Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 22 – The Work Goes On

Last Week, Alice’s lightcube was successfully ejected. This week we find her walking and talking in the real world, in an artificial body. She and new Rath chief Koujirou Rinko hold a press conference to announce her arrival. Kikuoka is publically declared KOA, but remains alive in hopes of keeping Ocean Turtle and the Underworld safe.

As one would expect, most reporters ask tough, pointed questions about Alice. She hilariously agrees to open her skull and show one of them her brain—provided he does it first! She also declares her love for a real-worlder we know to be Kirito. Rinko declares that Artificial Fluctlights are human beings, not a resource that either can or should be mass produced for what would amount to slavery.

Rinko also makes clear that there is only one condition under which the AFs might rise up and destroy their creators: if those creators tried attacked them first. There are monumentally huge questions posed by the mere existence of Alice and the tech that created her, which challenge organic human exceptionalism itself.

The road ahead will not be straight or smooth, but ass with the humans and machines in The Matrix, only way forward is together. Pandora’s Box is open, and without peaceful coexistence there is only mutual destruction.

That unity and coexistence has already been tested and proven by Kirito, Asuna and their friends who fought in the War to protect Alice and the Underworld. Alice abruptly leaves the press conference when she senses that Kirito is about to wake up, and is the first person he sees when he opens his eyes for the first time in a month (in the real world) and far longer in hers.

Both that powerful moment and the quieter, lived-in, love-filled moments between Kirito and Asuna in the hospital brought tears to my eyes, just as Asuna’s reconciliation with her mom did back in SAO II. Turns out Asuna ruled as Queen of the Underworld for all two hundred years, with Kirito either co-ruling as King or serving as her knight and consort.

After waking up and informing Alice her sister Selka is in deep freeze ready to be revived, he quickly urges Kikuoka and Higa to delete those two hundred years of memories. His voice is noticeably lower and more gravelly, which at first I thought was because his real body was so parched. However, in order to return to being the Kirito he was before the rapid acceleration, those memories, and the evolution of his self that resulted, had to go.

The not-dead Kikuoka tells Kirito and Asuna the current situation. Ocean Turtle, Rath, and even Alice are all in danger of being seized by the government and then poked and prodded into oblivion or perverted into military weaponry. Their only weapon is P.R., and Alice and Rinko’s press conference was the first shot fired.

From here, they must bring public opinion to their side that Artificial Fluctlight tech is not a commodoty, but the next stage of human evolution, and as such subject to the same rights. But then we learn that Higa didn’t delete the 200-year-old Kirito after all, but copied him when Kikuoka and Rinko weren’t looking.

After briefly deliberating over whether to open this newest can of worms, he activates the Kirito copy, who being 200 years old naturally predicted “something like this” might happen. Indeed, he and Queen Asuna assumed one of three scenarios involving one or both of them being copied. In the case only Kirito were copied, he vowed to devote all his energies to the protection of the Underworld.

While the satellite linking them to Ocean Turtle and Underworld has been seized by the government, Kirito believes the copy of Heathcliff AKA Kayaba Akihiko still lives. He’s the key to regaining access and beginning the important work that must be done. I for one am glad Higa didn’t delete the old, grizzled Kirito, and looking back at his and Queen Asuna’s two centuries of rule could surely fill another two seasons, if not more.

Meanwhile, Kirigaya Kazuto returns to his home and lies down in his own bed, after a month at Rath and a week of rehab that was, to him, a hell of a lot longer. As soon as his eyes open, he hears the voice of his dear Eugeo as clearly as if he were in the room. Kirito begins to sob, wishing all of his Underworld memories could have been wiped to spare him all this grief.

However, Suguha comes into his room, sits on the bed, and gently pats Kirito’s head, asking him to tell her everything about his time in the Underworld, starting from the beginning. And so he tells her about Eugeo, Rulid Village, and the three-centuries-long quest to chop down a single cedar tree.

Finally, at one of what is surely an interminable string of tedious public events nevertheless vital to Rath and the Underworld’s survival (not to mention her own freedom), Alice gloomily gazes out the window at the cityscape beyond, reaching out to Kirito, telling him she feels like she might “wither away”.

