Gleipnir – 01 (First Impressions) – The Minx and the Mascot

Kagaya Shuuichi is ordinary, or rather wants to be perceived as ordinary, and takes great pains to maintain that ordinariness. He lets cute girls borrow his work, sneaks a peek up a girls skirt when opportunity knocks, and continues wearing glasses even though he doesn’t need them.

He also turned down a decent college recommendation to pursue … something else. A girl who seems to like him gets it instead, but knows he was the first choice. Unfortunately, what this poor girl doesn’t know about Shuuichi could fill volumes.

I guess it’s not so much what Shuuichi is pursuing that made him turn down college, but what he is enduring. He’s suddenly been granted a highly elevated sense of smell, like a dog, and when certain conditions are met (which I’m sure he takes pains to avoid) he transforms into a giant cartoon mascot dog.

One night he smells fire, and finds a pretty girl passed out in a burning garage. He transforms and rescues her, but seemingly enchanted by her smell, starts pulling her underwear down before stopping himself, transforming back to a human, and fleeing in a panic…without his phone.

Having potentially set back his program of maintaining normality for years, Shuuichi plays dumb at school until he comes face to face with the girl, his phone in her hand. Considering his refusal to own up to sexual assault on an unconscious woman, and that he considers gaslighting her, I’m not that sympathetic with his predicament!

The girl, first-year student Claire Aoki (Touyama Nao), has no intention of letting Shuuichi off lightly. The underwear aside, she was trying to kill herself in that garage (or so she says), and he ruined her plans. After kicking him off the roof to watch him transform, she indicates her intention to blackmail him.

Claire also seems committed to making Shuuichi uncomfortable as possible whenever possible, as exhibited when she takes him to her apartment and strips down to change right in front of him, threatening death if he moves. They’re interrupted by the invasion of a mysterious woman who is after the weird gold coin Claire possesses. The attacker can also transform into a part-woman, part-beast, and proceeds to kick Shuuichi’s inexperienced-in-combat ass.

Gleipnir is the name of a delicate yet immensely strong dwarven-made chain that holds Fenrir back until Ragnarok, when he’s free to devour Odin. If Shuuichi’s mascot mode represents Fenrir, his human form is that chain. But unlike its Norse namesake it’s quickly fraying, thanks in part to Claire helping it along. Or Maybe, ironically, maybe it’s Claire who is the true Fenrir here, a wolf in model’s clothing. Shuuichi broke the chain and unleashed her by getting rescuing (and assaulting) her. There’s no going back now!

Gleipnir looks and sounds great (thanks to composer Sakata Ryouhei and a great Mili ED), with a taut, tense and gripping story. The dread of Shuuichi’s misfortunes is weighed against the reality of Claire having a legit beef with him. The cuteness of his mascot form contrasts with the horrifying nature of his transition. We’ll see what hell she puts him through, and if it ever rises to the level of Aku no Hana pitch-blackness.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 08 – Two Hearts at a Time

Thanks to Praline’s library guide and the Head Librarian’s own voice, Golem and Somali are able to locate Isolde Nebsolv, who not only was the last person to check out Chronicles of Haraiso, but actually wrote it. One of her head guards, Leigle, is suspicious of the intruders, but Isolde is glad to see them and all too happy to tell them the story from the now-destroyed book, the events of which took place many centuries ago.

Isolde’s ancestor Feodora was flying on her broom and got caught by dragon twister winds that blew her off course and wrecked her on an island. She’d later learn that Haraiso is not only the name of the island, but its “god”, a skinless golem. The rest of the island’s population are humans, who distrust all other “grotesques” except Haraiso.

Knowing this, and knowing of humans’ nature to fear the unknown and exterminate anything that is too different, Haraiso assures them the witch Feodora is actually a human and they have nothing to fear. Feodora quickly befriends Miya, the little girl who rescued her, and the rest of the villagers, as she slides into a pleasant, idyllic daily life.

The golem Haraiso eventually determines that Feodora will be able to fly home by riding the dragon twisters as they circle north to her home, but she’s hesitant to leave such a lovely place full of such kind people, and Miya doesn’t want her to go either. That’s when a “grotesque” appears: a large, two-headed beast that insists he has no quarrel with them.

