The World’s Finest Assassin – 04 – Nice to Be Needed

Ansatsu Kizoku is by no means the best-looking or most original anime of the Fall, but it just might have the best structure, or rather most interesting structure to its narrative. I love the way it darts and weaves back and forth through time. Macro-wise, we’ve already seen Tarte in action, but this is the episode that truly introduces her as a character, not merely an ass-kicking machine.

We begin with Tarte in pretty much the most dire situation someone can be in. Winter is coming, so the family decided to cast her out so there’d be enough food (it’s implied their lord overtaxes, which caused families to make impossible choices). Starving and running out of strength, she’s set upon by a pack of wolves.

Here’s what immediately made Tarte interesting: she smiles moments before her death. She neither fears nor blames the hungry wolves; hell, she respects them. If this is how she goes, at least she’ll be put to good use keeping other living things alive. When her family abandoned her, she felt she had lost all reason to exist. Then our friend Lugh arrives, and uses the wolves to practice his killing skills while Tarte watches.

Mind you, Lugh doesn’t arrive to save her until after we get an extended scene of him at the harvest market, watching the townsfolk prepare for the winter by preserving and rationing. There’s even a brief little aside of comic relief when the Goddess checks in on another person like Lugh who isn’t faring so well. It’s when Lugh goes hunting so his family will have meat in the winter that he comes across Tarte.

Tarte happens to be backing a huge amount of mana—more than he’s seen in anyone in town—and the grizzled assassin in him knows it can’t be a coincidence; the Goddess must have sent her to him. The thing is, that seemingly throwaway gag of her watching The World’s Finest Special Ops Guy become a NEET over four decades proves she’s not always watching Lugh and making things happen. Sometimes…things just happen, like meeting Tarte.

Lugh’s initial interactions with Tarte are seemingly kind, if somewhat emotionally distant and logical. It’s only after he’s struck a deal for her to bind herself to him mind body and soul that he reveals he manipulated this font of mana into someone who would never betray him; someone who owes their existence to him and so exists only for him.

Two years pass, and Lugh has been training Tarte into the fellow assassin he’ll need to take on the Hero. He hasn’t told her why he’s training her, nor is she curious. When he performs the same examination of Tarte that his father performed on him, it’s super clinical, medical…professional. Lugh may have the body of a twelve-year-old, but he’s no Lewd Rudy.

When I think about how Lugh interacted with Tarte with such precision calculation, I remember what his father said: they are people, not tools. A tool would not have been able to get Tarte to trust him or devote herself to him so easily, but Lugh has been raised to be empathetic and curious, and so is a much better judge of character than your stock killing machine.

The same can be said of Tarte. Takada Yuki does such a fine job initially voicing the starving Tarte and then imbuing her voice with more strength and confidence once two years pass. Tarte may be really really good with a spear (collapsible or otherwise), but she’s also a good person…or as she once said of Lugh, a good person “as far as I’m concerned”.

How we treat others matters. Tarte witnessed Lugh slaughter the wolves with the deftness of a surgeon, and hears how he’s killed people and will go on killing people as part of his duties. But he’s still a good person to her, because he and he alone saved her when he didn’t have to.

Now that both Dia and Tarte have been properly introduced (and are both exceedingly charming, rootable characters to complement Lugh’s aloofness) I imagine the cool beauty Maha’s story is next up. I’m looking forward to more taut, confidently structured storytelling.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 12 (S2 E01) – Eyes Forward

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, Mushoku Tensei is back, and I’m pleased to report it’s just as good—and occasionally unnecessarily lewd—as ever. There’s a new OP, and it’s awesome. There’s a new ED, and it’s beautiful. Rudy, Eris and Ruijerd are still on the Demon Continent, and learn that largely due to Ruijerd’s Superd status, booking passage on an above-board ship back to Millis Continent will cost a literal fortune.

While Rudy is always quick to determine and execute a course of action all on his own, Dead End is a party, and both Eris and Ruijerd wish to help him share the burden of figuring out just how to make that fortune without taking their entire lives to do so. Meanwhile, training with Ruijerd is only making Eris a more formidable fighter; I don’t know if their combat animation counts as sakuga but it remains top-notch and extremely fun to watch. Ditto her wonderful expression of joy when she scores her first hit on Ruijerd (who was distracted by Roxy!)