Being the first true artificial human adjusting to the physical world is hard enough…doing it while knowing the man you love is already spoken for…that’s just not fair!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 55 – Alice in HOEEE-nderland

From the opening scene in which Sakura narrates a beautiful sequence of illustrations, it’s immediately clear what’s going to go down this week, even if you didn’t watch the preview. Sakura’s totally getting trapped inside Alice in Wonderland by Eriol. Meanwhile Tomoyo proves adept at shit-stirring by noting how nice Sakura and Eriol look together in earshot of Syaoran, forcing another staredown that Sakura notices for the first time.

While everyone is reading at the library, the enchanted leaf Eriol gave Sakura as a bookmark activates, and sure enough, she’s sucked in. It’s interesting to note that while Alice typically wears blue, Sakura is dressed in a pink dress with a heart suit theme. Eriol appears as the Cheshire Cat, but like said cat is more cryptic and mischievous than helpful.

Sakura encounters Yukito the White Rabbit, who transforms into Yue, scoops her up, and drops her in the middle of her brother the Mad Hatter’s tea party. She drinks the tea he makes and finds it delicious, but is too late to realize it’s a potion to make her tiny, an experience she did not enjoy last time it happened.

Once she’s small enough to fit on a flower, she’s confronted by twin Syaorans as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who curiously enough quiz her on whether and who Syaoran likes. Sakura still thinks Syaoran likes Yukito, but his feelings have since shifted in her direction, hence her being wrong about the one he likes being taller than him.

Ultimately,. Sakura converts Big to grow bigger than Little to shrink back to normal size, and finds herself on a chessboard where Tomoyo AKA Humpty Dumpty is playing against Queen Kerberus. Sakura takes flight, and once she remembers the big leaf in the sky is the portal through which she entered, flies into it and emerges back in the library.

Tomoyo and Syoaran do their best to keep the others in the dark about all the magic stuff going on at their table, and Sakura ends up getting sleepy from creating two more Sakura Cards and falling into Syaoran’s arms. CCS delivers exactly what it said it would—Sakura in Wonderland—and does so with style and with some fun character moments. That said, I wonder if Sakura will remember that the one Syaoran likes isn’t taller than him…

Elfen Lied – 11 – Doing Whatever You Can

This week we meet AKIRA Number 35, AKA Mariko, who beyond the massive steel shutters is merely a frail five-year-old girl. Only one person has ever interacted with her in her lifetime: a researcher named Saitou, who likens Mariko her daughter and is eager to see her for the first time. Shirakawa has no choice but to unleash Mariko in order to deal with Lucy, and Saitou is the only human Mariko will trust and listen to.

Uh…yeah…that doesn’t go so well.

In the very likely chance Saitou was disemboweled, de-spined, and de-kidneyed by Mariko—who after all correctly assessed Saitou was not her mother—Mariko has bombs placed within her body that can be detonated if she refuses to come to heel. I was sure Shirakawa was a goner too, but in a last-gasp gesture, it’s Saitou (or at least the top half of Saitou that clings to life for a minute or so) who presses the button that blows off Mariko’s arm.

It’s good that Spring 2020 has its share of feel-good shows (Arte and Princess Connect among them), otherwise I’m not sure I’d quite be able to endure the unrelenting pitch-black darkness of Elfen Lied. It loves to show us idyllic moments in Kouta’s house as his little family of misfits begins to gel, knowing much if not all of that family could soon end up as expressionist splatter on the fusuma.

Nevertheless, I’ll take the good times while there are still good times to be had. They include Kouta officially welcoming Nana to the household not as a guest, but a member, and leaves her chore training to Mayu. Seeming similar in age (and both haunted by unspeakable trauma) Mayu and Nana continue to develop a friendship closely bordering on sisterhood. Then there’s Nyu.

When Kouta shows Nana a photo of his dead sister Kanae, memories well up in Nyu, and in those moments, Nana senses Lucy. Nyu then chops her hair off to more closely resemble Kanae so she can forgive Kouta for being mean to her just before she died. It’s looking more and more like Lucy killed Kanae and Kouta repressed the memory.

