Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 01 (First Impressions) – Getting Serious About Living

Fast on the heels of Zane’s Horimiya comes another contender for Anime of the Season: Jobless Reincarnation, the latest in a rare collection of common stories told uncommonly well. Our protagonist is a 34-year-old NEET hit by a car and killed, but he’s reincarnated as a baby in a fantasy world with all his adult mental faculties and memories intact.

That all-too-familiar premise (for the record, the source LN dates back to 2012) hardly does Jobless justice: from the moment our boy realizes he is the child of the well-endowed young woman who just gave birth to him, his droll adult voiceover (Sugita Tomokazu, I believe) provides a hilariously dry running commentary on his new world.

Rudeus or Rudy, as his parents Zenith and Paul name him, grows up fast, going from a highly mobile infant to a precocious toddler. When he falls down go boom and his mom uses a real healing spell on him, he seeks out the five tomes in his family’s house, learns to read, and gradually learns how to wield water magic.

There’s a wonderful procedural structure to Rudy’s early journey of just figuring things out, but not so rigid a structure that it detracts from the human and emotional sides of his experience. His precociousness also goes noticed by Lilia the live-in maid, as Rudy’s facial expressions betray an older man’s inner wisdom of the world.

While his first attempt to conjure water results in him looking like he fell asleep and wet himself, Rudy hangs in there, gathering any and all basins in which to deposit the water he conjures. Notably, he is able to use magic without the incantations or magic circles the books describe as vital to the process.

Without really trying to, his magical growth remains largely hidden from Zenith and Paul, who are portrayed as dimensional characters with their own needs and wants (they get it on often, as one would expect of a healthy young couple). His family’s home is his entire world, and he’s usually shut up in his room, much as he was as a 34-year-old NEET. This explains a bit why we don’t get to see as much of his family as I’d have liked.

With that hikikomori mentality in mind, it’s as symbolic as it is momentous when Rudy accidentally obliterates the wall of his bedroom with his most powerful water conjuring yet—a giant orb that streaks through the bright blue sky, creating rain for the crops and a rainbow as well. The top-notch animation really sells how powerful—and frightful—magic can be in untrained hands, and how exciting it is to “figure things out.”

When Zenith sees him unharmed and with the magic book nearby, she puts two and two together, and cannot contain her pure joy and delight to have reared a magical prodigy. She and Paul bicker over the promise that he would be raised as a swordsman, but Lilia (showing she’s more than a mere maid—more of a second wife) suggests “Why not both?”

Rudy’s parents—his dad’s a Knight who basically runs the village, and so is not without means—hire a magical tutor to train him, but both they and Rudy are shocked to find she’s no bearded retiree but an adorable young woman with bluish-violet air, ably voiced with by with vulnerability and defiance by Kohara Konomi.

We have the fascinating situation in which Rudy is mentally older than his parents, let alone this mage Roxy Migurdia, and his otaku side comes out when he first sees her and sizes her up (or down, as it were). Roxy isn’t aware of this, has dealt with other parents who thought their kid was The Chosen One, and is dubious of Rudy’s abilities.

Still, she does her job, showing him how a focused magical attack can cleave a tree down in one swipe, then how said tree (treasured by Rudy’s mom) can be repaired with healing magic, which Roxy also knows. Then Rudy demonstrates he can use magic without incantations (again, accidentally, as he’s thrown off when Roxy’s skirt flips up), and re-fells the restored tree, and Roxy knows she’s dealing with someone worth training.

Roxy takes the blame for the tree, but Rudy uses a dating sim-esque line to comfort her, and it works. Then the family welcomes Roxy like one of their own to a sumptuous welcome banquet, and during these lovely warm images Rudy beautifully recites the mission statement of the show:

“It’s like a dream…a dream I’m having as I die from that crash. No, even if it is, I don’t care. In this world, I bet even I can make it. If I live and try as hard as everyone else, get back up when I fall, and keep facing forward, then maybe I can do it. Maybe even I, a jobless, reclusive bum like me can get a do-over at life…and get serious about living.”