After having another dream with the creepy smooth god dude Hitogami, Rudy learns he actually entertained the guy more by going off-script. This time he decides to do exactly as Hitogami’s advice says, and he is promptly rewarded. By feeding a starving urchin the food Hitogami told him to buy at the vendors, he ends up befriending the scantily-clad Kishirisu Kishirika, the “Great Emperor of the Demon World”, who could pass as a member of Zvezda.

As thanks for sustaining the life of her physical body for at least another year, Kishirika gives him one of her twelve Demon Eyes: the Eye of Foresight. She does so by roughly replacing his existing normal eye on the spot, which looks…painful! But upon returning to their inn he ends up saving a man he bumped into form a falling pot, and within a week he’s able to sue the eye to defeat Eris in combat. This understandably makes Eris very upset, but Rudy was too excited about his new eye to foresee that.

New eye or not, Rudy reminds himself that his mission isn’t to “power up” but to get Eris home. And even if he were to exploit the eye for profit, it would likely take too long to make the necessary cash to book passage. So he decides, on his own, again, that he’ll pawn off his staff in order to get the cash. Only when he leaves in the night to do this, Ruijerd stops him.

While the party has meshed well in the last year, seeing Rudy again try to go off on his own and solve everything frustrates Ruijerd, because it makes him feel like Rudy still doesn’t trust him. Rudy counters that he doesn’t want to do anything illegal and thus “evil” that Ruijerd would not approve of, like stowing away or smuggling, as it would likely fracture the party.

Here, Ruijerd once again exposes Rudy’s biggest blind spot—Eris—by pointing out that selling the staff she gave him (and which clearly means so much to him) would fracture the party too. So Ruijerd makes a compromise: he’ll turn a blind eye to smuggling and the like if Rudy keeps his staff and keeps him and Eris in the loop about what they should do from now on.

Right on cue, the man Rudy saved the day he got his new eye introduces himself: Gallus Cleaner. Could he be the sort of unsavory figure who can help get two noble humans and a Superd across the ocean? Are Roxy and her two Fang companions trying to avoid crossing paths with Rudy, or victims of back luck and timing? I’m excited to find out, and to watch more of Rudy, Eris, and Ruijerd’s adventures this Fall.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 11 (S1 Fin) – Sharing the Load

Roxy comes upon a bulletin board outside of Roa (at least I think it’s Roa) and is relieved to find Rudy and his family’s names missing from the lists of the dead. She also finds a letter from Paul to Rudy, saying he’s not worried about him making it home, while asking anyone who knows his family or the members of their old adventurer group to help him find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha (Norn is with him).

The Fangs of the Black Wolf to write back to him care of the adventurer’s guild in Millis. Roxy happens to encounter two former Fangs—a she-elf and a dwarf—forming party of three in search of Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. Meanwhile, Rudy’s party of three are taking jobs and starting to make money, thanks to their arrangements, thanks to the cooperation of the two remaining pet kidnappers, Jalil and Vizquel.

Their first high-ranked job is to investigate a monster in the Petrified Forest—a suitably dark and spooky venue—but they find the job has been triple booked, both by Kurt and his two young comrades and a third group led by an older orc. The three groups go their own ways, but Kurt & Co. immediately run into trouble.

Rudy sees an opportunity to improve Ruijerd’s rep by rescuing them, but wants to wait for the right moment. While delaying Ruijerd from charging in to save them, one of Kurt’s buddies is brutally killed; his body flying gracefully through the air before hitting he ground with a horrific splat. Ruijerd and Eris don’t wait for Rudy’s signal, and deal with the two monsters themselves.

Rudy explains he thought it would “work out better” for them if they waited, but Ruijerd is furious. Instead of Eris, it’s Kurt who grabs Ruijerd’s arm, insisting that neither he nor his dead buddy are “kids”; they’re adventurers who knew this job could mean their deaths. As the leader of his party, it’s his fault.

When Ruijerd sees Kurt take responsibility and weep for his fallen friend, his hand hovers over the kid’s head before resting on firmly on his shoulder, demonstrating that Ruijerd acknowledges Kurt as a full-fledged warrior, and apologizes for treating him like a child.

The monsters Ruijerd and Eris weren’t the monster the job mentioned. That turns out to be the forest boss, a redhood cobra, who has already killed all of the orc’s party but himself. Ruijerd manages to slash along one side of its body, but when Eris’ blade bounces off its thick skin, she’s blasted backwards. Fortunately she’s able to use her own sword to cushion the impact, and recovers quickly.

