Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 03 – Black and Blue

OK, I LOL’d a bit at Megumi’s Gyaru transformation after tasting Souma’s pork cutlet fondue lunch kit…but there was a distinct feeling of the franchise scraping the bottom of the barrel. If Suzuki-sensei, AKA Saiba Asahi, is supposed to be the uber-villain of this whole series, let’s just say he’s falling short, despite the fact we learn a little bit more about him.

Saiba ends up defeating Souma easily with a far superior pork cutlet lunch kit, leading Souma to believe he’s a master tracer like Mimasaka. However, there’s a good reason his food is so similar to Souma’s diner-bred fare: he was the only student of Souma’s father Jouichirou. While he won Souma’s knife in the duel, he decides not to take it since he already has Jouichirou’s superior blade. What a dick!

When Erina eventually comes to, she’s in Saiba’s arms, being called a princess and being told that she’s going to be Saiba’s bride. I couldn’t help but think of Princess Jasmine’s line in Aladdin: “I am not a prize to be won!” Yet that’s exactly what this season is trying to do: eliminate her agency just as she’s taken over leadership of Totsuki so that she can be a trophy in a contest between two dudes. It’s a bit sickening, honestly.

The middle of this episode involves parallel infodumps regarding Saiba; one between Doujima Gin and Erina (who is in her workout clothes during the call for no reason other than fanservice) and Souma and his dad at the diner. We get what I believe to be the first clear-ish glimpses of his mother Tamako, but only in flashes. Bringing her up now, in the final season, seems a bit…late?

I love cooking, and for years I’ve loved Food Wars, but the formula frankly feels played out. I’ll confess to having less-than-stellar enthusiasm for The Fifth (and Final) Plate when it dropped in April. Three uninspiring episodes and over two months later, that enthusiasm has not improved. A lot of it has to do with the fact there was a finality to our heroes beating Azami, re-taking the academy, and taking their rightful seats in the Elite Ten.

To immediately introduce a new villain (not to mention Noir, whose members look like KKK klansmen in black) who looks almost exactly like the previous villain but lacks his gravitas (as well as that of seiyu Hayami Show) feels like running in place, if not going backwards. I feel like it’s going to be one long slog getting through this…so much so I may not get through it. And that’s a damned shame!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 13 (Fin) – Lost and Found

Pecorine tells Kokkoro that they’re in Landosol Castle, and that the painting is of her, Eustania von Astrea, Princess of Landosol. When she came of age, her parents sent her off on a solo adventure to see and hear her people firsthand and return a better, wiser leader from the ensuing experiences.

However, upon returning home, Eustania found that an impostor—Karyl’s mistress—assumed her identity, and no one in the castle, not even her parents, know who she is. Barely escaping the cat woman’s magical attacks, Eustania left the castle once more and became friends with Kokkoro, Yuuki, and Karyl, and the rest is history.

Even so, her past trauma made Peco believe that one day she’d lose her new friends just like she lost everyone else before; that the closer she got, the more distance they’d keep from her. Kokkoro immediately puts that assertion to bed with a long nurturing hug and head-pat, assuring Peco that whatever her name or past, their time together has formed an unbreakable bond.

Karyl was listening in to all this through the doorway, and feels the same way, even though she feels wrong for defying her “Majesty”, who it’s clear took advantage of Eustania’s adventures away to steal her throne and alter everyone’s memories.

Karyl doesn’t know what to do about that any more than Peco, but here and now she’s going to help her friend by facing the Shadow Boss. Of course, when Karyl’s about to be killed, Peco swoops in to protect her and selfishly continue to ask that she fight by her side.

The Shadow Boss is more powerful than any one member of the Gourmet Guild—even Peco—but once Yuuki returns from a protective null space created by Labyrista, and gathers a few more memories as well as the powers within him, the four friends create a united front and defeat the monster in a gloriously colorful and chaotic final battle.

When it’s over, the quartet is transported back to the tavern where all of their friends are hugely relieved and ecstatic to see them after fearing the worst had happened. The false Eustania still reigns as Princess, but rather than press her claim, Pecorine is content to let the impostor hold her throne, at least for now.

I too would be loath to give up the life she found outside the castle walls: full of loving friends, a cozy home, exciting adventures, and of course, delicious food. And from the look of Karyl when Peco pulls her into a big hug, the others are just fine with things the way they are too. When the time comes to get back what’s hers, I’m sure the Gourmet Guild won’t hesitate to support her.

Princess Re:Dive was similarly content to tell small, fun cozy stories throughout much of its run, but like our heroes proved that when things start getting more dramatic and perilous, it could deliver the goods, and then some!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 09 – Gettin’ Fishy With It

When Kokkoro wins a raffle for a beach tip, the Gourmet Guild don their tropical best and head out to the surf and sands. Kokkoro is particularly nervous about how cute she looks in her swimsuit, but a thumbs-up from Yuuki allays her fears. Peco also reveals that her armor gives her extensive attribute boosts at the cost of becoming hungrier more easily. Among friends it’s no big deal, but it’s also vital intel Karyl may feel she has to pass on to her master.

