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

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 02 – Party of Two

As expected from the spoilery ED, Red doesn’t remain alone in his shop for long, as he’s joined this week by Rizlet of Loggervia, AKA Rit, whom we learn is both a B-rank adventurer and a princess. She took it upon herself to leave her kingdom, lest those who favor her over the crown prince instigate a power struggle.

She’s very happy to have run into Red, an old “comrade” from back when his party crossed paths with her in a pub. A huge chunk of this episode consists of flashbacks to those times, which on the one hand gives the episode a static quality, but on the other, at least shows us who these two people are, through who they once were.

Rit was all gung-ho about fighting on the front lines for her people until she was hoodwinked by a general in the Demon Lord’s Army, who killed her sword shishou and assumed his form. Red (then Gideon) swooped in like a trusty knight to save her, but a lot of people she cared about died, for what she believed to be her mistake.

Rit holes up in her lavish royal bedroom, but Gideon sits beside her and tells her that while he knows she’s afraid of losing more people, he also knows she still wants to fight, and gives her an opportunity to do so. They end up handing the Demon Lord’s Army a satisfying defeat…off-camera. If there’s one thing this somewhat action-packed episode of Shin no Nakama taught me, it’s that it has no business trying to do action—you can actually hear the animation budget creaking and straining.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to lean on that as a strength. Instead, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how much you buy into Red and Rit’s once-and-future relationship. The two try their damndest not to get too lovey-dovey, but at the end of the day Rit is asking not just to work at Red’s shop but also move in with him, and Red isn’t really putting up much resistance after an initial moment of shock. I enjoyed their chemistry, and the balance of their attraction.

So this episode took a step away from its borderline iyashikei premiere, but in the service of showing us how Red used to be in the party and how Rit used to be before their sudden reunion. I look forward to watching them working and living together. As for the party, the apathetic behavior of two of its members suggets Ares’ move to banish Red was a wholly unilateral one that doesn’t sit well with them.

Peach Boy Riverside – 01 (First Impressions) – Carrot Debt

Peach Boy Riverside drops us right into the middle of former princess Sally’s journey away from home. She has a positive, can-do attitude as ample as her pants are shiny, and isn’t above lending a carrot to a hungry, adorable Harefolk Frau when she hears their stomach growling. When he pair visit a nearby village, the seemingly friendly townfolk reveal they’re racist as fuck. What feels like more than half the episode is spent in this village, which serves to contrast Sally’s kind and tolerant heart to the fearful, prejudiced townsfolk.

But when a Cockatrice emerges from the forest to wreck up the place, it’s Frau who saves the village that hats them with a One Punch Man-style demolition of the foe. The villagers aren’t won over, but the local lord seems moved by Frau bowing and thanking him for the carrots the previous night (when he somehow didn’t see that Frau was a demihuman). Hawthorn, commander of the local Kingdom’s knights, brings them in for questioning, but soon frees them, and feels bad about having put them in stocks, so treats them to a meal in the open-air market. That’s when Peach Boy Riverside quite suddenly gets dark and bloody, as two high-level Oni unleash a devastating attack on the city.

Frau again rushes to protect Sally, their main source of carrots, but is no match for the giant knight-gooshing walrus. That said, Frau fights valiantly enough to buy time for Sally’s latent “Peach Eye” power to awaken, turning her into an even more powerful fighter than Frau. While a bit light and lulling in the early stages, and featuring a completely random image of a nude Sally tangled in tentacles, Peach Boy Riverside picks up some steam and reveals a sharp edge when it counts. At the very least, I’m intent on see what happens next!

SSSS.Dynazenon – 11 – Neon Genesis Ordinarion

The Eugenicists wake up lying in a parking lot, and immediately realize they’ve lost once again to Gauma and his human comrades. Only this time, their loss apparently means something: there will be no more kaiju in this world, which means they’ve lost to him for good. Mujina, Juuga and Onija all go off in separate directions to sulk, but only Shizumu stays put, looking the least defeated and very much like someone who knows something the other three don’t.

Meanwhile, with the final battle against the Eugenicists won, Koyomi starts to draw upon the change he gained since becoming a Dyna-Pilot, by crafting his resume and dusting off his old suit. Chise can only stand there with potato chip crumbs on her face in quiet recognition that Koyomi was going to abandon his NEEThood eventually. And in the most telling sign that we’re entering a new normal, Gauma seems to be suffering from a chronic wasting disease, complete with purple marks on his skin.