Rudy launches magical attacks that lure the cobra to him, and Ruijerd stops it in its tracks before it can swallow the boy. Eris then tries again with her sword, launching a devastating attack from above that called to mind Haruko smashing away with her Rickenbacker bass in FLCL. She manages to slice clean through the cobra’s body, allowing Rudy to blast a hole through its hood, finishing it off.

Unfortunately, they’re too late to save the orc adventurer’s life, and when they return to town to claim the reward, Bojack Horseman is there to tell them he knows they switched jobs with Jalil and Vizquel, and unless they pay him half of all their earnings monthly, he’ll make sure their licenses are revoked. After lowering his head in frustration, he raises it, as if to ask the heavens themselves why everything he’s done since coming to the city has gone so wrong.

Eris can tell he’s troubled and takes his hand in concern, and he tries to reassure her with a fake smile. She reminds him of his solemn duty: to get her home to her family. He’ll bring down the whole goddamn city if he has to. His staff begins to glow through its cover, and storm clouds begin to gather…then Ruijerd dumps a jug of water on his head, revealing his green hair, and he then threatens a thoroughly terrified Bojack to back off before fleeing the city on his own.

Rudy and Eris leave the city to search for Ruijerd, and eventually find him. To Rudy’s surprise and shame, Ruijerd apologizes to him, when he thinks it’s he who should be apologizing. He was so focused on making money as efficiently as possible and improving his reputation that it became too much to juggle and got away from him.

But Ruijerd doesn’t hold it against him. He sensed Rudy’s resolve to kill Bojack, and could tell Rudy was trying to protect something—someone, in Eris—which makes him a warrior, not a child. To Ruijerd, warriors protect children and treasure their comrades. Helping Rudy out back there was more important than his tribe’s reputation.

The two shake hands, which of course leads Eris to add her hand to the pile so as not to be left out. The next morning, Ruijerd shaves his head so it will be easier to move around, and the three wear matching head/armbands to denote their status as members of Dead End.

Going forward, Rudy stops trying to figure out everything on his own, and trusts both Ruijerd and Eris to help share the load on their mutual quest to reach the Asura Kingdom. As the credits roll, we watch them camp and travel on a ground dragon, watch Ruijerd pull Rudy away from snooping on a bathing Eris, and Eris punching Rudy when he opens a dressing room curtain before she’s dressed (she acquires some super-cool knight’s armor for heavy-duty battles).

Eventually they reach a new port city…which I believe happens to be the same port city at which Roxy and the two Fangs arrive via ship. Whether Rudy & Co. are still in the Demon continent or have reached Millis isn’t clear, but one thing’s for certain: there’s potential for a tearful reunion of master and apprentice, and should that happen, they’ll be an even more formidable party of six.

Unfortunately, as Mushoku Tensei is a split-cour series, we’ll have to wait until July for the continuation of the story, just as it’s getting seriously awesome. Not that it wasn’t before. MT completed a masterful transformation from excellent fantasy isekai slice-of-life in a sleepy rural setting to an excellent grand-scale fantasy adventure romp packed with colorful characters, gorgeous locales, and breathtaking action. The finale could not have done a better job getting me pumped up for season two!

Read Crow’s review of episode 11 here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 10 – Not So Black-and-White

Armed with her new Migurd blade, Eris has no trouble taking out the low-level beasts who roam the wasteland, leaving no one for Rudy or Ruijerd to fight. She’s taken to the adventurer’s lifestyle like a fish to water. Their first true test occurs upon entering their first demon city, Rikarisu, which I have to say is a looker of a city, with dramatic terraced blocks clinging to massive cliffs and a central palace seemingly made entirely of a strangely pristine material.

Rudeus buys Eris a new cloak with cat ears which she vows to treasure forever, then they head to the city’s adventurer’s guild to commence his scheme. Ruijerd was granted access to the city because Rudy dyed his hair Migurd blue. When he arrives at the guild and says he’s got a genuine Superd in his party, the guild members simply laugh, because Ruijerd’s hair is blue, not green, and he’s wearing the necklace Roxy gave Rudy.

They don’t end up taking any jobs, but the guild visit is still a success … and not because Rudy got to leer at the three-breasted clerk (which blessedly the sum total of his perviness this week). He intended for the guild members to laugh at Ruijerd, as it give the impression he’s no one they have to fear. It’s the first step to rehabbing the Superd’s reputation.

