DanMachi II – 11 – Godstage Situation

As one could have predicted with reasonable certainty, the episode immediately following DanMachi’s biggest battle to date was a much lighter weight affair. You wouldn’t immediately know it from the cold open, which features huge armies of the Kingdom of Rakia approaching Orario.

Then entire companies of soldiers are “blown away” by solo adventurers. Turns out they’re not tough…at all. Aries is a buffoon of a commander of a vast army of weaklings, and his buffoonery annoys the hell of of his top lieutenant Marius.

Meanwhile we learn something new about Haruhime from Aisha as she bids farewell: whenever she saw a naked man she’d pass out, meaning she remains as chaste as the virgin goddess of the hearth. Aisha doesn’t tell her that, but she’s right that it didn’t matter to her hero, Bell.

Still, Haruhime’s wonderful chemistry with Bell causes a jealous Hestia to ban all contact between the sexes, which Lili makes a big stink about. When Hestia all but asks if Bell would be her lover, he refuses, honestly but also flatly and rudely, not taking into consideration just how much Hestia loves him.

She runs off, and Bell chases after her, realizing he erred. A chance meeting with Hephaistos and Miach has them confirming that he erred by not showing his goddess proper respect. They discuss how even though the lifetime of a mortal is but a moment, the love gods feel for their mortal lovers is not any less powerful or real.

Unfortunately these two gods hold Bell up long enough that Hestia manages to sneak out of the Orario on an errand to gather ingredients for the potato snacks so popular in the city. Ganesha lets her through due to the importance of her mission, but she’s quickly snatched up by Ares in disguise, executing a “brilliant plan” to get Orario to surrender by taking a god hostage…or…sigh….godstage.

Bell ends up bumping into Ais, who takes him to where Hestia was last. There, Loki is coordinating a rescue op; she may not be besties with the shrimp but they can’t go letting Ares kidnap gods whenever he likes. She agrees to let Bell accompany Ais outside the walls to track Ares down.

Fueled by awesome Celtic-style overworld music, and with help from Hermes’ child Asfi, they locate Ares in the gray gloom, and it isn’t long before Ais is crossing swords with Ares, and just as quickly snapping his sword. Like his armies, he’s not as strong as he looks.

Still, he has enough numbers to surround and isolate Ais, while Bell manages to sneak around and reunite with Hestia, who freed herself but promptly stumbles and falls down a huge canyon. Bell jumps in after her, then Ais jumps in after him, setting up a cliffhanger for the finale next week. Chances are they’ll all be fine!

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Vinland Saga – 10 – Dawn in the Age of Twilight

Vinland Saga has become an exercise in guarded patience, centered around the question of how long Thorfinn going to pursue revenge, and when he’s going to wake up and live his own damn life. Maybe that’s what he thinks he’s doing, and his father, both in life and in his dreams, is just wrong that there’s a better path than the one he’s on.

Maybe Thorfinn is simply caught in the inertia of the events surrounding him, and would simply rather put effort in what he sees as a sure thing—one day cutting Askeladd’s throat—than the uncertainty of returning to a life of peace with his mother and sister. After all, Thors tried to live that life, and failed when his past caught up to him.

Whether consciously or not, Thorfinn is drawing nearer to ending up just like his old man: strong and distinguished, but in too deep to ever get out. But he’s still young, and as many lives as he’s taken, it probably doesn’t come close to the number his father took. There is still plenty of time to turn his life around into something worthwhile.

His dreams start as an idyllic life that never was with his family in the endless, rolling, fertile hills that look a lot like England (or possibly Vinland). They end with the skies darkening, his village attacked, and his father run through with arrows. Will Thorfinn ever take that dream to mean stop wasting your life chasing revenge and return to his family?

Maybe, maybe not. As Vinland Saga reaches its midpoint, I’ve found Thorfinn’s quest for revenge misguided and increasingly not that interesting. I’d like to know whether it’s going to reach a point where he either finally manages to kill Askeladd and moves on to something else, or walks away from that quest entirely.

But the cloud of uncertainty persists without any regard for my wishes, and in the meantime, the Danish war with England seems to be winding down. Askeladd’s men have been mopping up lesser villages as the main army has headed north to rest. Canute has failed to do anything with his 4,000 men in London, preferring to pray to Jesus in his tent.