This is a beach episode that doesn’t really subvert any expectations; suffice it to say there’s no shortage of stylish swimwear and skin, and everyone looks great. Its middle section is essentially the first episode of Food Wars’ now-postponed fifth season: a battle of seaside food stands. Saren and Suzume run a stand that’s deserted due to their rivals the Mercurius Foundation, led by Akito, Saren’s childhood friend. Her underling Tamaki has devised a taiyaki that’s irresistible to the beach crowds.

Thus the Gourmet Guild actually have a quest that fits with their mission: to seek out, explore, and create new tastes. This starts by gathering as much fresh seafood as they can, but Peco’s “ice sushi” isn’t going to cut it. At the same time, another member of Mercurius, Yukari, gets depressed about all the lovey-dovey couples around and hits the bottle hard. Tamaki tosses her into a section of beach where a kraken was sighted, and it’s ultimately up to the Gourmet Guild to vanquish the monster and rescue the loaded Yukari.

Peco proves more than capable of handling the beast even without her armor. The defeated kraken is split up and grilled, become Saren’s hot new specialty dish that restores the balance between food stands. Saren and Akito share a moment of mutual respect and admiration, with Saren thanking her old friend for offering her a job, but preferring theirs to be a dynamic of equals.

To reward her comrades for a job well done, Karyl (clearly putting her darker mission out of her head) casts an underwater breathing spell on everyone, and they take a plunge beneath the waves. There, Kokkoro has an almost spiritual experience, remembering the vast expanses of the universe she used to daydream about, and now finding that real life can be just as exciting and rewarding.

It’s a surprisingly poignant (not to mention beautiful) closing scene that bumps this episode from a 7 to an 8 in my books, and further cements PriConne as the feel-good comfort food show of the Spring. It also makes any possible future betrayal by Karyl that much more heartbreaking.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 08 – Big Trouble with Little Lyrical

As she enjoys a sumptuous post-rice planting repast courtesy of Pecorine, Karyl remembers “Her Majesty’s” orders to not only observe the always-hungry knight, but Yuuki as well, and introducing her to the Shadows.

Whenever this exchange took place relative to the Targum quest, it’s clear that Karyl continues to struggle with playing both sides, and that struggle only intensifies as the bonds between her and her guild-mates strengthen.

Other than that initial sobering scene, it’s all fun and games this week, as Little Lyrical, Landosol’s Most Adorable Guild, enlist the aid of the Gourmet Guild to help whip them into a fighting force as formidable as they are charming.

I’ll note that Karyl is the least enthusiastic about taking on an unofficial quest like this that won’t net them any cash (so far all their rewards have been food-related), but even she can’t resist the pleas of the pint-sized trio.

Not only that, Karyl puts her all into designing the perfect route for a training quest. She’s definitely the most meticulous and detail-oriented of the guild, and isn’t in the habit of half-assing anything.

Unfortunately, her best-laid plans are sabotaged when Misogi, Mimi, and Kyouka are left in Yuuki’s care for the quest while the other three observe. Yuuki’s sense of direction is no better than that of his charges.

That said, Peco’s monster costume is impressive and she ends up underestimating the trio’s offensive prowess. It’s when they continue to stay from the prescribed path and run into real monsters (all of which want to chew on Yuuki’s head, of course) that Karyl and Kokkoro must act quickly and quietly to vanquish said monsters lest Little Lyrical end up in big trouble.

Ultimately, the off-the-rails practice quest crosses with the quest to defeat a giant bird monster ruining rice paddies, as the bird carries Yuuki to her nest and Little Lyrical are all KO’d after a valiant attempt to rescue him. The peril is upped when Karyl and Kokkoro run out of magic (having defeated monsters all day) and Peco is not only trapped in her costume but too hungry to fight.

That is, until a well-placed strike from the bird frees Peco, she eats the lunch Little Lyrical packed, and Princess Strikes the bird into oblivion.

The quest thus complete, but with Little Lyrical nowhere near the actual designated goal, Pecorine offers a giant egg as their reward, only for it to hatch into a giant, adorable chick that immediately imprints upon the trio, becoming their new mascot and conveyance. With that, the Gourmet Guild returns to the paddies to plant rice, much to Karyl’s chagrin.

PriConne definitely takes the kawaii factor up a couple dozen notches with the focus on Little Lyrical, and your enjoyment of this episode will depend on your tolerance for cuteness. Everything about Misogi, Mimi and Kyouka screams Squeeee, from their play-acting outside the tavern and their initially clumsy tactics, to their instant bond with their new feathered friend.

