Urusei Yatsura – 04 – As the Crow Flies

Ataru and Lum are playing Shinobu and Mendou in a spirited game of doubles tennis, and Lum ignores pleas not to cheat by flying. Her resulting point soars so far it smacks one of the tengu crows carrying a capsule containing a slumbering space princess. It slides down the hill and flattens Mendou, and Ataru pounces on it as soon as he sees the face of the occupant.

The crow attendants are impressed not with Ataru, but with Mendou’s “slicked-back” good looks. They believe he’ll be the perfect mate for their Princess Kurama to engage in “amorous congress” with. They urge Mendou to kiss her so she’ll awaken and get down to business.

Naturally, Mendou is a little hesitant, but Ataru isn’t, and steals the kiss. Lum immediately zaps him into the stratosphere, so the first thing Kurama sees is Mendou’s handsome mug, and assumes he’s The Guy.

The four crow attendants are fine with this, but their elder is against it. Tradition dictates that the one who awakened her with a kiss become her mate, and that’s the Ataru clown.

The others want to keep that a secret, and so does Lum, who agrees to help them ensure the princess ends up with Mendou. Kurama then arrives in class and is all over Mendou, causing a huge uproar among his many admirers. Both Ataru and Shinobu try to tell her the truth, but are tied up by the crows and Lum.

Lum and the crows then set to work building an impromptu “love nest” right in the schoolyard, into which Kurama drags a still-hesitant Mendou. While he recognizes her beauty, he still feels things are going way too fast. That’s when Ataru drops in, still tied up, to tell Kurama the truth: he kissed her.

The elder crow backs this up and says tradition must be adhered to. But when Kurama asks specifically why that is and what the consequences are, he has no idea. So the crows set up a device so he can confer with the past elders of the past of their homeworld.

The elder ends up going back to the very first elder, who admits to having created the tradition from whole cloth simply because it was the way he met his own bride after a long and exciting adventure.

At the news of this, Kurama smashes the miraculous device and says to hell with such a sappy, meaningly tradition. She storms back into her nest, and Mendou follows her in to commit himself to her as her groom.

That’s when Ataru puts a big ‘ol record scratch on their moment by dropping a giant temple bell on top of Mendou, sending him into his darkness basketcase raving mode. Kurama is instantly put off by such a pathetic display and leaves.

Freed from what ended up to be a capricious and arbitrary tradition, she’s raised her standards for who should be her husband, and sets out to find someone who “checks all the boxes”, marked by an inspiring postcard memory.

Princess Kurama is another fun new character with a cool, striking design and voiced with exquisite haughtiness by Mizuki Nana. I also enjoyed her crew of adorable doting crow tengu. While I salute her for washing her hands of Mendou and Ataru, the fact she’s just as shallow as they are suggests she won’t enjoy the best luck in her pursuit of the perfect man.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 05 – Going Nuclear

I thought last week’s outing would end with Cid completing the rescue of Alexia and the defeat of her evil fiancé. Instead, it ended with him simply showing up, which led me to wonder two things: would a lengthy battle ensue, and was Alexia still in danger? The answers turn out to be “yes” and “no”. Alexia just has to sit back and watch along with us as “Shadow” takes his time toying with Zenon like a cat with a mouse.

Zenon has no idea who he’s dealing with and is confident he’s the superior warrior. Meanwhile, the mad scientist’s giant monster starts wreaking havoc in the streets, it falls to Princess Iris to deal with it. But no matter how many times she slashes the beast, she ends up regenerating her severed limbs in seconds. That’s when Alpha shows up and tells the good princess, essentially, that she’s doing it wrong.

All Iris is doing is making the poor beast suffer; she doesn’t have the power to put her out of her misery. Alpha does, and the red light of Iris’ magic-infused attacks are replaced by a massive pillar of blue light that obliterates the beast, leaving behind the body of the girl that was its core, as well as a locket showing who she was. A flabbergasted Iris asks her what the hell is going on, but Alpha politely tells her to sit back and enjoy the show.

Shadow, and Shadow Garden, are many orders of magnitude more powerful than anyone else in the city; that’s abundantly clear by the ease with which ever Diabolos Cult base is eliminated, along with the fact Alpha just showed up Iris. Down in the sewers, Cid continues to impress upon Zenon just how overmatched he is, but as Alexia watches she notices that Shadow’s fencing style, powerful as it is, is simple, textbook…much like hers. It’s the product of obsessive hard work, not natural talent.

Having had his fill of being overpowered, Zenon gulps on some magic pills that enhance his strength, stamina, and physique. He lashes wildly at Cid but every strike is parried, blocked, or dodged altogether. Cid is disappointed with this “unsightly” display, and offended that Zenon dares call it the “power of the almighty”. It’s just borrowed strength. Cid, meanwhile creates a beautiful blue and purple field laced with intricate bands of light.

He tells Zenon (and Alexia) something they wouldn’t know about: nuclear bombs. In his home world, he could never hope to overcome the blast, but in this new world the sky’s the limit, and after years of training he’s managed to become nuclear himself. His attack detonates, turning the environment monochromatic before evaporating Zenon in a massive blast that emerges from underground and consumes dozens of city blocks. The members of Shadow Garden watch and revel in their leader’s truly almighty power.