I would never have thought I’d be so quickly and easily drawn into yet another Isekai series, but the characterizations and technical execution are so well done, the world it’s crafted so gorgeous and inviting, and the comedy so effortless, it renders Jobless Reincarnation all but irresistible. Yes, we’ve seen this story before, and yes, Rudy is a bit of a creep, but for once it doesn’t matter, at least for me. It goes without saying I can’t wait to see more.

P.S. Looks like Anime News Network’s early reviewers of JR weren’t as enamored as I was, focusing on Rudy’s abhorrent skeeviness and the fact this premise has been done to death.

While I respect their takes, which are just as valid as my own, I prefer to take a more clean-slate approach to the show, and execution can—and in this case, does—outweigh familiarity.

Also, and this is key, Rudy isn’t supposed to be immediately likable or virtuous. He’s just started on a long road of redemption, and his closing monologue suggests he wants to become a better person than he was in his past life.

P.P.S. Crow has written on this episode as well. Check it out here.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 09 – Creating the Greatest World…While Turning a Handsome Profit

This may sound like hyperbole, but Hands Off the Eizouken! may be in the Anime of the Decade conversation, despite airing in the very first season of that decade. It’s also deserves serious discussion as Yuasa Maasaki’s masterpiece, as clever and creative and self-reflexive and realistic and human a series as I’ve ever watched. It just keeps getting better.

The Robot short was a success in every way except the way that matters most to the third member of Eizouken: financially. Part of that was due to the school limiting the money they can spend and charge, but Sayaka also sees ways in which the creative side of things can be greater optimized. Dreams are nice, warm, and fuzzy, but they’ll wither and die without cold hard cash.

Sayaka turns down all the requests from other school clubs, knowing none of them would be financially worth the effort; effort she knows she can only limit so much before her creatives buck. She takes them on a brainstorming tour of the infinitely whimsical and cool Shibahama town, and Midori and Tsubame’s imaginations snap crackle and POW across the screen.

All along, as we’ll learn later in the episode, Sayaka was selling her comrades something without them even knowing it, something at which she is exceedingly effective: Shibahama is to be the setting of their next project, and the town itself will finance it because it will not only be art, but a promotion of Shibahama’s uniqueness and charm.

We see no shortage of that charm, both in the eclectic and often contradictory architecture, nor shortage of a need for something to stir things up in a town on the decline. Heck, the underground fruit banban noodle restaurant is litterally on a downward slant, which means they don’t serve the noodles with broth lest it pour out.

There is something pouring here, thought, and that’s potential. For the Big Deal Sayaka has been longing for most of her life. When the young proprietor reveals he’s a big fan of their anime (calling them prodigies, which they are) and wishes they could make an anime about a noodle store owner who is also a world-saving secret agent, what was previously-planted seed in Sayaka’s hyper-capitalist brain starts to sprout and flower.

Whether it’s selling the school’s audio collection and exacting rent from Doumeki to making social media posts of their lunch and of the popular Tsubame, Sayaka never wastes an opportunity for profit. That’s because she learned the hard way from the slow deterioration and death of her relatives’ liquor, later general store. She regales Midori and Tsubame with that sad story, and the three are plunged into a wonderful watercolor flashback.

There, the others watch with glee as a much younger “Mini-Mori” exhibits her keen enterprising spirit and natural knack for business despite struggling with math. Her relatives even note how it’s a shame they didn’t have her business sense back before it was too late to save a business that couldn’t evolve with the times. It’s as if Sayaka was born just a decade or so too late.

In a passionate speech that complements those both Midori and Tsubame have made (though theirs were about animation), Sayaka impresses upon her comrades the importance of having a profitable product at the right time, in the right place, and keeping such a practice going. That means sometimes quality will have to take a backseat to satisfying demand.

The fact she is able to talk so saliently about such a wide range of commercial and economic concerns neither Midori or Tsubame have the headspace to have ever thought about cements the absolute necessity of having someone like Sayaka on their side, keeping them in line, and giving them opportunities they’ll always be to busy drawing to see on the horizon.

Sayaka has been giving the Eizouken a robust digital footprint that will serve as the foundation for a marketing network they can rely upon so no one interested in their work will ever be left out of the loop. Just as Art cannot survive without business (at least if you want to make a living with art), business cannot survive without promotion.

