are the enemy commanders one-dimensional mustache twirling villains—and racist against “Flahms” like Ninym—they’re also dumber than a sack of bricks, falling for the most obvious traps and failing to understand concepts like “high ground” or “bottlenecks”.

That said, the Marden general’s biggest mistake is the racial slur his pompous envoy directed at Ninym. Wein confirms that the envoy’s words are the general’s, then sets up a raid on the enemy headquarters that ends with him telling the guy that Ninym is “his heart”, and any who wound his heart shall die by his own hand. This is devotion we didn’t quite see last week, and it at least gives this part of the battle a pulse.

Sadly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really measure up, as between the awful personalities of the enemy commanders and the awful production values that I sometimes worried would stray into Wizard Barristers Episode 11. With Wein’s common sense tactics being laughably portrayed as potentially empire-shattering genius, I struggled to find something to keep me watching next week, and for now, that’s the easy rapport between Wein and Ninym.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 01 (First Impressions) – Can’t Lose for Wein-ning

Despite the obnoxiously-long title, this is not an isekai, but a comedy that happens to take place in a renaissance-level fantasy world. In it the Empire of Earthwold lords over many lesser kingdoms, including Natra, presently led by Prince Wein, whose father the king is ill. The thing is, Wein doesn’t wanna rule Natra, which is in dire financial straits.

He wants to make it just attractive enough to sell to a greater power, then begin the retirement stage of his life. He’s lazy, and wants to take the nearest shortcut, but he’s hampered throughout this episode by another quality he possesses: tactical and strategic genius.

Yes, while he acts petulant goof in front of his personal aide Ninym (and no one else), Wein is in fact too smart for his own good, and enjoys the fierce loyalty and admiration of his older military advisors, who would no doubt change their tune if they knew the jerk was planning to sell their kingdom!

But that threat of being found out doesn’t really factor into this first outing. Rather, Wein plays the role others aks him to play, rallying the troops and coming up with a plan to fend off the army of a neighboring kingdom. Again, he doesn’t wanna, but he’s backed into a corner.

As such, he gives a rousing speech to the toops and executes the battle plan, which works out far better than he was expecting. Part of that is due to his agreement with the Empire to train Natra’s royal forces, once again potentially shooting himself in the foot.

But when the enemy’s general charges his camp, Wein and his aides retreat, goading the enemy into giving chase right into a canyon trap, where Ninym and a force of archers mow the enemy down, cementing Natra’s victory. It’s here where the brutality of war and the quirky comedy clash the most.

Once back at the strategy table with his military advisors, whom Wein knows want to invade their now-vulnerable neighbor, he tries to propose a plan far too preposterous for them to accept…only for them to accept it immediately and assume he’d seen the plans they’d already made.

Prince Wein’s inner voice has a chibi avatar who does all of his internal, genuine reactions while maintaining his princely façade. But if it’s money he wants to put his kingdom in a better position to be sold, invading a gold mine is probably a net-profit proposition.

Genius Prince isn’t going to win any awards with its production values, but other than some muddy-blob-looking armies and quite a bit of still-shots with streaking white lines indication action, it’s an inoffensively adequate-looking affair. The comedy is similarly unimpressively competent.

Mostly, should I continue this show I shall look forward watching Wein’s interesting friend/confidant relationship with Ninym, who stays by his side despite his shenanigans, as well as watching him continue to succeed despite trying to fail. It’s Machiavelli-meets-Bialystock!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 20 – Odd Man Out

Back when the explosion that shatters the Greyrat family occurred, Lilia has the foresight to grab Aisha and hold her tight for the expanding blast. She ends up teleported into the water, but manages to swim to the surface before she and her daughter drown. She makes her way on foot to Shirone, only for Prince Pax to capture and imprison them once he learns Lilia knows Roxy.

While Rudeus intends for the Ruijerd figurines he’s crafted to improve the Superd’s reputation, this week they actually come in handy rescuing him from Pax’s clutches. Pax’s older brother Prince Zanoba, you see, happens to be a figurine otaku the likes of which Rudy knows well from his old life. Wisely Rudy only owns up to being the artist once he realizes Zanoba wants to praise him and become his apprentice.

