The World’s Finest Assassin – 08 – The Only Way to Live

Last week aptly documented Lugh’s happy and successful life as Illig Balor with his right-hand women Tarte and Maha. Now two years have passed. While before Maha was powerless to save her friends from criminals, here she keeps an eye out for them when they’re out late and dispatches their would-be muggers with ease.

Lugh has learned that given a chance (and adequate resources), Maha has not only become someone who can protect herself and her friends, but thrive as a merchant. We learn that the shop purchased as the HQ of his now booming cosmetic brand was the first shop Maha’s father opened when he was a merchant. Both Maha and her friends are eternally grateful for Illig’s help giving them their new happy and successful lives.

But for Illig, this life is now over and it’s time to return home and to being Lugh Tuatha Dé. He leaves his thriving business in Maha’s capable hands, while Maha asks that if her Prince can spare a day a month for Dia, surely he can come see her sometime as well. Maha and Tarte also leave on warm, happy, and mutually respecting terms. They don’t see themselves as rivals for Lugh’s heart, because in their view there’s plenty of that heart to go around.

On the wagon ride home they run into some wolf monsters, which Tarteuses the skills Lugh taught her to easily defeat without Lugh having to lift a finger. Once they reach Tuatha Dé lands and he sees the new soybean fields, he gets out of the wagon to receive a warm welcome—and a big basket of produce—from his adoring people.

Unlike Maha and Tarte, they may not know there’s a lot of calculation in his behavior, but even if they did, like Maha and Tarte it’s his actions, not the motivations behind them, that would likely matter most to them.

Has the assassin from our world who is now Tuatha Dé become more sentimental now that he’s been in this world for fourteen years? It’s hard to say, but if he has, it hasn’t softened his edge one bit. When his father reveals that one of the most important reasons for sending him to be a Balor was to give his son the choice he no longer has: to walk away from the thankless life of an assassin anyone in the kingdom could betray and abandon at any time.

Lugh’s answer is a firm no, for the simple reason that he isn’t a Balor, or a merchant: he’s an assassin and a Tuatha Dé. Honor and duty to the kingdom mean nothing to him, but the happiness of the people he cares about means everything. Also, he mentions that he’s in love with Dia, and can’t marry her if he abandons his noble station to be a merchant. It’s another calculated move, but one that doesn’t preclude that he is in love with Dia, and simply calling it something more pragmatic.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 07 – You Gotta Moisturize

“You know, I’ve tried all sorts of moisturizers. I even went fragrance-free for a whole year. Now my sister, she uses some kind of uh… uh… uh… uh… aloe vera with a little sunscreen in it, and ideally, we should all wear gloves when going to bed, but I found out that that creates a kind of an interference with my… “social agenda”, you know what I mean.”—Frank Catton, Ocean’s Eleven

“It’s all going according to plan”—‘Illig’ thinks this as he lay in bed flanked by the undyingly loyal Tarte and Maha. He says the loss of their parents makes them seek human warmth, and their infatuation with him has made them his “pawns”—he continues to insist in his head that there’s a distance between artifice of his precious Plan and the reality as the girls see it: that is and has been kind and generous enough to demand that their loyalty and love.

After Illig heals his father’s legitimate son with his Tuathe Dé skills, his father agrees to adopt Maha as Illig’s sister, and also agrees that no matter when this charade ends, Illig or Lugh will always have a home to go back to in Milteu—a smart backup plan Just in Case.

As far as the merchant world goes, Illig takes to it like a fish to water and intends to make a huge first splash, converting one of his father’s failed liquor stores in the city into a cosmetics and confectionary shop focused on women. Knowing brand trumps quality in this competitive industry, he has an ace up his sleeve: there are no moisturizers in this world.

Not only does Illig impress his father, but his mother too, though she’ll still always hate him as a symbol of her husband’s impropriety. I’m sure Illig appreciates her directness. Six months pass, and Illig and Tarte watch the women and the money pour into the store. Illig further galvanizes Maha’s loyalty and love by making her the store manager, who hires her friends.

Maha and her friends are now living the dream they dreamt while living on the streets before being captured. Maha couldn’t be more content, and we learn Illig has also trained her in the skills of assassination. Such are her and Tarte’s depth of devotion to their master and brother, they’ll happily brutally torture a corporate spy in the night. Illig didn’t even have to be there.