I for one had a gas watching them, and the Gourmet Guild proved perfect teachers, letting them largely figure things out for themselves and offering aid when needed.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 07 – Beating Back the Shadow

When a battered Elizabeth Park arrives in Targum without Shiorin, her sister Hatsune leads a search party consisting of Yuuki, Kokkoro, Rima and Aoi. When Hatsune uses her flight ability  to get a better look at the forest, she is attacked from the ground by Shiorin, whose body has been taken over by one of the creepy “Shadows”.

Suddenly our fantasy culinary slice-of-life comedy has become a serious action drama…and that turns out not to be a bad thing at all. How crazy is that?!

Back in the village, Karyl wandered off by herself when Yuuki and Kokkoro left with Hatsune. She knows all about the Shadows, since her mistress is behind them. This awakens Karyl’s split loyalties, and her inner conflict is further exacerbated when Pecorine tracks her down.

Peco sensed Karyl was feeling down despite the fact Karyl herself thinks she always looks the same. Peco may be an airhead, but she’s got emotional intelligence in spades, and is now good enough friends to know when Karyl is troubled.

Hatsune’s search party is suddenly attacked by Christina, who is excited for this “new act” and wants to have some fun. Despite outnumbering her 5-to-1, the party isn’t able to put a dent in her, thanks to her ability to phase out of solid form, which is almost cheating!

Then she KO’s Yuuki, who wakes up back at his starting point, where the oracle-like guide reminds him only he has the “Princess Knight” power to save the others. He wakes up, buffs his fellow party members, and together they fight Christina until she’s satisfied enough to withdraw for the time being.

As they’re fighting out in the wild, Peco finds herself the only line of defense against an army of Shadows attacking the village, led by Dark Shiorin. She doesn’t have much trouble with individual Shadows, but there are dozens of them, and she didn’t eat a big enough breakfast, so she starts to become fatigued.

After a period of passively observing (as is her mission), Karyl decides to pick a side and back Peco up with her powerful conjuring magic. Hatsune’s party returns, and Hatsune uses her “mild-meld” ability to enter Shiorin’s unconscious, where her true self is being held captive.

However, Shiorin is being held captive as much by her own fear of being a burden to her sister than she is by the Shadow. Hatsune doesn’t want to hear such nonsense, and snaps her sister out of her pity party, holding her arm steady as she fires an Enchanted Arrow at the Shadow.

Meanwhile, Karyl conjures a vortex to suck up the weakened Shadow, and Pecorine delivers a Princess Strike coup-de-grace to secure a complete victory for the good guys. Shiorin is herself again, no one is the worse for wear, and Yuuki is now aware of the power surging within him.

Still, while Yuuki’s role this week was important, the heart of the episode was the pairs of Hatsune/Shiorin and Pecorine/Karyl. At no point did Pecorine call out for Karyl’s help or wonder where she was when she was wavering. Both that confidence in her comrade and ability to sense when she’s troubled ultimately spurred Karyl to Do the Right Thing.

That said, this is the latest of many times she’s gone far beyond her observation mandate. There may be consequences in store for her should her mistress find out how much she’s helping her target. But perhaps Karyl is finally starting to realize she won’t have to face those consequences alone: those whom she sided with care about her and will have her back come what may.

With a briskly moving, exciting episode that brought darker themes to the forefront, PriConne reached a new high. Sure, it’s arguable whether so many characters were required to tell this story (it’s fun having Rima and Aoi around but they weren’t all that integral), but they’re all fun, likable characters, and splitting the Gourmet Guild paid big dividends.

Gleipnir – 07 – Fell Deeds Awake

Claire’s pact with Sayaka, the leader of the Weak complete, so Sayaka tells her how she knows Elena. When she transferred to a new school after her lover committed suicide, Sayaka withdrew into herself, but Elena was always friendly, kind, and determined to draw her out. Sayaka sees Elena has having had a positive change in her wretched life, so she can’t simply can’t fathom the murderous demon-woman Claire describes.

Thanks to Ikeuchi’s voyeuristic recording abilities, Claire learns of Shuuichi’s whereabouts, but if she reacts to Chihiro climbing into Shuuichi, she sure doesn’t show it outwardly. Since Chihiro is involved, and Claire is now one of them, Sayaka sees their retrieval as a matter for the whole group, and has the best fighter of them, a fresh-faced 19-year-old named Murakami Yota, to join Clair in the search.

When Shuuichi and Chihiro pick up the scent of her wallet in the hands of Elena’s overpowered allies, Shuuichi decides he’ll make up for letting Hikawa die by facing the threat head-on rather than thinking only of saving himself. It’s a classic case of not knowing when to run. Shuuichi’s fear didn’t kill anyone; it kept him alive. What good can he do to anyone dead?

