Little Witch Academia – 15

The Gist: Professor Croix’s villainy is finally revealed, as is Akko’s destiny. This is in large part because Akko is lured to Croix’s lab and experimented on in her sleep, in the name of learning more about Chariot (and Shiny Rod). All of this leads to a magic battle with Ursula, which results in an anticlimactic stand off, despite some impressive effects leading up to it.

Having no time to waste, Ursula lays out the history of the great tree, of which only the leylines remain, and the importance of the 7 words, and that Akko’s spirit has been reviving them. She literally walks Akko through the memories of waking these words, which fills Akko with purpose and joy.

However, for whatever reason, she does not reveal that she is Chariot, nor does she warn Akko of Croix’s motives…

The good bits stuck close to Ursula this week. While the resulting face off with Croix was anti-climactic and unnecessary, Ursula’s battle up the steps of the new moon tower was nicely animated and gave us a great look at the powers of a competent witch. It was also nicely foreshadowed, as Akko walked past the dangerous looking archer statues and creepy decorations.

Ursula’s motherly explanation to Akko about the words was full of great feels too. While I don’t think a secret mother-daughter plot will be revealed, the filial love and pride was all there, and it was delivered with respectable subtlety.

As interesting side notes, there’s division amongst the students over Croix. While some students carry their tablets openly (reading ongoing stories about the shooting star no less) others like Amanda don’t see the point. If magic and science are the same thing, what is the value of magic in the first place?

Meanwhile, Diana Is starting to figure out Ursula is more than meets the eye. I suspect she will reveal the identity to Akko, which will pose a short term betrayal twist for Akko/Croix vs Ursula, before Akko x Diana join forces to save the day… but I suspect that’s many episodes off yet. (Diana is still looking for Ursula in the old Luna Nova year books)

The Verdict: Unfortunately, Little Witch Academia remains a not especially well constructed narrative. This is most obvious in the show’s use of repetition of scenes, which feel like a mix of filler and a lack of confidence in the audience to get (or even remember) what was important in previous episodes. Given the sluggish pacing and lack of focus, that lack of faith may even be deserved, but it feels no less like a cop out.

Take Croix as an example of LWA’s clunky structure. Not only is Croix not foreshadowed or built up in the first 13 episodes, but Croix herself claims to have been secretly observing Akko all this time. This makes her appearance as an antagonist feel rushed and tacked on and that lack of build up robbed the first season of purpose.

Compare this to the bizarre choice to keep Shooting Star as a recurring element that will, no doubt, play a roll in Akko’s eventual success — or compare it to Diana being in the crowd behind Akko at Chariot’s show during their childhoods’ — and you just have to wonder why Croix didn’t receive the same treatment? For goodness sakes, Andrew has had more build up than Croix, and he remains without any relevant narrative purpose…

In the end, the heart and rendering style carry LWA just above a 7, but not by much. I may go so far as say it’s the most disappointing show I’ve reviewed in a while, and the most disappointing I would still recommend you view.

Little Witch Academia – 14

The Gist: Luna Nova’s faeries form a workers union and go on strike. This is due to the very meager amount of life-giving magic energy shared with them by the school but the school cannot afford to give them more. Magic is fading from the world, after all.

An angry Akko attempts to break up the union but manages to be swayed by their argument. So much so that the faeries make her the union’s general secretary, which leads to a great scene where Akko shuts down Diana with chants of ‘Aristocrat.’ Also, the faeries seal off the philosopher’s stone, which shuts off everyone’s ability to cast magic.

Enter Professor Croix on a flying Roomba, who will teach modern magic and has begun integrating magic and technology, and is most definitely not secretly behind the strike, with her robots nor her need to get the school to buy into her research program. Her program, Sorcery Solution System, can fix the dwindling magic issues for everyone, and does, for now…

The Good: This week was full of clever details and subtle humor. From Croix’s flying roombas being the ‘evolution’ of brooms, to the headmistress’ “Oh my, what a textbook downward trend” response to a magic PowerPoint presentation, to the Shooting Star being featured on the back of Akko’s newspaper again, the world and the people in it all get a great deal of building up. (and it’s funny and charming to boot)

It’s also interesting to see parallels between Akko x Diana and Ursula x Croix, and to play with Akko being quite taken with Croix, and still unaware that Ursula is actually Chariot, the one witch Akko would align with most strongly in the world. (But may no longer, since Ursula has cocked up revealing the destiny plot for so long)

The Meh: The new opening credits sequence is clunky. It presents the Akko x Diana conflict and future Croix x Ursula conflict way too obviously, with little visual flair and forgettable music.