The humans don’t believe or listen to their pleas for mercy, and they tie up, stone, beat, and cut the beast to death without mercy as Feodora watches. Even Miya tosses a stone. It’s clear now that her secret is a knife at her throat; she has to get out of here before she ends up like the beast.

But the morning of the day she’s to cast off, the villagers go looking for her, and Miya knows she’ll be at their spot: the bluff under the tree. When the winds pick up and toss Miya off the cliff and into some brittle branches, Feodora has no choice but to use her broom to swoop down and save her before she’s dashed on the rocks below.

All this happens in full sight of the villagers, who quickly ignore her heroics and start to call for her execution. Haraiso intervenes in time, pardoning Feodora for saving Miya but banishing her from the island. Feodora flies off, and only Miya bids her farewell. In the end, Feodora got through to Miya, and the friendship they shared overwrote her prejudice and fear.

Feodora shared her story with others, but considering how starkly it laid out how far apart humans and other clans were, it was decided not to write about it for a thousand years. Isolde wrote the book earlier than that, and for that, blames herself for the humans being wiped out. Still, Golem only sees it as a string of coincidences. Bottom line; humans and monsters were going to clash with or without this tale as ammo for the latter.

Before Isolde passes away in a cloud of butterflies, she considers herself fortunate to have not only met a human in Somali, but one who has friends among non-humans. It means perhaps she wasn’t wrong to write a book that, for all of the ways it depicted the humans as utterly incompatible, was at its core about two people: Feodora and Miya, who were able to reach an understanding and a bond.

There’s still hope for Somali, even after Golem dies, because of the friends she’s made. But it looks like Golem is still determined to find her fellow humans at the ends of the earth…just in case.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 07 – Girl on the Inside

All Hijiri Mizuki has wanted to do is live her school life in peace, which is why, she still hasn’t considered herself a true member of the Hero Club (and rejects the nickname Pink). But when pressed by Nanako, she admits she’s enjoying it.

Because she enjoys it; because, for all of the boys’ outbursts, it has become a part of her peaceful school life, she doesn’t quite feel right when the StuCo brings her in and starts disparaging the club and threatening to disband it.

The StuCo recognizes Mizuki as someone they can potentially use to keep the Hero Club in line as the cultural festival looms, and she is all too happy to be that person, since they are at least in agreement the club could stand to be less rowdy.

To this end, Mizuki takes charge of managing the club’s job requests, and splits the members up to take on jobs that are not only best suited to their skills, but will also create the least disturbance. In this way, Mizuki is trying to find the happy medium between unchecked chaos and the club being shut down. Where the most outbursty member Yamato is concerned, she uses her hero tickets to keep him in line—which doesn’t seem tenable.

Even so, keeping the peace proves difficult, as even tutoring upperclassmen, Kazuhiro is going to do his thing, while Futaba causes a disturbance by dint of being so popular with the ladies. The StuCo is watching, and appreciates Mizuki’s efforts, urging her to keep it up.

Keeping Yamato out of trouble inevitably means putting herself in same, as she ends up in an off-limits pond filled with aggressive carp. She saves Benjamin the Cat, but ends up in the drink herself. Thankfully, the other club members learned of her whereabouts and arrived en masse to rescue him, led by Yamato, proving his worth as a legit hero when needed.

Mizuki is so happy she’s in tears, and likely feels a bit bad considering she was working against Yamato all this time. But even that isn’t enough to satisfy the StuCo, who considers it unacceptable for the club to be trespassing regardless of context, and begins preparing to bring the club down. After trying to work with the StuCo, I imagine Mizuki will fight to stop their plans…and she won’t have to fight alone!

No Guns Life – 06 – Watch Out for the Little Kid

With Mary, Tetsuro, Scarlet and her dad all in safe EMS custody, Juuzou can focus on tracking down and apprehending Hayden Gondry, who just happens to be the first renegade Extended case. Why he was being transported in an ordinary paddy wagon with three other prisoners is beyond me (if it were me I’d keep him on the prison island) but he’s loose, and he’s already murdered three people.

Olivier (whose compulsion to smell really bad smells is an interesting detail about her) warns Juuzou to take their arrangement seriously and bring Gondry in alive so he can face a formal trial. Judging from the photo on her desk, Olivier seems to have a personal stake in this case: either Gondry killed her father, or is her father.