Askeladd’s men are so restless, the smallest insults between them become pointless fights to the death. Having awakened from his beautiful, terrible dream before dawn, Thorfinn stays above the encampment, among Roman ruins, where Askeladd finds him.


It’s there where Askeladd attempts small talk but is rebuked by Thorfinn, asserting “they’re not friends” and that he hasn’t given up his goal of slitting his throat. Askeladd likes Thorfinn’s look, but still isn’t scared. He knows time isn’t on his side, and that his would-be killer will continue to grow stronger as he grows older and weaker.

But by that same token, if the Christians are to be believed, Judgment Day and the end of everyone and everything on earth, could be upon them in as few as twenty years (an event Thorfinn likens to Ragnarok). Considering the Romans were a far more advanced society than the Saxons who defeated them (not to mention the Vikings on the cusp of defeating the Saxons), it certainly seems like humans have had their time in the sun, and now live in an age of twilight.

And yet, the sun still rises just as it always has, bathing the land in light and possibility. With the dawn comes a rider from London, who reports that Canutes forces were routed by the English led by Thorkell, who’d grown impatient waiting on the bridge and is marching his men north to meet the main Danish army.

The war is not over as long as Thorkell is with the English, while Askeladd sees the potential for great riches if he and his men rescue Prince Canute. Not wanting to share the glory or spoils of such a victory, he kills the messenger, and will make do with what he has. He fires his men up, and Thorfinn seems poised to continue following him.

If the end is coming for all, Askeladd will be satisfied with “going out with a bang.” But as we know, the world wouldn’t end in twenty years, meaning final blazes of glory are woefully premature, especially for someone like Thorfinn, who still has a mother and sister to protect, and a family and home of his own to build. With so many dawns he has yet to watch rise above the horizon, it would be a shame to descend into night now.

DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!

DanMachi II – 09 – Your Hero is Here

After stewing in self-hatred for a quick spell, Bell regains the nerve to rescue Haruhime despite the consequences. Mikoto is with him; they’ll get yelled at later together, but with Hestia, Lili and Welf stopped at the gates, the two are on their own. Mikoto will sneak her way to where Haruhime is being held, which will require a diversion.

Bell provides that diversion by rushing the front door and spamming Firebolt at the waves of Amazons who come at him. That only works for so long, especially once a dual-wielding Phryne enters the phray. At her Level, she can swat his Firebolts away like flies. He’s “saved” by Ishtar, who figures it’s time to deflower the Little Rookie, but to her dismay he’s immune to divine charms—even hers.

Freya, another goddess whose divine charms are wasted on Bell, gets a report about Isthar Familia’s movements and starts to move, while it looks like Hestia’s party will also get in, just not in time to help save Haruhime (I imagine they’ll serve as the cavalry later). Mikoto gets to Haruhime, who continues to believe herself unworthy of being saved by a hero due to her profession. Mikoto isn’t hearing it. She’s getting rescued.

That means Mikoto has to go up against Samira, who’s a Level higher and batters her with her bare hands and feet. With Haruhime’s execution imminent, Mikoto pulls out some ninja trickery, pulling Samira into a hug and releasing a huge magical discharge before falling over the side of the building.

The rest is up to Bell, who deflects the killing blow of the woman tasked with killing Haruhime, and shatters the Killing Stone, rendering the ritual impossible. It’s yet another thrilling episode from a show that has proven time and again it knows how to pull off epic action. Mikoto really shone this week; I hope she’s okay.

As for Bell, well…maybe he can quickly get leveled up by Haruhime and at least hold his own until the cavarly arrives? ‘Cause he ain’t charming those Amazons off that roof…not after he just torpedoed their chances of beating Freya.

Cop Craft – 05 – A Brief Dream Before the End

Suddenly up against an ancient lauden neiven—vampire in the common tongue—Tilarna nearly finds herself outmatched, but gets some backup from her partner, who makes use of a fire extinguisher to disorient the baddie. Tilarna relieves the vampire of one of her arms and Kei fills her with bullets, but she still escapes.

Tilarna feels responsible for Chapman’s death, as she should have known sooner what they were dealing with; Kei does his best to assure her it’s not on her, it’s just the job. Using both K9 units and Tilarna’s excellent sense of smell (at least when it comes to latena), they continue the search.

After the vampire kills a truck driver, causing him to crash, witnesses recall seeing her wearing a dress that looked like black flames—Tilarna recognizes it as a magical illusion spell that provides clothing when naked (and scolds Kei for thinking about her demonstrating it). But it’s also clear the vamp has some of her power back.