Zanoba doesn’t care about Roxy like his perverted brother does, just the figurine of her, which we learn has a detachable clothes. As such, he cares nothing for Pax’s plots, and so is immediately an ally to Rudy by default. Meanwhile, we see Ruijerd, Eris, and Aisha’s side of things as they work with Shirone royal guards to free their families, whom Pax has hostage to secure their loyalty.

That shortsighted strategy backfires as expected, first when Rudy tells Zanoba to lower the barrier and Zanoba grabs Pax out of bed by the head and presents him to Rudy, revealing Zanoba is a “Blessed Child” with superhuman strength. Ginger is Pax’s last line of defense, but when she learns her family is safe, she turns on Pax, informing him she first swore loyalty to Zanoba to begin with.

Shortly after Zanoba and Ginger free Rudy, Ruijerd returns from freeing Ginger and the soldiers’ loved ones, along with Lilia, who is immensely happy to be reunited with both Rudy and Aisha. Basically, Rudy didn’t actually have to do anything to get out of his latest predicament, other than make that figuring of Roxy years ago. Everything else kind of fell into place.

Later, Lilia gives Rudy a big hug, along with the box containing Roxy’s underwear and a pendant Sylphiette made for him. Also, Aisha wants to join the “Kennel Master” on his continuing adventures, thus saving her from the “perverted clutches” of her half-brother.

After Rudy gives her his Dead End head protector, she either connects the dots about him actually being her half-brother, or decides to drop the charade. Either way, with Zenith and Sylphiette still missing, Rudy can go forward knowing at least one of his little sisters likes him!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 19 – The Man-God’s Fast One

Rudeus appears once again in his original form from his own world before the Man-God  Hitogami, a year after their last meeting. Rudy decides once again to let the Man-God guide him to his next objective, agreeing to trust him in exchange for helping find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. While we can’t yet say Hitogami has steered Rudy wrong, his true motivations remain unknown. Is he earnestly trying to help Rudy, or just seeking entertainment?

After much vomiting over the side of a ship, Rudy, along with Eris and Ruijerd, arrive at last at the Central Continent, and the capital of the kingdom of Shirone. As has now become commonplace, the “OP” consists of a sequence of vistas of the new land, along with a new song to accompany it. It’s big, it’s grand, and it’s awesome. It’s a city I’d love to spend weeks exploring.

Of course, Rudy doesn’t have time for that; he has a family to locate and rescue. Going off the vision Hitogami gave him, he searches the city for Lilia and Aisha, and finds the latter, now six years old, being bothered by city guards. Rudy uses his incantation-less magic to bear both him and Aisha away from the guards, and just like that, he’s reunited with a sibling who was only a baby when last he saw her.

Unlike Norn, Aisha is friendly with Rudy…but only because she’s not aware that he’s actually her older brother, whom she’s certain is an awful pervert due to Roxy’s underwear he’d been keeping that she found one day. It’s a little sad that Lilia taught her daughter not to rely on his brother, but Rudy follows the Man-God’s advice to use an alias rather than reveal his true connection to Aisha.

With Aisha safely under Eris and Ruijerd’s careful watch, Rudy accepts the invitation of Ginger York, a member of the seventh prince of Shirone’s royal guard, who escorts him to the castle of Shirone. He’s under the impression Ginger is taking him to see Roxy, who has been serving the prince, and is excited to see his master for the first time in seven years.

Alas, it’s only a trap. Lilia is indeed in the Shirone castle, the captive of Pax, the seventh prince.  But Rudy ends up falling down a hole into a king-class barrier meant for Roxy. Pax is determined to lure Roxy back so he can capture and have his way with her. Since Lilia wasn’t sufficient bait, he’ll use Rudy instead.

It’s understandable that, now that he finds himself in this predicament after following Hitogami’s instructions pretty much to the letter, Rudy considers the possibility the Man-God played a trick on him. But to what end? Is Rudy really trapped? I doubt it; a trap intended for Roxy means Rudy, who has far surpassed Roxy in magical ability, should have no trouble escaping it.