Naturally, despite the destructive power, Cid took steps to ensure Alexia survived, but also never got to see her savior’s face. She stands within the depths of the crater his blast created, and whips out her sword and pulls off a few stances. Then, to her surprise, a worried-sick Iris arrives and gathers her in a hug, which Alexia accepts with sisterly grace and love. Watching Cid has changed her perspective on things. Now she understands her sister wasn’t patronizing her when she said she loved her style. Her style represents effort, heart, and determination.

Back at the academy, Alexia reminds Cid that he told her he liked her fencing style, which is the same thing her sister said years ago. With Zenon out of her hair permanently, she bashfully asks Cid if they could keep their relationship going “a little longer”, with the heavy implication that it would no longer be “pretend”. Cid gives a cheerful thumbs-down, and her initial shock turns to a blushing smile—and then a vicious slash from her sword.

Shadow Garden continues its plans to rid the world of Diabolos, Iris assembles a team to investigate both the Cult and the Garden, and a still-bloodied Cid accidentally collides with a pink-haired student carrying a towering stack of tomes. He offers her a hand up, which she happily accepts, and the atmosphere immediately gets all sparkly and soft-focus-y. It looks like Cid doesn’t intend to waste his springtime of youth!

The Eminence in Shadow – 04 – World of Shadow

When Alexia awakens to find herself chained to a bed in a cell with a failed demon experiment sulking in the corner, she doesn’t panic. When a bone-stock mad scientist character comes in to draw blood, she doesn’t panic. Hanazawa Kana nails Alexia’s detached calm and faux sympathy for this lunatic.

Cid is also captive, since he’s the prime suspect in Alexia’s abduction. Internally, he’s not concerned about the physical torture he’s enduring, but doesn’t want his two interrogators to “out-unshine” him as Background Character A, so he responds as an NPC would: begging for his life.

Five days pass, and he says nothing, and under Zenon’s suggestion, Alexia’s sister Iris has him released, but followed. His tail is soon taken out by Alpha, and we learn from Cid that members of Shadow Garden have been paying him periodic visits to indulge him in the “game” he’s playing.

…Except it’s not a game for them. I couldn’t tell you why Alpha positions herself like she’s about to make out with Cid, but she announces that the Garden is planning a major op to rid the city of Diabolos.

Cid also spent all the money Alexia paid him to deck his place out like an Eminence Boss. When Beta’s face lights up at the sight of it and the sound of Cid doing his chunibyou voice, I have to admit, I lol’d!

But it’s not that Beta isn’t taking this seriously, just that she and her comrades are so powerful that she can afford to be more nonchalant, and revel in, say, quickly recording events as they unfold, like when Cid serves as the vanguard for the op and takes out the knights who tortured him.

Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and 110 other members of Shadow Garden are going all over the place raiding all the hideouts of the Fenrir Sect of the cult. When the Mad Scientist learns of these raids, he’s forced to accelerate his plans and inject his failed demon experiment with a prototype serum.

Alexia lazily warns him not to do that as she “has a bad feeling” about it, and sure enough, the massive berserk demon he creates kills him instantly. However, it doesn’t kill Alexia, it frees her. She grabs a sword and makes for the sewers to escape, but is stopped…by her sword instructor and betrothed, Zenon.

Like Alexia, I kinda knew there was something off about him; now we know, he’s a member of Diabolos. And while he has a little fun out-fencing her and punching her into the sewage, that fun doesn’t last long, as Cid emerges from the shadows in purest black, ready to hunt—and perhaps save his fake girlfriend as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 03 – Background Boyfriend

On their own initiative, Cid’s Shadow Garden one day decided they needed to leave him and spread out to fight against the Cult of Diablos, but he suspects they grew out of playing along with him and set themselves free.

Whatever the truth is (and it sure seems like the cult is real and they’ve gone out to fight them in his name until he’s old enough to join them) he’s not that bothered by being alone; such is the life of one who strives to become … The Eminence in Shadow.

It also sure looks like he threw himself into Truck-kun while trying to will magic into being, so there’s that!

Cid ends up attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights like his far more famous and popular sister, but blending in will do just fine for him. He even finds himself two perfect best mates for Background Student A: Skel and Po, and fits right between them in terms of both height and unattractiveness.

When Cid loses a bet to his two friends, he must confess to the most sought-after-girl in school: Second Princess Alexia Midgar (Hanazawa Kana), who has become famous for her curt yet brutal rejections of the most elite male suitors. But where they failed, Cid succeeds … quite by accident!

Cid puts on an act to appear as loathsome and pathetic, but little did he know Alexia was waiting for a guy like him to come around, and accepts his offer. She also learns that he’s into fencing, and uses her royal clout to get him into the elite Section One class … where Cid learns that her fencing style is well-studied and practiced, but bland and utterly unexceptional.