The duo heads to the mall where she lies in wait. Kei ends up thrown off a high balcony into a fountain and gets knocked out, while Tilarna is captured. When she awakens both she and we get more of a feel for their adversary, who after all is extremely disoriented in this strange new place. However, she’s sharp enough to know of the “greater gate” in the “Book of Niba,” a prophecy that has apparently come true.

That being said, she’s still a vampire, which means she can’t resist an easy meal—particularly Tilarna’s delicious noble blood. Unfortunately she delays her dinner a hair too long, as Kei and a SWAT team storms the location and rescues Tilarna.

The wounded vamp once again gives the cops the slip, but Tilarna remain hot on her trail. Tilarna suggests they try to take her alive “if possible” so they can try to learn something from her, but Kei very much doubts they’ll be in a position to hold back.

A strange voice leads the vamp down into the subway tracks—the voice of a wizard, who like Tilarna wants to extract some knowledge from the vamp if he can. But between the feeling she finds herself in hell to the belief she comes to that she’s merely in a brief and very bizarre dream before her end, she’s not interested, and instead drains the wizard dry to recharge.

Tilarna and Kei arrive, and once again have a hard time bringing her down. She pounces on Kei, warning him no man has ever walked away from three battles with her, unless he’s some kind of prophesied warrior. Ultimately, the vamp’s ignorance of the fatal effect of a subway train hitting her leads to her demise, while Tilarna leaps to Kei’s rescue at the last second.

Naturally, Kei doesn’t properly thank Tilarna for saving him again, which really steams her beans, so she starts viciously kicking him in the back. It’s an oddly perfunctory ending to what had been to that point a rather thoughtful and intriguing story.

After all, the vamp wasn’t necessarily pure evil—a gal’s gotta eat—but as the episode progressed, she was more a subject of pity than disdain. She simply didn’t belong, it would have been extremely hard for her to try, and she didn’t even seem to want to stay, almost preferring oblivion to such an unfamiliar land.

DanMachi II – 03 – Finding an Opening

Soma’s commander, Zanis, claims that the whole point of helping Apollo attack Hestia Familia was to bring Liliruca back into the family, but all he really cares about is her transformation magic, with which he intends to make a fortune. Lili’s prison guard, Chandra, snorts at Zanis’ arrogance; portending his giving a helping hand to Lili later.

Hestia meets with Welf, Takemikazuchi, Ouka, Mikoto, Chigusa, Miach, and Naza to arrange a rescue mission. When they ask whether the upcoming War Game with Apollo Familia should be her priority, Hestia retorts that all she has against Apollo is Bell, but he can’t fight 100% as long as he’s worried about his supporter, so Lili must come first.

As for the meeting of the gods in which the terms of the War Game are set out, Hestia by way of Hermes draws the worst possible lot: a siege. When Hermes says that the situation is just too unfair unless Hestia is allowed helpers, and Freya mocks Apollo for being afraid of allowing them, Apollo caves to the crowd and declares that Hestia Familia shall be allowed *one* helper, but they can’t be from Orario.

Meanwhile, Zanis reveals his true nature by dropping the whole “family” bit with Lili: she’s a resource he’ll use up and discard for his own gain. Once Zanis leaves, Chandra tosses the keys to Lili to do as she will; he can’t stand that guy! Once free, Lili finds a rescue raid in progress that she doesn’t even want. When she tells Hestia and the others to leave her, Hestia tells her how important she is to Bell—to all of them—and that they’re not leaving without her.

Lili tries one more time to get Soma to take a break from his winemaking and do something, but typically he’s left everything to the corrupt Zanis. This time, he offers some wine to Lili, and if she is still able to ask him for help, he’ll do as she asks.

To Soma’s surprise, Lili does not become a drunk slave, and still has the lucidity to beg him to stop the battle, which he does, even allowing Welf to zipline in and sword-slap Zanis in his shitty face.

With Lili safely rescued, she promptly officially transfers from Soma to Hestia Familia, and she’s not the only one. Mikoto asks Takemikazuchi for a transfer to Hestia, and wanting to help Hestia, he agrees. Welf also gets Hephaistios to let him transfer, while Hermes and Syl convince Ryu Lion to be the one helper that Hestia is allowed to recruit.

