Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

Higehiro – 06 – Doing the Best We Can

Trigger Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted rape.

With Sayu now working a part-time job, it was only a matter of time before the show’s first truly unsavory character reared their ugly head. Yaguchi Kyouya is that character, and to call him “unsavory” is putting it all too lightly. Just because he and Sayu slept together a few times, he believes he’s entitled not only to know where she lives now, but to sleep with her whenever he wants.

Yaguchi is a truly detestable scumbag in the SAO tradition of scumbag villains: a guy specially formulated to be loathed with extreme prejudice. There are moments when his presence in this show is so out-of-place compared to all the caring, compassionate, and protective people around Sayu, he feels like a caricature.

Lest I forget: Yaguchi and men like him who took what they could from Sayu and then discarded her are not only a crucial part of this story, but all too common in real life. Yaguchi shows no regard for Sayu’s agency or choices, blows past all personal boundaries, lies to her face about “just wanting to talk.” And the worst of it? When he attempts to rape her, she puts everything on herself, fearing the consequences to Yoshida and Asami.

That she’s of the mind that she has to let Yaguchi have his way with her so others won’t get hurt shows how far Sayu still has to go in being able to protect and value herself. And she would have absolutely been raped had Yoshida not taken it upon himself to read her text as a call for help. While I normally detest violence, I feel Yoshida goes far to easy on him; he should have to bear at least a shiner for his transgressions.

Yaguchi is absolutely wrong that they’re the same and the only difference is Yoshida isn’t sleeping with her. Yaguchi is definitely a criminal for having sex with a minor, while Yoshida’s harboring of Sayu is a lot more of a gray area. But worst of all to Yoshida is that at no point does Yaguchi think about Sayu. It’s all about what he can get, and why Yoshida isn’t getting it to.

Thankfully, Yoshida is firm enough to get Yaguchi to promise not to bother Sayu again, but we’ve already seen the value of this guy’s promises. Yoshida knows he may not know if he can save Sayu or how, but at least he’s trying! All the others did was hurt her more. They don’t get to protest his attempts to save her when they never tried.

When he returns to the room to comfort Sayu, she doesn’t know why she got so scared when he tried after they’d done it so many times before. Yoshida simply says that’s normal. She was right to turn him down, did and said nothing wrong, and needs to think about herself more. Seeing her not able to be the normal teenager she should be hurts, but becoming one starts with caring about herself.

The next day, Asami notices that something happened between Yaguchi and Sayu, and when Sayu won’t say anything, she confronts him. He tells the truth about what he tried to do to Sayu, then apologizes after Asami slaps him and leaves the break room, admitting he “got a little rough” (ya think?) Sayu asks why he didn’t tell Asami about them, and he says he promised not to if she brought him to her place. So I guess he’ll keep some of his promises?

Sayu doesn’t forgive Yaguchi—she never should, frankly, unless he shows serious signs of changing—but isn’t “mad” anymore, and is also present enough to make clear to him if he tries anything again she’ll be mad. His assurance he won’t seems more couched in the ferocity of her two “guard dogs” in Yoshida and Asami, but if there’s one quality of this guy I’ll put my faith in, it’s his cowardice, and if that means he really won’t try to touch her again, I’ll take it.

After Sayu’s shift, Yoshida texts that he’ll be at work late, so Asami invites herself over to her place to protect her. She stops by her palatial estate for some stuff, and we learn that she’s the daughter of a politician and lawyer who are almost never around, and Sayu’s the first friend she’s told about her house. By opening up a little about herself, she inspires Sayu to do the same, telling her plainly about how she came from Hokkaido and stayed at various guys’ places, including Yaguchi’s.

She continues that she kept running from place to place and nothing ever changed, until she met Yoshida and then Asami, and realized how “stupid” she was being. Heartened by Sayu opening up, Asami takes her to a special spot where you can see the stars despite still being in Tokyo.

As the two gaze at the stars, Asami tells Sayu more about herself, how she dressed up as a gyaru, but her parents didn’t understood she was doing it for attention she simply wasn’t getting from them. And while she’s expected to follow in her mom’s footsteps in law, what she really wants to study is literature and become a writer. That led to a huge argument with her mom.