Free of much of her grief and uncertainty, Yume apologizes to Kano’s ex, surprising Mei, while also playfully refusing to let Mei submit a photo of her for a competition. Chise follows Koyomi’s lead and dons her sailor fuku, hoping to return to school with Goldburn flying overhead watching her. Only Gridknight and Second show depart with Goldburn, as kaiju like them don’t belong in the normal world.

Chise knew this would happen, but still doesn’t get why, and she and Goldburn flee. Juuga seeks out Gauma, apparently to intentionally receive a beating, commenting on how little Gauma’s blows hurt. Yume and Yomogi learn that Gauma’s “Princess” took her life after he died, Romeo & Juliet style, but only he was revived. Then Gauma collects their Dynazenon toys.

Koyomi already gave him his and went straight to a photo booth for some somewhat professional-looking headshots. Mujina stops by to tell him she despises him…but does she really mean it?

While looking at an article about 5,000-year-old mirror that “went missing”, Yume leans close enough to Yomogi’s phone to make him blush, then asks him if he’ll come with her “somewhere” tomorrow. That somewhere ends up being Kano’s grave, which she’s never visited before but feels it’s time to visit now. Like Koyomi, she’s taking steps forward.

In a way, Yomogi does the same when he doesn’t budge on blowing off dinner with his mom and her fiance—with an assist from his gran. Mom can be as cross as she likes with him, but she should be happy he has a genuine connection with someone that’s become far more meaningful than his other school friends considering all they’ve been through together and done for each other.

What ensues is a grave visit that feels like a date. It’s jubilant rather than morose in the way a lively wake can often be. She’s there to visit, tidy up, and pray to her family and sister’s grave, but she’s also there to bury the Yume she became after Kano’s death. Part of that is embracing Yomogi as a friend and kindred spirit, as she learns he has it as “tough” as she in the parental department—maybe worse.

That night, while walking home, Yume mentions how no more kaiju and no more Dynazenon or uniting goal means everyone might drift apart into their own stuff. As she so eloquently puts it, “We fought kaiju and stuff, but it was the closest to normal my life’s ever been.” Of course, she’s not talking about the kaiju-robot battles, but all of the things that happened in between that brought everyone closer together and changed them all for the better.

Yomogi stops, looks slightly downward then directly at Yume, and firmly assures Yomogi that kaiju or no, Dynazenon or no, he still wants to see her. Then he says he likes her and asks her to go out with him, which is, I believe, a reasonable request. Yume seems poised to answer him immediately, and while I was bracing for a “no”, instead the moment is interrupted by Shizumu.

Predictably with two episodes left, the fight isn’t over, and Shizumu hasn’t lost for good either. The thanks both Yume and Yomogi for all of the emotions they gave off in the times they were together, particularly now. He’s thanking them for this because, as we see, there’s a kaiju inside him, which he’s been saving as a last resort in case Gauma and Dynazenon got the better of him and the others.

He has no qualms about rushing Yomogi with the intent to harm and even kill him, but Gauma rushes in at the last second to take the blow for Yomogi. It’s likely the only blow he’ll be able to take against Shizumu, considering his rapidly regrading condition, but thankfully Gridknight, Second, and even Goldburn come to their aid.

Shizumu uses Instance Domination on himself, summoning a big beautiful chortling mega-dinosaur robot of a kaiju, and immediately starts wrecking up the place with abandon.

Even though Gauma says a hospital can’t do anything about the “decay” quickly consuming him, Yomogi still won’t allow him to just lie there and die, and Second helps carry him. Gridknight combines with Goldburn to form Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight, but Shizumu proceeds to mop the floor with him, leveling many a multi-use block in the process.

As he strolls through flames like one of the God Warriors of the Seven Days of Fire that destroyed the world of yore in Nausicaa, our ordinary heroes are once again tasked with uniting to achieve extraordinary feats. I’m as glad Yomogi finally told Yume he liked her as I’m bummed Shizumu kept us from hearing her answer (whatever it was).

Those offsetting emotions, along with the fact this was merely the setup for the final showdown, kept this week’s score out of the exosphere, but it was still full of great, mundane, everyday scenes and sounds, and while I’m looking forward to the animators outdoing themselves in the decisive battle, I hope the finale doesn’t abandon that vital “normalness” that’s made both Dynazenon and Gridman before it so rich and absorbing.