With Hestia Familia appointed the attacker in the War Game siege, and Bell training hard with Ais and Tiona, the odds of a Hestia victory are starting to look a lot less hopeless!

HenSuki – 03 – The Third Way

With Sayuki and Yuika declaring themselves masochist and sadist and their intent to make Keiki their master/slave respectively, one thing becomes clear: Keiki isn’t that into this. He avoided dating girls because he felt himself to normal and boring, but now he’s having nightmares as a result of Yuika’s “punishment” last week. He doesn’t even want to go to school, but Mizuha makes him, since he’s not really ill.

Things don’t get any easier for Keiki, as he’s greeted by Yuika’s bra in his shoe locker, followed by a photo of him with his shirt open lying with Sayuki, with the implication it will be distributed if he doesn’t meet with her. When he gets there, Sayuki is dressed as a maid and handcuffed; he must fish the key out of her cleavage.

All the while, the third girl in his life (not counting his sister), Nanjou Mao, keeps watching silently from afar, her gentle blushing going completely unnoticed by Keiki. But when he tells his best mate he doesn’t believe Sayuki or Keiki are the Cinderella, that friend points out Mao’s staring, who it’s directed at, and what that entails.

Mao’s passive role thus far becomes more active by necessity when Keiki is once again summoned to the clubroom by Sayuki, but is intercepted by Yuika, who ties him up and orders him to kiss her foot or she’ll steal his first kiss on the lips. Sayuki barges in to put a stop to it, and the girls, who have known about each other’s proclivities since they met, start to bicker, with Keiki in the middle.

Enter Mao, who drags Keiki, chair, rope and all, into the hall, away from the two warring girls. He blames him for being so nice to both of them and indulging them too much, and in the process betrays that she’s been observing his interactions with them very closely (we dohear a camera click when he’s fishing out the handcuff keys…was that Mao?).

When Keiki asks why this concerns her at all, Mao has no choice but to be more direct: she just plain doesn’t like it when he’s with other girls. That could well be because she’s developed feelings for her childhood friend, but it also means a third girl has decided to try and assert control over him. Perhaps not as a formal master or slave, but it’s definitely possessive and unbidden by Keiki.

Considering how uncomfortable the other two girls’ antics have made Keiki, perhaps Mao is the “Goldilocks” answer, but first he has to determine whether her particular kink (stalking?) is more or less manageable.

Astra Lost in Space – 01 (First Impressions) – The Final Frontier: Getting Along

ALiS immediately sets the mood and grabs our attention by throwing us into the inky nothingness of space to float with poor Aries Spring (Minase Inori). She has no idea how she got there, but is understandably terrified, until she spots someone approaching her with an open hand.

Now that we know how bad things are going to get for Aries, the narrative rewinds back to the day Aries sets of for the five-day “Planet Camp.” Shortly after arriving at the spaceport, her bag is stolen, but the very fit and valorous Hoshijuma Kanata gets it back…only to be arrested by cop-bots.

No matter, Aries and Kanata eventually join their six fellow high school students (plus one little sister with an alter-ego in the form of a hand puppet) at the gate and before you know it, they’re on a 9-hour FTL journey to Planet McPa.

The meetup at the gate and the trip paint the characters in broad strokes, but the bottom line is they’re all very different personalities—pretty typical for a Lerche show. Within a couple minutes of setting foot on McPa, those clashing personalities are immediately tested by a weird floating orb, which I’ll just call a singularity. One by one, it sucks up the students who can’t outrun it.

After a very trippy visual sequence, everyone finds themselves floating in space, near a planet that doesn’t quite look like McPa. You couldn’t ask for a more nightmarish scenario, especially considering these are just kids with zero experience in space. Fortunately, there’s a spaceship in orbit, just within the range of their thruster suits.

They head to the ship, open the thankfully unlocked hatch, and climb aboard. There’s a grand sense of adventure afoot, and the music really helps to sell it. That’s when they realize there are only eight of them—poor Aries is still out there, drifting further and further away.

With insufficient fuel for a two-way trip in their suits, Kanata decides to use a tether to reach Aries, and we return to the end of the cold open, with Kanata reaching out to take Aries’ hand…only his rope is just too short. Disaster! Whatever to do? Kanata decides to go for broke and detach himself from the tether so he can grab an eternally grateful Aries.

But while they’re safe for the moment, there’s another problem: on the way back Kanata runs out of fuel, but his trajectory is five degrees off, meaning he and Aries will fly right past the ship. It’s time for the others, putting aside their initial differences to create a human chain outside of the airlock that snags Aries and Kanata and pulls them aboard.