That’s when her dad took her to this starry spot and assured her their worries are nothing compared to those stars. But while Asami knows humans are to small to be seen compared to the stars, they still have pasts and futures that matter. She knows Sayu’s past was rough, but she got through it to get to where she is: in a position to choose her future. It’s the second straight week of heartwarming girl talk, only this time between girls of the same age.

The next day after Yoshida comes home early, Sayu tells him that living with him, she’s finally able to start thinking about a future. She just needs a little more time. Yoshida will give her all the time she needs. She may have  met one too many Yaguchi Kyouya’s on the way, but those assholes are but insignificant specks compared to the growing constellation of good people she knows, who care about her and are slowly but surely teaching her to care about herself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stray Observations:

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

Fruits Basket – 43 – Having Nothing in the End

Hiro is talking with Kisa about his yet-to-be-born sibling, whose gender will be a surprise, when he spots Rin in her school uniform. He’s concerned about her ashen appearance, but she gives him basically the same treatment as everyone else who tries to reach out: Buzz off. Go have your happy life with your nice parents and leave me alone with my misery.

The episode then revisits the time Rin approached Shigure, and we learn that she seeks a means of lifting the Zodiac curse, just like Tooru. She’s willing to give him her body for the info, but Shigure—in a rare instance of not being a total slimebag—rejects her offer. But he also refuses to help in any way, while stating he’ll enjoy the benefits Rin’s and others’ efforts, because, as he himself says, he is the worst.

Spurned by Shigure, who may or may not possess the answers she seeks, she goes through a Souma storage room in hopes of finding something, anything related to the curse and a way to lift it. Exhausted and nauseous, she collapses on the ground, then remembers one of the happiest moments in her life—in bed with Hatsu post-coitus, wishing she could be his heart—followed by one of the worst: her parents telling her they “don’t want her”.

Around dusk, she returns to Shigure’s house, strung-out almost beyond belief, but nobody’s home…until Tooru comes through the door. Even that act of opening a door sends Rin into a hysterical fit, repeatedly begging Tooru not to yell at her. Tooru being Tooru, she does the only thing the situation calls for in that moment: giving Rin a warm, gentle hug to try to calm her down.

Shigure may believe he’s the worst, but delving into Rin’s horrific childhood establishes some healthy competition for the title. By all accounts, Rin’s parents tried for years to put on a happy, fun façade as they raised her. It wasn’t until it started to feel like a performance to her, and she asked them why that was, that they snapped. This is not at all to blame Rin for breaking the façade; it was doomed no matter what she said or did. But it’s clear she blames herself.

Verbal and physical abuse followed, until one day Rin collapsed from the injuries the marks of which her clothes concealed. Kazuma and Hatsu are with her in the hospital, and that’s when her parents tell her flat out they no longer want her. Hatsu responds not by turning into Dark Hatsu, but simply by getting extremely pissed off with the parents, and lays into them, getting no response in return.

From then on, Rin lived with Kagura’s family, and the mere fact it was a genuinely happy household caused her intense emotional and physical pain, since she wonders “what she did wrong” to cause her to lose her own home. The only person in whom she found true peace and comfort was her white-haired knight Hatsu, who eventually confesses his love, and she reciprocates.

For the one person with whom spending time was not painful to also be a Zodiac member only adds fuel to the all-consuming flame of misfortune that is Rin’s life. Akito finds out, and when Hatori’s eye is brought up, Rin declares that she was the one who seduced Hatsu.

Akito doesn’t hold back on the verbal or physical wrath, calling Rin wicked and devious “like all women” and calling her flowing black hair “repulsive”. Seemingly feeding off Rin’s fear by grabbing her, Akito tells her she has no value other than filling one of the Zodiac slots before throwing her out the window. This is witnessed by Hiro, and if he hadn’t, Rin might well have bled out. Instead, she’s still alive…and wishes she wasn’t.