When Subaru, a blonde kid who can summon a two-headed beast he addresses as “mom and dad”, sneaks up on Shuuichi, the ensuing battle isn’t really a battle, but someone smashing a mere bug between their hands. It’s a sickening scene that took things to the Worst Case Scenario so quickly my head was spinning. It looked for all the world like Yoshioka Chihiro was history, being horribly smashed within Shuuichi’s body.

But it’s not the end for either of them. Instead, their bloody remains merge into a single berserk avenging form. Shuuichi is the raging id, lashing at Subaru’s “parents” and actually making a fight of it; Chihiro is the superego assessing things from a distance and attempting to reel her counterpart’s surging anger. It’s phenomenon we haven’t seen yet, but it has the effect of helping us understand more the bond between Shuuichi and Elena prior to his transformation.

As it turns out, the two were friends, and possibly more. Elena was apparently the one who first found the crashed alien ship, while Shuuichi was the first one to drink the energy shot that transformed him. This means Shuuichi’s memories of Elena are either lost forever or suppressed, and it took a third party in Chihiro to excavate them from his unconscious.

The fight with Subaru ends in a stalemate when Elena arrives to stop the fighting. She insists Subaru save the full extent of his abilities for when they’re needed. Threats from Subaru ring hollow, as Elena is certain that she won’t be allowed to die until this is all over.

The merged being eventually reverts back to an unconscious Shuuichi in Mascot Mode, and a fully-healed Chihiro sleeping inside of him. This is how Claire and Yota find them. Will Chihiro remember what she saw, and more importantly, will she be able to tell anyone? Will Claire be angry with Shuuichi for letting someone else “in”, or just be happy he’s alright? Things just keep getting more interesting…

Gleipnir – 06 – Turnabout is Foreplay

Thanks to the phone of Sudo, the green monster Tadanori killed last week, Claire is able to contact the Weak, a group of peculiar monsters who have allied together to collect coins in hopes of ending the sick game they’ve been forced to play. When the leader Sayaka asks Claire to transform, she climbs out of Shuuichi and agrees to join on her own, with Shuuichi only joining if it turns out to be safe.

Sayaka, like several of the Weak, has the same body and face as her normal form, which means the alien doesn’t grant people a different appearance if that’s not that person’s particular complex. In Sayaka’s case, she sought the means to ensure she could punish those who failed to keep her secrets, as her friend did when she snitched about her sleeping with a female teacher. She also takes a particular interest in Claire’s body, laying her on the bed and groping her.

Meanwhile, Shuuichi waits in dog mode with the other weak, one of whom, a meek girl named Yoshioka Chihiro, takes a pointed interest in him, She’s an animal lover, so her transformation gives her cat ears.

Chihiro recruits Shuuichi to help him find her wallet in the woods (which sounds like a huge risk for the two to take considering who’s in those woods). She also insists on disrobing and climbing into Shuuichi—something about which I’m sure Claire would have a couple things to say!

When Claire asks if sleeping with her is part of the ceremony to join the group, the woman apologizes and halts her advance, then proceeds with the actual pact. But it’s clear her advances were in part an intimidating and dominating tactic—a more stark and refined version of Claire teasing Shuuichi with her body, now used against her.

The pact involves tying a choker made from her the woman’s hair around Claire’s neck. If she betrays her, the choker will tighten and off comes her head. It’s a very specific ability borne from a very clear vision of what she wanted, and it’s enabled her to build a coalition of people she can trust without hesitation.

And…that’s pretty much it. Sure, Shuuichi and Claire have their separate intimate moments with other people—which may or may not have ramifications for their relationship—but other than that it’s a lot of sitting, standing, and lying around talking or waiting.

There’s no urgency to the Weak or Sayaka’s actions, which is surprising considering they’re at a significant strength disadvantage even with Claire and Shuuichi on their side. I was hoping the duo would reunite in this episode following their respective “dalliances,” but no dice.

As for the wallet search, it seemed more than anything an excuse for someone else to climb into Shuuichi and doesn’t make much sense in the logic of a group on the run from a vicious enemy. Sure enough, that enemy finds Yoshioka’s wallet before she does. I kept thinking Yoshioka was somehow setting Shuuichi up, but it never happened, I’m sure he could’ve sensed any treachery once she was inside him.

Gleipnir – 05 – Man Gotta Have a Code

The cold open establishes the hazards of the woods where the Gatherers are gathered. One of them is searching for coins when she’s surrounded by a group who claim the woods as their turf. But if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. Claire believes the right strategy is to meet the danger head-on, lest the coins all get snatched up while they’re being slow and cautious.

Her strategy is soon put to the test when they encounter a demonic-looking Gatherer with swords for arms. But despite his evil looks there’s a reasonable man inside—a college student named Tadanori Sanbe. He reveals his identity as thanks for when Claire puts her life on the line to fight him; all others have run from him, and with good reason: he’s hella strong.