Yes, despite its often absurd and fantastical situations, Dynazenon still manages to feel like home—a home I know I’ll miss when it departs.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 10 – Moblie Suit Yourself

After the group ended last week in the very highest of spirits, enjoying their own little summer fireworks festival, this week everyone seems a bit board. When it’s mentioned there haven’t been any kaiju in a while, that’s basically the…ahem…Trigger for one to appear. And this kaiju is unlike any that have come before.

Not content to fight a battle with mere, matter or energy this handsome, hulking mecha-beast’s unique ability is to blip people and objects out of time and space. Shizumu celebrates its arrival by saying he’s been waiting for this particular kind of kaiju; one that will “free them all”.

First Mujina vanishes in the blink of an eye, leaving only a motionless shadow. Then it’s Yume, who was right beside Yomogi. She ends up in the back seat of her car, younger and smaller, and her sister Kano alive and well. As Yume focuses on her sister, a tiny Dyna Wing flies behind her and eventually comes apart.

The kaiju trudges through the city, blipping out entire buildings, and its here where Dynazenon, already a proven virtuoso in the field of sound design, really takes it up a level. There’s just something so terrifying and yet also oddly calming about how it goes about its business in dead silence. Like the characters, it feels like dread is lurking just around the corner, and you wont hear it when it’s finally upon you.

Yomogi and Koyomi are on an elevator to a rooftop, but only Yomogi makes it to the top, as Koyomi is absorbed into his memory of finding the cash with Inamoto-san. Yomogi, discouraged, leaps into the kaiju’s mouth before the building beneath him vanishes. Anti is transported back to when he was in Akane’s world, and Akane even makes a cameo at the restaurant where Anti pigs out.

Even Gauma isn’t immune to the Kaiju’s insidious attack, being transported back over five thousand years to the time he wore the same uniform as the Eugenicists, and they were all buds, and he met the Princess, his affection for whom led to him betraying his comrades.

Yomogi ends up in the memory when his mother first brought up her new boyfriend/husband-to-be, but unlike the others Yomogi isn’t that interested in this illusion. He regrets not telling his mom he didn’t want to meet the guy, but he doesn’t try to re-live anything, because he’s primarily concerned with saving Yume and the others.

It’s foremost in his brain that it’s All Up To Him. And as his Dyna Soldier isn’t broken, he grasps it and manages to shatter the memory, ending up in a void somewhere within the kaiju’s body. There, he can see through the various mirrors, windows, and displays in the memories of the others, including Yume, but is unable to attract her attention.

Meanwhile, the buildings and people still existing in the city are dwindling fast as the kaiju continues its relentless march, but both Chise and Second are protected from being blipped by—you guessed it—the trusty Goldburn. But they’re unable to do anything in that shield; only hope someone can undo the kaiju’s undoing.

Despite being in their respective past younger selves, Yume, Koyomi, and Gauma are still aware on some level that their situations are chances to right wrongs they’ll later regret. Koyomi doesn’t run from Inamoto, and takes her on a joyride to the beach with the cash. Yume tries to stop Kano from leaving for the flood gate, but isn’t able to follow through.

As Chise starts to seriously worry, Second assures her whether the others can return is “entirely up to them.” That may be true, but it’s mostly up to Yomogi, who after literally throwing himself at a solid wall again and again says he simply Will Not Stand for Yume feeling bad—is finally able to shatter the boundary between them.

Yume instantly transforms back to her present-day age, and holds the beaten-up Yomogi when he collapses. Once again, Yomogi puts others first, exclaiming for them to stop her sister. Kano is indeed atop the flood gate, singing a lovely but also sad and lonely song. But to Yume’s relief, she’s not trying to kill herself. She has no intention of dying, and she genuinely wants Yume to come to her recital.

Yomogi leaves Yume with her sister so they can talk for a little while, confident that unlike last time Yume will come back. He then proceeds to free Koyomi, Gauma, and Anti. Koyomi learns that even back then Inamoto wasn’t serious about them running away together, and suspected the cash was fake.

Gauma faces his former friends and says he didn’t betray the others for the country that betrayed them, but for the Princess alone. Anti…well, Anti seemingly knew what was going on all along and was planning to leave of his own accord.

