Lycoris Recoil – 12 – Spider Lily Shuffle

Takina’s heroic arrival means Chisato’s finally able to maneuver herself into position to fire her gun near both of Majima’s ears, incapacitating him long enough for her to blast him with her concussive rounds and for Takina to shoot him with binding rounds.

He still gets in a couple of kicks, however, so as the girls recover by lying on the ground for a bit, Chisato asks why Takina there, Takina says she quit, and Chisato says she’s a big ol’ dummy. Takina won’t disagree, but between the DA and Chisato, there was no choice.

Chisato proceeds to find Mr. Yoshi, who expresses immediate disappointment when he learns she didn’t kill Majima. When Chisato tells him that she’s already plenty happy helping people, he says he “didn’t wind up the spring of a dying doll” for that. He can’t stress enough that Chisato can only fulfill her purpose by taking lives.

Takina, who is listening in the hall, has heard enough. If Chisato won’t shoot this guy, she will. Especially when they learn he’s had the advanced artificial heart put in his chest, making it so that he must die for Chisato to live. While that’s perfectly okay for Takina, it’s not at all okay for Chisato, who stops Takina from killing him.

Yoshi’s sidekick drops in and kicks Takina out of the tower and almost to her death, creating yet anoher cruel game for Chisato: kill his sidekick before she kills Takina. When Takina is holding on to a beam for dear life and Yoshi starts shooting at her hands, Chisato begs him to stop. When he won’t she finally pulls the trigger and sends a real bullet into his chest.

Fortunately for her, it goes straight through him and misses his vitals. Takina survives her bout with Yoshi’s sidekick (albeit with a half-bloodied face to show for it), and unloads a clip at the two as they retreat. Chisato tells her to stop and holds her as she says even if they killed Yoshi to save her, she wouldn’t be Chisato anymore. The time comes for farewells for everyone, but she’s not gone yet.

As Mizuki and Kurumi arrive in a helicopter to pick them up, Chisato and Takina learn about the next crisis: now that they’ve been outed to the public, the director has decided to eliminate all of the Lycoris (with the male version, LilyBell). Mizuki flies them to Enkuboku, while Kurumi gives them a USB dongle to put in the Enkuboku servers. Fuki and Sakura go floor to floor gathering up the wounded Lycoris, with Erika having their six, filling in for Takina.

When the three bite off more than they can chew with two of Majima’s bigger thugs, Chisato and Takina come to their haughty colleagues’ rescue once more, and then they proceed to the server room, where Sakura points out how Fuki and Chisato’s arguing sounds a lot like flirting.

Once the USB is in the server, Kurumi, AKA Walnut, proves she was and is the world’s best hacker, creating a new cover-up for the Lycoris (announced to the city as an immersive crisis adventure simulation…though that doesn’t explain the guns dispersed among the public) and leading the cops straight to Robota’s hideout.

With the Lycoris given fresh cover and Chisato dodging LilyBell’s bullets, the director orders them to retreat. Lilybell’s 1st glares at Chisato on his way out, and Takina isn’t sure whether she should be unsurprised or jealous. Probably both. Takina and Erika get another nice little moment, as Takina shows how a little Chisato has rubbed off on her by ribbing Erika for being “awful” for taking her placed at the DA.

It looks like all’s well that ends well, until Kusunoki is informed that the cleaners responsible for retrieving Majima have gone silent. The elevator doors are about to close when Chisato spots her bookbag and runs out to get it. Majima then sprays a clip into the elevator (all bullets absorbed by an airbag thanks to quick thinking from Fuki). But the elevator doors close on the Takina, Fuki, and the others, leaving Chisato all alone with Majima for a final round.

Majima’s plan to turn the public against the government failed, and he’s lost Robota, the only means of attempting to do so again. So this is clearly just him wanting to either kill or be killed by his finest and most interesting opponent. As for Chisato, she seems resigned to her fate, and unless there’s a third fake heart out there somewhere, Takina may have to be too.

But when that elevator descends to the ground floor, dollars to donuts Takina’s going right back up to the top to be back beside Chisato, as long as she possibly can, until the farewell.