It’s also jarring to introduce a central villain in the second season of a show and, while that villain mirrors other themes established in the first season (magic’s inability to adapt to a technological era), it’s just so out of left field. (“Oh here’s the new teacher” is literally quipped by the headmistress.) More over, the ‘tragedy’ of Ursula not being able to tell Akko about her destiny comes off as hamfisted McShakespeare.

The Verdict: Little Witch Academia is the Anakin Skywalker of Anime. It’s the theoretical perfect storm of natural talent, it plugs into something we want to see more of (anything from Trigger) but the production around it is constructed with such a solid lack of common sense and competent story telling that you could often be excused for thinking you could write something better.

Will it go Darth Vader and kill all its younglings, or will it stay focused and never give me a reason to use a clunky Star Wars metaphor again? Only time will tell!

Little Witch Academia – 13

The Gist: The Samhain Festival is quickly approaching and Team Akko can not escape their fate as sacrifices to the sorrowful ghost Vajarois…and Sucy and Lotte can not escape the feeling that Akko’s plan to make that sacrifice more fun, is just a lot of wasted effort.

However, things begin to turn around when Diana’s lackeys Hannah and Barbara pull Akko aside and chew her out for the ‘trick’ she played on her. While making fun of Akko’s place in life, they go out of their way to throw shade at Lotte’s lack of presence and Sucy’s creepiness…while those two are within earshot in the hall. And why not? Team Akko isn’t anything but the laughable leftover losers in their eyes, and in the eyes of much the rest of the school.

The Samhain Festival gets underway and it becomes quickly apparent that the guest witches’ opinion of Luna Nova isn’t much better than Andrew’s muggle father’s. The traditional events largely bore them, or are done incorrectly like the bubbling pot that spits slime at them or the dancing flower that eats one of the girls casting the spell.

Curiously, the guest witches heap much of their criticism at the feet of Luna Nova’s Grand Mistress, Miranda Holbrooke. This struck me as a bit strange, only because Holbrooke has come off as stodgy as Professors’ Badcock and Finneran (At least, she had until Akko had raised her father from the dead a few episodes ago). Regardless, the visiting witches don’t give any examples of why Holbrooke’s management has been deficient, though she certainly lets Team Akko run with their tradition breaking idea—going so far as to restrain the other professors from interfering.

Speaking of Team Akko, with an energized Sucy and Lotte now by her side, Akko puts on a slapsticky ‘Sacrifice Show’ for Vajarois and the guest witches. While many of the laughs are at Akko, whose magic transformations teeter on the edge of failure, the crowd is laughing and, eventually, the trio manages to lift Vajarois’ curse in a fantastic display of light and pleasure.

The emotion of it all even reaches Diana, who can’t wrap her head around what she’s seeing, and who she’s seeing do it. More interestingly, she’s shocked to learn that Akko’s group isn’t even allowed to qualify for “Moonlit Witch,” because they broke the rules, in spite of creating a good and unexpected result appreciated by all in attendance, including the dissipating ghost herself…

Thankfully, winning “Moonlit Witch” was never really the point for Akko. As much as she said otherwise, all she wanted was to do some magic that other people thought was fun, and to do it with her friends.

Confronting traditions seems to be the major theme this week. That, and that witches are overly focused on magic without practical application, and don’t appreciate that practical application is needed in their world, and needed to justify them to the non-magical world.

Like AkkoAmanda, Jasminka and Constanze put on a great show of skill cleaning up after the failures of the traditional performances and, like Akko, that trio is payed no mind at all because of their place in life (magical janitors).

Even Diana’s masterful performance rings a bit hollow, as summoning a magic unicorn doesn’t serve a practical application in comparison. Diana hasn’t made that exact connection yet, but it will be interesting to see if she carries more respect for Akko and the others into future episodes. Because she was impressed, even just for the magic’s sake, this time around.

The Verdict: LWA has re-tightened it’s grip on my heart these past few weeks. Putting aside the lackluster episodes that weakened that grip mid-season, LWA knows how to charm with western style slapstick (Sucy’s casual pointing as Team Akko plummets to the ground is pure Bugs Bunny) and simple power of friendship themes.

The battle against tradition is an interesting focus as well. Consider how strange it is that Luna Nova has had the ability to lift Vajarois‘ curse for ages—right there on the shelf—but none of the witches have bothered to investigate, let alone try it out. Its little wonder that a baffoon like Akko is needed to shake up their world.

How this all plays into Chariot’s secret identity and the greater magic words plot, who knows? (I didn’t see Akko unlock another word this time out) Regardless, it moved the characters along, the world along, and was a hoot to watch throughout!

Little Witch Academia – 12

I’m pleased to report that this week’s LWA did not squander the goodwill earned in last week’s exemplary outing, as there is now a significant event at Luna Nova, the Samhain Festival, which will take us to the halfway point.