Getting back to Yume, she has what so many people who have lost someone under mysterious circumstances would dream of having: not a chance to bring that person back, but to learn what actually happened so she can have closure. When Kano realizes this is an older version of Yume from after her death, she regrets distancing herself from Yume due to her superior “agreeability”.

It soothes Yume’s heart to no end to know Kano didn’t take her life or invite her to her recital as some kind of cruel goodbye crystallizing their rift for all time. Instead, the reason for her being on the flood gate was all too practical and mundane: she wanted somewhere solitary to practice singing.

Before they part, Kano urges Yume to “make sure you rely on people”—something Yume mentions she’s already gotten the hang of. When Yume asks if she should stay in this world with her, Kano tells her the same thing she used to say to her all the time—”suit yourself”—but this time its  meant out of love and confidence in Yume, not apathy or resentment.

With all four Dyna Pilots plus Anti freed from their pasts, it’s time for a kaiju battle, which is quick and clean. With a full head of steam and maximum motivation and synchonization, the group blasts out of the kaiju and combine with Goldburn to become Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight.

When their opponent proves quick and elusive, they power up Dyna Saber and unleash a Kaiser Knight Circular, and ever-expanding purple ring that eventually catches up to the furiously darting kaiju’s teal trail, slicing it clean in two. Interestingly enough, the minimalist abstract shape seen from high above calls to mind both the neon signs of the eighties and the graphics once common on Solo cups and pickup trucks alike.

With the highest-difficulty kaiju defeated, every character comes away a changed person, no more than Yume, who celebrates having made up with Kano and learned the truth by singing on the top of the flood gate as her sister once did.

Koyomi learns he was chasing something unattainable all along, and choosing to go with Inamoto didn’t magically make them be together. Yomogi doesn’t really deal with his problems, but to be fair, he was singularly responsible for saving the others. Even if Anti freed himself, he’s not a Dyna pilot, and didn’t harbor anywhere near the intensity of emotions Yomogi harbored for Yume. That may have kept him from helping the others.

The episode ends cryptically, when after Gauma collapses due to apparent hunger, we cut back to him lying on the ground in the past after betraying the Eugenicists. I’m notot sure what to make of this, but I’m certainly intrigued. Despite this ellipsis, this episode still represents another high watermark for Dynazenon excellence.

TenSura – 33 – A Different Kind of Demon Lord

After a string of absolute bangers that just screamed SHIT GOT REAL, this episode brings all that built-up the momentum to a screeching halt. It starts by repeating, verbatim, Eren’s story about Milim becoming the Demon Lord, as Rimuru is relaying it to his senior staff. It was a very pretty sequence, but I didn’t need to see it twice in as many weeks.

From there, Rimuru puts the plan he’s about to announce in context by taking a look back. While it was nice to see how far he and everyone else has come, from Veldora to Geld, it felt a little indulgent what with a literal army marching on the city. Then again, maybe this was Rimuru’s way of flexing: no need to panic or be in a rush.

After a few minutes of everyone else trying to accept the blame for what happened (ultimately there’s plenty of blame to spread around, even if Rimuru claims all of it) we get down to the planning stage. He’s going to take on the approaching force by himself, in order to assure he’s able to secure sufficient nourishment to Demon Lord-ify himself.

While he still wishes for a future in which humans and monsters can coexist peacefully across the world, the more pressing issue is getting the humans to acknowledge their existence, and the fact they’re not going away. When he becomes a Demon Lord, he plans to protect humanity from the other Demon Lords, thus hopefully earning goodwill.

While Rimuru goes after that Lordship, he has important roles for everyone else. For one thing, there are still four devices around the city maintaining the barrier as they speak, each guarded by a company of knights; the one to the west likely supplemented by the Otherworlders. Rimuru’s orders are simple: take them all out at once.

Benimaru will handle the eastern device by himself; Hakurou, Rigur, Gobta and Geld the west; Gabiru and his men the south, and Souei and Soka the north. Everyone in those groups it itching to atone for letting their guards down. Rimuru also asks Mjurran to join Shuna at the town center to keep the barrier raised after the devices are taken out, while Youm, Grucius, and Eren and her party will guard them.

So! Everyone has their assignments; all that’s left is to execute. Sadly, there isn’t any time to show any of that. We’re left with an episode that tries to keep things fresh by switching up the angle of the meeting table, with limited success. And is it just me, or shouldn’t the bodies of Shion and the others be, i dunno, kept somewhere cool and dry? Leaving corpses out in the sun doesn’t seem like the best idea.