For all of those times I misinterpreted Rin’s standoffish, quick-to-anger nature in the few scenes in which she interacted with others, I can only beg for the character’s forgiveness. She’s had every right to act the way she has. It’s now crystal clear she broke up with Hatsu in order to save him from Akito’s wrath, as well as her own belief her love for him would be so heavy it would one day crush him.

I can only breathe a sigh of relief that Rin is now in the safest possible place: in Shigure’s house and in Tooru’s care. She may act like every bit the wounded horse upon coming to, and stubbornly reject any and all offer of help from Tooru, but the fact is the two share the same goal, and they’ll need each other if they’re going to make any progress.

So ends the darkest and most devastating episode of Fruits Basket to date, an absolutely unrelenting look at the destructive effects of the Zodiac curse on its members. Few episodes of anime hit me as hard as this one. Rin is at absolute rock bottom, neither wanting nor feeling she is deserving of love, happiness, or anything at all. But if anyone can help her, it’s Tooru. As long as Rin is alive, there is still hope. And I hope to hell she gets the redemption she needs and deserves.

Gleipnir – 09 – The Third Faction

The first third of this episode resembles a pleasant hiking trip (they even take a break to eat watermelon) through the woods, but it’s clear that the closer they get to the crash site, the more powerful foes they’ll encounter. When they take a detour around a site marked as turf by a rival group, that detour takes them to a very exposed riverbed, leading Claire to wonder if that was the enemy’s goal in the first place.

Sayaka may have stirred her troops with her speech—she’s clearly a good leader in that regard—but the fact remains she led her group into a potentially deadly trap simply by discounting the possibility her group could be outwitted by the selfish savages who inhabit the woods. Worse, her lack of any offensive capability make her an instant liability in an actual battle with a member of this third group.

This monster, Morita, runs ahead of his allies to cut Sayaka’s group off and stall them, taking Sayaka hostage and holding her limbs (and boobs) with his many arms. Due to the usual way things go in Gleipnir, I didn’t think Sayaka would ever leave Morita’s grasp with her life (or all her limbs attached). Enter Yota, who reveals his superior offensive capability for the first time by freeing Sayaka, ripping Morita’s jaw out, and leaving him in a defeated pile.

When Morita’s allies find him, they declare him useless and are excited at the prospect of putting him out of his misery and moving on, since they never liked him. But their leader, who unlike Sayaka is the most powerful among them, takes pity on Morita, rips out one of his own teeth to share in the pain, and promises he’ll make the one responsible pay dearly.

Taking the form of a massive gorilla, the leader rushes Sayaka’s group and punches out Isao, believing him to be Morita’s attacker before Yota saves Isao from being pummeled by a log. Yet even Yota has trouble with this guy, meaning the Weak’s last best chance of surviving this latest encounter is for Claire to climb into Shuuichi and do their thing.

After a couple straight episodes of interesting relationship dynamics, that’s all set aside this week for the sake of the plot moving forward. You could call that a demerit on a show where the characters are more compelling than the story, but it’s good to see the show strike a balance. After all the talk about external threats, this was a confrontation that needed to happen sooner rather than later. We’ll see how many of the Weak come out of it in one piece.

P.S. The sub-7 rating of Gleipnir on MAL is frankly a joke. This is easily a 7.6-7.8 anime at worst. Remember to keep taking those with a grain of salt!

Gleipnir – 08 – Filling In the Shadows

Claire and Yatou find Shuuichi and Chihiro (and Chihiro’s wallet), then return to the hideout where there are finally formal introductions of the remaining members. One of them, Isao, is a mild-mannered plant-lover who just happens to remember Shuuichi playing with friends at Yamada Cram School.

Shuuichi just happened to dream of the school, but woke up before he met any of his classmates. And yet Shuuichi insists to Isao that he was the only student at the school, which aside from being very odd (wouldn’t he just have a tutor?) reinforces the idea that his memories have been supremely messed with.

Claire is naturally suspicious of Chihiro, and doesn’t believe she doesn’t remember anything about the battle after she and Shuuichi were smushed. This scene is akin to your typical high school drama confrontation between romantic rivals, just as entering Shuuichi is akin to sex.