Akko knows that Chariot was named “Moonlit Witch” at her Samhain Festival, so naturally wants to pull off the same honor. She doesn’t accept the “sacrifice” duty she drew from lots, and her friends’ discouraging (if realistic) words only make her more mad, so she storms out of her dorm.

She happens upon an exchange between Committee Chairman Diana and some students who have collected some mirrors for their duty. The one Diana recommends is a “prankster” variety that, when Akko looks in it, gives her Diana’s form and voice.

Some decent comedy ensues, with every passerby asking Diana for help, including her two groupies, who Akko decides to pull a prank on by telling them they’re cursed, drawing on their faces, and leaving them in the courtyard all day and night. I’d say that’s harsh, but these girls have been asking for her wrath, and they get it here.

But thankfully, while masquerading as Diana, Akko learns a little bit more about her rival, specifically, that Diana doesn’t take her status and pedigree for granted. She works very very hard, and juggles many many responsibilities. She and Akko are also after the same thing: making the world a better place for magic again.

Akko-Diana is found out by the real Diana while trying in vain to cast a life-breathing spell on a giant statue of Jessica. Diana not only takes care of the statue, but returns Akko to her normal form. She also mentions that Akko skipped out on her meeting with her, Lotte and Sucy for her sacrifice duty.

Diana chastises Akko (and rightly so) for making big bold claims without anything to back it up, wanting to excel as a witch without putting in any of the necessary hard work, and pitching hissy-fits whenever she doesn’t immediately get her way. Akko’s only comeback is yet another big bold, baseless claim: that she and not Diana will be Moonlit Witch at Samhain.

But later, while reflecting on her own, Akko regrets those words and laments the reality: her chances of fulfilling her claim are pretty much zero, in the face of Diana’s talent, bloodline, and work ethic.

Chari-err…Ursula, who promised her mentor she’d aid Akko in the quest to revive the seven words, tells Akko what she thinks Chariot would do: only what she can do, and not compare herself to others.

When Ursula leaves her, the Shiny Rod lights up and directs Akko back to the Fountain of Polaris. This time, Akko asks it what only she can do, and she’s shown someone’s memory of talking to a younger Chariot as she’s practicing various amazing transformation magics.

But what strikes Akko about this memory, is how joyful Chariot seems as she’s performing her magic, and that it doesn’t at all look like she’s training to win the Moonlit Witch contest, but merely honing the magic that interests her; doing only what she can do. A light bulb goes off in Akko’s head: now she knows what only she can do…though she isn’t so kind as to tell us.

We’ll just have to find out what that is, and whether it helps her chances at Moonlit Witch, next week, when the Samhain Festival begins in earnest. We’ll also see if Akko manages to escape sacrifice duty.

Little Witch Academia – 11

Finally, finally LWA stops spinning its wheels with skeleton chases and fancy balls and throws us some juicy story meat, revealing the role Akko will play (or rather, is playing) in reversing the accelerating decline in magic throughout the world.

The reason Charior is so intent on helping Akko isn’t out of regard for her biggest fan: it’s because she believes Akko could be the witch to stem the tide of magical oblivion. Of course, Akko still doesn’t know Ursula is Chariot, and it stays that way, but Ursula still relays a very Chariotesque saying: “That which is dreamed cannot be grasped, but work towards it, day after day, and you will find it in your hands.” 

She’s telling Akko not to be so focused on the future and her ultimate dream—to become an amazing witch like Chariot—and instead focus on the extremely hard day-to-day work that’s needed just to become a competent witch. And Akko has been working harder, with Ursula giving her after-school lessons every day for a month.

By mentioning the blue moon, Ursula probably did not intend to send Akko digging through her trading cards, finding one that references a “blue moon apparition” in the bowels of Luna Nova—but that’s where Akko goes, when the moon is high, notably without Lotte and Sucy tagging along.

Akko’s journey deeper into the abyss is a return to the sense of awe and wonder I got from earlier LWA episodes. Watching Akko continue to move forward even in the midst of terrifying stone witches (and even a false Chariot trying to discourage her), earned her back some serious likability points in my book.

As she explores deep below the school, Diana searches the towering shelves of Luna Nova’s deep archive on her broom. The same blue moon that guides Akko also shows Diana the book related to the quest Akko doesn’t even know she’s already on: the unlocking of something called the Arcturus using seven words to unseal the “Grand Triskelion” that will “change the world.”

I can forgive Diana’s largely expository role because the archive is so cool-looking. As for the seven words, Akko unwittingly revived the first when she opened the portal to Luna Nova back in the first episode. This week she unwittingly reives the second.

She does so by rejecting the future the “blue moon apparition” offers to her, for the low, low price of, oh, her entire past, including memories of everyone she’s known, even Chariot, as well as all the mistakes she’s learned from.