Did I mention that like Cid, Alexia’s older sister is far more accomplished and revered? That doesn’t come up, but it’s clear from their chemistry that these two are used to toiling in the shadows. That may sound strange considering Alexia is the most popular girl at school, but compared to the greatest dark knight in the kingdom, she’s totally in a shadow.

She’s also betrothed to their fencing instructor, Zenon-sensei, whom she hates. Hanazawa Kana brings an interesting dimensionality to Alexia. She is at times incredibly cynical and even has a sadistic side, making Cid into her dog—something Cid’s all too willing to do in exchange for that sweet sweet Eminence seed money.

Cid is handsomely compensated in exchange for being a bit of unremarkable eye candy Alexia can use to try to make Zenon give up on marrying her, but two weeks pass and not much progress is made. That said, he and Alexia grow a bit closer in spite of their dispassionate relationship of convenience. Alexia prefers the company of people with flaws like him (or like the person he’s posing as).

At the same time, I wonder if she can somehow sense that there’s a lot more to him beneath the surface Cid is showing her. While on a train at sundown, she is vexed by the fact she can’t take her eyes off his fencing style, even though it’s just as ordinary as hers.

It’s apparent Alexia hates her style, and possibly herself, so when Cid challenges her by saying he likes her fencing style, and would be pissed if anyone dissed the things he likes, she draws a sword on him. When he doesn’t flinch or take back his words, she alights from the train with a final-sounding sayonara.

The next day, Cid and his pals are surrounded by knights who inform him that Alexia never came home last night, kidnapping is suspected, and the last person reported to be with her before she vanished was Cid. Fate seems to be pushing Background Character A into the foreground, and the mystery of what happened to Alexia is an enticing one to ponder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Made in Abyss – S2 12 (Fin) – The Cradle Falls

As tends to be the case with momentous episodes of Abyss, I’m still a bit overwhelmed with emotion, but I’ll do my best here. As a resurrected, better-than-ever Faputa and a game Juroimoh prepare to battle the invading beasts, we’re taken back to simpler, more innocent times, when Faputa first found Gaburoon.

Buried and covered in flowers, Faputa brought bits of scrap to him to enable to repair himself, while he tought her language, specifically that of her mother Irumyuui. What looked like an upside-down person turns out to be the symbol for haku, or that which matters most to someone. We watch, this time from Faputa’s perspective, as she encounters Riko, Reg, and Nanachi.

Gabu teases Faputa for resorting to subtler, more indirect methods that only served to confuse our lead kids—call it a measure of the shyness she inherited from her mother. Back in the present, while Faputa presses the battle, a transformed Majikaja serves as an escape vehicle for Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, as well as Moogie, Pakkoyan, Maaa, and other Hollows.

Maji takes them to Wazukyan, from which Vueko has already escaped and who is near death. In his usual friendly way he warns Riko that there is nothing ahead for her but despair, but she tells him as he crumbles to dust that things won’t necessarily go the way he’s foreseen.

As Riko is reunited with another page from her mother’s journal, the freed Vueko ascends a staircase while thinking about the one solid decision she made in her life: the choice to become Irumyuui’s mother. Unfortunately, she forgets the Sixth Layer’s curse is loss of humanity.

A quick-thinking Pakkoyan sacrifices herself to keep Vueko from being killed, but she is still transformed into a non-verbal hollow. Nanachi takes Vueko and brings her aboard Majikaja with the others.

Reg shocks Faputa by joining him in battle—this time on the same side—and apologizing for challenging her. Riko blows Prushka once more (causing her to pass out with a bloody nose), and Riko goes into Overdrive, allowing him to dispatch one of the two turbinid dragons who pose the greatest threat to Riko and the others.

This also gives Faputa time to go to Moogie and the other surviving hollows with the goal of consuming them and their value so she can do what she came here to do: put her long-suffering mother to rest. Just as they had no problem giving parts of themselves to resurrect Faputa, they have no problem becoming the nourishment Faputa needs.

After sending the black-turned-white goo throughout the structure of IruBuru, causing it to crack and shatter, Faputa is drained of energy an no longer able to fight. A piece of falling rubble wallops her and she begins to fall. She thinks of Vueko, the one person she has no memory of. She also thinks that the end is near; that she’ll die when she reaches the bottom. But she doesn’t; Reg snatches her with his extend-o-arm.

The rubble does a number on Majikaja’s body, and when he can no longer move, his true, semi-gaseous form emerges and briefly possesses Faputa. When he too passes, Faputa is able to come face to face with Vueko, her spiritual grandmother, and while Vueko can no longer talk, Faputa can hear her lucid thoughts.

Vueko tells her the kind of girl Irumyuui was, how Faputa is similar and how she’s different, before passing away peacefully, full of nothing but love and gratitude for the little girl that changed her forever. Faputa sheds tears for Vueko, despite her not “belonging” to her, and Riko, Reg, and Nanachi gather around to offer comfort.

The village borne from Irumyuui is now a pile of rubble, and Faputa’s mother is finally free. Following the customs she learned from Gabu, Faputa gives Vueko a proper burial, then sets up some companions with some smooth rocks so she won’t be lonely. After this, Faputa seems unsure what to do next, freed from “value” and now having been given the choice to live her life as she sees fit.