Yuka comes home from the grocery store just as Kouta is embracing Nyu and telling her he “likes her too”, sending a heartbroken Yuka off to sulk. That’s when she discovers the entire area has been cordoned off by police in preparation for Mariko’s arrival on the mainland, now in a wheelchair and escorted by Shirakawa. Kurama, meanwhile, is off on his own, and conscripting Bando to hell him kill Lucy.

Nana can sense Mariko’s arrival, as well as her overwhelming murderous intent. In order to protect Mayu, Kouta, Yuka, and yes even Nyu (whom she hopes stays Nyu forever), she runs off to meet Mariko face-to-face. Unfortunately, Nana is woefully outmatched and uninformed; she isn’t even aware of just how many vectors Mariko has, nor how far they reach.

Mariko proceeds to “have fun” by toying with poor Nana like a cat with a freshly-caught mouse. As far as Shirakawa & Co. are concerned it’s all good…as long as 35 ends Lucy as well. Feel-good this show is not…but it is damned compelling.

Elfen Lied – 10 – The Man Behind the Glass

Kouta and Yuka turn out to be fine; they left the bedroom before Lucy got up to leave. She and Nana prepare to fight, but Mayu comes between them more than once, and very nearly gets killed for trying to be the peacemaker. Mayu’s pleas remind Lucy of Kouta’s in the past, and she reverts to Nyu once more. Thanks to Mayu’s decency and diplomacy, Nana is welcomed to the dinner table.

From there we’re sent back to the past, when Kurama is first recruited out of college by his friend Professor Kazukawa. They managed to capture a young but murderous Diclonius and have commenced horrifically cruel experiments to test the strength of her Vectors. Kurama is initially not okay with this, but Kazukawa impresses on him how dangerous and unable to coexist with humans they are.

Kurama comes around when the Diclonius Three escapes and goes on a bloody rampage, and very nearly kills him before Kazukawa shoots her in the head with an armor-piercing round, killing her. After committing more than ten infanticides Kurama stops seeing them as simply humans with horns and starts seeing them as an enemy and a blight to be wiped out without mercy or humanity.

Poetic justice strikes when his own daughter is born with horns; he later realizes that Three infected him when she touched him with her Vectors. He aims to kill her like all the others, but his wife, not far removed from major surgery, fights for her daughter’s life with all the strength she has left. She ends up dying of blood loss in the nursery, but not before convincing Kurama to spare their child’s life.

Nana may not be Kurama’s daughter, but she was a proxy for the sliver of fatherly love he had left, which enabled him to free her. That hardly makes the horrible things done to Nana that resulted in her ending up a bloody naked mess (and having dreams about “naked crucifixion”) any less horrific. But on one side of him is Kazukawa, whose word is law, and on the other is the truth that Dicloniï seem to inevitably end up uncontrollable murder machines.

Needless to say, he should have never set foot in that god-forsaken facility. It’s sad that just before Shirakawa begins to unleash Kurama’s biological daughter, Number 35—the “most dangerous” Diclonius, sporting twenty-six visible Vectors—Nyu and Nana are happy as clams with Kouta, Yuka, and Mayu. (A bit of trivia: Akira was designated Number 28, so 35 is seven higher.)

I can’t imagine we’re headed for anything resembling a happy ending here, so I’ll take the happy, peaceful moments in this and future episodes where I can get them.

Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 17 – An Attractive Advertisement

Before the matches begin, Chihaya notices the people chosen to be the card boys and girls for the matches. She wonders whom she’d choose for her Queen match, and envisions that, should they let her choose guys, neither Arata nor Taichi would be available, for they’d be facing each other in the Master match.

It’s a beautiful dream, and we get a glimpse of it in her head. Part of me wishes Chihaya and Arata’s journey to their respective crowns were sidetracked, by Chihaya’s school trip and Arata’s loss to Harada. If I’m honest, Shinobu is the only one of the four players in these matches in whom I have any significant emotional investment.