DanMachi IV – 09 – Somebody Set Us Up the Bomb

Will Bell have to fight his friend in order to stop her from murdering Jura? Well…no, because after Ryuu insists she didn’t kill Jean, it only takes a couple of “gotcha” questions for him to determine that Jura has been setting Ryuu up this whole time. Right on cue, Jura sports a villainous smirk and (somewhat forced-sounding) cackle.

Jura, a monster-tamer, has a surprise for Ryuu and Bell: a Lambton, which is not Lamb-themed Reggeton but a giant burrowing snake from the lower floors. Jura is controlling it with a magical stone around its collar that responds to a similar magical stone on Jura’s whip. A second Lambton attacks Lili, Aisha, Welf, and the others.

The Lambtons’ movements seem erratic, but once Ryuu discovers a pattern, she asks Bell to back her up while she brings it down. When the great snake tries to go to ground, Bell stops it with a Fire Bolt, and Ryuu finishes it off with a Luminous Wind.

Bell’s Party defeats their Lambton by having Haruhime cast Level Boost on Welf and Ouka to serve as the party’s shield while the archers riddle its head with arrows, and finally Aisha chops off its head with a Hell Kaios. They got the tools, they got the talent. It’s Miller Time.

But Cassandra is worried. This can’t be the disaster that causes a “banquet of tragedy”. Sure enough, it’s just the appetizer: Jura and the Lambtons were just stalling for time while Turk and the other anti-Ryuu squad mined the entire level with blazerocks. Once ignited, Jura helpfully explains that the Dungeon is made “delirious”.

This, in turn, awakens “Despair”, which like the Lambton has glowing red eyes. While Ryuu has fought Lambtons before, one look at her face, equal parts shock, anger, and fear, says it all: this guy is trouble. Unfortunately, this episode didn’t feel like much more than what it was: stalling for time before the main course.

Overlord IV – 10 – The Pursuit of Happiness

When the Floor Guardians note how easily the man in the red powered suit defeated two Death Knights, Ainz breaks out his patented “Just as expected”, awing his underlings by revealing the true reason he sent a lesser force to a lesser town: to bait the Kingdom’s most powerful protectors: Drop of Red.

Renner meets with her brother Prince Zanac, for perhaps the last time, as Ainz is sending his army to their royal capital and intend to raze it to the ground. Both seem resigned to that fate, with Zanac volunteering to lead the troops while Renner escapes “when the time is right.”

Evileye and Blue Rose end up meeting with Drop of Red’s leader, Azuth, in a brothel, only for their character designs to be somehow outdone by a third Adamantite adventurer party: The Black Scripture, from the Holy Kingdom. They wish to recruit Drop of Red and Blue Rose as allies in the fight to “secure the future of mankind,” i.e. defeat the Sorcerer King. Blue Rose refuses, at least for now, while Azuth is certain attempting to defeat the Sorcerer King is a fool’s errand.

Prince Zanac leads what’s left of Re-Estize’s forces out to the field outside the capital wearing Gazef’s armor, then rides further out on his own to request an audience with Ainz. It is granted, and Ainz makes things proper with a table, chairs, and water goblets. Zanac’s main question to Ainz is why he’s going about this in such a cruel fashion. Ainz states simply that Zanac’s kingdom is to be made an example of, so no one will dare oppose his Sorcerous Kingdom ever again.

When Zanac asks further what Ainz’s goal is, he simply states “happiness”—for himself and those he cares about (the Floor Guardians and other underlings). Zanac can’t really argue with that, and withdraws from the discussion with just one final request: that whatever magic Ainz uses to kill him and his people, it at least be done quickly and relatively painlessly.

Zanac is surprised by how human Ainz is, and how he’s a far more worthy king than he could ever be. However, Ainz thinks the same way: that someone so outwardly unflappable and dignified as Zanac represents true royalty. Contrast that with his nobles, who rebel against him before the battle begins, beheading Zanac and taking his head before Ainz as a tribute, as well as pledging their allegiance to the Sorcerous Kingdom.

Until his last moments, Zanac Varleon Igana Ryle Vaiself stood tall with sword in hand, while these nobles kneel and simper. Frankly, it disgusts Ainz and turns him off personally overseeing the entire invasion operation. He tells the nobles they’ll get a “suitable reward”—the sparing of their families’ lives—then sends them away, but tells Albedo to send them to the Neuronist, and only to let them die (albeit not slowly) if they beg for death.