That’s when they learn of several more problems—there are always more problems in space than in…not space, after all. They’re 5,012 light years, or more than three months, away from home, with only enough water for 20 days and only enough food for three.

With the aid of Zack Walker, he of the 200 IQ and spaceship license, he manages to calculate a route that will enable them to resupply at planets within twenty days of one another…but there’s only one possible route. Even so, the fact that there’s a remotely feasible plan bolsters everyone’s spirits.

With hope in their hearts (and probably very little food in their stomachs) Kanata is chosen as their captain, and they all take their places as the ship’s FTL activates, and they head off, through hardships, to the stars, on a very simple mission: Get Home Safe.

The last act seems to blow by extremely fast as solutions present themselves almost too easily, and while many members of the cast showed different sides, the jury is still out on others, but over all this was a strong start to a good old-fashioned space adventure. No convoluted factional conflicts or supernatural chosen ones…just nine kids probably in over their heads, but who have no choice but to grow up and do the best they can.

Sarazanmai – 11 (Fin) – Just Like That

Sooo….yeah. True to form, Ikuni chooses not to go with the simple, straightforward finale, at least not in terms of presentation. A frikkin’ lot happens in these final twenty-odd minutes. It’s a torrent of ideas, metaphors, and processes; almost too much to take in all at once.

While it retained several elements of previous episodes, I still felt like I was back in that first episode, wondering what the hell was going on. But like that first episode, I also didn’t particularly care if I wasn’t quite absorbing everything Sarazanmai was confidently emitting.

At the end of the day, for all the window dressing and CONCEPTS, Kazuki and Enta’s odyssey into the darkness to rescue their friend was nothing more than that: They simply weren’t going to allow their connection to one another be severed—not by a Toi wracked by guilt and grief, not by the Otter egging Toi on, and not by Keppi’s dark half.

When they finally get to Toi, who is in the midst of erasing his memories and thus connections from them, the other two put their faith in the talisman that started their connection in the first place: the miçanga. As they plummet into the abyss watching their connections vanish one moment at a time, Toi himself cries for a stop to it all; for once he doesn’t want to give everything up for anyone. He wants to keep what he has: the friendship of Kazuki and Enta.

As Keppi and Dark Keppi battle and eventually fuse into a Full Keppi, the three friends in kappa form deliver the miçanga to a young Kazuki, shoring up the connection at its source and causing Mr. Otter to crumble away to dust, frustrated that he, an abstract concept, would be defeated.

NO YOU DON’T! STOP LYING!!!

A-Ahem…anyway, Once they’re all back in the normal world (whatever that means), Toi does the right thing and turns himself in, and is sent to juvie, from which he emerges three years later only to throw himself off a bridge. Fortunately, not only does the jump not kill him, but Kazuki and Enta jump in after him, having waited for him to get out all this time. They proceed to run around and have fun, together again at last.

Now that they, as the Kappa King put it, connected their desires through the pain of loss, they and only they can take the future in their hands. Does that mean the three will compete at the World Cup in Qatar? Probably not. But perhaps they no longer have any need for dishes of hope, transformation into kappas, or shirikodama extraction.

Sarazanmai – 06 – Inside the Circle

As a dejected Haruka watches the real Sara pull the same fortune as yesterday (“sachet”, due to the zombie not being beaten), Kazuki resigns himself to being a kappa for the rest of his miserable existence, unable to be seen by anyone.

But Enta and Toi aren’t ready to let him give up on himself for Haruka, and Keppi seems game to assist where he can. As Kazuki laments being “outside the circle”, he’s really in the middle of two of them: his family and his kappa crew.

Then Reo, one of the cops who is currently separated from Mabo, his partner, encounters Haruka feeding Nyaranko. Haruka assumes he’s to be arrested for theft of Kazuki’s smile; Reo decides to roll the dice and extract his desire, if it is indeed desire and not love, tossing the cat aside.

The cat lands on Enta as he’s pleading with Kazuki, and Keppi reports that Haruka has been kidnapped by the Imperial Army of the Otters, long-time enemies of the Kappa, and of which Reo and Mabo are soldiers. Kazuki resolves to rescue Haruka at any cost.