Claire wonders if she erred here, but when Sanbe reveals he’s a decent guy, and Shuuichi’s gun manages to pierce one of his arms, the duo splits up, with Shuuichi as the bait giving Sanbe a bear hug while Claire holds him at bay with the gun. Sanbe, who is very samurai-like in his outlook, takes the defeat in stride, and is also bashful around a half-naked Claire.

Their friendly chat is suddenly interrupted by another Gatherer in the form of a green Titan. He’s snapped photos of everyone and declared them his new slaves, and promises he and his friends will do all kinds of awful stuff to Claire in particular. This gives Sanbe the chance to reveal another part of his code: he won’t kill needlessly, but a threat from a scumbag is met by swift, deadly force.

Claire is delighted that Sanbe is clearly on the stronger side of the scale, so it’s great that he’s now on their side: he’ll help them collect coins if he can continue testing his strength and honing custom unique martial art. He has no qualms about partnering with two worthy adversaries.

It’s clear now that at least where fights are concerned, Claire is no longer the puppet and Shuuichi the puppeter: there’s true cooperation at play…not to mention Claire remains steadfast in her commitment to die with Shuuichi. Sanbe’s an interesting Chad-like addition to their weird little party.

Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 02 – Tha Last Meal is Delayed

These first two episodes of SnS‘s fifth season weren’t supposed to be merely a two-part preview of a series that won’t return for many months, if ever. Yet that’s what happened, and it’s impossible not to approach this episode with that in mind.

With the BLUE Competition looming, Totsuki must pick three chefs (four if you count Erina, who’s automatically in) to represent the academy. They need not be in the Elite Ten, but any chef at Totsuki.

The resulting preliminaries are hastily organized and involve so many different chefs making different kinds of soup, it all ended up a bit of a chaotic mess—more a stream of things happening than the truly compelling culinary competition I’d expect of the best of Food Wars. This was the equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff on the screen, be it dishes or “foodgasm” reactions, and seeing what sticks. Nothing much stuck.

Two of the winners of the three BLUE spots come as no surprise: Souma and Aldini, while the third is a bit of a surprise. Megumi gains first place with an initially “lame”looking dish of meatballs, until the judges discover that each ball contains a miso soup using miso from all of the areas of Japan. It’s definitely the most clever dish presented, both a symbol of her collected Good Times and a flavor tour of Japan. Megumi also reacts to her win with her usual fluster.

Later, while walking the halls of the school(!!!) Souma and Megumi are reeled into a first-year class at Suzuki-sensei’s request to regail the youngins of some Totsuki war stories. This sequence doesn’t last long enough to have much of an impact, but is merely the preamble to Suzuki staking his claim to ownership of Erina’s hand in marriage (despite looking a lot like an illegitimate son of her dad??)

Souma isn’t so ready to let Suzuki swoop in and marry Erina, while Megumi’s dialect breaks out in her head as she ponders a poential teenage wedding. Still, Souma accepts Suzuki’s challenge to a non-official shokugeki right here and now, with Megumi as the judge, all while Erina listens from the hall to people who apparently think she’s a prize to be won. Maybe leave it up to her who she’ll marry and when, my guys?

Of course, a cooking duel that was meant to take place next week will now come…TBA. And that’s pretty much that. Nothing much to do now but wait, and hope the wait was worth it!

Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 01 – Tha Last Meal Begins

It’s a New Day, yes it is at Totsuki Academy. The rebellion is over, the evil empire fell, and now it’s time to rule. Erina does the ruling as the new Director, while Souma achieved what he set out to do back on Day One of Year One: claim the First Seat of the Elite Ten.

Filling out the other seats are chefs he’s fought beside and against. For the final exams, Erina puts the new Elite Ten at several disadvantages as they attempt to make 3 million in profit with a ramshackle beach hut on the dark corner of the beach.

Erina seems genuinely happy in her new role leading the academy to educational and creative freedom. Similarly, she’s never had an easier or warmer manner with Souma. The two are two peas in a pod right up until he tells her she’s prettier when she smiles (she did not solicit such explicit flirting!).

Erina also learns a little about how Souma’s mom used to man the kitchen with his dad. I imagine we’ll learn more about this mystery mom this season. If not, we’ll never learn…this is the final season, isn’t it?

As for the exam challenge, the Elite Ten bounce off each other and bicker for the first two days as they try to get the hut in usable order, but they’ve been in stickier situations before, and as Souma tells a camo-bikini’d Ikumi (who has a lot of screen time this week—not complaining!) it’s the Elite Ten’s job to inspire the rest of the students by achieving the impossible.

In this case, that’s clearing over 3.5 million in just one day’s serving, thanks to putting their heads together and crafting a yakisoba with an irresistible Hayama-developed aroma that ensnares all of the customers on the beach at once. It’s a very quick and rushed challenge, but it’s fun to see everyone working together again without the threat of expulsion looming.