He then puts Cocytus and Mare in charge of the impending battle, having “lost interest” due to the cowardly actions of the nobles. They should have let their prince lead an army into a dignified, honorable battle; now they’ve signed their own death warrants for certain. As for Renner, she’s now de facto Queen…of a soon-to-be ruined Kingdom.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E08 – Boars, Stars, and Bears

While the apartment is now repaired (and the kitchen faucet no longer drips!), the MgRonald remodeling isn’t done yet, so Maou needs some new temp work. That notorious NEET Urushihara brings this up is indeed the height of hypocrisy, but he’s not wrong.

When Chiho’s great aunt is injured by a boar at the Sasaki family farm in Nagano, all the young temp workers quit out of fear of attacks. Chiho’s mom drives her, Maou, Ashiya and Urushihara to the farm to help out with the harvest. Maou is happy see sides of Chiho he hasn’t seen before.

Maou & Co are overwhelmed by the sheet vastness of both the Sasaki farmlands and their spacious house (you can’t even see the stairs from the entrance!), but Chiho’s aunt Hinako eases them in with some lighter work, after which her uncle takes them to a hot spring to unwind. There, Chiho suddenly feels something clutch her leg; it’s Alas Ramus!

Turns out Emi and Suzuno tagged along, and it’s clearly not a simple coincidence. That said, when Alas calls Emi and Maou “Mama” and “Papa”, Emi and Suzuno have to spin quite the yarn about long-term babysitting and Alas forgetting her parents’ faces (which is obviously a real thing that happens in families where the parents have to work a ton of hours).

That night, Maou gets his wish to see another side of Chi-chan as she visits him in the night dressed more casually than he’s used to (though he seemingly forgets he saw her in a bikini during the beach arc). They go on a walk, her marvels at how many stars are in the sky.

Chiho tells him about Emi’s mixed feelings about him, Ashiya, and Urushihara doing farm work, since the Demon Army destroyed her hometown and family’s farmland. Chiho reiterates her desire for everyone she loves to live in happiness.

Maou doesn’t get much sleep, as Emi gets the three lads up at 4:30 AM sharp (though Urushihara clings to his futon and gets Emi’s fist in return). Everyone else is already up and eating a hearty breakfast prepared with help from Suzuno.

Because of Emi’s experience harvesting eggplants and Maou’s lack of same, the two are paired up for a greenhouse, where Emi explains why vegetables have to be picked in the morning rather than the afternoon, and before they over-ripen.

Emi also tells him she’s still mad and not ready to forgive him for what he and his army did to her home, but if he were to start regretting his deeds, her anger and hatred might subside…if only “the length of a flea’s turd”, which is a hell of a withering turn of phrase!

After working all morning Maou and the lads get a siesta in, but Maou and Ashiya want to still be useful. They escort Chiho’s baby cousin Hitoshi to see her mom in the fields, since he’s being fussy. I love the little scene of Maou, Chiho, Ashiya, and the little ones getting along, and Hitoshi pulling Ashiya’s hair.

Unfortunately, the good vibes are suddenly extinguished by the arrival of a starving black bear that’s come down the mountain looking for food. The group gets down low and tries to quietly get away, but Hitoshi gets unsettled and starts to cry, alerting the bear to their presence…and that’s how the episode ends.

With a “civilian” among them in Aunt Hinako, dealing with the bear through supernatural means (like, say, Alas turning into a sword) is probably out. Still, I can’t imagine the bear will succeed in attacking anyone. More likely another Sasaki will arrive and scare the bear off.

Overlord IV – 09 – Baking a Softer Biscuit

After chastising a courtier for interrupting her, Albedo cuts to the chase: The Sorcerer Kingdom is declaring war on the Re-Estize Kingdom, but they won’t deploy their forces for a whole month, and Ainz promises not to use any “large spells” like the one that killed 200,000 on the Katze Plains. Brain knows Ainz is planning something (duh).