That said, the two matches are still hella interesting, and made moreso by the airheaded Eternal Queen commentator, the online feed, and a truly legendary reader whose voice coats the environment in a rainbow light. The first round of karuta itself isn’t anything fancy, but is marked by the sheer closeness of the games.

Inokuma, being a former queen herself, puts up the best fight in a Queen match Shinobu has ever encountered, culminating in a luck-of-the-draw that Shinobu wins. She never doubted the cards would choose her. Is the mega-eyed Mama’s comeback tour about to come to an end? Haruka hedges her bets in the green room between games.

Suo also ends up in a luck-of-the-draw with Harada, by design, only Harada manages to defend the last card read to pick up a win, breaking Suo’s tournament winning streak at twelve. It would be the promising start of a huge upset, if Suo had any actual will to win; he seems to have lost interest. Poor Harada: working his ass off for decades to get here, and his opponent is goofing off.

As for poor Shinobu, it’s clear she’s wounded by her relative’s (assistant’s?) comment about her grandmother basically using her as a mannequin for the kimono made by one of her investments. Just when she’s feeling low, Chihaya comes in with Snowmaru dorayaki to share, but then pisses Shinobu off by saying she put her class trip ahead of Queen qualifying. After that roller coaster of a break, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka evens things up in the second game.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 12 – The Same Layer of Scroll

Happy New Year, and Happy New Fate/Grand Order. There was always something odd about Ishtar occasionally changing Dresspheres while chatting with Ritsuka. Now we learn the official reason: She’s two goddesses in one. Her opposite half Ereshkigal is the true third goddess of the Alliance, along with Gorgon and Quetzal.

When Siduri reports a spate of weakness-related deaths in Uruk, Gilgamesh’s chief among them, it’s clear it’s Ereshkigal’s handiwork. In order to rescue Gilgamesh’s soul and return it to his un-interred body, they must travel to the Underworld of Kur. To do so, Ishtar opens a huge hole in the ground.

I appreciate how this isn’t treated as some kind of inter-dimensional journey, but something far more grounded; after all, in the age of Gilgamesh the heavens, earth, and underworld were all physically linked. I also enjoyed the lighter tone to ease us back into the show. there were some dark times in the previous eleven episodes and there are sure to be more ahead, so it’s nice to see the show let it’s hair down when it’s appropriate.

Ritsuka and Mash grow impressed with Ishtar’s knowledge of Kur, inadvertently forcing her to reveal she’s been there before, when in a moment of hubris she believed she could conquer the realm, only to be handed perhaps the most humiliating defeat of her existence (hence not bringing it up before).

To reach Ereshkigal’s palace to defeat her, they’ll need to pass through Seven Gates that ask logical questions to ascertain the worthiness of the infiltrating soul. Ueda Kana (also Ishtar/Rin’s voice) puts on a clinic as the voice of those gates, asking Ritsuka deadly seriously who is more beautiful, Ishtar or Ereshkigal? Tough spot for Ritsuka.

Once they’re through six Gates (just as they’re currently through six of seven Singularities), Ishtar has been through a lot, and is now so tiny she can ride Fou, and does. That’s when the party encounters Gilgamesh, who reveals that he actually did die of overwork, but as he considers Kur his “own backyard”, wasn’t in a huge hurry to leave—not without using the opportunity to pay Ereshkigal a visit.

That said, if his physical body is dead, he won’t be of any more help than Tiny Ishtar. The other Heroic Spirits stayed behind because they’d be equally powerless. It’s Ereshkigal’s underworld, everyone else is just being dead in it. Only the still-living Ritsuka and Mash will be a match for the mid-level goddess, who gets things rolling by appearing in a form that wouldn’t be out of place on a death metal album cover.

I really dig the JRPG concept of having two normally overpowered members in Ishtar and Gilgamesh amounting to nothing to the strength of your party in Kur. They’re little more than observers, their powers locked away, able to only offer verbal and emotional support. After being sidelined for many of the tougher recent battles, Ritsuka and Mash are going to have to help their own cause.