She’d rather achieve that future on her own rather than taking a shortcut, and by saying the magic words that translate into Ursula’s words (about “that which is dreamed” being attained through day-to-day toil), she not only turns the Shiny Rod into an axe but uses it to free the apparition from the wood to reveal a beautiful otherworldly woman.

That woman is Woodward, the professor who inspired Chariot when she was a student at Luna Nova. Woodward was testing Akko, and for once, she passed: the second of seven words has been revived.

What happens when the remaining five words are revived? The Shiny Rod, AKA Claiomh Solais, will break the seal of Arcturus and release the Grand Triskelion, which will “change the world,” presumably for the better as far as witches and magic goes.

In a way, this episode felt like a seal had been broken, not only unveiling the overarching plot and indicating a clear path for Akko, but restoring the show’s wondrous atmosphere, was well as my faith in it going forward. For now, at least, my concerns have been nicely allayed.

KonoSuba 2 – 06

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KonoSuba 2 is again in top-form this week, starting with a wonderful domestic scene of Darkness and Megumin trying to force Aqua to go outside with them, but she doesn’t wanna. She tries to deflect by calling them kids (even though she’s acting more like one herself) then wonders why they won’t ask Kazuma instead. Kazuma is relaxing under his kotatsu…wait, kotatsu? In this wonderful, alternate world? What gives?

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Vanir, as it happens, isn’t dead. He merely lost an extra life, and now he’s Vanir II. I got a big laugh out of that, and Vanir’s constant posing and amusingly over-the-top monologues. It wouldn’t be the first or the last of this episode, though the fact he and Kazuma are in business making items from his “homeland” (like said kotatsu) is an interesting angle, it’s not lingered on long.

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Once he finally deigns to emerge from his cave, Kazuma heads to the weaponsmith to collect the weapon he comissioned: a katana. He also tries on some impressive full plate armor, but can’t move in it, and any attempts to look cool result in knocking other swords down, or whacking the side of the door.

He then has to give his sword a name, and of course all the usual famous sword names enter Kazuma’s head – Masamune, Muramasa, Kotetsu, etc. He lets his guard down, and Megumin unilateraly brands the sword Chunchunmaru, in keeping with her usual moe naming style.

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His sword thus named, the quartet strikes out on a quest—I believe the first non-dungeon quest they’ve undertaken at full strength. There’s a certain triumphant quality to seeing the four out their, under the big blue sky, running their checklists and making sure they’re prepared to take on the vast group of Lizard Runners they’re tasked with taking out.

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Naturally, any enemy in KonoSuba that is described as being “trampling” in nature will, ultimately, end up trampling upon one or more of Kazuma’s party, or indeed himself. I got a kick out of Aqua’s too-late advice and too-soon rash magic that brings the herd straight to their location. The lizards themselves were also hilariously twitchy and neat.

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Kazuma manages to snipe the “Princess Runner” all the others follow, but when she lands she knocks him off the tree and he hits the ground hard. The injury is bad enough to land him in the hereafter with Eris, who he confirms is the true heroine of his story, if only he could spend more time with her.

He tries to do just that, but before long the voice of Aqua permeates the realm, getting increasingly worried and upset Kazuma won’t wake up. Darkness and Megumin also chime in, with the latter doing something to his body that leaves him no choice but to return to them. Maybe he’ll see Eris when she “sneaks out” one day? Probably not.

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Everyone is clearly very glad Kazuma is back, underscoring the familial bond the four share, despite (or because of) all their bickering and sniping.

And that ‘something’ turns out to be labelling his dick “The Holy Sword Excalibur”, which he doesn’t realize until he takes a bath back home. In his shock he runs out to find Megumin, and loses his towel, leading to the priceless reaction shot of Aqua you see above.

This week delivered laughs both clever and dumb from start to finish. I daresay KonoSuba has fully re-attained my interest, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come next week.

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KonoSuba – 08

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Winter isn’t Coming, it’s already here, and Kauzma and Aqua are finding it impossible to continue living in a freezing cold stables. One wonders where Megumin and Darkness are living. Anyway, Kazuma decides the best way to make enough money to pay for warmer digs is to gain a new skill.

The person he asks for that new skill is a friendly lich named Wiz. Her introduction is initially a bit confusing, becaue Kazuma and Aqua seem to know her well, yet couldn’t recall who the heck she was. Turns out she’d never been introduced until now. Furthermore, they learn for the first time that she’s actually one of the eight generals of the Devil King’s army.

As such, she was a contemporary of the late Verdia, though quite amusingly she’s not choked up about his demise, considering he often tossed his head by her feet so he could look up her skirt. The Devil King needs a better HR person, ’cause that shit can get you sued. Also, due to her undead nature, Aqua constantly wants to eliminate her.