A month later, and Ainz has already taken steps to ensure a swift invasion of Re-Estize, focusing on destroying the villages near the borders in order to prevent outside forces from interfering. But he’s loath to reveal to his always-gung-ho generals the fact that he’s holding back on purpose, resulting in some humans surviving and escaping.

While not wholly his idea, since Ainz is, deep down, just a regular human gamer, he’s both more empathetic and respectful of the opinions of fellow “lowly” humans, or in this case, slightly-less powerful underlings, like Albedo’s older sister Nigredo (who is missing her face skin…if she ever had it) and the dog maid-themed Pestonya. They urge their overlord not to snuff out a race as innovative as humanity too rashly.

The Sorcerer Kingdom’s latest target is the seaside town of E-Naeul, who have contracted the mithril adventurer group Four Armaments, led by a cool beauty and including a slightly perverted mage. Like many new Overlord introductions, this four-person party brings an immediate lived-in quality with their easy banter and subtle swagger. At the end of the day, they’re professionals, and if their job is to hold E-Naeul as long as they can, they will hold.

The zombie rabble that constitutes the main Sorcerer Kingdom force isn’t particularly intimidating; the onna kishi who leads the Four Armaments is far more concerned about the two giant Death Knights, wondering if only two were sent because that’s all it was assumed would be needed to cause the town to fall.

After provoking the Death Knight to charge the front gates, The onna kishi has her partymates buff her up with attribute enhancements, and she conjures a doppelganger of her hand axe so every strike counts twice. More than anything, she doesn’t flinch even a little bit in the face of a massive undead warrior getting all up in her space.

While she’s not taking any damage thanks to her superior speed and agility, she’s not really causing any to the Death Knight, and when the dual-wielding Death Warrior catches up with its companion, it starts to look like even one of the more renowned adventurer groups in the kingdom is going to start experiencing what the “stick” in Ainzs’ carrot-and-stick plan entails.

But then, suddenly, the Death Knight’s head is blasted off, and the knight crumbles into a pile of ash. The shots came from high in the sky, where a figure in a high-tech red metal mech suit is brandishing an equally anachronistic machine gun. The Death Warrior does its best to deflect the red one’s shots, but eventually falls as well, and the red one simply gives a friendly gesture and flies off into the wild blue yonder.

With the biggest enemy threats removed, it’s highly likely the Armaments and town forces will be able to repel the remaining zombies and prevent E-Naeul from falling. But when reports come back of the Death Knights’ defeat, Ainz shocks his Guardians by remarking that he expected this. So who is the one in red, who is identified by the Armaments as an adamantite adventurer…and will Ainz eventually have to fight them?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E07 – A Boom, a Whoosh, and a Hug

The first day’s haul at the beach shack is beyond Ms. Amane’s expectations. Emi meets with Maou, Ashiya, Urushihara, and Camio at the lighthouse to discuss Amane, who is clearly no ordinary human.  Camio explains that the Demon Realm split into hardliners and pacifists after Maou’s fall.

A group of the latter, all ginned up by Olba Meyer, are on there way to Choshi now for the Sacred Sword, AKA Alas Ramus. Both Emi and Maou want to take responsibility for the war they started without leaving it all to Amane, powerful though she may be.

It’s actually a relief that Amane isn’t specifically after Maou or Emi or the sword, and even delivers Maou’s sword that Camio brought along when he arrived in Japan. When a Gate opens and the demon soldiers start pouring through, Emi flies over to meet them first and starts cutting them down, though notably not killing them.

When their leader steps in to have a duel, Emi is game, and has Alas scale down so it’s a more even fight. The fight never happens, though, because Emi bought all the time Maou, Ashiya, and Urushihara needed to transform into their demon forms of King Satan, Sariel, and Lucifer. The troops and their leader are immediately cowed by the presence of their masters.

With a final flourish, Maou puts his arm around Emi and tells his underlings to return home with the message that the king lives and is gathering his power on Earth to bring peace to the demon realm once more. The demons and Camio return peacefully through the light of the lighthouse, and then Maou, Emi, Ashiya and Urushihara close the Gate.

Chiho, Suzuno, and Amane greet the four when they wash up on the shore, most of their power expended. Amane is glad the mess these folks brought to her little seaside town has been cleaned up, but also tells them that they have to leave as the magic they used has upset the balance of one of the few places where souls can be cleansed during Obon.