The problem is, Lilia is currently Prince Pax’s hostage. Rudy can’t act carelessly lest any harm come to Aisha’s mother. I don’t foresee Pax being a credible threat for long—I mean look at him—but at the moment Rudy does seem to be in a rather sticky situation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 48 – Love is In the Air…and On the Stage

Just like that, it’s the day of the festival and the class play, totally reworked into something “Cinderella-ish”. After Kisa and Hiro arrive to join Momiji and Haruhatsu in the crowd, the first two-thirds of the episode is given over to the play…and it’s wonderful.

The scriptwriter did a masterful job rewriting the script to complement the cast, from making Tooru kind and meek stepsister to letting Saki just be “Sakirella”, regarded by the crowd as “sassy” and “a boss”. The crowd favorite is Yuki, who is resplendent as the Fairy Godmother—Ayame and Mine knocked it out of the park with the costumes.

By the time the big ball scene arrives, Saki is far more interested in Yakiniku than dancing with the prince (her first wish was to burn the castle down, but she settled for Yuki making her dresses for her stepsister and mother). As for Prince Kyou, the actor’s general reluctance to participate is used in the story, making the prince reluctant to find a princess despite his fellow prince (Arisa) helping him out.

Midnight comes, and Black Cinderella must flee, leaving a glass slipper behind and wishing she’d eaten more. At Arisa’s urging, Kyou visits every house in the kingdom until she comes to Cinderella’s house. Saki asks if he’s there to marry her sister (Tooru), which causes Kyou to explode. This works in the context of the play, but is another among many instances of reality seeping into the play.

When Saki launches into a dark monologue about the prince continuing to deceive himself and lock himself away in the castle forever, Tooru is compelled to speak out of turn, yelling “I don’t want….!” Of course, it’s not just her character who doesn’t want the prince to be lonely. This is Tooru expressing her objection to Kyou being locked away by Akito just for being the Cat…as well as her objection to Kyou being okay with it. Their dialogue’s close proximity to their real-life situation isn’t lost on either Tooru or Kyou.

After a deliciously feminist ending to the play (Cinderella doesn’t marry anyone and opens a yakiniku business with Tooru), the play is over, and Kyou couldn’t be happier…only to find that his Shisho is there, but Saki is flirting with him hard, using her sweetest demeanor and most dignified diction while around him.

Tooru meets up with Kisa, Hiro, Haru and Momiji, the last of whom capture the play on his camcorder. Tooru is glad for this, because it means Kureno will get to watch the DVD of Arisa. However, when Hiro lashes out at Haru (despite his efforts not to lose his temper), Kisa gets the wrong impression that Hiro likes Rin (Isuzu).

Released from his acting duties, Yuki checks in on the StuCo and is placed on patrol duty by an angrier-than-usual Nao. He overhears Machi being hassled by members of his fan club for her comments about Yuki not being a prince. He’s about to intervene, but Kanabe wisely restrains him; this is something Machi needs to work out for herself.

Eventually she does speak up for herself, first offering a curt apology when it is demanded, then elaborating on her read on Yuki, which is not only far deeper than the fans’ shallow infatuation, but also resonates with Yuki a great deal. She alone can tell that despite being around so many people, Yuki seems lonely. She can tell because she’s lonely too. Yuki blushes in the way a man blushes over a woman.

Kyou ends up joining Tooru with the others, but before they do, they share a quiet moment with each other, with that scene in the play still vivid in both their memories. But right at the edge of acknowledging their mutual feelings for one another, the two withdraw, neither allowing themselves to think about “it.”

If this were a one or two-cour romance, I’d say they were spinning their wheels, but Fruits Basket will continue for at least an entire third season and I’ve heard it could even extend into a fourth. So it’s so far so good with these two with two episodes left in the second season. I also continue to be intrigued with the Yuki-Machi connection, though I do hope they get to actually interact more down the road.

Check out Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

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