P.S. New OP and ED. Both look fantastic, but really stand out with their songs. For the OP, a more urgent remix of the UNISON SQUARE GARDEN theme of the first half. The ED features the ridiculously talented milet, whose Vinland Saga ED theme never failed to give me the feels every time I heard it!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 22 – What Now?

Last week felt like a finale, but I’ve suspected for a while now we’re in for second season of Shield Hero down the road. With that in mind, it hardly comes as a surprise that this week’s episode slows things down substantially—a calm after the storm, if you will—with only three more episodes remaining this season.

Naofumi is summoned right back to Melromarc by the queen, who holds a party honoring their service as a front for a conference meant to ensure the four heroes reconcile and start working together. Raphtalia and Filo finally get the class upgrades they’ve so desperately needed (though they don’t get to choose their class, in part due to Filo’s cowlick). We also learn Mirelia is as fanatical about Fitoria as her daughter.

It doesn’t take long for bad actors to slip right back into bad habits, whether it’s a drunk knight spouting anti-demi vitriol and starting brawl in the banquet hall, to Malt–er, Bitch attempting to poison a pie meant for Naofumi’s party. It escapes me why she wasn’t simply banished from the palace.

Things don’t go any better in the closed-door session of the Four Heroes, with Mirelia mediating. Even though his name has been cleared, Motoyasu is still loyal enough to Bitch to declare Melty is lying about the poisoned pie, even though Bitch still has her slave crest and owned up to the crime.

That’s just a small taste of the inflexibility Naofumi faces. As Raph fights the drunken knight, and others start fighting each other, the other heroes only reluctantly spit out a bit of what they’ve learned about leveling up. The three heroes then turn on one another when they have opposing views about what’s most important when upgrading weapons, or the specific contents of their respective HUDs.

The bickering gets so bad Naofumi puts up his hands and leaves the room with no progress made and only a modium of intelligence learned. He can now, at least, tell Fitoria that he made an honest attempt to reconcile with them, and it went nowhere. There may just be too much bad history for them to cooperate except under the most dire circumstances, like the Pope’s attempted coup…or the next Wave.

What little insight Naofumi does gain he puts to immediate use, learning that he has to “believe in” the other heroes’ claims of a weapon-copying functionality in the for it to actually appear on his HUD. The other bit of news the Queen had for them is that the Cal Mira Archipelago has been “activated,” meaning all XP earned there is boosted for a limited time.

It’s a location someone as underleveled as Naofumi can’t pass up, even if it means crossing paths with the other heroes, so after bidding farewell to the Queen and Melty (for the second time in as many episodes), he tries out his new weapon-copying skill at Elhart’s shop (much to Elhart’s dismay) and the party heads out to the harbor where a ship will them to Cal Mira.

By request of Raphtalia, they make a detour to her home village, whose scant survivors have set up a cemetery on a seaside cliff. She pays respects to her departed friend Rifana and folks. Naofumi’s earlier offhand words about leaving her and Filo one day have also stuck with her, and she asks Naofumi straight-up not to leave her, as she doesn’t know what she’d do if he wasn’t in her world.

Naofumi promises, but he may not be able to control when his summoning is reversed, be it when the Waves are defeated or not. For now, he resolves to stay in this world as long as he is able, until Raphtalia and Filo find happiness—and not just the happiness of being beside him. In both cases, they have potentially happy futures without Naofumi: Raph in her village, with all the other survivors tracked down; Filo as the new Queen of her kind.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves: it’s time for some serous leveling up. As is typical, Naofumi is given the short end of the stick when his private cabin is stolen by the other heroes and their parties, who arrived before him. But as chance would have it Naofumi and his party end up in the same room as the tough-looking but friendly male and female adventurers they met at Raph’s village.

Could these two potentially end up a part of Naofumi’s party, or are they merely two of the hundreds of rivals for that sweet Cal Mira bonus XP?

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 21 – Making Things Right

After a strange, ethereal dream, Naofumi wakes up in a bed, having not awakened for three days following the damage caused by Blood Sacrifice, surrounded by Raphtalia, Filo and Melty, who likely rarely left his bedside.