Two new antagonists emerge from this opening episode: first-year rich kid Dakekanba Ken, who vows to make Souma’s Elite Ten reign as brief as possible. Souma for his part admires the kid’s spirit—Ken’s doing exactly what he did, after all! A far larger threat seems poised to emerge in Suzuki-sensei, who shares Erina’s dad’s ghostly white complexion and hair, to the point I initially thought it was Azami with an assumed identity (for whatever reason)!

In any case, this new Defense Against the Dark Culinary Arts teacher admired by all for his good looks wouldn’t look this much like Azami if he wasn’t related. I’ve heard mumblings that the Food Wars manga kind of crashed burned with a disastrous final arc, but my completionist nature precludes me from not finishing the anime adaptation to the end, whether that end is bitter, sweet, salty, sour…or umami.

KonoSuba Movie: Legend of Crimson – Megumin’s Homecoming

First of all, it’s been some time since I’ve seen Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness in their original non-chibified form, so it’s a rare pleasure to see them in their regular proportions and setting. KonoSuba’s twenty episodes proved you can make an often over-the-top isekai comedy with genuine heart.

If you liked the TV show, you’ll love the movie (as I did), which delivers more of everything. Though it contains roughly a half-cour’s worth of story, the ninety minutes just breeze by. Officially a sequel to KonoSuba 2, we return to Kazuma’s party’s mansion, where notoriously involuntary loner Yunyun has an unusual request: she wants—nay, must—make a baby with Kazuma. She comes to this belief upon receiving a letter from her father, Chief of the Crimson Demon Village.

While that letter turns out to be a work of fiction written by one of her academy classmates, Yunyun is nevertheless compelled to return to her hometown to help fight the forces of the Demon King. Megumin and the others decide to follow her, and rely on Iz to teleport them there.

Unfortunately, they end up far from the village, and in the midst of a stampede of rabidly horny she-orcs (there are no more male orcs) after Kazuma. After Yunyun’s request, this marks the second instance of Kazuma being entangled in romance (for good or ill) which he comes to call his “popular phase.”

What better way to learn more about Megumin than to visit her home? Turns out she’s hardly an anomoly, the town is nothing but overly-dramatic chuuni dressed in cool outfits with an emphasis on reds and blacks. The orcs are scattered by their overwhelming offensive magical power, a quality Megumin also shares with her clan.

Megumin’s parents are each eccentric in their own ways, while her little sister Komekko is adorable as all-get-out. Her family is poor, so the moment her parents smell money on Kazuma (he’s in the process of a 300m-Eris deal with Vanir to sell his memoirs), Kazuma finds himself at the mercy of a mother who wants to pair him with Megumin with all due haste.

To this end, she locks Kazuma and Megumin (sleeping due to a recent Explosion) in a room together. She comes to when he’s about to kiss her after much hand-wringing about how to proceed, and she escapes through the window to spend the night at Yunyun’s, fearing further lecherous advances.

The next day, Megumin shows her friends around the village, including to her and Yunyun’s (very Hogwarts-y) magical academy. We learn that when goblins attacked Komekko, Yunyun sacrificed her amassed skill points to repel the enemy. Because Megumin hesitated, that meant she was able to preserve her points and attain Explosion magic she cultivates to this day.

Megumin finds herself locked in her room with Kazuma again, this time by ice. Kazuma assures her that he won’t do anything, and offers his apologies as well as thanks for all the things she and the others have gone through with and for him.

It’s a very nice heartfelt scene, and Megumin even ends up clinging to Kazuma under the covers, commenting on how he’s really a “wimp” when it comes to making a move. Unfortunately, their tender moment is interrupted by the return of Sylvia, the voluptuous Demon King who leads the attack on the village.

Kazuma managed to scare her and her goblin army off with bluster earlier, but when she learns he’s not really Mitsurugi of the Cursed Sword, she takes him hostage…and Kazuma lets it happen. First, because it’s more proof of his Popular Phase; second, because it’s comfy between Sylvia’s boobs; and third, he has an ax to grind with his comrades regarding his treatment.

Kazuma accompanies Sylvia to the Crimson Demon Village’s underground storage facility, and inadvertently unlocks the chamber where Mage Killer, the one weapon he can’t let a demon king get ahold of, is stored. While he doesn’t intend to make things worse for the village, Kazuma’s so out of it he doesn’t realize punching in the classic cheat code on the Nintendo-style control pad would unlock the weapon.

He manages to lock Sylvia in the chamber, but once she has the Mage Killer and absorbs it into her artificial body, she blows the entire facility to kingdom come, then heads to the village to start blowing it up. Megumin leads Kazuma & Co. to more underground caverns, where they find Japanese carvings that explain the origin of the Crimson Demons, and why they’re so “pretentious yet nerdy”

Turns out their culture was basically created by another Japanese man sent there by the goddesses. He also built the Mage Killer, but also created a countermeasure for it: something he tentatively called “Railgun” that Kazuma previously noticed being used as a backyard clothesline in the village.