The bad news is, Maou & Co. are fired and in a flash of wind Amane and the beach shack have vanished, but the good news is that Amane paid them handsomely for their work, and Maou’s apartment has been repaired, so after a tour of Choshi, the crew is poised to return to the “Castle”.

Maou explains that the sword Camio brought him was made of his magic-packed horn that Emi had cut off, and then perhaps chooses his words poorly when he boasts to Emi that once his power is fully back he’ll “dominate” her and everyone else. That gets both Emi and Chiho upset and demanding either an apology or clarification.

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E06 – Chicken Curry

When a fog rolls in so thick they can’t see their own outstretched arms, Maou, Ashiya, and Urushihara seek shelter in their comfy five-tatami room. But when they look out the window, a large form is approaching them: a cyclops. Then a demon centaur.

Finally, a anthropomorphic black chicken Maou actually knows arrives. The other two demons are swept away by some kind of powerful wind magic; only the bird, Maou’s old chancellor Camio, survives, and he soon reverts to a chibi chicken mode.

The first day the beach shack opens things get super busy super fast, and Maou, Ashiya, Urushihara and Amane can’t keep up with the sheer volume of customers or the food and drink orders. Chiho, Emi, and Suzuno come to the rescue, each in character-appropriate swimsuits, and with double the labor (I’m not counting Urushihara) the day is a success.

While Emi cleans one of the ice shavers, Urushihara starts asking her about Olba, a dude from first season who I honestly don’t remember, but who promised him he’d not only spare his life but put in a good word for him in Heaven, where he thought was the only place he could return to after the Demon Army fell.

Later that afternoon, Maou introduces his leal servant Camio to Emi, Alas Ramus, and Chiho, emphasizing that unlike most demons who were more about fighting and killing, Camio’s whole deal was being a thinking man’s demon, and Maou says the creation of the Demon Army was thanks in no small part to Camio’s hard work.

After the episode spends much of its time either being coy about the human that wounded Camio and defeated his two demon escorts or having Urushihara suggest it might be Olba, Amane pops in to ask Maou for help, and Camio immediately fingers her as the culprit. So now Maou knows he’s working for a human powerful enough to waste demons. But to what end?

Also, it’s official: this second season is distractingly awful-looking at almost every turn. This is especially evident with most characters in swimsuits. Those suits and the bodies they’re attached to take different distorted forms in almost every shot. Everyone looks stiff and awkward. If I wasn’t so intrigued about what will become of this revelation about Amane, I’d probably have already dropped this.

DanMachi IV – 05 – Gong of Ice and Fire

Without Bell, the party finds itself well and truly against the wall, to the point both Lili and Aisha decide it’s time to bring out their fox in the hole, Haruhime. Thanks to her study of the grimoires, she’s now able to summon five tails from a fox spirit that bestow Level Boost on Welf, Daphne, Aisha, Ouka, and Mikoto. Suddenly, fighting back the monsters is easier.

But there are so many, and even when they’ve slaughtered them all, the Moss Huge eats all the crystals they dropped and becomes even stronger. I don’t know if it knew the party had someone like Haruhime, but it was counting on using their power and effort to increase its own.

The last couple episodes have really built up the fact that this is a smug, ugly brute of a monster whom I simply could not wait to see ethered by Bell.  But before that happens his party has to endure more setbacks. It takes a huge bite out of Aisha’s shoulder with its toothed trunk.

Aisha then proceeds to demonstrate just how tough she is by continuing to try to fight off the Huge, since she’s the only one who can, even with vines growing out of her gaping wound. Meanwhile, her and everyone else’s level boost fades as the monsters continue to swarm around her.

It’s at this point the injured party they found can’t sit around and do nothing anymore. They decide as a group to make their last stand here, to give Hestia Familia a chance to escape and spread the vital news of the Moss Huge. And Lili knows that a Strategist must sometimes be coldhearted and underhanded.

But she doesn’t leave the injured allies behind. She can’t, and still live with herself or look Bell in the eye. She uses her lightning blade to push back the monsters and save those who were about to give their lives for her. And just then, Haruhime’s fox ears hear a tolling bell, signifying that they just managed to hold out long enough for the one-man cavalry.