When two “medics” come to change his bandages, he immediately calls them out as Shadows, and sure enough, they’re escorting Queen Mirelia Melromarc herself to his chamber to introduce herself…and to talk about clearing his name and punishing those who poisoned it.

In that regard, this is an episode that’s been a long time coming, and one that rewards everyone who suffered beside Naofumi for so long as his reputation and life (and those of his party) were threatened by the lies and villainy of Malty and her father the King Consort.

After explaining where she was (putting out fires with nations angered that Melromarc summoned all four Heroes) and why no one kept her daughter husband in line (the lord she entrusted died in the first wave), Mirelia lowers her head in apology to Naofumi, promises to clear his name, reward him for his service, and give him justice.

That night, Naofumi has a premonition of the form of that justice: Malty’s and the King’s heads being placed in stocks, defiant and enraged to the last despite their guilt. But when the guillotines fall and Naofumi wakes up, he’s far more disturbed than relieved by the dream.

The next day, Queen Mirelia holds a trial for Malty and the King, placing a Slave Crest upon the former so she cannot lie without being shocked. Since lying comes as easily as breathing for Malty, she’s shocked quite a number of times trying to deny the crimes leveled against her. The only instance of her not being shocked is when she denies colluding with the church to kill the Heroes.

But everything else, right down to her false accusation of sexual assault that started Naofumi’s long path of misery, is exposed as lies. Even when she forms a slave pact with Motoyasu, she can’t help but lie and deny. There’s nowhere left to hide; not from Motoyasu, and not from the public, who are watching on magical screens and gradually turn against her and the King.

Mirelia finds them both guilty of high treason, strips them of their titles, and sentences them to death, to be carried out immediately in the courtyard. Naofumi’s dream starts to repeat itself, but where in the dream Malty is neither repentant nor scared, here she’s both, and increasingly desperate not to die.

That sour feeling returns to Naofumi’s gut; cancelling out whatever weights may have been lifted from his shoulders by the favorable verdict or clearing of his name. When Malty finally calls out to “Naofumi-sama,” the man she tried to kill many times, to spare her life—and her Slave Crest doesn’t react—Naofumi finally calls for the queen to hold up.

He doesn’t want to see Malty or the King executed, but puts on his brash/infamous Shield Hero persona in explaining why: a quick death is too good for them! Instead he suggests they be allowed to live on, but with new names: King Trash and Princess Bitch (with the adventurer’s name of “slut”).

Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly elated upon hearing such sophomoric, misogynistic names being thrown about so casually. But I was happy he realized their deaths wouldn’t make him happy, and, well, both of them do deserve harsh punishment, so Trash and Bitch it is. Now the two unquestionably owe the Shield Hero their lives, and had better not forget it.

With that, the Queen prepares the ceremony to bestow upon Naofumi all the awards he’s due, but he’s ready to leave Melromarc for other parts of the world that suffer the devastation of the Waves of Catastrophe. He leaves the other three Heroes on a good note, and the Queen accepts his decision. While leaving, Melty doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Naofumi, at least until her mother says if he hadn’t told her to stay the executions, she would have offered her own life to him for her husband and daughter.

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo depart the city at the head of a friendly, thankful, even adoring crowd (how fast public opinion turns), Melty manages to catch up, thank Naofumi, and say goodbye properly. He bids her farewell with a smile that moves her to tears. After twenty episodes of beating Naofumi down, his spirits have never looked higher, and he and his party look poised to do great things.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 20 – Strong Bonds

Well, look at that…Queen Mirelia understands that you need to have a camp and supplies if you’re mobilizing a large force. She also understands the need to make a regal impression in front of that force, as she suits up in her armor against the wishes of her Shadows. Finally, it seems she’s ready to take a more active role, promising to bring the Pope and his flock to justice for their treason.

Meanwhile, in the magic Cathedral, the Pope manages to block, parry, or nullify pretty much every attack thrown his way, and unlike his opponents, he doesn’t particularly care if his acolytes push themselves so far they end up dying; he considers that martyrdom (though I bet if you asked him to lay his life down he’d have a different view).