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Kazuma doesn’t let her, and gains a skill from Wiz that drains an opponent of magic and health. Then a happy coincidence occurs, as someone comes in Wiz’s shop needing a big haunted mansion exorcised. Kazuma and Aqua take the job, and Megumin and Darkness join them at the impressive and comfy-looking new place.

Of course, I assumed Kazuma and Aqua would end up right back in those freezing stables, huddling for warmth without regard for propriety. Because since when is a seemingly awesome mansion not have some huge problem with it that renders it utterly unlivable?

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Sure enough, even though Aqua seemingly does some exorcism work on the place, Kazuma is visited in the night by not one or two but hundreds of that good old cliche, creepy laughing dolls. He eventually finds Megumin in Aqua’s room, wanting to go to the bathroom with her.

Kazuma also has to go really bad, so the two have to deal with constantly being surrounded by creepy dolls and having to hold it in to the point of agony. Megumin even leaves her pants and pantsu behind in the ongoing chase.

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The cliched creepy dolls (and ludicrous number of owls!), along with the much more mundane need to pee really bad, made for a reasonably chuckleworthy combination of problems.

Though it’s all resolved pretty easily in the end, Kazuma forces Aqua to give back their “special reward” for eliminating all the new spirits that had taken up residence in the mansion, after he realizes it was her own magical barrier that kept the spirits from going where they wanted – the graveyard where they met Wiz.

All’s well that ends well, though, as the party finally has a respectable place to live, and Kazuma is a little closer to achieving the ideal “down-to-earth lifestyle” he desired. Adventuring will surely be more rewarding now that he’s not risking hypothermia every night!

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KonoSuba – 07

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This week starts off cryptically, with Kazuma back in his green tracksuit in the place where he first met Aqua after dying in Japan. The basic takeaway is that Kazuma died again, meaning at some point we’ll find out how.

Meanwhile, it’s now winter, which means sleeping in the stables is a one-way ticket to frozen eyelashes, and because of the reward for defeating Verdia being spread out amongst the adventurers, there’s a glut of quests, just none of them the right fit for Kazuma’s party.

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He eventually settles on adorable snow-sprite hunting, but after killing nine, they incur the wrath of the sprites’ guardian, the “Winter Shogun” (a creation of another dead guy formerly of Japan, to Kazuma’s chagrin). When the shogun slices Darkness’ sword like it was butter, Aqua insists everyone disarm and prostrate themselves so he’ll forgive them. But Kazuma doesn’t quite drop his sword soon enough, and is killed.

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Back in that limbo-like void, he meets a new goddess, Eris (whom I believe is voiced by Kitamura Eri) who proves a lot nicer and less arrogant and mocking thatn Aqua was. When Kazuma lists all of the misfortunes he’s endured since ending up in the fantasy world, she maintains a caring attitude, to his surprise and mine; I thought she’d show her true colors after some extended time with her, but she seems to be a legitimatly nice goddess.

She informs Kazuma that since he died in the fantasy world, she can now send him back to Japan, this time as a member of an affluent family. She can’t change himin any particular way, but it still sounds like a sweet deal for him, he’s going home!

Only, when he actually stops and thinks about Aqua and Megumin and Darkness, he starts shedding tears, and realizes he was a lot fonder of that life than he thought when he was living it. Only now, when he’s being offered a chance to abandon that life, does he realize he didn’t actually hate it.

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Then, just as Eris is about to send Kazuma back to Japan, Aqua’s voice blasts through the limbo from above, informing Kazuma she’s restored his body and he can come back to their world now. Eris considers this a breach of protocol and the “laws of heaven” which dictate Kazuma is to be sent back to Japan, but the “elite” Aqua pulls rank on the “backwater newbie” Eris, even revealing her dirty little secret (breast pads) and compelling Eris to make Kazuma an exception.

However, Eris remains kind to Kazuma till the end, when Kazuma wakes up on his back in the wintry landscape with his worried-sick party-mates looming over him. For a moment, he seems happy.

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Then they all glom on him and he gets embarrassed, and Aqua demands an apology and gratitude and nearly comes to blows with Kazuma, and they have to retreat without any reward. Turns out Aqua kept one sprite, intending to use it as a refrigerant for when it gets warmer, and resisting Kazuma’s intentions to kill it for the cash (named after Aqua’s counterpart, by the way).

Aqua, Megumin and Darkness then spend an inordinate amount of money on a huge feast, even though the party scarcely has enough cash on hand to last the winter. Basically, within ten minutes of being back in this “wonderful world” after lamenting never being able to go on adventures with these girls ever again, Kazuma is back to hating everything and everyone.