When Crimson Demons march out to defend their town, Sylvia engulfs them in an “Ancient Dispel” field that nullifies all of their magical power. They’re “saved” by a suddenly cool and confident Yunyun, finally taking up the mantle of her father the chief and luring Sylvia away.

Turns out she’s acting as a lure to bring Sylvia in firing range of the Railgun. Aqua fills it with magial energy, but it still fails to fire. That’s when Megumin unleashes an Explosion meant to his Sylvia directly, but is instead shunted into the rifle, which her little sister Komekko then fires.

Sylvia is killed, and ends up in the same place as fellow defeated Demon Kings Verdia and Hans. She merges with them an is resurrected into a huge, bizarre four-legged beast. Turns out her old comrades Wiz and Vanir have arrived in the village on an unrelated errand, and join in the fight, but even they are barely able to keep Sylvia at bay.

That’s when Kazuma decides to use his Popular Phase for good; by appealing to Sylvia’s innate need to be loved and wanted by somebody other than her adoring hordes of goblins. Kazuma, his luck boosted by Aqua’s blessings, is that person, and stands before her unarmed and ready to be taken into her arms…or tentacles…or whatever.

I never thought I’d empathize with a Konosuba villain so much, but Sylvia turns out to be one of the most dynamic and sympathetic of Demon Kings KonoSuba has served up. Her feelings, and specifically her romantic longing, isn’t entirely played for jokes, but portrayed as a very human side of her that turns out to be the Achilles Heel Kazuma must betray her heart to exploit.

He succeeds in gaining her trust and becomes one with her as Wiz gathers the magical energy from all of the villagers and transfers it to Megumin and Yunyun, who combine their powers to unleash a gargantuan Explosion beam that, combined with Kazuma breaking her heart, destroys Sylvia and ends the threat to the village for good.

Back home in Axel, Kazuma receives a hero’s welcome, proving his Popular Phase still has a bit left in the tank. While having a picnic with Aqua and Darkness, Megumin asks Kazuma to allow her to learn advanced magic, setting aside her Explosion magic so she can be of greater use to the party.

Kazuma may have long railed against her utter lack of versatility and durability in battle, but spending so much time in close quarters with her and meeting both her family and the villagers who shaped her, Kazuma suddenly isn’t so quick to deprive her of her “Explosiveness”. Whatever he does to her skill card, she’s still able to cast a beautiful Explosion that creates a heart-shaped cloud. And for that, Megumin is happy.

Did Aqua and Darkness get the short end of the stick in this movie? Perhaps, but that meant a lot of great development for Megumin, Kazuma, and their unique bond. They may get on each others nerves at times, but at the end of the day they’ll always be there for each other: Megumin blowing up something that needs blowing up, and Kazuma carrying her home on his back.

It’s quite simply KonoSuba at its absolute best, firing on all cylinders with confidence, comedy, and chemistry. My main gripe with this movie is that it makes me long that much more for KonoSuba 3!

ID: INVADED – 13 (Fin) – The Right Person in the Right Place

ID:INVADED put a lot of ideas and mysteries out there, but it was never that coy about the Big Bad being the perpetually closed-eyed Chief Hayaseura. That the start of the final showdown with John Walker came down to a one-on-one physical fight—with Narihisago literally kicking at him as he blocked with his cane—almost felt like a surrender at first.

Then Hondoumachi arrives on a huge shark and bites off part of Hayaseura’s face. This is going to be two-against-one, at least in the Id Well.

Hondoumachi steals Hayaseura’s hat and she and Narihisago lure him on a chase to retrieve it that leads back to the first Id Well we ever saw: Fukuda’s world-in-pieces. The three meet on a platform, Hayaseura has a seat, and they talk it out, with Hondoumachi analyzing her former chief as having a God complex, hence all the sevens.

Seven serial killers with seven victims each. When Hondoumachi  counters that Narihisago was the eighth, she parries with the fact that Narihisago isn’t a true serial killer, but a serial “suicide inducer” whose only victims were serial killers. If he’s the “Cornerer”, the last person he was meant to corner was Hayaseira himself.

What Hayaseura doesn’t know his adversaries already have him right where they want him. The seat is actually a cockpit placed there courtesy of Fukuda, and Hondoumachi traps and neutralizes him in a well-within-the-well. But that still leaves her and Narihisago trapped in a well.

To get out, they’ll have to put their hope in a “third pillar” they’re not even aware of—Momoki, in the iso suit in the real world. Asukai’s powers have grown in intensity, testing both his body and the limits of his suit. Mitsuoka just manages to bring him back to life after his lungs fill with vomit and his heart stops.