After Eris marvels at the way the evening light turns blue when filtered through the crystal embedded in the stone cliffs, the party of three, calling themselves “Dead End” (which is one of the names for the feared Superd) heads to an inn. Another young adventurer takes interest in Eris, but she can’t understand him and ignores him. When he grabs her, the button of cloak Rudy gave her falls off, and she absolutely wails on the poor guy.

Rudy keeps the situation from escalating out of control (and incidentally getting kicked out of the inn or worse) by healing the party Eris attacked with his magic, impressing them and leading them to invite him into their party. Rudy politely declines, but he knows one thing for sure: the three of them can’t live off F and D-ranked jobs, the only ones newbies are allowed to take.

That night Rudy dreams he’s in his old body in that strange white void with the even stranger Man-God. The guy insists all of Rudy’s choices are his own, but strongly suggests he take the lost kitten job the next day. Rudy wakes up to find Eris is still up. She can’t sleep because she’s worried about whether they’ll ever get home.

Running around in the wastelands killing beasts is one thing, but I imagine once everything quieted down and Eris had a chance to think about their situation, I’m not surprised she’d get scared and worried. Rudy sits next to her and assures they’ll make it back, and Ghislaine and her grandpa will be waiting for them.

The next day Rudy takes the lost-kitten job as the Man-God recommended, which lead them to discovering another party of three running a pet-kidnapping racket. Rudy turns the ground beneath their feet into mud, then Eris and Ruijerd push them back against the wall so Rudy can bind them with earth magic.

When Rudy tries to question their insectoid leader, he gets shoved back hard, taking the wind out of him. Before he can get up, Ruijerd hacks the guy’s head off, and it rolls right beside Rudy. Ruijerd’s explanation for why he just killed someone: “he hurt a child.” This is when we and Rudy learn that Ruijerd is a  very black-and-white, good-and-evil type guy, especially where kids are concerned.

One side-effect of Ruijerd spilling blood so easily is that the other two adventurers’ lips are instantly loosned, and they spill the beans about kidnapping pets then claiming the rewards. When Rudy learns they’re a D-ranked party, he decides he’ll have them advance to C-rank, and use them to nab higher-paying B-ranked jobs.

Ruijerd is extremely opposed to teaming up with “villains”, and even grabs Rudy by the shoulder in protest, breaking his own don’t-hurt-kids policy. Eris punches and kicks him as hard as she can, reminding him he too did bad things in the past that don’t automatically make him evil, and that he should just shut up and leave it to Rudy, who only has his and her best interests at heart.

Ruijerd calms down, and reiterates that he won’t walk away from his promise to get the two of them home. They escort the D-rankers, a lizardman and bee-woman, to the guild, where they upgrade to C-rank. Rudy orders them to take a B-rank job, while he’ll take an F-rank job, with the understanding they’ll be swapping jobs. A nosy horse-man adventurer whom I’ll call Bojack for now almost catches wind of this plan, but assumes the lizard guy is just trying to look cool in front of the newbies.

The episode ends somewhat awkwardly right there, but that’s ultimately okay, as it accomplished a lot. We got to see Eris in action (and absolutely loving it) and saw our first demon city in all its glory. Rudy doesn’t grope anyone or make any gross comments, and is even thoroughly shaken when Ruijerd demonstrates his far-too-rigid code of morality. Now I look forward to their first monster-slaying quest. Here’s hoping Rudy can keep his green, now blue-haired friend in check.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 10 here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 09 – A New Adventure Begins

Rudeus wakes up in a white void and in his original human form, and assumes his time in a fantastical new world was finally at an end. Why wouldn’t someone with his experience in failure and disappointment think otherwise? But it’s not the end, just the end of the beginning.

First of all, as he’s told by the very sketchy looking and sounding “Man-God”, he’s not dead; this is simply his mental image. It’s only a dream, and when he wakes up he’ll be back in lil’ Rudy’s body. The concern is where he wakes up: the mana disaster transported him to the Demon Continent.

The Man-God tells Rudy to rely upon and help the man he’ll meet upon waking up. That man turns out to be a Superd, the demon tribe feared and loathed by all. Rudy is initially fearful himself, especially wiht a sleeping Eris nearby. But when the man shows no sign of hostility, Rudy decides to make use of his Demon-God language skills and politely introduce himself.

The man is named Ruijerd Superdia, and tells Rudy they’re in Biegoya, in the northeast of the Demon Continent, quite a trek back to the Central Continent from which he and Eris came. Ruijerd tells Rudy he’ll escort them safely back to their homeland; to abandoning children would damage the Superd tribe’s reputation. Of course, as an awakening Eris’ over-the-top yet quite normal reaction to Ruijerd confirms, the Superd’s rep is already crap.