After a brief history lesson from Keppi (including use of a modified Alexander Mosaic), he and the lads descend into the Otters’ vast industrial facilities dedicated to extracting desire from humans (now that there are no Kappas left other than Keppi) and creating Zombie Kappas.

Kazuki locates the box in which Haruka has been stashed, but it’s already part of the production line, and keeping up with it on its unrelenting path to oblivion is tough, even with help from Keppi.

Ultimately, Kazuki comes up a little bit short, and Haruka’s box begins its long drop into the matrix that will turn him into a Zombie Kappa. This means the end of Haruka, and the lads learn for the first time that the Zombies they’ve previously defeated are not only gone, but ceased to ever exist (hence their disappearance from photos and memories).

Keppi presents one last chance to save Haruka: a Shirikodama transplant, with Kazuki as the donor. That will mean the brothers will swap fates, and Kazuki is fine with that, since he feels he was always “outside the circle” anyway.

Obviously, neither Enta nor Toi will allow him to make that kind of sacrifice. Toi uses his gun to reverse the winch sending him down, and Enta shows him the miçanga Haruka never threw away, because he never gave up on his big bro.

As a confirmation Haruka never gave up, his box is blocked from conversion to a Zombie Kappa because it reads as “love”, not “desire”; Otters are only interested in the latter, so he’s marked for return. The bad news is, he’s headed straight for a giant shredder (evoking memories of the “Child Broiler” in Penguindrum).

Keppi rolls up into a soccer-sized ball, and Toi and Enta pass it to Kazuki, who uses a bicycle kick to knock Haruka’s box off its fatal course. A sleeping Haruka pops out of the box, and Kazuki is there to catch him.

We learn that Haruka had the sachet because he encountered Kazuki’s real mom shortly after Kazuki took his leave of her, and noticed the sachet had been left behind. He pleaded with her not to take Kazuki away, and she assured him he didn’t need to worry about that.

With that, the Sachet Zombie Kappa is defeated, and the lads regain their human form. No mention of a Dish of Hope, nor any tearful reunion with a newly-awake Haruka, just the three lads in the small Kappa plaza, and Kazuki suddenly feeling different than the last time he had his human body, no doubt because now he knows he’s not outside the circle, but in the center of it.

The Otter Cops don’t seem too perturbed about their latest defeat, and will certainly have their eyes on the Kappa boys henceforth. The episode closes with a flashback to long ago when the two of them stormed the Kappa castle to kill Keppi, only for Mabo to be gravely wounded, which may explain why his heart is clockwork?

Who knows…lots of blanks left to fill, but at least now we know for sure this is a war between the very well-supplied Otters and the last surviving Kappa. This was an episode that effectively departed from the usual monster-o-f-the-week formulae of earlier episodes, and was a thrilling adventure to boot. With Kazuki in a much better place emotionally, the Kappa triad looks better equipped to handle the next challenge thrown their way.

BokuBen – 05 – An Eventful Two Days in the Mountains

Ah, the mountains, where the weather can change on a dime…and compromising situations can come just as quickly! The whole class has arrived at a mountain retreat for two days of intensive study, but the thing Rizu seems to be studying more intensively than anything is Nariyuki’s face.

Rizu has probably never been in love, so isn’t sure what to do with the strange mix of emotions she feels whenever she looks at Nariyuki , and in the process of trying to figure them out, she just keeps starting.

In this high-stakes environment, even lending Nariyuki an eraser is an intense competition, with Fumino beating a hesitating Rizu, Nariyuki fumbling, and Uruka passing it to him under the desk—where her legs aren’t crossed. None of this is intentional, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s happening to Nariyuki .

Increasingly embarrassed over her reactions to his presence, Rizu lashes out and runs out for some air, breaking the rules. Once she’s calmed down, she starts collecting mountain udo as an apology, but is so into it she gets lost in the woods as a mountain rainstorm commences. When Sekijo Sawako asks Nariyuki where the hell Rizu is, he realizes she could still be out there.

Using flash cards she surreptitiously dropped, he manages to find her, just as she’s visualizing the mathematically highly unlikely possibility of him doing just that. The problem is, she’s on higher ground and has to come down. That results in her slipping and falling. As she falls, Nariyuki positions himself to catch her, and the their lips end up meeting. As his rice bowl cracks back home, Nariyuki wonders: was that his first kiss?