Claire insists she’s “irreplaceable” as Shuuichi’s partner, but Chihiro speaks with some authority that the two will never “become one” before walking away. Claire’s fear Chihiro might just be right—and dread of the loneliness that could result from that truth—likely conspire to keep her from taking a shot at Chihiro.

On the way home for the day, Claire brings up Shuuichi’s “experience” with Chihiro, including asking straight up if she was “better” than her, and even half-jokingly proposing real sex with him as a means of reasserting their exclusivity. What’s so heartbreaking is that the truth is, from a combat perspective, Chihiro was better.

Because Chihiro and Shuuichi shared the same goal in that moment (perhaps nothing more than a desire to survive their smushing), she was able to exact a transformation—and a closeness to Shuuichi—Claire hasn’t come close to achieving. She can say “you and I are one” all she wants, but Shuuichi and Chihiro really were a single entity.

As is expected of such a non-confrontational fellow, Shuuichi remains passive in this brewing love triangle for now. He seems destined to continue having women slip into his zipper as long as he ends up in situations where he needs to become stronger. Claire is right on one count: Shuuichi needs someone around to spur him to decisive action.

Who is best for that role depends on what he wants his role to be. And whether it’s encountering his classmate Abukawa burying a dog that was (allegedly) run over, or fixing Mifune’s bike, he wants to use his power not for himself, but to protect normal, powerless people like them. (Incidentally, Ikeuchi is spying on him when he’s with Mifune, and concludes he’s an inveterate womanizer.)

That night, Chihiro calls Elena, using the number she found on Shuuichi’s phone. She’s desperate for answers about what happened to the two of them, and Elena generously explains that what happened is Shuuichi’s special power, and how only someone who shares his goals can fully join with him, as Chihiro did.

Chihiro, it turns out, not only remembers the entirety of the battle while she and Shuuichi were joined, but was privy to all of his memories, many of which were full of “shadows,” or unnaturally erased details memories. Whether it’s the fact he had classmates at cram school, to the fact he and Elena were clearly in some kind of relationship, Chihiro is new link to memories Elena thought were lost.

I’ll just add that this episode was full of great dialogue between seiyus Hanazawa Kana and Ichinose Kana, whose voice many compare to a younger Hanazawa.

Chihiro could glean from those memories that Elena wasn’t a bad person, and pleads with her to join them. She’s assuming Elena is that same not-bad person, and it’s clear she isn’t; people change. Still, Chihiro’s revelations could pave the way for a possible redemption of Elena, provided a lot of conditions are met.

The next day the Weak reassemble and set out in search of more coins, with Sayaka noting the pattern of their locations indicates the path of the alien ship, which is their ultimate goal to 100 coins. Elena, meanwhile, told Chihiro “someone” (either her or someone she’s aligned with) already has 100 coins. So the Weak certainly have some catching up to do.

Speaking of coins, Claire ends up taking her own, which she told Shuuichi she’d never use on herself, out of its hiding place and staring thoughtfully out the window. She may not know for sure what we know about the extent of Chihiro’s connection to Shuuichi (or how much “better” it was), but I’m sure she suspects the worst, and might feel like she’s suddenly being left behind. Things continue to get very messy indeed.

Gleipnir – 03 – Total Sunday

Claire is eager to learn more about Shuuichi’s beast mode, but since it’s a hot summer day, she strips down to nothing before entering him again. This is a bit too scandalous for Shuuichi (more than a girl climbing inside him, apparently), so they compromise: she’ll wear her school swimsuit.

It’s clear Claire has fun teasing him with her killer body, but I’d hardly call this behavior sadistic—”teasing” is an adequate description of it, especially when she tickles him with his own hands. Also, she probably wouldn’t do it as much if Shuuichi didn’t have such reliably amusing reactions.

Their relationship has softened considerably since their first fateful encounter, and it’s likely due to the fact they’ve become one more than once now. It’s no longer antagonistic, nor does it smack as “we have no choice” reluctant cooperation. It’s starting to feel more like a partnership.