Juuzou visits the mansion of the latest victim, walking past a photo that could be a young Mary, but his work is interrupted by the arrival of Section Chief Kronen, and the two fight until the latter is out of poison needles. Juuzou makes the connection between the three victims—they were all “extension subjects” for the first-generation unit, Tindalos.

He also knows who the next victim will be, so Kronen gives him a ride in his vintage Corvette to that next victim’s present location. That would-be victim, the famous and well-loved world’s first full-body Extended, Tokisada Mega Armed, is inspecting a massive statue being constructed in his honor. On the way to Armed, Juuzou encounters a cute young child who isn’t scared of his gun face.

As Armed is moving through a crush of admirers, Gondry strikes—and is instantly captured by Juuzou. Gondry breaks free, and Kronen hits Juuzou with more needles because he’s in the way, but then Kronen launches a kick at Gondry but hits Juuzou, whose head smashes what is revealed as a Gondry mask—only a decoy.

Meanwhile, Armed has gotten away—incidentally, with the same cute, innocent kid with whom Juuzou crossed paths. That turns out to be bad news, since the kid is actually the real Gondry, who is able to change his form and use holography to mimic the girl. We’ll see if Juuzou and Kronen can put aside their differences, because it will probably take both of them (and possibly more) to bring the guy down.

While there are a couple moments of decent humor and action, this episode was a bit of a drag, groaning under the weight of too much exposition and setup surrounding someone who is, so far, a two-dimensional murderous baddie. I also missed Mary and the others; while it’s logical to detain them for their safety, it would have been nice to cut to them at least once.

No Guns Life – 05 – More Faces, More Problems

This week introduces a number of characters who have been previewed in the OP and ED (the latter sporting very different character design). We start with Juuzou’s new landlady Christina, his “barber” who is best at cleaning his gun components and calls him “Zippo-chan”, and the barber’s daughter Scarlet, who seems to have a thing for the big guy but often stumbles on her words.

The more the merrier, I say, particularly where quirky colorful characters are concerned. They add depth and dimension to this cyberpunk world, and this week underscore how tenuous Juuzou’s grip on his freedom and the safety of the civvies he knows is, especially now that he discharged his head to defeat Spider-Ende.

The woman in charge of keeping Over-Extendeds in line, immune or otherwise, is the blue-(and very full)-lipped EMS director Olivier, who storms the barbershop in the blink of an eye with her Extended SWAT team. Juuzou pretends she’s not even there and asks the barber to keep cleaning his parts.

When Tetsuro and Mary come with leftovers for the Barber and Scarlet, they end up in the middle of things, and all of them end up arrested along with Juuzou. But turns out it’s all for show: Olivier and Juuzou have an arrangement where she smooths out any legal problems he causes, and in exchange she does something for him.

In this case that means capturing two of the seven prisoners who escaped from a van during transfer from the remote, supermax Over-Extended prison Wunder Bender to Berühren (a different arrangement between EMS and the megacorp in exchange for tech EMS needs). One of the two makes it easy and shows up to disrupt the EMS convoy, sending the wagon with the civilians (which Juuzou asked to be brought along for their protection) over a bridge. Somehow they all survive…I guess people are just tougher in this world.

Anyway, the escaped prisoner is called Hug Bear, and loves to give his victims bear-hugs with his meat grinder-like Extended muscles. He takes out some of Olivier’s men and is about to turn on Scarlet, Mary and the others when he is immobilized by yet another new character, Section Chief Kronen. That leaves just one prisoner remaining, who happens to be the most dangerous. What a coincidence!

No Guns Life – 04 – Spiders Are People Too

This week the sprawling gritty cyberpunk world of NGL shrinks considerably to a small area in the labyrinthine Kyusei pit where Tetsuro (via Juuzou’s body) is locked in a standoff with Cunningham, Anne, and Spider-Ende. Being trapped in this spot for a half episode gets increasingly claustrophobic, but also tedious. It actually felt more like an episode of a shounen anime…just not a particularly good one.

The bad guy spends a lot of time jabbering, Tetsuro’s inflexible morality is decried as selfish arrogance by Anne, poor Ende occasionally makes a peep, rinse repeat. But eventually something does happen, when Cunningham puts shoots Ende with a drug that puts her into a comatose state, such that there’s nothing keeping the spider part of her from going completely berserk.