Everyone finds cover so Bell can unleash a Firebolt that blasts the Moss Huge clean out of and about a hundred meters below the cavern they’re in. There, in a much larger space, Bell, demonstrates how being on these Lower Floors have helped his mana and physique synchronize better. In short, he’s figured shit out.

As a result, he’s able to observe his opponent rationally, and revels in the fact that it’s neither as fast as the Iguazu nor nearly as strong as Minotaur. The rest of the party is relegated to the grandstands, but that’s fine; at this point both they and we the viewers have earned the right to sit back and enjoy this decisive battle.

DanMachi brings out all its most epic and bombastic battle music for this one. When all of Bell’s melee attacks amount to nothing due to Moss’ ridiculous regenerative abilities, he takes off the kid gloves, imbues his black dagger with Firebolt and awakens its runes, naming the attack “Argo Vesta” after an alternate name of his goddess.

This finally does the trick, and if I have any complaint about the Moss Huge’s demise, it’s that it doesn’t suffer nearly as much or as long as it made so many others suffer. For a being of such obvious intelligence to use it purely to hurt and kill and make itself stronger…it was a bad dude and I won’t miss it!

With the defeat of the Moss Huge, the parasitic vines growing in Chigusa and everyone else vanish, restoring them back to normal. Marie, not interested in meeting his friends, thanks Bell, says she loves him, then waves goodbye. I was hoping for more Marie Time!

But that’s okay, there’s no shortage of allies and hugs waiting for Bell after his impressive feat. But the members of Hestia Familia and their colleagues must understand that their role wasn’t simply to await rescue. Everything they did bought them and Bell crucial minutes he needed to get to where they were.

Everyone contributed, from Cassandra’s well-timed heals to Haruhime’s clutch five-fold boost. And conducting it all was Liliruca, who like Bell learned a lot from being down here. For her, that meant learning that a Strategist doesn’t have to be coldhearted or underhanded, and sometimes luck will reward them.

DanMachi IV – 04 – The Seaweed’s Always Greener

When Bell first lays eyes on the mermaid who applauded his performance against the Iguazu, his first thought is probably that he really shouldn’t stare at her for too long considering she’s topless. His reaction spooks her, but it isn’t long before Marie (no “Miss!”) is offering the finger she bit for him to suck on (her blood has healing qualities).

It also helps that Marie is friends with Xenos like Rei and Rido. I thought she might be the classic siren keeping Bell occupied while her Moss Huge ally picks of his party one by one, but it doesn’t seem to be like that. If anything, Marie is clingy because she’s lonely: her friends have wings and feet while she’s tethered to the water.

The Moss Huge doesn’t need Marie or anyone else’s help to create a huge shitshow for Bell’s party, led in his absence by Lili’s brains and Aisha’s brawn. It’s implied the Moss Huge has not only been stockpiling monsters but also influencing their movement patterns, such that the party ends up in the middle of a “pass parade”, when hordes of monsters are coming at them from all directions.

Despite overwhelming difficulty of avoiding getting flattened by the parade while still keeping the injured safe and mobile, Lili, Aisha & Co. manage to keep it together. Welf has to go through his magic swords like potato chips, but they’ve gotta do what they’ve gotta do.

Ouka proves masterful with his axe, while Makoto also whips out one of her new special techniques which splits a rampaging giant urchin clean in two, showing Aisha that she and Bell aren’t the only ones pulling their weight.

When Bell sufficiently promises neither he nor Marie will be killed if they leave the safety of her lagoon, she uses her song to locate a friendly monster and leads Bell back to his friends. When she runs out of water to swim in, Bell finally does what the show’s title has always promised and Picks Up a Girl in a Dungeon—and if it’s Wrong, I don’t want to be Right!

Even after their small victories and getting time for Cassandra to heal them, the monsters just keep coming in waves. Lili knows they can’t keep running without reducing the number of foes, so Aisha tells Haruhime that it’s time for her to unleash her Level Boost on everyone.