Reg suggests she join them. While he still can’t remember her or the details of their promise, he still wants to know her now, and go on an adventure with her. Faputa isn’t at all opposed to this, but does not agree right then and there. That’s to be expected of someone who has only very recently discovered such a thing as free will beyond an now-fulfilled genetic duty.

What I’ve described so far are the myriad events that unfolded in this double-length season two finale, but there’s no substitute for experiencing this episode and all of its nuances for yourself. It was one of the finest episodes of anime I’ve had the privilege to watch, and like Vueko with Irumyuui, I’ll never forget it.

There is sure to be another film or a third season that will continue Riko, Reg, and Nanachi’s journey still deeper into the Abyss, into darkness warm and cold, cursed by love and longing. This sequel had large shoes to fill and filled them ably. So too will the next sequel.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Made in Abyss – S2 11 – Royal Awakening

Due to Reg’s “foolishness”—i.e. not wanting to kill a dear friend he’s only now coming to remember—Faputa ends up knocking him out, and asks Juroimoh to hold him down while she deals with her next target: Riko, the one who “made Reg this way”.

All White Whistled out, Riko is in no shape to stand, and Faputa could go right through her Hollow defenders. But even her best punch can’t go entirely through Gaburoon, who stops her from killing Riko in order to “protect her future”.

Gabu collapses, and Faputa reaches deeper into the darkness: if she simply destroys everything, then everything will end. Returning her attention to Riko once more, she is once more stopped by an outside force: this time Belaf, accompanied by a Nanachi resplendent in their new Mitty Armor.

Their weapon of choice? A purple goo that resides within Belaf and contains memories of Faputa’s mother. These “smelly” memories represent Belaf’s ultimate treasure, but instead of perishing with him, they seem to unlock something in Faputa.

Overwhelmed by the intense visceral power of the memories of people and things completely unknown to her, Faputa pauses her carnage. Wazukyan takes this opportunity to flee with Vueko, while Nanachi wonders if this was all part of Wazukyan’s plan to use Faputa’s wish-granting power to make a village of out Riko like he did with Irumyuui.

But then the consequences of Faputa’s more recent actions take center stage: with the barrier down, the layer’s beasts waltz right in and help themselves to a Hollow buffet. Left and right, Hollows are stalked, torn apart and gobbled up by the beasts.

Faputa attacks the beasts, justifying her protection of the surviving Hollows as merely not letting anyone else have her prey. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to, I say. But soon it’s clear her fight, while valiant (and bloody as hell), is as hopeless as the Hollows’ fight against her had been.

There are simply too many beasts, and they’re very big and strong. It takes one last blast from Gabu before he dies to deter a Turbinid Dragon from curb-stomping her, but she still gets flung over halfway across the village.

Her scuffles with the beasts have left her all chewed up, missing limbs, coughing up blood, and immobile. She passes out believing she has no value because she failed to do “what she was born to do.” But she wakes up surrounded by Hollows, each of whom chops off a a small piece of themselves for her to eat, until their unlikely savior is not only fully healed, but…I’ll go ahead and use the crude but apt term “souped up.”

Faputa also suddenly finds herself surrounded by things she didn’t know, from her mother to Gabu, to Reg, and this leads her to ponder just what else she might not know. What is beyond her duty, which she believed to be her only value? Well, as Belaf said as she absorbed the memories he willingly offered her as she destroyed him, the time would come when she’d decide her own value.

That time has now come, and it once again unlocks something in her as a weird green glyph glows in her golden eyes. The Scorching Sun, once a volatile may have just evolved into a more mature star, poised to defend her sundry satellites from the incursions from outer space with her golden light.

Made in Abyss – S2 04 – Finding Their Treasure

No sooner does Reg come face to face with Princess Faputa than she jumps on top of him, and he sees that she’s not as, shall we say, abstract as most of the other Hollows, but rather is much more like Nanachi. Flashes of memories of Faputa run by in his head, but he can’t remember anything. Not only does Faputa know Reg, she knows him as “Reg”, even though that’s the same name Riko gave him a long way up ago.

More to the point, she considers him her Reg. She pierces his navel and threatens to look down his trousers, but Reg manages to slip away. She asks if he plans to “live in the same time as the ‘human child'”, even though he’ll remain when they die, and Reg doesn’t hesitate: he’ll stay with them till the bitter end.

Meanwhile, as Nanachi is touring the market, Majikaja explains how the village of Iruburu knows everyone’s desires—”signals of the soul”. When Nanachi says they value Mitty, Riko, and Reg most, Majikaja lets on that Mitty is actually here, in the villlage, and also name-drops Vueko’s friend Belaf.

While Faputa came on a bit too strong for Reg’s taste, the fact remains they’re sure to meet again, and soon. After all, she has the answers he’s always dreamed of knowing about where he came from, who created him and why, and who he was back then. That said, seeing how Faputa treated him, he wonders if learning too much would change who he is, and he likes who he is.

When Riko finally gets over the worst of the runs, she calls out for Reg and Nanachi, whom we both know have become engrossed in other things and in their distractedness left her alone and unprotected. It doesn’t take long for Riko to get jumped by a gang of Hollow ne’r-do-wells who once again squeeze Meinya too hard, and threaten to squeeze her too.