Rudy serves as mediator, and within minutes, Eris and Ruijerd are friends, and Eris is all smiles about the prospect of going on an adventure in a strange land full of unknown dangers. It’s precisely the opposite of the prim, proper, fancypants existence cooped up in the Boreas mansion in Roa, where Eris so often acted like a caged animal.

Biegoya’s gorgeously-rendered landscape is downright alien, from the lighting and colors to the texture of the terrain and, naturally, the wildlife, which includes massive tortoises that call to mind a grand Final Fantasy overworld.

I also hasten to add that the three make for a neat adventuring party, with Ruijerd as the spearman, Rudy as the mage, and Eris as the swordswoman. The only problem is Eris lacks a sword, and Ruijerd wouldn’t think it right for children to protect him. I’m sure he’ll soon learn Rudy and Eris are not your typical helpless kids!

After the better part of a day of trudging through hot and barren wastes, the party comes upon a village that uses the giant tortoise shells as dwellings. When the guard at the gate sees two humans with Ruijerd he bars them from entering—human-demon distrust goes both ways—but Ruijerd asks him consult with the elder, which he does through telepathy.

Once the elder and other villagers appear, all of them with a familiar cornflower blue hair, I knew Rudy was about to experience “Small World” phenomenon, as the guard, Rowin, recognizes the green stone around Rudy’s neck. When Rudy says he got it from his master Roxy Migurdia, Rowin proclaims he is Roxy’s father!

Roxy apparently left the village 20 years ago and they haven’t seen her since. Hearing she’s alive and well in the Central Continent brings tears to Rowin’s eyes. He also estimates Roxy to be around 44 years old; demons enjoy over double the lifespan of humans, and keep their youthful looks well into middle age. I believe that officially makes Rudy’s goddess a MILF.

That night over dinner (of which Rudy is apparently not a fan), the Migurd elder mentions numerous shooting stars last night, the result of the mana disaster that brought Rudy and Eris to their lands. When Ruijerd tells him of his plan to take them home, the elder is weary, as it will be hard for a Superd like him to enter cities.

The elder is aware of Ruijerd’s goal to dispel the Superd tribe’s poor reputation, which Rudy knows isn’t going to be easy. Rudy then accidentally angers Ruijerd by telling one of the biggest lies: that the Superd just naturally kill everybody and anybody who looks at them the wrong way. He tells Rudy the truth: the Superd were betrayed…by Laplace.

Just as Sauron corrupted men with powerful but ultimately cursed rings, Laplace corrupted the Superd with powerful but ultimately cursed spears. Spears are a vital part of the Superd tribe, as they represent their very souls. At first the new spears Laplace gave them seemed like a great deal, but before they were aware of it they had become a violent and brutal tribe killing everyone they could see, including their own families.

Ruijerd raises his spear, which is the soul of his son, who sacrificed himself to free him of the curse. The Superd’s “curse of infamy” is punishment for trusting Laplace, but he’s committed to fight to repair his tribe’s reputation to his last breath. As he looks into the fire Rudy contemplates what 400 years of guilt and regret felt like for Ruijerd, likening it to the misery he felt in his old world, albeit for a much briefer, human-scaled duration.

Rudy makes up his mind right then and there: he will help Ruijerd redeem the Superd in the eyes of the world. Ruijerd, genuinely touched by the offer, accepts, and the next morning the three of them are off, after a very cute scene where Rudy asks if he can call Rowin “father-in-law” (he can’t), compliments his would be mom-in-law (who is 102!). Even Eris is polite for once, saying thanks and goodbye with a proper curtsey (despite not wearing a dress).

As thanks for relaying the news that their Roxy is well, her parents give Rudy a purse of what looks like demon currency and a very cool-looking demon sword, which he gives to Eris. He reiterates the choice he made to help Ruijerd after empathizing with his suffering and acknowledging his goodwill towards him and Eris—all while Eris is in the background practicing her swordsmanship!

It’s an all-around good arrangement: Rudy will let Ruijerd protect him and Eris outside of the cities, while they’ll protect him within them. So ends a particularly strong episode, made all the stronger by drawing upon the parts of Rudy’s original life besides his perversity (it’s the lightest episode yet on that front), and the fact that Eris is clearly super-pumped to be on an adventure.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

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