He gets neither clarity nor assurance from Rizu, who continues to avoid his face as they carry out their punishment for leaving school grounds: cleaning the girl’s bath. Unfortunately, Rizu neglected to hang the “cleaning in progress sign” on the door, so all the girls, including Fumino, Uruka, and Sawako, strip down and rush in before Rizu can stop them.

Rizu confidently declares she’ll take care of it, but immediately fails, is stripped down herself, and forced into a battle of endurance in the very sauna where Nariyuki went to hide. Uruka (surprisingly) is the first to give up, but Fumino’s in it for the long run. Meanwhile Nariyuki is past his limit…

He’s saved by an unlikely heroine: Sawako, who put together the fact that he and Rizu were cleaning the bath and he got caught in a situation not of his making. In exchange being in her debt, Sawako distracts the others so he can slip out.

But as he opens the door to complete his escape, Uruka is there, and the force of the door opening whips her towel clean off, revealing every bit of her non-tanned body. Fortunately for Nariyuki, Uruka is still so woozy from the sauna she assumes she was hallucinating the guy she’s into!

Rizu apologizes properly for putting Nariyuki in so much danger—to be caught peeping in the girls’ bath would probably torpedo his chances of VIP consideration—and they finally address the accidental kiss they both agree was not a real kiss, but an accident. When Rizu tries to ask if Nariyuki “saw anything” in the bath, he assures her his glasses were foggy, something another glasses-wearer might understand.

Back at school, Nariyuki is brought before Kirisu-sensei, Rizu and Fumino’s former tutor who the later described as “very…cold.” Indeed, Kirisu treats their meeting more like an FBI interrogation, and after he tells her he’s doing his best to improve their grades, she immediately brings up the incident of him accidentally kissing Rizu in the forest, something only he and Rizu should know about, but somehow she knows too!

Whether her motives involve ensuring Nariyuki fails to do what she failed to do with her cold methodology, are couched in some kind of repressed feelings for him (this is a harem rom-com), or she just wants Rizu and Fumino to give up on subjects contrary to their talents, Kurisu is poised to emerge as the single greatest threat to everyone else’s success and happiness.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

This episode was not for the faint of heart. Once faced with her past tormentor, Lord Idol Rabier, memories and emotions from Raphtalia’s past start to flow out like water from a spigot. She remembers her village, and her best friend Rifana, as she has her sword pointed at Idol’s neck.

But Idol only cowers so long, and when he learns she’s one of the demi-humans he used to torture in his dungeon, he draws a hidden sword and puts up a fight. He ends up tripping on his own whip and falling backwards out a window to his apparent death. Raphtalia then decides to investigate the dungeon, and Naofumi, Filo, and Van accompany her.

As she walks with Raphtalia through the dungeon where she once spent an untold duration suffering pointless beatings at Idol’s hand, Melty is disgusted that such things went on in her kingdom right under her nose. Unfortunately, the truth is Idol is not the only one perpetrating such heinous acts.

Raphtalia, meanwhile, continues to dredge up memories, both of her village being raided by Idol, to being carted off to the dungeon with Rifana, to the beatings. Through it all, Raphtalia tried to obey her late father (killed in the Wave) and keep smiling, even in the hardest times. During the beatings, Raphtalia defiantly won’t cry out, but maintains a semblance of a smile.

Her friend Rifana doesn’t fare as well; she loses the will to eat and soon grows weak and feverish. While Raphtalia clings to her duty to smile in order to keep others’ spirits up, the one thing keeping Rifana going is her hope that they can return to their village and raise their flag, the flag that was proof that the demi-humans were able to build their own village.

All Raphtalia can offer her is a small flag made from a stick and scrap of cloth, but she’s grateful even for that. Then one day, the two are ripped apart, as Raphtalia is sold to a slave merchant, leading to her eventual purchase by her and Rifana’s favorite hero, that of the shield. Back in the present they find three survivors in the dungeons, the third being her old friend Keel.

After Naofumi heals him, Raph asks Keel where Rifana is, and he tells her. While she must have hoped the rest of her life that the Shield Hero would save her, he came too late; there’s nothing left of Rifana but her skeleton, still clutching the little flag Raph gave her not long before they were parted.

It’s a sickeningly awful sight to behold, and it causes Raph to break down into a fit of despair and self-hatred. She curses herself for not being able to protect anyone, and deems herself unworthy of standing beside the Shield Hero.