The one upside to having this kind of episode is that with the emotional stakes established and the table thoroughly set, the next episode can go 100% all-out with the action and ownage. If that’s what transpires, I may just go back and add a half-star to episode…for taking one for the team!

TenSura – 32 – A Seed of Hope

Rimuru learns that Mjurran’s heart was stolen by Demon Lord Clayman, which ensured she’d have to obey him to live. As part of his ongoing quest to make things as “interesting” as possible, he sent her to spy on Tempest cast the anti-magic barrier within the capital to make things easier for the alliance of Falmuth and the Church.

Rimuru orders Mjurran detained until he has time to think of a punishment. He visits with and heals Hakurou and Gobta, whose spatial wounds couldn’t be closed by Shuna’s skills. Then he asks what I’ve been asking since her battle with Shougo: Where is Shion? Rather than say, Benimaru escorts Rimuru to the plaza to see for himself: Shion, along with Gobzo, are among the dead.

That’s right, Shion’s dead dead. He’s the first of his ragtag group of loyal companions to die, and she was killed protecting a child. Rimuru asks for time alone, re-creates Shizu’s mask and asks the Great Sage questions like “Why did this happen?”, “What should I have done?” “Was it a mistake to get involved with humans?”, and “Was I wrong?” The Sage has no answers.

Rimuru can’t understand why he can be so calm when such a torrent of emotions are surging and seething within him. He decides it’s because he too has become “a monster at heart.” As such, he’ll do what a monster like him can do and at least absorb Shion and the others as he did Shizu, with Gluttony.

But before he can, he’s interrupted by Eren and her party, who were the very first adventurers he encountered after being reincarnated as a slime. Eren comes bearing hope, if only the slightest sliver: it comes in the form of a fairy tale that has a basis in fact. She goes on to tell that tale, which we the audience recognize as the origin story of Demon Lord Milim Nava—lovingly rendered in a gorgeous watercolor/woodcut style.

Milim didn’t mean to become a Demon Lord, but when the king killed her only companion—a baby dragon her father created for her—she killed the king and wiped out his entire nation, killing tens of thousands. As a result, the baby dragon came back to life—but lost its soul when it died, thus becoming the became the Chaos Dragon, which Milim had to seal away.

While souls escape in all directions immediately after death, it dawns on Rimuru that the souls of Shion and the others cannot penetrate the barriers enveloping the capital. The souls are there, ready to be reunited with their  resurrected bodies, thus preventing what befell Milim’s dragon friend. The Great Sage confirms there’s a roughly 3% chance of reviving everyone.

Naturally, Rimuru takes those odds, which while small are not zero. He thanks Eren, who turns out to be a damn princess, Eryune Grimwald! All this time she’s been disguised as an ordinary human so she could adventure freely; her party-mates are her royal guard. As the princess of the Sorcerous Dynasty Sarion, she pledges to help Rimuru with anything other help he might require.

First things first: Rimuru needs to get started on becoming a Demon Lord so he can revive everyone. First, he sets up his own barrier in case the other two go down. Then, he asks the Sage for the requisites of becoming a Demon Lord. Turns out he already acquired the Demon Lord “seed’ when he predated the Orc Disaster.

The seed requires nourishment to grow and sprout, in the form of a minimum of ten thousand human lives. Double that number from Falmuth/Church alliance just happen to be descending on the capital, so it looks like Rimuru is ready to go. But first, he returns to the reception hall, insisting that Mjurran “must die”, then killing her…though she doesn’t die!

The reason is simple: Rimuru never intended to kill her permanently, only for three seconds. That was enough time to destroy the artificial heart Clayman had placed within her—which doubled as a bug—and replace that with a new artificial heart. Mjurran is no longer tied down by Clayman, and free to be tied down (via marriage) by Youm.

She in turn immediately swears fealty to Rimuru as thanks for his mercy. Rimuru asks her and Youm for help with his crazy new plan. In a short while, he’ll wipe out the entire force of Falmuth and Church soldiers and mages, including Falmuth’s king. That means Falmuth will need a new king, and Rimuru picks Youm for the task. Once Rimuru is a Demon King, Shion and the others should resurrect, badda-bing badda-bang!