The only thing he learned from his existential ordeal is that there’s a nicer, kinder, more competent goddess out there somewhere, but he’s stuck with his pack of weirdos. And he’s totally fine with her pads.

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KonoSuba – 06

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This week lampoons the “Epic Boss Rematch” common to fantasy anime, inverting it in numerous, hilarious ways. First, the Dullahan Verdia has to come to town to confront Team Kazuma and complain about how they haven’t come to his castle yet.

Unbeknownst to Kazuma, Megumin has continued her bombardment of that castle, while Aqua assisted by carrying her home each day. You didn’t think she stopped blowing the joint up just because she didn’t appear on camera doing so, did ya?

Verdia then attempts to look down on the party (having formerly been a noble knight) for not avenging their fallen comrade, only to see Darkness is alive and well and appreciates his praise. It’s only when a fed-up Verdia threatens to slaughter the town that Aqua switches from mocking mode to attack mode.

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Her impressive Holy-based magic proves painful against Verdia, but doesn’t have the effect she intended (utter decimation). Now that she’s shown she’s not the magic novice he assumed, the gloves come off as he summons an undead army to, well, chase Aqua, then Aqua and Kazuma around.

Kazuma gets the idea to lead the army and Verdia into a trap with Aqua so that Megumin can blast them – and she does blast them, creating a giant crater in the earth – but while Megumin is out for the count, her efforts only made Verdia even madder.

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When other adventurers attack him, he uses more of his own magic to apparently kill them, and for a few moments, the show almost seems to enter serious territory, as Darkness is visibly horrified by this turn of events. It’s her turn to take on Verdia, to avenge those dead men, so she leaps into action.

Only problem is, as awesome as she appears as she’s fighting him, her “finishing blow” completely misses, turning her pink with embarrassment. Even so, she wields an effective weapon against Verdia: her ability to weird him out with her masochistic ranting. This is a chaotic party that can keep any foe off balance enough for one of them to discover a weakness, which Kazuma does…and it’s water.

The whole town starts firing water spells at Verdia, turning the battle into a kind of aquatic dodgeball. Amusingly, Aqua wasn’t paying attention this whole time, and when Kazuma insults her, she makes the prevailing issue herself rather than the battle at hand.

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When she finally unleashes her high-level water spell on Verdia, she exhibits the same profound lack of subtlety that is Megumin’s specialty, only with water instead of fire. A vast column of the wet stuff comes crashing down on Verdia, dousing him but also wrecking the city walls. Oops.

Greatly weakened by the torrent, Kazuma is able to steal Verdia’s head, and Aqua finishes him off with Holy magic. Victory is theirs! But Darkness knows that victory came at a cost: she reminisces on her interactions with the three fighters who Verdia killed (another funny send-up of an activity common to the genre), only to turn around to find them alive and well, thanks to Aqua’s resurrection magic, leaving her with egg on her face.

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After a job – well, not well done, but done, the party celebrates at the guild hall (with Aqua getting toasted pretty quickly). Kazuma, to his surprise, his praised by everyone in the hall for his party’s deeds, and they’re awarded a cool 300 million Eris for taking out a General of the Devil King.

With this new fortune, Kazuma announces he’s going to retire and live a simple, quiet life henceforth, abandoning his plans to defeat the Devil King himself. This disappoints his three party-mates, but he doesn’t care. But when the guild official comes back with the bill for all the damage Aqua’s flood did to the city, they end up 40 million Eris in the hole, and Kazuma ends up having to cancel his retirement before he was even finished announcing it.

It’s the very end, when Kazuma laments the possibility of spending the rest of his life fighting battles with this inept party that will often cost more than they’ll make them in profit, that rings a bit false. This life looks like a shitload of fun, with minimal risk. I know Kazuma and I are different personalities, but I don’t see why he’s in such a hurry to leave this world. Methinks he doth protest too much!

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KonoSuba – 05

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I’m compelled to borrow my illustrious colleague Oigakkosan’s “My Goodness!”, as there’s so much good stuff to unpack in this latest  KonoSuba (the first episode I’m actually watching on time!).

First, as Kazuma is lamenting how differently the reality of his dream of cutting it up in an awesome fantasy world has turned out to be, Aqua seems to pick up on that frustration by requesting the party strike out on a new quest. The thing is, she also proves his point, because the main reason she wants a quest is money: she’s tired of working part time in the market and being in debt, not of the fact she’s not on a heroic odyssey.

Fortune would seem to smile on Aqua as she discovers a quest that is right up her water goddess’ alley: lake purification, with a chance of scattered alligators. For that latter bit, she intends to depend on Kazuma and the others, which is when Kazuma borrows from his past world by suggesting Aqua perform the purification from within a sturdy cage (a la shark researchers).