When the other heroes urge Naofumi to break out his “overpowered” Rage Shield, the cursed dragon within takes hold of him. Like Emperor Palpatine, the dragon wants Naofumi to let the hate flow through him—not just the dragon’s hate, but his own, amassed during all the various injustices that have befallen him since arriving in this world.

Thankfully, Raph, Filo, and Melty pull him out of his rage spiral by reminding him that they love and support him, and aren’t about to lose him to the darkness.

Naofumi promises not to let the shield get the better of him, and coordinates with his allies and the other heroes to press the attack against the Pope.

But no matter what feints and combos they throw at him, he calmly deflects it all, and serves up more innane religious babbling as if anyone wanted to hear any more. All the while, his followers outside fall and expire one by one. He can’t keep this up forever.

Ultimately, the Pope decides to concentrate his remaining Mana into a large-scale illusion spell that creates a kaleidoscope of Pope clones along the inner surface of the Cathedral, enabling him to attack his foes from above and every angle.

It’s almost game over for our heroes, but Queen Mirelia casts an Icicle Prison spell that freezes him in place for them to finish off. Naofumi delivers the coup-de-grace by casting Blood Sacrifice, which, you guessed it, requires him to expend the majority of his own blood.

At first it looks ineffective, but the blood creates a mechanical serpent that bursts out of the ground, snatches up the Pope, snaps his staff, and basically dissolves him into a pool of blood. With that, the Cathedral falls, the Heroes are free, the lame boss I never cared about is gone (hopefully for good), and Queen Mirelia introduces herself to the nearly-bloodless Naofumi, apologizing for not showing up sooner and promising not to let him die.

Obviously, he’s not dying—we have at least five episodes left—but hopefully this victory marks the beginning of détente and future cooperation between Naofumi and his fellow Heroes. I’m just glad this Pope-Coup mini-arc is behind us, and that it was resolved in reasonably satisfying fashion.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 19 – United Front

The Pope packs a whallop with his attacks, but turns out the first couple were just “trial runs”, to unleash the full power of the weapon he transforms it into a spear and draws upon the mana his holy army of followers, who number in the thousands despite not having any kind of supply train. Did these people just walk out here from wherever they came from without provisions of any kind? Seems like a logistical nightmare.

That weapon turns out to be a replica of the Cardinal Heroes’ own weapons, able to transform as needed. Melty is shocked to learn it still exists, believing it had been lost long ago, while Motoyasu condemns its use as “cheating.” As for Naofumi, he asks why, if they could make such powerful weapons, did they bother summoning heroes at all?

However, Motoyasu’s weapons, nor combo attacks by him and his party, have any effect thanks to Popey’s magical barrier, which enables said Pope to laugh and bray on about delivering judgment and such.  What he didn’t count on, however, were the Sword and Bow Heroes not being dead after all.

Turns out Itsuki and Ren never trusted the Three Heroes Church, and were investigating it when they learned that the church had possession of the weapon. They were led to a false shrine where the church tried to assassinate them, but failed. Now, with all the four Cardinal Heroes, assembled, it’s time to turn the tables as one unit…right?

Wrong. Naofumi isn’t fighting with other three. Not after the shit they gave him and the trouble they caused which he and his party had to clean up. And who can blame him? They’ve demonstrated they’re no better than the Pope, taking and doing whatever they want without regard to the lives they affect.

This results in roughly six minutes of the heroes bickering among themselves and pointing fingers before Naofumi finally gives in and joins the others, but only until they deal with the Pope and the Queen’s Shadow Punitive Force arrives (which, by the way, where the hell have they BEEN?), and because he promised Fitoria he’d at least try to make up with the other heroes.

However, by the time they’re ready to fight as one, The Pope has already prepared “Cathedral”, a high-level spell that encases the entire crater in a magical barrier that he maniacally declares will be their “final destination.” Somehow I doubt that. I have to say, I’ve had quite enough of our ambitious pontiff and his seemingly infinite supply of mana.

But at least his actions led to the other three heroes finally learning not only how wrong they’ve been about Naofumi, but how harmful their own actions have been. Here’s hoping the lessons stick, even if the alliance is only temporary.