Hopefully that bullet isn’t used too early, and the resulting boost will keep the party afloat long enough for Bell and his new friend to arrive. But the fact that they’ve done so well without Bell for this long speaks to what a talented, coordinated, and resilient party they’ve become in a short time. You could say greatness is being forged in the watery crucible of these lower floors.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 06 – The Mask Drops

The title of this episode comes from Lord Byron, but one could quote Yoda too: failure is the greatest teacher. Suzune was too busy trying to be accomplished and exceptional enough for her brother to look her way to realize that sometimes failing is the point.

While at first I thought Kiyotaka was throwing out random rumors about Kikyou being the Class D traitor, when pressed, she happily owns up to it. Without dropping her outward syrupy demeanor, she admits her primary goal right now is to get Suzune expelled.

She also offers Kiyotaka a friendly reminder that she still has evidence of him groping her if he ever tried to expose her. Not only that, she’s decided on the spot that before she can think about helping Class A, she’ll want him expelled along with Suzune.

Sudou is still angry from how things went down thus far when Suzune first approaches him, but she remains standing near the elevator when he decides to return. Suzune realize the two are alike in their obsession with seeking acknowledgment, but now she knows that going it alone won’t be enough. She asks Sudou to help her, and when he agrees, she flashes an exceedingly rare Horikita smile.

Sudou returns to the class, bows, and apologizes for being a dick, showing growth, while Suzune bows out of the final relay, meaning Kikyou will run in her place. When another student bows out, Kiyotaka takes his place, and Suzune’s brother happens to be beside him in the relay.

Manabu is impressed with Class D’s sudden turnaround after they seemed to be circling the drain, and Kiyotaka tells him whatever happened to get them back on track, it was Suzune’s doing. Manabu acknowledges that, then accepts Kiyotaka’s offer to race him.

The other two runners in their row start off before them, but it doesn’t matter: Kiyotaka and Manabu are running their own race. Not only that, they’re both so freakishly fast it doesn’t matter how big a head start the other runners had.

In the end, Team Red won while Class 1-D ranked dead last in class points. That said the results of the sports festival don’t cause a dramatic shift in the status quo. But it wasn’t a wasted opportunity for Class D, because Suzune was able to learn from her failures and grow, just as Sudou was. Suzune also now has the “weapon” in Sudou that Kiyotaka insisted she procure.

That leaves the post-festival groveling, which an honorable person like Suzune would never back out of. When she arrives before Ryuen, Kikyou is also there. Suzune, who knows she’s the Class D traitor, asks her to drop the cutesy act…and what to you know, she does! Dark Kikyou is a lot of fun, and makes no bones about her only immediate goal being to eliminate anyone who knew the “old her”—even her current ally Ryuen, someday.

Suzune gets Ryuen to discuss how he and Kikyou manipulated the sports festival from the get-go and even got Saki to pretend her injury was worse than it was. Suzune reveals she’s recording all of this on her phone, but Ryuen points out that he prefaced his explanation as “indulging her fantasy”, meaning there’s reasonable doubt he was being serious. Also, he recorded everything too, in case Suzune tried to edit hers.

Just when Suzune is ready to eat crow and grovel as instructed, Ryuen gets a text message with a third audio file: one in which he’s heard instructing Saki to intentionally injure Suzune. He claims not to know who recorded or sent him this, but he can only tip his hat to that person, as it creates a stalemate from which he and Kikyou withdraw for the time being.

Why he wouldn’t suspect Kiyotaka of being behind this move, I do not know, but that’s who I assume did it, perhaps with Kei obtaining the actual recording for her new “handler”. In any case, the triple-twist, combined with an always welcome appearance of Dark Kikyou, made for a surprisingly entertaining finish to the outing.

Considering the modest gains Class C enjoyed from the festival, I’d say this is a net win for Team Kiyotaka/Suzune, due to the aforementioned emotional growth of the latter and the former at least knowing the score vis-a-vis Kikyou’s goals.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 04 – Her World, Her Rules

If you’re going to go three weeks between episodes (since the first three were available in week one) following with a character-centric bottle episode is probably the way to go. We don’t see how Weiss is discovered or how the rest of her team takes her before Shion; instead we’re right beside Ruby inside Weiss’ nightmare world as she tries to find her bearings and rescue her still-new comrade.