This week is the wackiest Goddess interlude yet—in which she’s rap-dueling with The World’s Greatest MC, only to learn that 30 years later he’s done nothing because all he does is insult people. But while they provide a measure of comic relief, they also show us that of all the Worlds Best ___’s the Goddess has brought to a new world, Illig seems to be faring the best.

We also learn that once a month Illig travels to hang out with Dia, who is essentially his big sister. They collaborate on new spells and catch up. Just one day a month must be lonely (that bittersweet loneliness has been beautifully expressed in the Dia-centric ED), but even if Illig cynically thinks he’s just keeping another pawn loyal to him, there’s clearly more going on than that.

While Illig’s constant assurance to himself everything is going according to plan make me nervous for some kind of unanticipated setback, the first instance is pretty low-key: his body has arrived at puberty, and after a mana-intensive day at Dia’s, he sleeps soundly between Tarte and Maha…and wakes up to learn his body has had its first wet dream.

Tarte and Maha immediately assure him that in the future they will be able to “take care” of this new development without issue or delay, and Illig, who didn’t seem like much of a ladies man in his past life, is understandably flustered. While this first crack in his plan is mostly silly, the fact he now has less than five years to defeat the hero provides potential for many more. So much remains unknown of the hero, from their gender to the possibility of fulfilling his mission without killing them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 07 – Wasted Wings

They say bad news comes in threes: First a bloodied Al is brought to Red and Rit’s; fortunately, he’s fine. Then he says his parents were attacked by Ademi, the bully and son of the captain of the guard. They turn out not to have suffered life-threatening injuries. While his folks recuperate, Al stays with Red and Rit, who get a taste of what it might be like to have a son—a son with the Weapon Master Blessing.

But then the third Bad Thing happens: Gonz and Nao come by saying Tanta was arrested. This starts a big and frankly pretty boring sequence where Red and Rit first go to the Adventurer’s Guild to request a join query with the Townsguard. Turns out their captain, Ademi’s dad Moen, didn’t intend to treat Tanta badly. It’s just that his men suspect Ademi was killed by a resident of Southmarsh.

In exchange for helping them out, the Adventurer’s Guildmaster asks a favor of Rit: track down a drug dealer. She lets her guard down and he blows up in a spray of sticky substance that prevents her from drawing her dual blades. Fortunately, she’s bailed out by Red’s former party-mate Danan, who admits he was originally going to drag Gideon back into the party, but is reluctant now that he sees Red living a happy life.

That said, Danan sees that there’s a lot of strange and upsetting things transpiring in the once-sleepy town where Red intended to settle down Also…Danan might be evil now? Or at least being controlled by that guy he met last week. When Rit comes home, all she wants is to nibble on a sandwich and then relax in Red’s lap. She sees the writing on the wall: they may not be able to enjoy their quiet life much longer.

Did I mention there are some complex dynamics going on with protests in Zoltan and Southmarsh, possibly egged on by the Thieves Guild, keeping those towns’ guards from properly investigating the attacks? Yeah…while the moments between Red and Rit were lovely as usual, there was precious little of it, and there was simply too much else going on.

By the time we checked in with Ruti, Tisse, Ares, and Theodora, I felt a bit exhausted…not what you want from your fantasy slice-of-life show! The party defeats a behemoth and then commandeer a damn airship, and Ruti laments that such a craft is wasted on someone who can’t go where she actually wants—her brothers side.

Unfortunately, the scene is undercut by the fact the show has nowhere near the budget needed to model and animate a halfway-decent airship. Instead, it dredged up memories of the similarly goofy pirate spaceship in Rogue Galaxya PS2 game released back in 2005.

Shin no Nakama – 06 – The Champions of Here

Red is making a routine delivery to Dr. Newman when the two of them suddenly hear someone freaking out. They discover one of their neighbors has overdosed on that recently approved drug that has become popular as a narcotic. These opening events, and an episode title like “The Rampage Begins”, portend a not-so-quiet slice of Red and Rit’s quiet life.

…Or so you’d think. Instead, these suddenly unpleasant events don’t suddenly take over their lives. They still find time for a leisurely omelette lunch, or a day by the river in their swimsuits. They even share their first kiss. Investigating drug crime is not their job, and they’re fine with that. Their job is to stock the necessary ingredients to counteract the drug, and take it easy.

I’ve been a steady defender of both Red and Rit’s individual freedom to live their lives how they see fit…but neither of them is The Hero. I’ll admit to seeming a bit dismissive of Ruti’s fate, but I wish to dispel that right here and now by declaring her the show’s most tragic figure.

Ruti’s Hero’s Blessing is more of a curse, overriding her life 95% of the time. The rest of the time, she’s just a lonesome young woman who loves and misses her brother, and is crushed by the weight of a duty she never asked for.

I felt bad enough last week when we learned she can’t even sleep at night. This week we learn she’s resistant to nice weather as well as bad, and never gets hungry and so doesn’t eat food. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have a sense of taste…being a hero in this world means being anhedonic.

When a bloodied and maimed man suddenly rushes into the apothecary, Red treats him while Rit heads into town to see what’s going on. Turns out it’s nothing good: a number of members of Albert’s party are apparently tweaking out on that drug, which has turned them into rampaging killers.

Rit is content to knock them all out, but Albert kills them with bolts from his crossbow, then nonchalantly apologizes if his party members inconvenienced her from her slow life with her “fiancé”. Rit seems ready to fight, but then suddenly drops her twin blades—something she says is a ritual to “douse” her blessing’s urge to attack.

Possessed of Blessings far less intense than Rutis, Red and Rit are able to maintain their quiet cozy days, but Zoltan seems primed for a major drug and violence epidemic. Red’s ability to produce healing medicines will be key, while Rit may have to use a lot more of her Blessing’s skills than she’d liked in order to maintain peace. The two of them are two talented to sit on the sidelines for long if shit really hits the fan in the village.

As if to herald the figurative storm for which this week seemed like the uneasy calm that always comes before, there’s a literal storm that requires Red and Rit to close up the house shutters and prepare for a long night of rain and thunder. That preparation includes a cup of warm milk and honey Red serves Rit as a calming and sleeping aid.

It’s something Red once made for his sister Ruti when she was little. In a flashback to a similar big storm, we see that even as a young girl Ruti was already exhibiting the qualities of an unfeeling hero, even though it’s clear in her words and actions that she adored her big brother. It’s heartbreaking to watch Red (well, Gideon back then) explain the concept of emotions like happiness and affection and why he thanked her for saying she loved him.

Ruti knows the words, and maybe deep down feels the feelings, but her Blessing is constantly tamping them down. It’s why, in the present, Ruti laments in her own way that she can’t go to where her brother is, even though she once asked him to promise never to leave her. Because she’s the Hero.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 05 – For Their Own Sake

Red and Rit are leisurely preparing to open the shop for the day when a brace of bigwigs from different guilds arrive unannounced, demanding to see Rit. Red says “Uh, no, you can see her when we open”. Realizing there’s nothing else they can do, they agree to wait. I love this. After years of carrying the weight of a party and a kingdom, respectively, Red and Rit aren’t here for anyone but each other.

Rit eventually goes out to speak with the bigwigs, who want her to go back to adventuring, but she tells them she’s signed a lifetime employment contract with Red’s apothecary. He overhears this, and figures it’s the perfect time to give her a gift: an amber bracelet.

This is after a Thieves Guild rep offers him a valuable Elven coin in exchange for Rit, which he obviously refuses. When he asks what her favorite gemstone is, she basically says whatever gemstone he gives her. Fool, you wanna be putting a ring on it!

While minding the store, Rit just revels in the fact she had no idea she’d be working there and living with Red, whom she once knew as Gideon. That takes us to another flashback to when she first met his very good friend—his very tall, very pretty good friend—Yalandrala, and is threatened by her flirting with Gideon as they traverse a forbidden forest they can only cross with Yal and the blessing that allows her to speak to the plants.

Yal can tell what’s going on even before Rit starts with the tsundereing, so she takes her aside to a crisp, cool forest spring for some bathing and a heart-to-heart. There, Yal tells Rit that because she’s a high elf who will live a much longer life, she’s decided not to fall for any humans (a mistake she already said she made once). But it’s clear to her that Rit is crazy about Gideon, and Yal cares about him too, so she’s glad such a nice person has fallen for him.

Even then, Yalandrala wanted Gideon to live his life for his own sake, knowing as only she, Rit, and few others know how far his power goes beyond his blessing and skills. And make no mistake, he’s fully in charge of the party, how it’s going to do things and when.

Ruti may have final sway as the Hero, but she also understands her brother’s power and defers to him. And though Gideon has Rit accompany her to fight the goblins, Ruti quickly demonstrates that in such a situation she’s all she’s got, she’s all she needs.

When the party is reunited, Ruti is the first one to hug Gideon, and Rit decides that she doesn’t want to take him away from her, seeing as how she’s the Hero they’re all depending on. But as fortune would have it, Ares kicked him out of the party, which has led to her and now-Red living and working together in pure bliss.

When a sketchy adventurer who thinks he knows her “weakness” threatens to tell Loggervia she’s in this village slacking off, she basically shrugs and says “go ahead.” She doesn’t care about her social standing in Loggervia. She’s where she wants to be, doing what she wants. This guy can’t touch her.

Because she’s happy here, with Red, each living for their own and each other’s sakes. They’ve earned it! I’m happy for them, and even happier they’re able to swat away possible wrenches in their works so easily this week. That said, we get a flashback to when Ruti learned that her brother had left the party. She learns this from Ares, who intends to take Gideon’s place.

When Ruti suspects that Ares did something to Gideon to make him leave, she puts her arm through his chest, killing him in a spray of blood and gore. Of course, since she’s the Hero, she can revive him in a second, but I’d like to think this was the moment Ares realized he was way out of his depth. Not only because he’s not half the adventurer Red is, but because he tried to play fast and loose with the goddamn Hero. 

The greatest threat to Red and Rit’s blissful quiet life isn’t threats or blackmail from random adventurers or thieves, but the possibility his sister can’t be the Hero she needs to be without him in the party.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 04 – No Mead to Be Shy

Rit and Red sleep in the same room, and even if Rit isn’t letting her bust pop out on purpose, she certainly doesn’t mind if Red sees it. We’re talking about someone who is probably still a bit disappointed he didn’t go for a double bed! Running an apothecary shop and living with a princess isn’t remotely the life Red thought he’d be living, but he’s pretty satisfied.

One day, Zoltan’s adventuring party stops by, shocked and appalled that Rit is working there. While she goes out to buy mead, which she was simply craving, the toughest of those adventurers shows up, the B-ranked Albert. Al suspects Red killed the owlbear with his bronze sword, and wanted to ask him to join his party. But soon after he draws his sword Rit bursts in, shatters his sword with one strike, and is fully ready to kill him, were it not for Red telling her to stop.

After seeing just how ready, willing, and able Rit is of protecting Red (even though he probably doesn’t need it, as he’d just prefer to hide his true ability) it’s nice to see the two kick back and have a simple supper that goes well with mead. That’s right, before all that Jack Daniels Honey nonsense, people made wine out of honey. Still do…and it’s delicious! In any case, this episode is full of wonderful relaxing cozy slice-of-life-ness.

After talk of installing a bathtub big enough for two, Red invites Rit to his go-to sauna, which we learn is in trouble after a big fancy public bathhouse was built further in town. Red, Gonze, Nao, and Storm, not to mention Rit, love the place, so Red devises a feature that will draw more customers: a potpourri bag that infuses the steam with therapeutic vapors. His reward for his ingenuity? Getting to share the sauna with Rit and Nao, the latter of whom laughs out loud at how bashful Red and Rit are.

After saying goodbye to their elven friends, Red and Rit stroll around in the lovely sunset. Rit tells Red why she wanted mead; because it’s tradition in her homeland for a married couple to take time off and spend it together doing nothing but drinking mead (and presumably consummating the marriage). Red and Rit may not be officially married, but they make a hell of a good match, both feel fulfilled in their lives, and both are crazy about each other. So it’s near as makes no difference!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 03 – Off the Path of Blood, On the Path of…COOKIEEES!!!

This week’s Shin no Nakama takes place entirely in the present day, but it doesn’t get off to a strong start when Red (and the camera) gazes a bit too long on Rit’s bazongas spilling forth from her ‘jammies. I mean for real, I thought my player had frozen! Fortunately, the rest of the episode is a lot less leery.

I have a bit of a problem with how easily Red ended up living with a literal warrior princess who has basically already made it quite clear she loves the guy. Heck, you can love whoever you want for whatever reason, but Red didn’t really do anything to engender such undying love from Rit. The flashback ep help explain their friendship, but not their sudden fauxmance.

Despite this, I can’t help but love watching these too together. Whether Red is helping Tanta’s friend Al after a bullying incident, to simple scenes of Red and Rit having meals or enjoying his new nutritional biscuits, the two just work well together. There’s a difference between their mutual bashfulness around each other and outright pretending they don’t feel something for one another. Shin no Nakama exploits that intermediate space with aplomb.

Other than the morning pop-out, the episode doesn’t go in lame or predictable directions like Rit being awful at tending a shop (or cooking), or Red being pervy. Instead, when he lifts Rit up and spins her around, there’s a genuine innocence to it, along with unbridled joy. And Rit is just as happy to be spun as Red is to spin her. No sudden pull-back shots of the exterior where we hear a scream and a slap!

Also interesting is the brief but increasingly consequential cutaways to the Hero’s Party. As I suspected, the big dude and the knight dudette aren’t happy Ares unilaterally banished Gideon, and when the big dude decides he’s going to go off to find Gideon, he gets Ruti’s blessing. I’m glad the party isn’t just falling into lockstep behind Ares’ conniving, but I also don’t need Red returning to the party. I’m here for the slow life!

Shin no Nakama – 02 – Party of Two

As expected from the spoilery ED, Red doesn’t remain alone in his shop for long, as he’s joined this week by Rizlet of Loggervia, AKA Rit, whom we learn is both a B-rank adventurer and a princess. She took it upon herself to leave her kingdom, lest those who favor her over the crown prince instigate a power struggle.

She’s very happy to have run into Red, an old “comrade” from back when his party crossed paths with her in a pub. A huge chunk of this episode consists of flashbacks to those times, which on the one hand gives the episode a static quality, but on the other, at least shows us who these two people are, through who they once were.

Rit was all gung-ho about fighting on the front lines for her people until she was hoodwinked by a general in the Demon Lord’s Army, who killed her sword shishou and assumed his form. Red (then Gideon) swooped in like a trusty knight to save her, but a lot of people she cared about died, for what she believed to be her mistake.

Rit holes up in her lavish royal bedroom, but Gideon sits beside her and tells her that while he knows she’s afraid of losing more people, he also knows she still wants to fight, and gives her an opportunity to do so. They end up handing the Demon Lord’s Army a satisfying defeat…off-camera. If there’s one thing this somewhat action-packed episode of Shin no Nakama taught me, it’s that it has no business trying to do action—you can actually hear the animation budget creaking and straining.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to lean on that as a strength. Instead, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how much you buy into Red and Rit’s once-and-future relationship. The two try their damndest not to get too lovey-dovey, but at the end of the day Rit is asking not just to work at Red’s shop but also move in with him, and Red isn’t really putting up much resistance after an initial moment of shock. I enjoyed their chemistry, and the balance of their attraction.

So this episode took a step away from its borderline iyashikei premiere, but in the service of showing us how Red used to be in the party and how Rit used to be before their sudden reunion. I look forward to watching them working and living together. As for the party, the apathetic behavior of two of its members suggets Ares’ move to banish Red was a wholly unilateral one that doesn’t sit well with them.

Shin no Nakama – 01 (First Impressions) – La Vida Tranquila

What’s this…the second-straight new Fall fantasy series that’s neither pervy or nasty or reveng-y? Don’t get me wrong, all of those things can and have been done and done well, but that’s precisely why I don’t need any more of them anytime soon.

If a fantasy or isekai series wants my attention, it needs to play a different tune, and despite its ludicrously long full title, Shin no Nakama ja Nai to Yuusha no Party wo Oidasareta node, Henkyou de Slow Life suru Koto ni Shimashita does that by simply taking it easy.

After a typical fantasy/isekai introduction showing the Hero in battle while describing the geopolitical situation, the gentle, upbeat, relaxing OP shifts tone gears and gets us in the right state of mind for what’s to come. Our protagonist Red, the hero Ruti’s big brother, was cast out of the party for being a liability, so he sought the slow quiet live in remote but verdent outpost of Zoltan.

With an affinity for navigating dense forests and identifying and locating medicinal herbs, Red’s modest but very achievable dream of opening an apothecary shop and kicking back while letting higher-level adventurers save the world, is an admirable and relatable one. Not everybody wants everything…for some—maybe most—a certain amount is sufficient.

This is why despite a promise of a feather in his adventurer’s resume and promotion from D-rank to C, Red politely declines to joing Zoltan’s local party to take down an owlbear (which is a wonderful hybrid beast IMO). But then  his friend Gonze’s little brother (or was it his son?) Tanta comes down with a rare fever.

Red braves the forbidden mountains (and risks guild expulsion) and brings down the owlbear in order to gather the needed blood needles needs for Tanta’s medicine. Red didn’t jump at the chance to undertake this, as he cares little for honor or glory, only the dignity of a comfortable and rewarding life.

But to help a friend in need, he’ll do absolutely anything he can. It’s great shorthand for the fact Red is…a pretty nice guy! But being a nice guy and being good at collecting herbs meant it was taking a very long time for him to save enough to have his apothecary shop built.

By saving Tanta’s life, Red inadvertently put Gonze, an accomplished carpenter, in the position of having to repay a life debt. Red has enough money for the materials for the shop, so with Gonze more than willing to build it for free, Red finds the plans for his dreams suddenly accelerated. His good deed was rewarded.

A bit later, another hero arrives in the beautiful and chivalrous Rit, wondering why the guild girl Meg is dressed differently. Meg tells her all about the party for Red’s shop’s grand opening, as well as what kind of adventurer and man Red is.

Rit is intrigued, but unfortunately she and Red don’t end up meeting this week. Instead, we’re treated to another lovely, relaxed, Yuru Camp-like ending theme played over visuals of Rit and Red becoming fast, close friends…and possibly more.

Red may have been cast away by his elite party-mates, but he still has something important to contribute in this world. It says a lot that someone with such honest and modest designs for their life should have the misfortune of having fallen behind in his party mitigated by having his dreams essentially made true in the first episode.

This isn’t a show about him achieving the goal of running an apothecary…that part is done. Now we’ll get to see if that goal ends up being what he wanted (I’m guessing yes by the “slice-of-life” label of this series), and more importantly, I can’t wait to see him and Rit meet, as the ED wrote some very pleasant checks I’m hoping to be cashed soon.

At the same time, brief cuts to his sister Ruti at points in the episode suggest that even if he’s moved on from his past as an adventuer in the Hero’s Party, that past, and that party, might not quite be done with him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mars Red – 02 – Sin From Thy Lips

In the ruins of the bunker where Misaki was being held, Moriyama informs his newly-promoted boss Col. Maeda that there have been more vamp sightings in Kayabacho. Nitto News reporter Shirase Aoi is after the truth of the recent spate of “human combustion” incidents and keen for details on Misaki’s “elopement”, while yearning for her childhood friend, who never returned from battle in Siberia. She’s also miffed that Salomé has been replaced by Romeo & Juliet at the theatre.

We meet the vampiric members of Maeda’s vampire unit Code Zero—the “unranked” Yamagami, “A Class” Kurusu Shuutarou, and “mad scientist”-type Takeuchi—as well as Suwa, who seems to be human. Their first trip for intel on the vamps in Kayabacho is Tenmanya, a shop full of knicknacks, antiques, and curios. Its proprietor plays both sides of the human-vampire conflict.

Tenmanya is willing to offer some info in exchange for ruining his competition. Those rival “blood sellers” are selling a bootleg of his “product”—the vamp equivalent of the hard shit—and a vampire couple are enjoying it and themselves, though the woman seems to think her mate is drinking a bit too much.

While playing a bouquet of asters at the stigmata where Misaki burned up, Maeda encounters Aoi, and learns that one of his vampire agents, Kurusu Shuutarou, is her childhood friend reported dead. He doesn’t tell her of Shuutarou’s fate, nor why he’s leaving flowers, other than he “couldn’t keep his word.”

At midnight, all bridges and streets leading out of Kayabacho are sealed and Code Zero moves in on the vampire couple, who sense danger and aren’t prepared to go quietly. I love how simple yet frightening vampires are depicted in Mars Red, and once again the lighting and camerawork really sell their speed and ferocity that far exceeds human limits.

Unfortunately for our couple, they are cornered on a bridge, and Maeda has brought plenty of his own vampires to take them down. The male vamp chugs one more vial of the black blood and goes out in a blaze of glory, but it’s Suwa and not the Class A Kurusu who delivers the killing blow. Despite being an extremely powerful vampire, Kurusu is disgusted and even a bit scared of blood.

The “parent root” female vamp tries to flee, but she’s headed off by Maeda, who rather violently stuffs his fist through her mouth then slashes her with his sword. How he, a mere human, can do this is not clear. Is he not a mere human? Unfortunately Maeda’s aide Moriyama has to be put out of his misery. Maeda handles it, then has a solemn smoke on the bridge.

Like Tenmanya, Mars Red has the eclectic style and pleasantly musty scent of a shop with odd hours filled with neat things. I also like the connection between Aoi and Kurusu, though I wish after two episodes I could summon more than a shrug about Colonel Maeda, who’s almost too stiff and stoic for his own good.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 28 – (Almost) Shot Through the Heart

Sakura has already demonstrated that she’s a decent cook (though Touya teases otherwise), but one thing she has yet to master is deep-frying croquettes; specifically the exact manner of slipping them into the hot oil without splatter. It’s almost a phobia, like her aversion to ghost stories.

Her friend Naoko has a similar issue with the box jump, which happens to be what’s featured for P.E. class. But she has a secret weapon: an “enchanted card” called Jump that she bought from Maki’s plushie store Twin Bells. After buying the card Naoko aces the jump along with Sakura and Meiling.

When Sakura inspects her friends cards, she confirms they look a lot like Clow Cards with gaudier colors. That said, they’re not real Clow Cards, merely talismans that, combined with the hard work of the user, help bolster their confidence in any number of disciplines, from piano to cooking.

Upon visiting Maki’s shop, however, Sakura actually does sense the presence of a Clow Card, but cannot locate it. She and Tomoyo fly around town and track down both Naoko and Chiharu, but neither bought the Clow Card, leaving only one other customer that day: Meiling.

Meiling, you see, is on a particularly strong possessiveness kick, loudly proclaiming Syaoran to be her fiancee in front of Yukito and Touya during lunch and also insisting on feeding him her homemade bento. She also does a poor job throughout the episode of hiding the fact she’s purchased a card from Maki’s shop that she hopes will help with her romance.

The only problem is, instead of the non-Clow Love card, she accidentally ends up with a real and very dangerous Clow Card called Shot, believing she’ll shoot an arrow of love through Syaoran’s heart. In reality, Shot thinks she’s trying to shoot Syaoran to death. Its aim is initially lousy, but improves as the dodging Syaoran tires.

Meiling can only watch in horror as her fiancee is mercilessly hounded by Shot. Sakura keeps him safe for a time with Shield, but ends up using Mirror to reflect the Card’s shot back onto itself, stunning it long enough for her to seal it. And while Meiling considers Sakura a rival, that rival still helps Syaoran carry her when she’s weakened by the ordeal.

Sakura ends up finally mastering croquettes under her pops’ supervision, and the next day Meiling offers the Cook card as an olive branch. I do hope there aren’t too many more episodes in which Meiling’s love almost kills someone, but while it’s hardly a classic, this outing had its moments and charm in spades—as all CCS episodes tend to do.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 09 – Once More Unto the Brooch

Sakura is feeling low after her humbling encounter with Syaoran Li. Tomoyo assures her she’s doing her Cardcaptor duties beautifully, but Sakura isn’t entirely sure she’d have fared as well against Thunder without Syaoran’s advice.

When she inevitably has to face him in class, she thanks him for his help and also mentions that she saw his green robes in a dream. Confirming Kero-chan’s later accurate assessment of him as a “despicable brat”, Syaoran demonstrates how he can turn any nicety into an opportunity to viciously neg Sakura.

Both Tomoyo and Rika want to cheer Sakura up, so they take her to a new shop that sells all manner of cute knickknacks, and the three girls end up buying brooches before going to Sakura’s house for tea and homemade pudding (which looks delectable BTW).

The pleasant decompressing takes a turn when Rika puts on her sword-themed brooch, her eyes go blank, and the brooch turns into a rapier with which Rika starts attacking Sakura and Tomoyo. Clearly, it’s a Clow Card, and Kero confirms as much when he comes down (but is also pissed about not getting any pudding!)

Kero warns Sakura that anyone with Sword card in their possession becomes a master swordsman. Thankfully, Sakura is able to dodge her strikes with her not inconsiderable agility, but Rika’s attacks are so fast all she can really do is defend.

That’s where Syaoran comes out of nowhere to insert himself into the battle. Worried he’ll hurt Rika in pursuit of the card, Sakura grabs him and uses Jump to keep him away from her friend. Sakura has let this kid get away with a lot, but when it comes to her friends, she’s not someone to be trifled with!

All that’s needed to break Rika from Sword’s spell is for her to momentarily drop the sword. To accomplish this, Sakura employs Illusion to conjure the image of their homeroom teacher on whom Rika has a crush. While she’s distracted Sakura knocks the blade out of her hand, then successfully secures the Card…all without Syaoran’s help.

Kero-chan makes sure Syaoran doesn’t interfere by biting him repeatedly, but when Yukito suddenly appears, it isn’t Sakura’s staff or Kero or the unconscious Rika that catch his attention; it’s the bite mark on Syaoran’s finger. When Yuki asks if he’s okay, Syaoran blushes like a beet and scurries off.

When Sakura arranges to meet up with Yukito the next day to give him a thank-you gift, Syaoran is already there, and quickly produces a gift of his own. As Tomoyo makes clear to her, Sakura now not only has to deal with a rival in her Clow Card capturing, but in romance too, as Syaoran seems as smitten with Yukito as she is. Unfortunately for both of them, he’s already spoken for…

Nine episodes in CCS has proven adept at shaking up the weekly formula. Sakura may not have had a battle costume this week, but she did use Illusion for the first time. Her friend Rika had a larger role, while her multi-vector rivalry with Syaoran developed further. We’re also introduced to Yamazaki—he of elaborate invented stories.

Finally, Kero-chan’s post-credits omake segment is always a delight, with him pointing out some detail of Sakura’s costume, or in the case of this week, Syaoran’s. His justifiable hostility towards “that kid” shines through brilliantly in the terse rundown of his ceremonial garb.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 05 – Heart of Plushiness

This week we are formally introduced to the rest of Sakura’s crew: Chiharu, Rika and Naoko. Chiharu in particular is a big plushie afficionado so the group is excited to check out a brand-new shop owned by the kind but somewhat uncoordinated Matsumoto Maki. Only the same night Chiharu purchases a panda toy, it is apparently stolen right out of her room, only to return to the store the next day.

It isn’t long before Sakura starts to suspect a Clow Card is at work, but Kero-chan can’t recall a card that would steal and collect plushies. When they stop by the shop at night for a closer investigation, Sakura is proven right: the card Jump, an extremely quick pink bunny-like card, is responsible for all the havoc. Tomoyo tags along to run interference for Sakura, politely stalling Maki by telling her just about everything she knows!

When it senses Sakura means to take it captive, Jump jumps out the shop window, but Sakura gives chase. As her rollerblading and prowess in gym class demonstrated, Sakura is a formidable athlete, and most cards would be hard-pressed to leave her in the dust, but Jump is different, and when she does finally get her hands on it, she gets taken for a ride up into the sky and then dropped!

Fortunately, Sakura releases her staff and activates Fly, then wisely uses the newly-acquired Wood to create a cage of branches to restrain Jump. Then Tomoyo shows up with her camcorder and delays the card-sealing, and Jump escapes, and then merges thousands of plushies into a single kaiju-sized Jump…but it doesn’t last, and Jump eventually falls over and returns to its normal modest size, enabling Sakura to capture it for good.

As Sakura remarks, it’s a bit “anticlimactic”, but from the initial confrontation in the shop to the chase into the sky to the kaiju walk, Jump was an agent of chaos that went through a lot of fun iterations. While Sakura lacked an official battle costume, you could tell as the chase continued and escalated she was determined to win. Now that she has the card, maybe she can gain the same crazy speed and agility.