Needless to say, my heart fell into my feet once all those slithering appendages ensnared Riko. Thank goodness, then, for the rehabilitated Maaa, who springs to the rescue, saving Meinya and Riko, then escaping the cave when the Balancing envelops the bad actors. Having had her fill of handsy Hollows, she prepares to head into town with Meinya, but then invites Maaa to join her, having proven they’ve got her back.

She squeezes herself into a very hip and popular Hollow restaurant, orders something a Hollow with a mouth is eating, and proceeds to get something she was not expecting. The proprietor tells her it’s spicy roasted testicles, and after a beat or two Riko realizes the Hollow spoke in her language. She’s not the only one there who can, either; sitting near the end of the bar is a towering, venerable-looking Hollow called…Wazukyan.

So, we’ve got Irumyuui becoming Faputa, Wazukyan becoming…that thing, and when Majikaja leads Nanachi to where Belaf is, we learn he’s become a kind of armored serpent-dragon thingy. Of course, Nanachi isn’t there to see Belaf. They’re there to see Mitty, who is stuffed rather ceremoniously in a decorative pot and seems as pleased to see Nanachi as those dead red eyes can relay.

As Nanachi drinks in their reunion, Vueko’s voiceover comes in, saying that once someone finds “their treasure”, their value “transitions” and their journey ends. For Nanachi, that treasure is Mitty. For Reg, it’s recovering his forgotten past. For Riko, it’s finding her mother and/or the ultimate journey’s end—the bottom of the Abyss.

Then we see that Vueko has hardly changed at all, other than growing longer hair, ditching clothes, and wading for who knows how many years in the very black mass of goo that goes about doing Balancings. We’re sure to see more of Vueko’s pre-goo experiences, but for now the past and present have officially merged.

P.S. “Those Everyday Feels”, the track that played when the Layers of the Abyss were first introduced and accompanied the first season’s Next Episode cards, makes a comeback this week. It’s one of the simplest but most stirring of Kevin Penkin’s tracks, and also one of my faves.

Made in Abyss – S2 03 – The Ruthlessness of Value

Nestled deep within the Golden City lies an entire village full of hollows like Nanachi, only those who chose to become so in order to endure in the Sixth Layer. Majikaja takes Riko, Reg, and Nanachi on a tour, and show them where Prushka ended up. While initially it looks like a hollow is chipping away harmfully at the whistle, Riko can sense that Prushka “doesn’t mind” and Majikaja confirms that shaving the whistle down to a purer form increases its “value.” And in the hollow village of IRUburu, value is everything.

Majikaja, whose automaton body we learn is actually only a vessel (their real form is sloshing around in the body’s central tank), takes our delvers to the hollow market, where everything is assessed, bought, and sold. Majikaja makes it clear that human children are among the most valuble, but Riko puts her foot down: she’s not here to sell pieces of herself.

That said, when one of the hollows squeezes Meinya too hard and almost kills her, it is punished by a “balancing”, which is the power of the village taking the hollows possessions and finally tearing off bits of it until the damage it did is paid in full. All hollows here, who have taken the form of their desires, know that this is how things go down.

Thankfully, Meinya is tougher than she looks and survives the accidental squishing, and Riko is able to spend the money given to her in reparations to buy lodging and food. Riko is eager and excited to taste food one would never be able to taste anywhere else in the world…but since this is Abyss and there’s no bodily function it won’t explore, she ends up in intestinal distress.

Nanachi and Reg prepare to further explore the village, but there’s a big boom, and suddenly a huge procession of hollows start racing towards it. Majikaja tells them it’s Faputa, “embodiment of value”, who “can go anywhere and will never perish.” Majikaja calls Faputa a lady of high status, which Nanachi translates to “princess”. While doing recon, Reg encounters this princess.

Faputa bears a striking and completely non-coincidental resemblance to Irumyuui, the little native girl Vueko took under her wing during Ganja’s descent into the Abyss in the distant past. Here the present and past once again collide, as we watch Ganja encounter the bizarre, whimsical, and terrifying power of the Golden City and its hollow denizens for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin Penkin’s score is up to the task of capturing the combination of wonder and danger; the guy is a master of orchestral crescendos that perfectly express the emotional and physical scope and scale of the city as first viewed by Vueko & Co. I must admit I replayed the final few minutes of the episode just to get swept up in the awe.

But as Vueko remarks, as awesome and beautiful as this place is, what is most assuredly is not is safe...at least for humans. It’s both heartening and heartrending to consider that just as Irumyuui evolved into Faputa, all of the members of Ganja are probably still around in hollow form. They may even have already met Riko, Reg, and Nanachi. They may have had to cast off their human form, but the intelligence remains, and at least they are finally at peace after what they endured as people.

Spy x Family – 05 – Loidman Saves the Princess

The Forgers seem to be encountering every omen of bad luck on their way to view the posted lists of those admitted to Eden College. And while Loid doesn’t buy into any f that superstition—even Anya stepping in poop—Anya’s name is nowhere to be found. The mission then, has failed before it could truly get off the ground, hasn’t it?