It’s a lot more like…two high school kids who never really fit in, hanging out and figuring this stuff out together. Neither is prepared for when Claire unzips the sleeve containing her sister’s uniform. It’s soaked with the stench of blood and the death of untold number of people.

Still, Shuuichi is desperate to learn why he came to be in this predicament and if it’s possible to reverse it, and when he’s one with Claire he feels a measure of her fear along with his own. That empathy-through-communion steels his normally timid nerves, and he resolves to help her find Elena, no matter what dangers or horrors come their way.

Claire admits she didn’t expect him to grow a pair, even calling his attitude “cool.” She clearly sees him as more than a tool to be used, just as he still notices the high school girl in her when she inspects her face in the fridge door. Heck, during their stakeout, she even admits unbidden that she’s still a virgin, erasing an potential rich avenue of Shuuichi-teasing.

Remaining out of sight and utilizing Shuuichi’s strong sense of smell, they eventually encounter Elena coming off a train. While Claire’s original plan was to talk to her sister, to try to understand why she killed their parents, but that goes out the window when she’s in their sights. Claire pulls Shuuichi’s big gun and prepares to shoot her, but Shuuichi stops her at the least minute, exerting control in a moment Claire is acting on instinct.

Then things get weird. Elena appears to be a beast like Shuuichi, but she can take numerous forms, and her human form evaporates into her smoke demon form as she gloms onto the back of Shuuichi like a predator about to make a kill. Only…she stops, and suddenly adopts a much meeker personality. Hanazawa Kana handles both the good and evil Elena quite ably, mirroring her dual performance of Nadeko in the Monogatari Series.

This suddenly human-again, polite, contrite Elena tells them that she understands how they feel and doesn’t mind if they want to kill her, but that they should go somewhere out of the way so as not to bother bystanders. Once in an isolated field, she bows her head and apologizes. To Claire and Shuuichi’s surprise, she believes she’s talking only to Shuuichi, and is apologizing for making him take that form.

When Claire lets out a yelp of surprise, however, It’s no more Miss Nice Elena. She transforms back into a smoke monster, sensing Claire inside Shuuichi and furious about it. She declares that Shuuichi’s insides “belong to her” and rips off Shuuichi’s head, exposing Claire to mortal danger.

This was all but unavoidable. Neither Shuuichi or Elena could avoid searching for answers, even if it meant getting into this latest life-threatening situation. Whether or however they manage to get out of it, the handsome “alien” with the coins only living things can see got it wrong: the inhabitants of Earth are hardly “all good people.”

Gleipnir – 02 – Entering the Emptiness

When fellow “monster” Hikawa threatens Clair, Shuuichi freezes up, and Claire hits Hikawa’s eyes with pepper spray. Rather than fight, Shuuichi gathers Claire up and escapes out the window. We learn that Hikawa was her school’s ace runner, and became a “monster” by depositing the star coin in the vending machine and wishing to run faster.

Hikawa wasn’t prepared for the monkey’s paw-like downside of her wish, but now she seems accustomed enough to it that killing Shuuichi and Claire is no big deal. Did gaining monstrous physical traits make her into a monster, or was she one before those traits manifested?

Whatever the case, Shuuihi absolutely sucks at fighting, so when Claire finds a zipper on his back, she unzips him and finds nothing but a fleshy pocket inside. And while Shuuichi stopped himself from going to far with Claire after rescuing her from the fire, Claire dives right into that pocket and finds that it fits as snugly and comfortably as a glove.

As a result of “becoming one” with Shuuichi, Claire can now control his body, and her moves are a lot sharper than his was. Shuuichi finds he has no control over his body, but his thoughts and sensations are merged with Claire’s, forming a symbiotic pilot-vehicle pair. While this isn’t conventional sex, it’s definitely a weird supernatural analog.

A brutal fight with the berserk Hikawa ensues, and Claire gets better and better at controlling Shuuichi’s mascot body. Before long, Hikawa takes a couple of hard licks and wears down. Claire puts her leg in a hold and threatens to snap it if Hikawa doesn’t tell her everything she knows about the star coins.