He eventually finds Asukai, who is initially happy someone has come to help her, but then she sees the gun in Momoki’s hand. Asukai laments that when she was first found, she asked to be killed and put out of her misery, and that that remains to her the best and only solution. The thing is, Momoki can’t do it, and when she tries to, the gun doesn’t work in her hand.

Instead, Momoki has her return to the Mizuhanome pool, which will at least contain her expanding powers. He can’t promise they’ll find a solution that would enable her to leave that pool without murdering her, but they’re not going to murder her, nor are they going to stop looking. Before the Kura is released from her powers, Sakaido meets Kaeru in a beautiful well—seeing her alive for the first time, and bidding her farewell.

Everything related to Hayaseura, his John Walker persona, Asukai and her remaining comatose dreamers are buried from the public, as is Kura’s way, and everyone basically gets back to work. Presumably the difference is that Hondoumachi is now a full-time id well diver beside Narihisago (who may or may not still be a prisoner). The two even participate in joint dives, since they worked so well together to bring down the chief.

This was a solid, good if not great finish to a show that borrowed a lot of ideas from sci-fi and psychology and managed to merge them into a mostly cohesive and original story. Compared to the ambition of the earlier issues it raised, the ending falls a bit short, but the show is still to be commended for not completely coming apart at the seems, and for being ambitious, confident, and smart in the first place. It’s a story I’d love to return to, should favorable circumstances align.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 20 – Flowers in the Underworld

If you’re going to have a final boss to the final singularity in your narrative universe, go big or go home. F/GO goes monumental, and everyone has a role to play. First in the order of battle against Beast Tiamat is Assassin, who helpfully slashes both its eyes and delivers various other blows. Tiamat responds by unleashing a brood of Divine Spirit-class lahmu.

As Tiamat begins to climb back up to the living world, the quicker and dealier than ever lahmu prove too much for Ritsuka and the Servants, who are riddled with cuts and bruises and are starting to tire. That’s when they’re bailed out by the arrival of Gilgamesh, this time in his Servant form. He doesn’t spare the treasury in unleashing a gold-steel rain upon the lahmu, while Tiamat is forced back down to the ground.

Tiamat’s bonkers response to this setback is to create a Nega-Genesis, an attempt to restart the very universe. A huge bubble forms around the beast, poised to rewrite life itself and negate every Servant in Ritsuka’s stable. Ereshkigal is able to stop this process by using her impressive Noble Phantasm Kur Ki Gal Irkalla, but even this is naught but a time-buying measure.

While Beast is temporarily sealed away, the only person who can enter the Nega-Genesis, Ritsuka, but deliver the killing blow. Gilgamesh provides the blade, while Mash and Merlin will use their Noble Phantasms Lord Camelot and Garden of Avalon simultaneously, creating a path for Ritsuka.

There’s a palpable vulnerability to the prospect of Ritsuka heading to perhaps the most dangerous spot in the universe without his trusty aid—but the two trust in one another to take care of business on their different sides of the battlefield.

Ereshkigal’s gambit turns out to be a sacrifice, as she used up all of her authority to give Ritsuka and the others maximum time to prepare a final assault. She disappears in a distraught Ishtar’s arms, smiling at the sight of so many gorgeous flowers in her underworld (the product of Garden of Avalon).

A victory against Tiamat wasn’t going to be without cost, but it’s surely gutting that Ereshkigal is part of that cost. Ueda Kana does moving work voicing both Servants in the scene, and indeed throughout the two Servants’ interactions. So alike and yet so different.

Her sacrifice isn’t in vain, however; after some effort and a last minute assist by Assassin (who can be in the Nega-Genesis because he’s technically dead…?) keeping the last of the lahmu off his back, Ritsuka is able to reach Tiamat’s head and plunge the dagger in.

The Nega-Genesis begins to collapse, and Gilgamesh breaks out Ea and delivers the coup-de-grace—the good ol’ Enuma Elish, delivered with such unrepentant ferocity I was momentarily worried my speakers would blow out.

In the midst of all the external sturm und drang Ritsuka finds himself in a tranquil oasis where Tiamat’s true form of a horned woman stands alone in a white, soundless void. She quietly laments how her children made a ladder of her and gone far away, and asks if her love for them was mistaken. Ritsuka assures her that all her children love her, which is why she has to get going.

I honestly felt sympathy for Tiamat, so soft and lonesome were her words. A lot of that is down to the stark minimalism of the scene and Yuuki Aoi’s deep yet restrained performance. After she is destroyed by Gilgamesh’s Phantasm, the underworld that was their last battlefield begins to crumble.

Merlin quickly shoots Ritsuka and Mash, hand-in-hand, back up to the surface on a stream of flowers. A stunning victory has been achieved by their hands and those of their friends. Humanity will go on. Hopefully there’s some time to celebrate—and mourn—before the duo heads on home.