I’m all for this sequence of events unfolding. Sure, keeping someone like Shion dead would cement the consequences of Rimuru’s poor leadership. It would also crest palpable stakes, since if she could die, anyone could. On the other hand, Shion staying dead would be really lame. She got on my nerves at times with the drinking and violence, but like our blue friend I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I want her back! Also, that Milim and Shion-heavy end sequence hit different this week.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Great Pretender – 21 – Language Barrier

After learning how his last princess-trafficking job went south and cost Laurent the love of his life, we return to Cynthia’s island, probably not long after Makoto returned to Japan. There, Laurent informs Kim, Cynthia and Abby of the next job—perhaps their most dangerous yet—and introduces them to Oz the Wizard.

Naturally, no one elects to back out, and we watch what unfolds after Cynthia, Abby, and Oz are shot off Suzaku’s boat. All three were wearing bulletproof vests with squibs, and were retrieved from the sea by Kim apparently a diving expert even in her old age.

Why not simply tell Makoto about the whole plan? Easy; because he’s Makoto. They all know him from their previous jobs. The less he knows, the less chance of him accidentally messing up the job. And even then, he can be unpredictable.

Laurent heads to Shanghai to reunite with his old boss, Liu. Liu is happy his old Mahjongg opponent is back, while Chen believes the fortune teller was spot-on about an interpreter falling into their lap after the loss of Oz. Oz, meanwhile, visits Makoto, alive and well, and tries to explain that he abandoned him and his mom for their own safety. Makoto isn’t convinced.

While alone in his hotel room, Laurent is fiddling with Dorothy’s good luck ring when he’s suddenly visited by her ghost. This is the one job in which Laurent has the most personal stakes. Its success determines whether Dorothy is properly avenged. It’s akin to Worf & Co. trying to get Jadzia Dax into Sto-vo-Kor.

Makoto plays his role well, and as was the case with his father, the role he’s playing and the person truly he is have started to blur. Makoto seems to harbor legitimate affection for Suzaku, and as a son who lost her mother connecting with a mother who lost her son, there’s good reason for that.

The logic and legitimacy of their bond makes the con that much more convincing, but ultimately the entire job leans on the inability of Suzaku and Ishigami to understand Chinese, and the inability of Liu and Chen to understand Japanese.

In their remote video meeting, Makoto and Laurent are the interpreters, and they invent a fictional dialogue their bosses can only assume is an accurate interpretation of their adversaries’ words. As such, both bosses believe the other is about to pay them ¥100 billion in cash.

This is right on the edge of what either side can afford (especially Suzaku’s side), and if Laurent’s crew ends up handling that ¥200 billion, it won’t just be their biggest score ever and a worthy victory for Dorothy’s memory, but ruin both Suzaku and Liu’s organizations.

What definitely seems to not be part of Laurent’s plan is the fact that both Liu and Suzaku intend to murder each other when they meet in person. Ishigami had a sword concealed in Suzaku’s chair, while Chen has a ring that can inject poison into whomever’s hand is shaken.

Laurent probably included the potential for treachery on both sides in his calculations, considering both Suzaku and Liu have no qualms about selling kids (As Sloan once said to Dr. Bashir: “These are not nice people we’re dealing with here.”). If everyone plays their roles as expected, the job will succeed where it failed last time.

But will Makoto play the proper role? At the onsen in Japan where the rest of the crew is lying low, Abby worries he’ll go off-script as he has in the past—only this time it might cost him his life. One key question is whether Makoto is merely pretending to care about Suzaku or has come to truly care about her? She did gift him an adorable kitty tie (continuing this arc’s synergy with the end credits), after all.

Unlike his father, Suzaku is there for him, and has always been upfront about who she is. Meanwhile, Oz once told his son to “always be lawful”, “contribute to the world”, and “be a respectable person” while doing none of those things. We also see him making a mysterious phone call from his moonlit apartment. So we’ll see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 20 – One Mistake and You’re Gone

The fake princess job turns out to be the last job, but not in the way Dorothy’s crew had hoped. Of course, at first things unfold exactly as planned: a few doctored pictures are sufficient to convince Liu to part with $10 million for the Ethiopian princess.

Chen accompanies Kim and Oz to Osaka to abduct her while she’s being driven home from college classes. Laurent visits Dorothy, who is sleeping soundly in her tawdry cell despite the rats and foreign insects. They share a kiss before they part for the night. It turns out to be their last kiss.