Hikawa ain’t talking, so the leg goes snap, and then Claire draws the mascot’s gun—which is real, it turns out—and blows Hikawa away. Shuuichi’s desperate pleas for her to stop go ignored, and when the threat has passed, Claire emerges from the mascot’s interior a sticky but satisfied mess.

A week passes, and both Claire and Shuuichi go back to their ordinary lives without any developments. Whatever went down, it seems they weren’t seen and aren’t suspected by anyone. The two meet in private, and Claire tells him other “monsters” are out there and both of them individual lack the strength to fight them; they have to act as one.

Claire also has a personal interest in this whole mascot monster business—her sister Elena is one, and she’s eager to find her. She also promises Shuuichi that whatever happens, she’ll die with him so he won’t be alone. When he asks what she’d do if he wanted to die now? She leaps off a warehouse balcony, hoping to “see him soon”. Shuuichi is able to catch her, but if he hadn’t, she’d have died right there.

Half a year ago, Elena visited the vending machine, but asked the boy inside to give her wish to someone else…someone she “wants to be with.” The strap on her bag is a tiny version of Shuuichi’s mascot form. What’s the connection? Why him? And will Claire gradually wear down his basic decency and make him a monster, or will he continue to let himself be her puppet?

Cautious Hero – 09 – Riding the Valkyrie

Kilkapul sacrifices himself and his family in order to summon the “hyper-conceptual reaper” Thanatus, who merely splits into two copies when sliced in half and even manages to lightly bruise Seiya. Even when they retreat to the Divine Realm, the reaper follows them, and makes quick work of every god and goddess that tries to bring him down. Meanwhile, Seiya’s party just runs.

Seiya may not know how to beat Thanatus, but he has a pretty good idea who could beat him: Valkyrie. He knows she’s painting, and and sets things up so an attack by Thanatus destroys her almost-finished canvas, enraging her into fighting. She ultimately defeats Thanatus by using “Gate of Valhalla,” a godly technique she believes no human could achieve. But Seiya wants to train with her and prove her wrong.

When Rista checks in on the two, they appear to be banging in Valkyrie’s bed, but Seiya insists it’s “just training,” I’m a little skeptical, as Rista is, but she’s gotten so obsessive about her love-hate relationship with the lout that she’s taken to making dolls out of her own hair—and developing ever more manic faces. She’s also developing a self-defeating neurosis about her body odor, leading to compulsive bathing till her skin is raw.

Ishtar informs them the fourth Heavenly King and his army are advancing on the Roseguard capital, so Seiya & Co. head back to Gaeabrande. But the boss is dealt with not by Seiya, but by the “Warmaster”, an elderly but extremely powerful knight who dispatches the HK with one shot and the army with another. The catch is, after his immense attacks he reverts to infancy, leading to the strangest Ristaface to date.

DanMachi II – 08 – Whatever It Takes

Mikoto arrives in the midst of Bell’s beatdown at the hands of Aisha, but the latter takes her down with one strike, then continues wailing on the Little Rookie. Turns out Haruhime, donning a red cloak, is the source of Aisha’s power boost. Phryne also gets in on the game, snatching up Bell for herself and chaining him to the wall of her secret love nest.

Bell is lucky he couldn’t manage an erection, because Phryne has to leave him to find an “enhancement” medicine, allowing the one other person who knows about the dungeon—Haruhime—to sneak in and rescue him (after slipping the keys to the captured Mikoto).

Bell mentions his and Mikoto’s present efforts to buy her, for which she’s grateful to the point of tears, but it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in going anywhere or doing anything other than what was decided for her long ago: as Take tells Hestia, she’s to be sacrificed to the Killing Stone, a magical object that optimizes Renard power.

In Haruhime’s case, she’s able to provide a level boost to Aisha, but once the ritual is complete and the stone shattered, that power can be spread to many other Ishtar Amazons, giving them the offensive edge they need in a war against the more powerful-on-paper Freya Familia.