Not so fast…Henderson takes the Forgers aside and shows them that Anya happens to be at the top of the waiting list, which means once there’s a withdrawal—and there are several every year for myriad reasons—she’ll be officially admitted. Yor has to fight back designs to murder the father of a student who got in, while Henderson isn’t sure he’ll be around to teach after slugging his colleague.

The waiting list turns out to be nothing but a formality for creating extra tension leading up to the phone call that comes in announcing that Anya has indeed been admitted to Eden. Loid is ready to celebrate with a party popper in his pocket. His colleague Franky joins them for a feast, Yor gets her drink on, and Loid is backed into a corner after promising to do “anything that is doable” for Anya as a reward for getting into Eden.

That something turns out to be the family and Franky acting out an episode of her favorite TV show Spy Wars at the castle where it was filmed, which is now a theme park. Loid borrows a floatplane and pilots them there himself, making for a thrilling arrival. However, after running around the castle a little, Anya is suddenly sad, because aside from them the joint is deserted.

That’s soon remedied thanks to a call to Loid’s agency, who puts out an APB calling for every agent in the vicinity to descend upon the castle for a Rank SS mission for Twilight. Most of the agents either idolize (in the case of the younger agents) or respect (in the case of the older ones) him as one of their country’s best spies. And so the stage is set.

Franky continues to enable Anya’s increasingly ambitious plans, as Loid becomes “Loidman” who must save “Princess” Anya from Franky, AKA Baron Scruffy. Loid has to wear the mask and gloves and run through a number of obstacles complete with colorful non-lethal weapons, Hollywood-quality pyro, and last but not least, Yor’s literally drunken combat style.

Loid isn’t sure he can keep up with her, but fortunately she breaks a heel and falls asleep. With one swift knockout punch to the villain, Loidman rescues Princess Anya and receives a rousing applause from his fellow agents and a DisneyWorld-scale fireworks show to cap it all off.

You could say the plot of this Spy x Family episode pretty much ends once the Forgers get the call that Anya has gotten into Eden. But the ensuing celebration and lengths to which Loid goes make Anya happy is crucial to the Family part of the show, while the role-playing conceit makes full use of both Loid’s abilities and the resources of his agency.

There’s every indication school life at Eden is going to be tough sledding, so I’m glad Anya got to have a little…hell, a lot of fun for fun’s sake before commencing the next stage of Operation Strix.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 12 (Fin) – Exception to the Rule(r)

With Soljest marching on Marden at Delunio’s behest, Wein is facing his toughest challenge yet. Of course, there was never much doubt this season would end with another brilliant victory. It just takes a bit for it to come together. King Soljest simply wants a good fight, so Wein gives him one in the form of ambushes from small groups of Natran cavalry.

He plans for the battle to unfold in such a way that the earliest reports back to Delunio will arrive stating that the Natran army has been routed, which exactly what he needs Sirgis to hear when he needs him to hear it for his crazy negotiations to have actual teeth.

It’s a complicated gambit, but basically he gets Sirgis to believe it’s possible the yellow dye used in the clothes popular with his people is actually poison, and that he’ll unleash 800,000 Natran refugees into Delunio at the worst possible time, throwing the kingdom into chaos and allowing Soljest to swoop in.

It’s not clear whether Wein is aware that Sirgis’ true goal isn’t necessarily to regain lost Delunian territory within Marden—that’s just icing—but that he wants to become a Holy Elite. But if even half of what Wein tells Sirgis comes to pass, he can kiss a future where Delunio is the shining beacon of the continent goodbye.

The coup-de-grace of Wein’s diabolical bluff is that he has the “antidote” to the poison yellow dye, but will only offer it if Sirgis attacks Soljests’ army from the rear. By overwhelming Sirgis with a bevy of undesirable and downright nightmarish scenarios, he gets him to turn against Soljest.

King Gruyere, being an exceedingly experienced head of state, knows Sirgis’ betrayal was a possibility, and isn’t the slightest bit worried when his army is suddenly caught in a Natran-Delunian pincer. In fact, he was bored when his army was slowly pushing the Natrans back and threatening to take the Mardenian fortress.

What ultimately dooms Gruyere is his desire to blast through the Delunian lines, let the Natran forces merge with them and get embroiled in chaos, then circle around an eliminate both. His underlings’ first instinct is to beat a hasty retreat now that they’ve lost the advantage, but Gruyere needs to feed that Beast Within.

That proves to be his downfall when he finds himself distracted by Wein standing atop a high cliff. Wein’s top general and soldier then charge Soljest, but even they are merely a distraction for the much quicker and more nimble Ninym, who manages to gravely wound him.

Notably, however, Ninym doesn’t kill the good king, and he ends up convalescing at Castle Natra, during which time he slims down to a far more normal size. It’s here where he and Wein spar once more, with Gruyere threatening to let himself die in Wein’s custody rather than let him have his way, thus plunging Natra into all-out war against Levetian religion.