The next morning, the worst thing that can happen to con artists dealing princesses-in-exile happens: pure dumb coincidence. There’s a prominent story in the paper about an Ethiopean princess-in-exile—the real one. Dorothy ends up on a boat anchored offshore.

Laurent is helpless to save Dorothy, but Dorothy doesn’t sweat matters, sticking to her code till the end by repeating “make a mistake and you’re gone.” Liu’s men go after Kim, who is apparently killed in a car chase, while Oz gives up the location of the cash in hopes of currying favor with Liu.

All Laurent can do is interpret between Liu and Dorothy…until Dorothy tells Liu to go fuck himself in his native tongue. He has an underling shoot her, and she falls overboard. The bullet just happens to break the chain holding her good luck ring, which lands on the deck at Laurent’s feet.

In the aftermath, Laurent can’t hide his pain, and envisions stabbing Liu right there in the middle of their game. He lies to Liu about his mother in France falling ill, and Liu gives him leave to visit her. The moment he’s in the air, however, he regrets not killing Liu.

Back at Paris HQ, Laurent goes down a spiral of guilt and grief when Dorothy doesn’t magically reappear. Despite watching her get shot and fall off the boat, he still held a small hope it was an expertly faked death, but while Kim did manage to pull that off, Dorothy did not.

In her last moments, she knew the time had finally come when she made a mistake, and that was it; she just wished it hadn’t been their very last job. Laurent hears a pot breaking outside and rushes out to the patio. For a moment he spots Dorothy, alive and well…but it’s just one of the cats from the end credits.

Fast forward a few years. Laurent meets Cynthia when she tries to scam him. Ozaki, who intentionally got himself arrested and put in jail for his mafia activities, is now out of jail, and we see how close he comes to bumping into his son when he visits the hospital. Laurent meets Abby right after she’s beaten up three would-be rapists. And, of course, Makoto approaches Laurent with his wallet con, which brings us back to the beginning.

I imagine those first episodes (and indeed first arcs) where his background remains so opaque would have quite a different vibe to them, now that we’ve learned so much more him. Building the team he has in the present was an effort to create a con job that would make Dorothy proud and honor her unwavering adherence to their noble thieves’ code.

And now we know why $10 million is a plenty large score this time. It was never about the money—It was about the people they were taking it from.

Great Pretender – 16 – Surly Princess in the Demon Castle

Makoto knowing he’s in on Laurent & Co.’s latest scheme doesn’t make coming to work at Scarlet every day any easier. He cooks tasty food for the captive children, who then leave it untouched—one of their only available acts of defiance. It wears on him, but Laurent tells him Cynthia is about to make her move.

The next day, she does just that, posing as a wealthy foreign “dealer” who speaks English—I’ll note some of the best English I’ve ever heard in an non-dubbed anime. I’m glad they didn’t skimp on that detail, as the language barrier makes Makoto’s role as Ishigami’s (and later Suzaku’s) interpreter crucial to the deal.

Cynthia and Kim take Ishigami and Makoto out to the UAE, where they situate themselves at a vantage point from which to watch their services in action. They use Clark and Abby to stage a desert kidnapping, with Abby posing as a royal princess.

As is typical of a GP episode, this scene wears its Hollywood action influence on its sleeve, and is quick and well-executed—like a Hollywood action movie, only animated. Makoto also notes how convincing Abby appears during the staged attack, considering she’s not one to panic when a gun is pointed in her face.

More importantly, the charade and “Princess Abigail” convince Ishigami, who brings Cynthia, Kim, and Abby before Suzaku Akemi herself for inspection. Suzaku treats Abby no differently from any other human trafficking victim: like a piece of meat to be stripped down and viewed from all sides. Makoto wisely averts his eyes to avoid Abby’s ire.

Suzaku indicates her interest without strongly expressing it, and initially low-balls Cynthia with an offer of 100,000,000 (Cynthia hopes that’s not yen, since that would amount to less than $1 million). When Cynthia forces the issue, Suzaku blows smoke in her face and cops a feel, stating that if Cynthia were a little younger she’d get a pretty good price.

Cynthia doesn’t react to the abuse, which is clearly Suzaku testing her mettle, because she revises her offer to a cool billion. While that’s over $9 million US, it still feels like small potatoes compared to Laurent and Cynthia’s previous con jobs.