As if inspired by the speech, Midori and Tsubame continue brainstorming, and determine that Shibahama itself will be a fine setting for their next project. It will depict a battle between the city and its various hidden weapons systems versus a fleet of UFOs. They have an idea, and Sayaka will ensure every stage of that idea will be shared with interested parties on social media.

The fact Midori and Tsubame took to Shibahama as the setting so organically also serves Sayaka well, for while the StuCo managed to grab Doumeki’s rent from the Eizouken’s coffers, Sayaka is already frying bigger fish. Letting out the same cool toothy smirk as when she received sundries to sell instead of cash tips for cleaning back at the doomed liquor store, Sayaka finalizes a deal where the Shibahama Chamber of Commerce will fully finance the short.

Showing that she’s growing when it comes to her methods (as an adult businessperson must if they wish to avoid future legal entanglements), Sayaka reached out to the president of the town’s Young Person Association: the proprietor of the fruit ramen joint. His group has been working on local revitalization projects, and they “ate up” the idea of revitalization-through-animation.

Because of the heightened stakes, Sayaka will be keeping that much closer and eye on the creatives’ flights of fancy lest her flights of finance go into a tailspin. That said, at this early a stage she allows them to glom onto details here and there that jump out at them, and in the process, Midori manages to convince her that they won’t have to draw any scientifically inaccurate laser beams!

She manages this thanks in part to the addition of Doumeki, who joins the flight of fancy by adding audio to the drawings around them. But the sound isn’t quite right to Midori, and since she’s the director, she has to offer clearer direction to Doumeki (and Tsubame, and all the other creatives they’ll need to pull this off.

Midori directs Doumeki by simply acting out the sequence of sounds with her own voice and then explaining her specific specifications. This is an extension of the flights of fancy throughout the series, where Midori’s voice made most of the sound effects. But it’s also an epiphany to Midori that what she is doing is a performance. As in, performing in front of people, through her concepts and animation, but also in person.

It’s something both Tsubame and Tsubame’s parents already came to grips with, and it is simultaneously exciting and terrifying to the normally shy, meek Midori who only truly comes out of her shell with her Eizouken comrades.

Tsubame may be the pretty face that puts butts in seats and followers online, but as Sayaka continues to expand their digital footprint and the scope of their business, Midori will have to become more comfortable with her performance being seen by all.

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Knight’s & Magic – 04

With Telestale development hampered by a mana-leakage problem, Eru stays sharp by pivoting to other projects, like his Silhouette Gear. In a backyard presumably owned by someone they know, Eru demonstrates the mobility potential of a Gear armed with a grappling hook, as well as the destructive power of the siege weapon attachment, which blows holes in a perfectly good wall for no good reason! Eru even all but admits to Addy that he just came up with these improvements for fun, not for a specific purpose.

Addy and Kid decide to inform their father of Eru’s rapid progress, and word gets to Marquis Dixgard, who sends his knights of the Order of the Scarlet Rabbit to escort Eru and the new units to Fort Casadesus for evaluation. On the way, they’re attacked by Giant wormlike Demon Beasts, but Eru makes quick work of them between all the gadgets he has on his person and the Telestale Knight Runners.

Eru ends up staying behind with the Marquis, who seems like an imperious, possibly dangerous figure. And while he’s suspicious about whether Eru is really a little kid (and he’s right, he’s not, at least not mentally), Marquis is eventually convinced beyond all doubt that Eru is merely an extremely talented and driven young man with a thirst for constant improvement in technology. Dixgard can relate: he used to be like Eru…he just never soared as high.

Not only that, but Eru doesn’t seem angry in the least that the Marquis is taking over the project; after all, Telestale is only one of many ambitious projects Eru has lined up in the future. Whether he completes those projects unfettered by outside forces remains to be seen, as we see the Order of the Bronze Fang on the margins of this episode, and their purple-cloaked female leader is itching to start a war, armed with special Silhouette Knights of her own.