Wein is only saved thanks to Gruyere’s insatiable curiosity about the beast within Wein, saying he’ll go along with three-party talks if he tells him what that beast desires. We don’t hear Wein’s answer, but we already know it: just as it was in the beginning, he wishes to drag Natra out of debt enough so he can sell it off and live the slow life (no doubt with Ninym by his side).

The opportunity to see if Wein will get what he wants is enough to entice Gruyere to surrender. However, it’s not a perfect victory for Wein. While he avoided all-out war, by wounding and capturing the Holy Elite Gruyere, the influx of Levetian pilgrims has plummeted and the Mardenian-Natran economic bubble has burst.

While that means Marden won’t be a threat for independence anytime soon, it also means that Wein won’t be in a position to sell his kingdom anytime soon. Instead, it’s back to work negotiating, planning, and strategizing … with Ninym by his side.

What this show lacked in technical execution of battles (or any animation involving large groups) it made up for it with its thoroughly likeable core of characters and wonderfully cerebral plots. Whether we’ll get to see more of that in a second season, I don’t know…but I wouldn’t hate it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 12 (Fin) – Gochisousama

I love the battle music in PriConne not just because it’s tremendous in its own right, but reminds me of other great battle themes, like this one from early in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which gets me in the mood to write about this fantastic finale.

The final feast of PriConne 2 is a sumptuous multi-course smorgasbord comprised of myriad shapes, sizes and colors. Yuuki not only powers up Pecorine, but everyone, and the townsfolk rally for the sake of their princess. Kaiser is wrong; they’re not useless in just being able to yell. It’s because of them Peco and the others are able to fight and break through.

When Kaiser decides “screw it, I’m going to destroy this cursed world”, she brings up her two aces in the hole, Neneka and Labyrista, whose minds she’s overthrown. But their combined attack (which resembles the bankai Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) is blocked and nullified…by a reinvigorated Karyl, choosing the right side and sticking with it.

As the battle progresses, Kaiser (AKA Mana) longs to be reunited with someone named “Minerva”, without whom she’s endured crushing loneliness for countless time loops. Yuuki is able to release Kaiser’s hold on Labyrista’s avatar, and Labyrista quickly releases Neneka. Having lost her two most powerful weapons, Kaiser doubles down on her recklessness by letting the shadows envelop and overthrow her.

As final bosses tend to do, this turns her into a colossal slime monster, but thanks to the other guilds showing up to support them, the Gourmet Guild are able to leap inside the mass of goo, and Yuuki, Kokkoro and Pecorine are able to clear the way for Karyl to reach her majesty and try to save her.

In a gray morose world on the brink of destruction, Karyl, Kaiser’s Princess Knight, won’t let her body and soul vanish into the abyss. Even when the structure around them crumbles, Karyl doesn’t let go, and even though geting her there mortally wounded Yuuki, he chooses to go back and reach out to Karyl, pulling both her and Kaiser out of sure oblivion and back into the world.

The townsfolk rejoice as the Gourmet Guild emerge unharmed and victorious. Kaiser, either no longer a threat or unwilling to fight any further, accepts her loss and is arrested. Her spell on Peco’s parents is lifted, and they remember their daughter and embrace her.

Her friends look on with full hearts as she weeps buckets of tears of joy into the bosom of her mother the queen. And then she takes her rightful place back at Landosol Castle, addressing her adoring people.

Back at the Gourmet Guild, Karyl is the new chef, and assures the others that her meal might not look like much but it tastes great. Yuuki and Kokkoro praise her, but Kokkoro makes the mistake of serving tea to their fourth member, and all three of them suddenly feel her absence.

That is, until they hear her voice and see her in the doorway. While she’s glad her parents remember her and she’s a princess again, she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to rule the kingdom she just took back. So she re-joins Gourmet Guild as Pecorine, primed to go on a lot more adventures and gain the experience she’ll need once she comes into her throne.

This was a breathless banger from start to finish; an episode with a whole lot to do that managed to pull it off with a brilliant flourish before returning to the warm and peaceful Gourmet Guild house. It’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a finale…I just wish we could spend a little more quiet time with the guild now that there are no more secrets or divided loyalties…just food, fun, and family!

P.S. While it’s a totally different an much older game, I feel compelled to end this write-up with one of my favorite victory themes, from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time:

Fabiniku – 11 – Gundam Tantrum

The Head Maid Kalm’s plan to set the humans against each other fails when the entire army is converted into happy naked farmers, dispelling her mind control and replacing it with…something else entirely. Despite spending a whole year on this plan, Kalm pulls the plug and goes with Plan B: Just Blow the Whole Kingdom Up!

Do acquire the weaponry needed for such a plan, Kalm and Vizzd lead both Yggie and Tachibana to the royal armory, where two Royal Crests are needed to unlock the vault. Fortunately for the Head Maid, Tachibana’s crest serves the same purpose as a member of royalty’s, and she’s exhausted and super out-of-it thanks to her increased Charm power.