The deal is struck, and Princess Abby gets Ishigami’s winddown room as her cell, complete with TV and video game console. Meanwhile, Makoto continues to switch out the kids’ untouched food, and urges them to eat for their own sakes. But their looks indicate they don’t care about their sakes.

Hanging his head the whole way back to his apartment, Makoto is shocked to find Laurent, Cynthia and Kim waiting to surprise him with celebratory drinks. Makoto rightfully suggests this is sloppy on their part (who knows if Suzaku is following any or all of them since they arrived?) and they leave.

The plan from there is to spring Abby after they get their money. To do so, Makoto needs the key to her room, which Ishigami all-too-easily offers up when he falls asleep after drinking too much beer. Makoto presses the key into a bar of soap, and Kudou makes a copy.

On the appointed night, everything goes smoothly except for Makoto’s not-so-sudden crisis of conscience. (I particularly liked Abby hesitating to escape because she was in the middle of a game—it really nailed her character’s nonchalance in a crisis) He’s not prepared to simply hurt Scarlet by taking their money then stealing Abby back; he wants to free all ten kids being held there too. But when he and Abby try to do so, the kids don’t budge. Just like they wouldn’t eat because they have nothing to eat for, they won’t escape because they think they have nowhere to go.

They might reconsider that once they’re sold off to people who will use them for unspeakable purposes, but the bottom line is these kids’ spirits have long since been broken. They were already abandoned by their families for cash, after all. They don’t care what happens to them, and care even less about helping Makoto realign his moral compass. When a kid asks where they’d go from there, Makoto doesn’t have an answer. As Rachel Menken said to Don Draper: “You haven’t thought this through.”

Due to a security guy Makoto initially relieved returning when he forgot his phone, Makoto is unable to free Abby, so the op will have to wait for another day. But it feels like even if they do free Abby and get the money, this isn’t the whole job. Or maybe it is, and the job that follows may lead us more into Laurent’s past—the apparent focus of this final arc.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 04 – Feeling Lucky

Part of what makes a good show comes down to tempering expectations as much as surpassing or subverting them. With three straight episodes of Iska and Alice bumping into each other, this episode felt oddly empty because the two never meet. Instead there’s some bonding of Unit N07 at a casino, which is nice, but can’t help but feel like filler, stalling the inevitable next confrontation between the star-crossed lovers.

It was nice to see the unit dressed to the nines just for the heck of cutting loose and having fun, as well as to learn that both Captain Mismis and Alice’s attendant Rin have the same love of gambling that neither Iska nor Alice share. But for the two to be so close to each other—at the same casino and then receiving the exact same accurate fortune—without meeting feels like a letdown.

After a scene with the Octet revealing that Risya for all her cheer is a sometimes ruthless ladder-climber, she informs Mismis and her unit that they’ll be part of an Imperial team charged with heading to the Myudol valley (located between the Empire and Sovereignty) where a new Vortex (a massive confluence of astral energy) has been found.

At roughly the same time, Alice and Rin are informed of the same thing by the shifty Tuxedo Mask” Masked Lord”, who is a member of the Zoas, one of the two royal families not on the throne. Turns out the Sovereignty isn’t as monolithic as I thought; there’s ongoing enmity between the three families, something Alice regrets.

When Iska and his unit head to the valley, the guy in charge is a fellow Saint Desciple, named, er…Nameless, and is also faceless thanks to his state-of-the-art optical camo armor suit. He’s unambiguous in the troops’ mission to either capture the vortex or destroy it, as well as in warning everyone not to “get in his way”.

But when over ten soldiers go missing during the recon mission, Nameless insists that there be no search-and-rescue ops, and orders the search for the vortex to continue. This doesn’t sit well with Iska, but he is dismissed as a traitor by Nameless when he tries to get more answers. He’s also too low-ranking to even speak to Nameless, but Mismis isn’t, and she’s as eager as Iska to know why they’re essentially sacrificing their comrades.

As for Alice, she’s distrustful enough of the Zoa family that the only way to learn the truth about the valley and alleged vortex is to go there herself, representing both the crown and the Lou family. This means that after this week’s near-misses, Alice and Iska are sure to meet back up. Unlike their team-up to stop the Founder, they’ll be on opposite sides of a battle to secure a key strategic asset.

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