Knight’s & Magic – 03

After defeating a Behemoth almost entirely on his own, the King can’t just not acknowledge Ernesti, so he grants him and his gramps an audience to thank him and ask if there’s any reward he would like. Since Ernesti has the mind of an adult (and a mecha otaku to boot) he asks for the one thing only the King can grant: the secret to creating the Ether Reactor, the heart of a Silhouette Knight.

To everyone’s surprise, the king grants Eru’s wish, but first he must prove himself worthy of such knowledge by building everything around that Ether Reactor before learning how to build it. Eru accepts the challenge with relish, calling such work his “hobby” to the bemusement of all.

From there, Eru works with the Dwarf mechanics and engineers, knight Runners, and his friends and comrades to develop improvements to the Silhouette Knights, including a second set of arms to wield energy staves and a new kind of muscle construction that will make the knights stronger.

Things accelerate fast when he comes up with the design for a smaller “personal” mech he dubs Silhouette Gear, which Addy and Kid get the hang of almost too fast, eager to shoulder some of the burdens their friend is taking on.

Another who gets into the spirit of this inventive binge is Dietrich, who is determined to make amends for his cowardice, which Eru and others have kept largely a secret; now he’s working hard to be strong enough notto run away from a threat next time.

Helvi pilots the newly-redesigned SilKnight that Eru was instrumental in developing, in a suite of tests including a mock battle with the school’s Runner ace Edgar in an unmodified Knight. Helvi only loses because she runs out of mana, but it’s a great first step towards Eru’s goal of learning the secrets of the Ether Reactor.

Notably, there aren’t really any “threats” this week, nor even any technological setbacks that frustrate Eru or slow him down in any way. But trouble looms as there’s a mole within the development team feeding info to a seedier group of people. Eru didn’t really run into any significant problems this week, but it looks like that may change in the near future.

Knight’s & Magic – 02

Last week’s K&M was conspicuous in its lack of serious mortal peril, but this week brought the danger from the beginning, as a “Division-Class” Demon Beast (called a “Behemoth” but really more of an Adamantoise) rampages on a fort protecting the capital and several knight runners end up squashed and/or smashed to death.

As that same beast nears the forest where the students are training, Sefania and Addy fight over Eru until the order to get the hell out of dodge is given…only Eru doesn’t leave with the others. Instead, he sees one of the runners protecting them running away. It’s Dietrich, a pilot who saw his comrade get hit by the Behemoth’s breath and simply lost his nerve and turned tail.

Eru helps himself to Dietrich’s cockpit, using his dual gunblades to customize the robot to his smaller frame in a nifty bit of MacGyver-like innovation rife with less-nifty technobabble. Bottom line, Eru is able to increase the robot’s speed, agility, and strength, and with the aid of reinforcements, is able to bring the beast down by sending a pulse of lightning through its eye, leading to a monster aneurysm and Game Over for Mr. Behemoth.

Dietrich’s comrades lament his death and sacrifice and curse themselves for thinking ill of him for running…until Eru emerges with an unconscious Dietrich. I’m sure Eru won’t tell them he’s the one who brought the robot back into the fight, while when the cards were down, Dietrich was a coward. But whatever comes out of it, word of a child outperforming all the other knight runners gets to the king, and he wishes to meet Eru ASAP.

This K&M was fun in its execution of the boss battle, but there was no getting around the fact it was a rehash of the first episode’s “Eru Is Good At Everything And Everybody Loves Him”, and it felt smaller and less sprawling than the first, which covered several years. Maybe Eru’s dealings with the kings and/or the knight runner elite will provide some challenge for him, but as he never struggled that mightily against a damn Behemoth, I’m not holding my breath!


Knight’s & Magic – 01 (First Impressions)

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: the title of this show is stupid. What’s with the apostrophe? That doesn’t belong there, before an ampersand! That aside, even if it were Knights & Magic, that’s still a painfully generic title, which does an otherwise fun and inventive show no favors.

Yes, it’s true: aside from the awful title and the oft-overused “killed in real world, reincarnated in the fantasy world” trope, K&M turns in a damned entertaining and absorbing first episode, covering no less than three different timelines in the life of one Ernesti Echevarria, a very pretty, short-statured boy who happens to have the soul and intellect of an elite video game programmer…and mecha otaku.