Once they’re in the vault, Vizzd boards the gigantic bunny-like Mech, Mehpon and begins a march towards the capital. While Lucius finds it quite cute and the King himself says it was a gift from their beloved Goddess, it’s clear to all when Vizzd just misses blasting the tallest clock tower in the city into smithereens (while also blasting a hole in the mountain beyond), this adorable giant robot is a serious threat (with the same freakish mouth structure as its much smaller, fuzzy counterpart).

It’s because of that—and because due to his distance from Tachibana he’s has just his usual above-average-for-a-human strength, Jinguuji leaves it to Schwartz to defend the capital and everyone in it from Mehpon’s attacks. At first Schwartz is weary of fighting alone, but when push comes to shove, he and his Holy Sword Gram are more than enough to deflect the mech’s beams.

When Vizzd announces that she has the Hero aboard, Jinguuji fairly deduces that the closer her gets to the mech, the stronger and more able to support Schwartz he’ll get. He’s also certain Tachibana would never voluntarily launch an attack that would hurt or kill others. Sure enough, Tachibana is still quite out of it, floating around Mehpon’s interior with a great view of the action but unable to affect it.

That is, until Tachibana realizes that she can indeed take control of Mehpon whenever she wants. When Vizzd loses control, all she and Kalm can do is bicker through the mech’s video communication system, and I love me a good villain bickering sesh! These two are consistently hilarious in their hubris and ineptness and I was just waiting for Jinguuji and Schwartz to make them sorry they ever took Tachibana hostage.

However, even when they finally get within spitting distance of Mehpon thanks to a trusty Crocodog, Jinguuji’s power doesn’t return. Moreover, Tachibana takes over the mech’s PA system and declares that she will defeat…Jinguuji?!?! Apparently both her time apart with Yggie and her time floating about totally out of it inside Mehpon has caused a lot of pent-up resentment to come out.

As she recounts memories of Jinguuji being excellent and her being nothing but a hanger-on, Tachibana gets more and more upset about how Jinguuji, who is constantly praised, has never once praised her. When he takes Schwartz’s advice and gives her random praise with nothing behind it, it only maker her madder, and he has to deploy the apartment door to shield himself from Mehpon’s beam.

Tachibana has felt “worthless” to Jinguuji, and feels that other than having him as a friend, she has “nothing.” Of course, neither of these things are remotely true, but it stands to reason there’d eventually be a blow-up like this regarding the two friends’ wide margin of general ability.

There are plenty of things Tachibana has, and can do, that Jinguuji doesn’t or can’t. Hopefully Jinguuji can convey what those are in a manner that calms rather than stokes his best friend’s fury.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 11 – Rare Beast

After scoring some impressive political and economic wins last week, it’s time for Prince Wein to take his medicine, as he encounters conflicts and the potential for treachery as a result of Delunio’s (correct) accusations that Imperial goods are being distributed to the West through Natra and Marden.

Sirgis, Prime Minister of Delunio, demands an explanation, and when Zenovia doesn’t give him one, he demands it of Wein. And while Wein bails Zeno out and scores some points for the ensuing verbal sparring, the meeting ends with Sirgis promising they’ll rue the day.

With uppity kingdoms like Delunio seemingly itching for a fight, Wein decides to forge an alliance with Soljest’s King Gruyere. The military and economic benefits for both sides are clear, but Wein finds himself up against the most formidable leader he’s yet encountered, one who makes a huge meal of being carted around on a palanquin even as he speaks coridal words.

Speaking of meals, Gruyere insists that all important affairs of state must be discussed over one, and this is when we meet Gruyere’s adorable daughter, Princess Tolcheila. While both the OP and her unique twisted smile suggest she’s up to something, all she really does is cheerfully describe each delectable course of the meal.

Wein is utterly defeated by this meal, ending up eating far too much and saying far too little to the king. As Ninym rubs his back (another lovely little moment that speaks to this couple’s bond) Wein resolves to strike up a talk with King Gruyere. But the next day, every attempt to interact with Gruyere results in him being brushed off or outright ignored and avoided.

It’s enough for both Wein and Ninym to suspect treachery in the form of an assassination…but then why is Gruyere delaying? They’re about to set a contingency plan into action when Gruyere welcomes them to his private veranda to have the very talk Wein wants, not only expressing his belief that all people, including flahms, should be treated equal, but agreeing to an alliance with Natra.

It feels all too easy because it’s not true. As soon as Wein returns to Natra, he learns that the Mardenian borders are being attacked by Delunio, who are staking a claim to lands they loaned to the crown Marden in perpetuity. Whether that’s an excuse or a genuine desire, Delunio has an alliance with Soljest, and so Soljest has delcared war on Natra.

It’s an unusual place for Wein to be—on the wrong side of a doublecross. He remains a genius who had always suspected something like this would happen, but also shows that he often follows his passions, and the charming King Gruyere’s genuine-sounding entreaties snagged him hook, line, and sinker.

It’s a lessoned learned for a prince who may be brilliant, but doesn’t have half the experience playing the game of an operator like Gruyere. And we learn that Gruyere isn’t doing this just because he’s evil, but because Wein is a worthy opponent, a “rare beast” Gruyere is looking forward to devouring. Even if he loses, he’ll still be glad to have tried to go up against the Genius Prince.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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