She arrives in a harsh winter wonderland with an psychedelic sky, but at least she can use her weapon as a snowboard, and spends coins in order to communicate with Shion, create shortcut doors, and bring up the map of where she’s been. Considering she only has a finite amount of coins, I’d say she’s actually way too liberal with their use early on.

After witnessing a Schnee-brand train being attacked and derailed by White Fang, Ruby follows the tracks to an Orwellian nightmare of a city, packed with statues and portraits of Weiss’ father. The city is populated by a bunch of patrolling robots who salute with “Big Nicholas” (instead of Big Brother) and laborers who might as well be automatons with their highly structured, joyless days working to fatten their boss’ pockets.

When blending in doesn’t work (I mean look at her), Ruby tries to climb the vast walls of the city’s central tower, but is pushed back by magical brambles. She then encounters a “Silly Prison” for “dummies” depicted as members of JNPR who meow kind of like cats a a pet shop. Ruby is a little disappointed Weiss sees their comrades like this.

As for Weiss herself, she’s been given an Esdeath-like makeover. Her sister is a bat who alerts her to Ruby’s movements, while her always-looming father orders her to take care of the intruder. Wanted posters appear instantaneously, and before long Ruby is cornered and finally comes face to face with Weiss.

As you’d expect, Weiss isn’t in any hurry to go anywhere, and in any case regards Ruby with nothing but disgust and contempt. Seeing all this trippy shit inside Weiss’ head, Ruby is compelled to believe that all the time Weiss was trying to make nice, she was actually harboring hatred for everyone else, including her.

Shion tells her it’s not that easy; that the Nightmare itself casts a sinister shadow over everything. Ruby is an intruder, and so the Grimm will use everything at its disposal from Weiss’ mind to throw Ruby off her game. But it’s clear that Weiss’ existence prior to joining the rest of RWBY has been harsh, cutthroat, and above all devoid of love and warmth. Hopefully Ruby can heat things up a little and bring the ice princess back from the brink.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 01 – Strife on Mars

Do you like enormous casts of people mostly acting standoffish and suspicious of one another as they navigate school tests with rules that read like stereo instructions? Well, your five year wait is over: the kids are off the damn island and back on the boat, but a new Special Test that threatens all the strides Class D made is waiting for them.

After an uneasy interaction between Ayanokouji Kiyotaka and Karuizawa Kei involving Hirata (who wants Ayano to join them, but Kei objects), Ayano and Kei end up at the same table anyway, as two of the four Class D reps in Mars, one of eight groups named after planets.

There are a lot of rules, and it’s almost impossible to summarize easily, but I’ll try: there are four outcomes, each of which has specific pros and cons to either the individual, their group, or their class. Four possible outcomes involves who guesses who the VIP is, when, and whether they’re correct. A lot of private and class points are on the table.

Of course, a lot of personalities and loyalties are on the table too. Having each group made up of three students each from Classes A and B and four students each of C and D creates an enticing imbalance; Ayano’s Mars Group’s Class A decides right from the get go that they’re abstaining from all discussions in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Class B’s idol Ichinose Honami insists that the best way forward is together (even if she ultimately intends to stab some folks in the back). Ayano can’t be 100% neutral, as even saying he’d “like to cooperate” is taking a stand against Class A and its leader Machida Kouji.

After Mars Group’s first unproductive meeting, the three Class C girls gang up on Karuizawa, accusing her of bullying their classmate. She says she has no idea what or who they’re talking about, but when they try to snap her picture she quickly becomes upset. Machida helps Karuizawa and tells the C-girls to buzz off, earning Karuizawa’s cutest smile.

Mars’ second meeting of Day 1 is just as unproductive as the first, with Class A gumming up the works with their refusal to discuss…anything. Even when she says they should just relax and shoot the breeze, it seems like Ichinose is carrying out some kind of strategy. As for Karuizawa, she seems normal enough at the meeting, but that night breaks down into a sobbing mess in the shower.

Continuing as if five years were merely a week, CoE returns to its distinctive blend of clashing personalities and motivations, split loyalties, and absurdly complicated rules (Karuizawa even gets the line of the episode: “I’m not sure I followed all that.” With the necessary setup of this new test out of the way, perhaps next week will be a little more exciting.

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

%d bloggers like this: