The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Noragami Aragoto – 13 (Fin)

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Noragami Aragoto doesn’t pick up right when Ebisu is about to be blasted by a pacification ring; instead, it skips to Yato escorting a young man to the Olive Tavern. It doesn’t take long to realize the boy is the reincarnated Ebisu, which means the adult Ebisu he knew and befriended in the underworld was executed.

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Yato is clearly sick about this whole situation, and Yukine and Hiyori stay on the periphery pondering what they should do as he himself wonders how he can change; how he can cease being a heartless war god now that he has a heart, and follow Ebisu’s example of working to protect and save people, and becoming a god people want to remember and have faith in for things other than contract killing.

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By the end, Yato, perhaps without knowing it, changed Ebisu. Once, he had no qualms about dying over and over, because his shrine maidens would always tell him he’d reincarnate every time without fail, and so should never fear death. In fact, due to his lives’ work, Ebisu kinda had to die a bunch of times in order to make progress researching phantoms and acquiring the locution brush. Needing to break eggs to make an omelette, so to speak.

But by the time that last ring blasted him, Ebisu didn’t want to die and be reborn again. He wanted to live and stay in the world as he was. It was, in fact, his dying wish, and the reason Yato is so beside himself; Ebisu, who told him he’d make a great god who could make people happy, managed to change himself at the end from what he always was.

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Now that Ebisu is back, but with close to no specific memories of his past self, it falls to his overseer to raise him back up into a useful member of god-society. And if that overseer has his way, this Ebisu will never see or touch the locution brush again. Yet when Bishamon and the other gods who assisted him hear of his noble ventures for the first time, they don’t necessarily agree that Ebisu should be stopped; in fact, it wouldn’t be what the past Ebisu or Ebisus wanted: for his reincarnations to carry on his work until he makes a breakthrough.

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Back freeloading at Kofuku and Daikoku’s, a restless Yato takes Yukino to a secluded lake, where he asks his exemplar, heart firmly on sleeve, to help him change: from a god of war and calamity to a god of fortune and happiness; the god Ebisu saw in him.

Hiiro appears on queue to dissuade Yato, dismiss Yukine, and drag her brother back to their father to be “praised”; thus continuing the same cycle of death and soft smiles that’s been going on for centuries. She also points out that the plan to use Ebisu as a scapegoat to allay suspicion from their father, who also works with phantoms, worked like a charm.

But no more. With Yukine beside him for strength, Yato overcomes all the warm memories of him and his sister, and does what is necessary to truly change: release her as his regalia for good. When he does so, Hiiro’s smile changes to one of shock, disbelief, and even despair. But that’s not surprising: Hiiro has never changed, and may never change. It does, however, make me wonder if she could change, once enough centuries have passed.

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Now officially free of Hiiro, Yato turns to Yukine to be his guide on his new path to becoming a less calamitous god, something he has no idea how to do since he’s “only good at killing.” But he’s wrong, and Yukine tells him there’s very little he needs to do that he hasn’t been doing already.

Really, getting rid of the temptation of Hiiro and his dark past was the most important step. He already makes people happy, like Yukine and Hiyori, who has faith that together Yato and Yukine can slay disaster before it strikes. And no, she doesn’t ask to have her tail fixed, nor does Yato offer it. She seems content with being the way she is for now.

The happy ending is only marred by the revelation that Fujisaki, the handsome young man who got along so well with Hiyori, is, in fact, Yato’s father. He joins his classmate, who cannot see the large retinue of phantoms by his side, along with Hiiro. Maybe she’s not going to change anytime soon after all.

As for his dad, it doesn’t look like he’s given up on bringing Yato back into the fold. No doubt many of the disasters thrown Yato’s way will be of his father and sisters’ making. He must be ever-vigilant. But as Kofuku says, with Yukine and Hiyori by his side, he’ll be fine.

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Attack on Titan – 23

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This week starts out pretty quietly, as we look into Annie Leonhart’s life as a military policeman. The unit she belongs to is full of people who don’t care and led by a commander who’d rather play cards with the buds than lead, delegating the scout regiment escort duties to Marlo, someone with a strong sense of justice who has come to root out the corruption of the police.

Inside Wall Sina, soldiers clearly don’t have much to do, and idle hands are the devil’s playthings. Yet when actually faced with corruption occurring before his eyes, and Marlo gingerly points out the crimes his superiors are committing, they try bribing him, then beat the crap out of him when he persists.

Annie stays the hand of one of the superiors, while Hitch smooths everything over. But more importantly, Annie gives Marlo a second chance to prove he means what he says about punishing those who break the law. Marlo can kill those corrupt officers, but he doesn’t. Marlo, Annie concludes, is no Eren: full of bluster, but actually willing to follow through.

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When the scout regiment convoy arrives, Annie’s unit commences escort duties, but she’s drawn into an alley by a familiar voice: Armin’s. He’s just able to convince her to help sneak Eren out of custody of the selfish, ignorant bigwigs. It isn’t long before Armin and Annie have met up with Eren and Mikasa, and the three lead Annie to the entrance to a subterranean tunnel they’ll use to escape Wall Sina. Only…Annie doesn’t want to go in there, neither confirming or denying a fear of small, enclosed spaces.

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But it isn’t long until all pretense falls away, and Annie realizes this was all a trap to capture her. Armin knew as soon as he saw her, or rather Marco’s gear, that something wasn’t right, and wonders why she didn’t kill him out beyond the wall.

Out of convenient excuses, Annie knows the jig is up, even as Eren implores her to come down with them so they can figure this all out. Finally, Mikasa loses her patience and draws her sword, being the first to come right out and say it: Annie is the Female Titan.

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To this, Annie shows a side of herself we’ve never seen, and it’s at once wonderful and incredibly disturbing. Now that she’s been found out, Annie appears ecstatic and flush with excitement, and her voice changes. Granted, lots of villains and villainesses make similar faces and start cackling all the time, but there was something particularly unnerving about Annie doing it. That’s a face that’ll haunt your dreams.

Unfortunately for Eren, Armin, Mikasa, and all the people gathered to arrest her, Annie is wearing a ring with a retractable blade with which she can use to cut and transform herself. They simply aren’t quick enough to stop her. There’s some consolation in the trio heading safe underground, but they have to come back up eventually, and in the meantime Annie will be wreaking havoc at the very core of human civilization.

My only beefs with this development? Well, it was telegraphed pretty early on, so at this point I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop (which had its own tension). But more importantly, Annie just didn’t make that strong of an impression on me early on, and she hadn’t been an important part of the story until she showed up in Titan form, so her betrayal doesn’t nearly cut as deep as the show wants it to.

So, can they stop her? Reason with her? Live another day? Looks like the remaining two episodes of AoT will be spent answering those questions.

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