Monster-Ende sends Anne flying, and while Tetsuro manages to somewhat cushion her impact with the wall, Juuzou’s body ain’t exactly soft, and she seemingly dies of her injuries just after telling Tetsuro to “save Ende in her place”. His connection with Juuzou’s body severed, all Tetsuro can do is use his Harmony, but he’s in luck: Juuzou comes to, and gets Tetsuro out of there.

From there, things get more interesting, as the episode is finally moving again. Monster-Ende’s relentless pursuit is particularly well done—not to mention very appropriate for Halloween. Once Juuzou and Tetsuro (and some poor bystander) are trapped in an elevator and Ende’s tearing apart its ceiling, Juuzou has no choice but to let Tetsuro fire the big gun that is his head.

That does the trick—Ende’s humanity is momentarily restored before she dies in the gun blast, and she seems to smile in gratitude that she’s finally freed of her constant torture. Only, as we learn later when Juuzou and Tetsuro are vacating the Kyusei Pit, Ende didn’t die…and neither did Anne. They’re both fine in Mary’s care.

When things started going badly for the two girls, I wondered why they featured so prominently in the OP—even appearing as a Polaroid on Juuzou’s bulletin board—if they were just going to kill them off here. It felt like a waste, so I’m glad they’re still alive. But that they are, and it’s announced quite suddenly in a new scene, sapped much of the drama and tragedy at the heart of the episode.

I’m also not sure what to make of Juuzou possibly being able to wrest control of his body back from Tetsuro, even though he said when he woke up that while he was conscious, he was just a “passenger.” There were definitely times when it made no sense to give him free rein, especially when it came to his overarching job of protecting Tetsuro.

So yeah, this wasn’t the best NGL, but it did still manage raise the stakes for Juuzou and Tetsuro. As we said, Juuzou isn’t welcome in the Kyusei Pit anymore, while Tetsuro’s status has evolved from “prey” to “enemy” of Berühren. Not to mention when Juuzou fired his gun, a woman with blue hair and lips took notice. She definitely looked like she meant business.

No Guns Life – 03 – Pulling the Strings

Juuzou politely declines a job offer from the imposing Brother Huang of the Kyusei group to find and eliminate someone stealing extended limbs from kids, because he thinks people should “wipe their own asses.” But what if someone can’t, either because they don’t have arms, or can’t move the ones they have?

Juuzou trusts actions over words, even what he deems are sincere words from Tetsuro about saving the other children imprisoned and tortured by Berühren as they speak…only Tetsuro isn’t really speaking with his own voice; he’s using a spare Extended head’s voice.

Similarly, in order to actually carry out the saving of those kids, he’ll need to rely on bodies other than his own, which was made all but useless by the company. Juuzou tells him any attempt would be futile; the world is an unfair place, and Tetsuro needs to count what blessings he has and move forward thinking about himself.

Tetsuro can’t accept that, and won’t sit back and do nothing. Instead, he uses Harmony to hack into Juuzou’s body, which he uses to carry his own body (lest Mary try to disconnect the two) as he heads out in search of the people hurting kids. When he almost falls victim to parts scavengers, he covers Juuzou’s head with a sack.

Then he seemingly lucks out when he spots two distressed-looking girls in gray frocks running from a man with swords for arms—just the kind of people he wants to save. Only Ende and Anne are not really on the run; they’re the very people stealing parts from kids, on orders from Berühren. They were also ordered not to let any witnesses survive, making Tetsuro/Juuzou their next target.

Of the two, Ende is capable of transforming into a monstrous mecha-spider woman, but even with Anne by her side for emotional support, she easily goes berserk, and in any case is in constant pain. Anne just hopes they can return home to Berühren for maintenance, and believes that Ende’s body will be put “back to normal” as a reward if they complete their mission.

Berühren’s stooge, however, considers the two to have failed their mission when he meets up with them, and orders the two test subjects immediately “retired” (in another nice nod to Blade Runner). Both he and the company never saw Ende and Anne as human beings, but mere puppets; tools to be used and discarded when the desired results aren’t achieved.

And yet, even though Anne and Ende tried to kill Tetsuro/Juuzou, he still comes to their rescue here, since he already knows what they’ve only just figured out: Berühren can’t be trusted, and can only be opposed. The girls don’t trust adults, but hopefully someone who can transform into a mecha-spider woman can come to believe Tetsuro when he insists he’s one of them, and is merely controlling the big burly adult body they see. It’s a tough sell, I know.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

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!

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!