Two problems: transporting her in said cage really makes it look, as she puts it, like some rare beast taken away to be sold. And once she’s been dunked in the lake, where nothing of note happens for hours she likens the sensation to being a tea bag steeping. These are wonderful metaphors borne of a very bizarre and specific situation.

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Of course, those alligators do eventually arrive, but Kazuma, Megumin, and Darkness do nothing in response, part bored into a state of apathy, part confident the cage will hold, requiring no action from them. The cage does hold, the lake is purified, the alligators withdraw, and Aqua completes the quest all but single-handedly…

…but there’s a cost: her nerve. She’s profoundly traumatized by two-plus-hours of being harassed by the beasts as she frantically accelerated her purification. So traumatized, in fact, that she won’t leave the cage even when it’s time to do so, deeming the world “too scary” to return to just yet.

I tellya, if I’d experienced what she had for as long as she had, I’d probably be in a similar state!

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Thankfully, that state doesn’t magically disappear in the second half of the episode, 4-koma anime-style. The episode not only remembers it, but adds a fantastic new variable to the equation: the gallant Mitsurugi Kyouya, who is a veritable wellspring of fantasy tropes KonoSuba puts thoroughly through the wringer, to my surprise and delight.

Kyouya, like Kazuma, died (likely in a less hilarious fashion, though we don’t learn that), and was sent to this world by Aqua with her blessing and the mission to defeat the Devil King. Rather than bring Aqua along with him, Kyouya requested Gram, the Cursed Blade that has made him a very rich and powerful adventurer, complete with fancy armor, jewelry, and a couple of loyal groupies constantly bickering over him.

You don’t get any more cliche’d than Kyouya’s kind, but the show squeezes a lot more out of Kyouya than I expected, turning lemons into delicious lemonade. That’s because Kyouya happens to spot his goddess and muse Aqua-sama being paraded in the streets in a horse-drawn cage, which is decidedly not where he thought he’d see her, ever.

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What follows then, is a glorious clash of Kyouya and Kazuma, or rather Kazuma’s party. While Aqua snaps out of her funk when Kyouya reminds her that she is, in fact, a goddess, she wants nothing else to do with the cat. None of Kazuma’s girls do! It’s as if they’re inoculated against the fantasy hero archetype. More than that; they’re allergic to him!

When faced with his arrogance and presumptuousness for just a couple minutes, Aqua just thinks something’s off about the guy; Megumin thinks he’s rude and wants to explode him, and he evokes a rare and undesirable urge in Darkness that flies in the face of her usual instincts: she wants to hit him. She must realize that if she were in Kyouya’s party she’d never have her masochistic desires properly addressed.

Pissing them all off even more is that Kyouya won’t drop the matter and let Kazuma pass. Instead, he challenges Kazuma to a duel, one Kazuma accepts, starts, and ends in the space of a few seconds, with a few lightning-quick yet fluid moments, Kyouya is on his back.

Kazuma’s inner monologue predicted a duel would eventually take place, but I’m so used to that being a bad thing, that fact that Kazuma wasn’t the underdog here didn’t occur to me until he Stole Gram right out of Kyouya’s hands and bonked him on the head with it (great sound effect on that).

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Then, when his two groupies show up to avenge him, Kazuma continues to fly in the fact of convention by threatening to steal their panties if they press him further, really turning the sleeze up to 11 until the girls are running away crying. It’s harsh, but Kazuma didn’t approach them or their honey; they approached him. Mess with the perverted bull, you get the perverted horns.

One would think Kyouya Team would have learned its lesson, but Kyouya can’t help but be the valiant knight standing up against “Kazuma the Brute”, as he’s known in some circles for his inappropriate conduct with girls. He also seeks to “rescue” his goddess from Kazuma’s clutches, but Aqua responds to his second offer by cold-cocking him, delivering on her earlier vow to sock him if she saw him again.

But even if Kyouya is eminently punchable, Aqua’s violence isn’t senseless, it’s justified. She was looking forward to a 300,000-Eris reward for purifying the lake, but the guild deducted 200,000 for “cage repair” – a cage rendered useless when Kyouya prized the bars. Aqua also shows off her sneaky-playful shrewdness by demanding not 200K, but 300K from Kyouya, which he pays her on the spot.

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Now that she’s rolling in cash, Aqua treats herself to a feast. And as if Kyouya hadn’t been stomped on enough, when he asks for his cursed sword Gram back, Kazuma informs him that he doesn’t have it; he sold it! That’s right; “our” hero didn’t ever even want the damn thing, even though it was part of his original dreams.