Of course, Naofumi has something to say about this, and assures her she did nothing wrong. On the contrary, the only reason he didn’t fall into his own pit of despair and run away from his duty as hero is because he met her, the first person he could really trust, and which led to meeting Filo and Melty.

On another plane, Raphtalia says goodbye to Rifana before gathering her earthly remains for a proper burial. Then she and the others return to the surface, where not only is Idol still alive (they really should have checked to make sure he wasn’t), but is in the process of summoning a monstrous beast sealed away by past heroes…for revenge, I guess?

Once summoned, the T.Rex-like monster promptly steps on Idol, reducing him to a flat film of pulp. It’s a fittingly unceremonious, darkly comic end for a character who was never anything more subtle than sniveling evil incarnate—good riddance! As for our dino-pal, I’m sure he’s a tough customer but likely nowhere near as formidable as, say, Glass, so I’m confident Naofumi, Raph and Filo can take care of it.

But damn, what a dark past Raphtalia had. Hopefully her unplanned trip to the site of the worst times of her life, and putting Rifana to proper rest, will give her some closure and end the nightmares. Not to mention she was able to rescue Keel and two other demi-humans, who would have certainly shared Rifana’s fate were it not for her.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 26 (Fin) – Grasping Rays of Light, Holding Them Tight

Accelerator’s technobabble solution to saving Last Order works, and she wakes up to her guardian’s warm embrace. But it doesn’t last long, as Accelerator leaves her in Worst’s care (worst babysitter ever?), literally spreads his newly-formed angel wings, and heads to the Star to eliminate another threat to his charge.

Turns out he and Touma never cross paths in this finale. The telesma overload turns out not to be as powerful as Fiamma hoped for, and all he gets for all his planning and scheming is a devastating haymaker from Touma that leaves a fist-sized crater in his cheek.

In his generosity (and unwillingness to kill, even a supervillain) Touma gives the sufficiently cowed Fiamma the last escape pod off the Star. When Misaka finally arrives to rescue him in a fighter jet (sadly without exclaiming “It’s not like I wanted to save you!”), he refuses her outstretched hand.

He’s thankful she came all the way out her to help him in his time of need, but he’s not ready to leave the Star yet; not without locating Index’s remote control, which Fiamma dropped and which Touma finds almost too easily.

A projection of the awakening Index appears before him, and he confesses to having kept her true nature a secret all this time. Of course, Index doesn’t particularly care about and perceived wrongs he may have perpetrated against her; she’s just glad to see him and wants him to come home safe.

Touma’s final heroic acts of both the arc and the season involve smashing three specific points in the Star in order to ditch it somewhere no one will be harmed: the Arctic Ocean. He even manages to collide with an out -of-control Gabriel/Sasha, driving her into the icy depths before punching her in the face. Yes, Archangel Puncher is another possible title for that right arm. I also must applaud Touma’s ability to survive in near-freezing waters as long as he does.

The new ITEM is quickly surrounded by Academy City forces, led by…Celty Sturluson’s sister? I honestly don’t know, but she’s there to take Takitsubo away to further augment her. Hamazura turns the tables thanks to the arrival of villagers he helped earlier, who kill all of not-Celty’s pals and enable him to ask the masked stranger about the “Parameter List” she mentioned.

Accelerator is also captured by Academy City, but either tricks them into turning his switch on, or he just isn’t governed by that switch anymore. He’s not going back to compromise or negotiate, but to issue demands and then make sure they’re carried out. A “triumphant return”, in his words. The time of the City forcing him to work in the underworld, and using the Sisters or Last Order for their bidding, are over. To which I say Amen, brother!

We’re then treated to a very rare cameo by Mr. Aleister Crowley himself, delivering some poetic justice to Fiamma by claiming his arm while chiding him for scratching the surface of something he didn’t adequately understand. Always neat to see Al in action; he’s more like Aiwass than a human in his speed and movements.

Misaka searches for Touma in the frigid sea, but all she can find is his Gekota strap. While “it’s not as if she’s worried or cares what happened to him!”, she’s obviously worried and cares what happened to him. I presume she’ll just have to wait for Index IV. We, meanwhile, get a sneak peek at his fate: he’s rescued up by another character I didn’t recognize, and had to consult the forum to identify: Leivinia Birdway.

I didn’t dive into who she is or what group she’s with, since that’s also a matter for Index IV, whenever it should rear its magical head. While a bit dense and meandering in its second half with the final waves of exposition, in all it was an entertaining wrap-up.