Once Haruhime gets Bell back to the Pleasure District and urges him to flee, Mikoto meets up with them, having learned about the Killing Stone thorugh books in Ishtar’s palace. Aisha also arrives, and snatches Haruhime back up. She dares Bell to do something—anything—to try to get Haruhime back, but Bell freezes. In that moment, he wavers between the desire to save her and his reluctance to get Hestia Familia tangled up in a war they can’t win.

He’s so frozen in hesitation, Mikoto has to grab his hand and run before the other Amazons can capture him. In short, this episode was a bit of a downer, as Haruhime has seemed to be a doomed character ever since her introduction. One wonders if her fate is sealed now that Bell lost his last best chance to save her, or if he can summon the same resolve Haruhime has and risk everything to challenge her death wish.

Heck, even if Bell wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in Haruhime’s fate, it just seems like a very bad idea to let Ishtar gain such a dangerous military advantage, considering she basically screws her underlings (like Aisha) into obedience. Here’s hoping for some kind of light at the end of this tunnel.

DanMachi II – 06 – Orario Vice

When Bell, Lili and Welf are concerned about Mikoto acting weird, they follow her one night, and to her surprise she ends up meeting with Chigusa and entering Orario’s famous pleasure district, which is run by the wealthy and powerful Ishtar Familia (Ishtar is the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, war, and fertility).

Turns out Mikoto and Chigusa are searching for an old friend of theirs from their original home in the Far East, where she was a noble. Chigusa spotted her in the district and came to Mikoto, who saught confirmation before coming to the rest of Hestia Familia.

Lili, and certainly Hestia, would rather the adorable Bell be anywhere but the pleasure district, where he is  almost constantly approached, accosted, and embraced by dozens of beautiful, available women, including Aisha, one of Ishtar’s higher-ups. Separated from the others, Bell never had a chance to escape their clutches.

Right before he’s surrounded and picked up and taken to Ishtar’s palace to be passed between several eager Amazonesses, he spots an ethereal, yukata-wearing fox woman in a window, who judging from the glimpse of her last week, is the person Mikoto and Chigusa were looking for.

Ishtar herself has no time for a first-timer like Bell, but her underlings are all but willing to suck him dry, so to speak. The start of their fun is interrupted by the huge and grotesque Phryne, and Bell uses the distraction caused by the Amazons’ bickering (and his adventurer’s sneaking skills and speed) to slip away.

He ends up in the courtyard of one of the district’s fancier-looking brothels, and who does he encounter within one of the rooms but the straw-haired fox woman, named Haruhime, who assumes Bell is there to buy his first sexual experience.

It seems despite being more experienced than Bell, the sight of his collarbone still overwhelms her, giving him the opportunity to tell her he’s not there for sex, just to hide from the Amazons. She can understand; it’s tough to be a first-timer in a district where it’s the occupation of so many women to kidnap and have their way with you.

As they spend the rest of the evening chatting, discovering that they share a love of stories about heroes that originally drew them to Orario, Ishtar has a meeting with Hermes, who has delivered something to her that is of importance in her ongoing rivalry with Freya. When Hermes is reluctant to tell her what other weaknesses Freya might have that she can exploit, she removes what little clothing she is wearing in order to force the issue.

Haruhime tells Bell that while she loved those heroic stories, she no longer sees herself as someone worthy of being saved or protected. Despite her noble appearance and cushy digs, she doesn’t seem to see any nobility in her profession, only filth. It really brings Bell down, who doesn’t agree that she should have to sacrifice her dreams simply because circumstances, many of them not of her making, landed her in a brothel.

Still, he runs off into the night none too soon, as Aisha shows up immediately after to escort Haruhime back to her chambers. As for Ishtar, she gets the information she wanted out of an overwhelmed Hermes in bed: Freya is obsessed with Cranel Bell, and she can hurt her by stealing him from her.

So now Bell finds himself in the sights of not one but two distinct and powerful goddesses of love, war, sex, and fertility, and almost certainly doesn’t want his first encounter with Haruhime to be his last. If he’s the hero he thinks he is, he’ll no doubt try to find a way to free her from servitude.