I’d like to think getting a good look at the “pathetic cheat” Kyouya has changed his thinking a bit on whether or not things have turned out bad. I mean, sure, he still wants to take on the Devil King, but there are worse things than having three not unattractive women by your side, not fighting over you at all! Plus, think of what all that Gram cash could buy. He could snatch up the stables and convert them into luxury lofts, with bidets and a pot-filler…and a trash compactor!

As for Aqua’s true identity being revealed…well, it isn’t, because Megumin and Darkness simply don’t believe her (having food on her face couldn’t have helped her credibility any). The matter is interrupted by another “emergency”, but at this point I know better; there’s no real emergency. Just the Dullahan, who’s really miffed they haven’t come by his place yet. This guy’s reminding me more of the Black Knight all the time…

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KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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DanMachi – 10

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Bell and his new party of three—a good number for exploring dungeons, if you ask me!—hit the middle floors full of confidence and swagger, and the first wave of enemies aren’t much of a problem. But then the waves keep coming, and coming, and before long the party is overwhelmed.

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DanMachi does a great job escalating the situation into near-chaos, as minor injuries get worse with subsequent attacks, magic fatigue sets in, and hordes of enemies surround them menacingly, never relenting. As Ryuu warned him, the dungeon is a cunning place that toys with you until it finds your weakness. Bell’s isn’t that hard to divine: he’s inexperienced on this floor, pure and simple.

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Hestia, who had a worrisome look about her when Bell set off, has her fears confirmed when her friend Take’s familia emerges from the dungeon and reports that their party initiated a “pass parade” on Bell’s—dumping their enemies on to him. It was a selfish move, but I can’t fault the party leader, with the responsibility of a lot of people on his back, for choosing his party’s survival to that of “strangers.”

Hestia lets them know, however, that if Bell never returns, she’ll never forget (though she won’t hate them). She also formally issues a quest, and she’s never looked as goddess-like when the light shines through the stained glass as she asks for volunteers.

Take offers some of his familia to assist her (as amends), but Hermes (a fellow god who we haven’t seen thus far, but assume is fast) and his adjutant, Asfi also join in.

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Bell’s party survives a hellhound attack thanks to Welf’s “Will-o-the-Wisp” ability, but he’s in a bad way. Obviously Bell isn’t going to leave anyone behind, so when three minotaurs corner them, he relies on his “Argonaut” skill to overcome them. But this winds him; if this were an RPG I’d say both his HP and MP were critical, and they’re nowhere near the exits.

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Bell’s got skills, but his power isn’t limitless, so it’s a good thing the cavalry is on its way. I really like the idea of Hestia taking an active role in her familia’s rescue, ignoring the rules forbidding gods from the dungeon. I’m curious what the consequences for breaking that rule are, as well as what battle skills she’ll be showing off. I’m also pleased that Ryuu Lion is joining the party, coming out of semi-retirement.

All in all, a nice illustration of how tough and unforgiving the dungeon can be, and how while Bell may have his detractors, he also has a good number of people looking out for him. All he has to do is sit back (as much as one can do so on the middle floors of a dungeon) and wait for his friends—and his family—to come get him.

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Sword Art Online II – 15

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With the BoB behind us and a week removed from a recap, I was eager to get back to Sword Art Online, and maybe get some more scenes in the real world between Kazuto and Shino. Alas, Sugu tells Kirito that someone’s after the Holy Sword Excalibur, and he’s back off into MMOLand.

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Sinon unfortunately just becomes one of the gals, with cat ears and a tail that’s seemingly specifically there for Kirito to pull in jest. Kirito and Sugu gather Asuna, Yui, Klein, Lisbeth, and Silica to complete their rather large and ungainly party of eight. I can’t say I care all that much about Klein, Lisbeth, or Silica; but they’re here, and I suppose they’ll have a unique use as this arc progresses.

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The characters descend into the frozen wastes of Jotenheimr, which is below Alfheim but above Niflheim. There, Sugu summons her friend she rescued from baddies: a very cool-looking eight-winged elephant-octopus thing she named Tonkii that kind of freaks everyone else out a little but proves helpful.

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Once the party boards him, they fly through the skies of Jotenheimer until “Urd, Queen of the Lake” appears to deliver quite a bit of exposition about the arc to come. She and her two sisters are of the Hill Giants, who were subjugated by the Frost GIants led by King Thrym of Niflheim who ascended to Jotenheimer and disconnected the roots of Yggdrasil, turning the verdant paradise into the arctic wastes we see.

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He did that with Excalibur, which means if Kirito & Co. can retrieve it, the frozen castle Thrymheim that is lodged in the rock ceiling will descend and return Jotenheimer to its previous state. Since he wanted to grab Excalibur anyway, Kirito and Urd’s goals match. I’m not sure what to make of this all yet, but the striking visuals of the new landscape were marred by the sudden gaggle of old and not entirely compelling characters.

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