In “Eru’s” new world, magic works a lot like programming, so he’s a wiz who not only quickly rises in the ranks of the youth in magical training, but spreads the wealth around. Quickly befriending twins Ady and Kid Olter, he teaches them magic and they get quite good at it.

He also befriends a dwarf, Baston, whose father makes him a gunblade with which he basically tests out of the fundamentals class so he can be in the more advanced silhouette knight design course. Eru is a kid who’s going places, but he’s a very modest, decent sort of kid without a shred of arrogance, as so far, hes able to back up his words with action every time.

Three-quarters in, and it seems K&M‘s only casualty will be a dead horse at the hands of Demon Beasts, but Eru & Co. get their first taste of combat, with him and the twins helping to save their older (and legitimate) sister Stefania from a suspiciously huge horde of the beasts, while and even larger boss-level monster looms for next week.

Just as Eru gets his first taste of magical combat in which he’s the combatant, rather than someone being protected, we get a decent first taste of K&M, it’s world, its workings, and a surprisingly likable core cast (including Takahashi Rie’s voicing of Eru).

It did seem like an odd choice to have so much voiceover narration in the epsiode, and to only show Kurata “inside the head” of Eru just once. However, the real world prologue does serve a purpose in that the reincarnated protagonist possesses gifts and perspective neither a boy nor anyone in his new world would otherwise have.

Overall, a pleasant, upbeat, and attractive first outing. I’ll be back!

3-gatsu no Lion – 07

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And endless succession of episodes in which Rei wanders around alone with the wind in his face, wallowing in despair and self-pity over everything he’s been through and all the choices he’s made, was going to get old fast. That would be too dark and brooding, and keep us at a distance.

I wanted in, so to speak, and I got in, thanks in part to a jauntier, more playful week of 3GL, and in part to Hina’s crush Takahashi. While Rei is initially intimidated, Takahashi is actually a great admirer of Rei, and comes to him for serious advice about where to steer his life.

That Takahashi essentially comes out of nowhere to have such a profound effect on Rei and how he looks at the world is of no consequence. I like how a childhood friend of Hina, whom Rei often looks to for comfort, peace, and perspective, is inadvertently responsible for showing Rei “the light.”

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Takahashi’s seriousness, forceful determination, and earnest attentiveness to any and all Rei has to say, gets Rei to open up despite himself, breaking through a barrier he’d never crossed before, letting someone in to his inner thoughts and doubts, and receiving gratitude and further admiration in return.

Even when Takahashi, invited to dinner (much to Hina’s exasperation; however she delivers a sumptuous repast), shows Rei a video of his loss in shogi (a video that exposes Rei’s “secret”/omission to the younger sisters that he and Nikaido are pros), Takahashi does it not out of malice, but to hear from the person who made the move why he made it, and what he thinks about such a move now.

Even when Rei says it was a bad move, and Nikaido almost seems to come through the TV and yell at him directly, over and over, that he needs to “take better care of his shogi and himself”, Takahashi doesn’t dismiss his father and grandfather’s assertion the move wasn’t bad, but was even “aggressive and manly,” qualities Takahashi can relate to on the road to a baseball career; a road that requires similarly bold moves.

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Nikaido’s on-video obnoxious commentary gets Rei so riled up he raises his voice for the first time, yelling at the TV as if Nikaido was there. Rei is amazed to find Hina smiling wider than ever at his outburst, as if it was a privilege to witness. And maybe it was: seeing him display so much passion, even to protest his “best friend” saying far too much to the camera, spurs Hina to ask Rei to teach her how to play shogi.

That’s when Nikaido actually comes out of the TV and appears in person at the Kawamoto household to add some humor and humanity to Rei’s stiff explanation of the game. He even presents a book he presumably wrote and illustrated in which all the shogi pieces are realized as cats, charming not only Hina but Momo too (who already regards Nikaido AKA Bodoro as a kind of demigod).

Rei has finally tasted what it’s like not only to have his thoughts and feelings listened to and validated, but what it’s like to lose it in front of people he cares about, and to share his amassed wisdom to an eager audience. All in all, its a pretty good week for the kid. Here’s hoping he keeps it going.

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