Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 10 – The Battle Within the Battle

The final bout is here, and Souma and Erina are forced to work together on a two-course meal. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Souma seems determined to challenge Erina at every turn, even after he lost rock-paper-scissors and got stuck with the first course. Meanwhile, Eishi and Rindou work like a well-oiled machine, and the latter presents their appetizer before the rebels even start cooking.

It’s a mushroom mille-fille using the formic acid from ants of all things to provide a unique and tantalizing tang, and it’s so delicious and well-composed, Azami’s “Gifting” ability—inherited by marrying into the Nakiri family—suddenly activates, disrobing some of the rebels (though I’m not sure why Ikumi is embarrassed, she rarely wears much to start with!)

Rindou’s dish is specifically crafted not just to show what her mastery of rare ingredients can do, but to provide the perfect preamble for Eishi’s main: a delicate yet powerful salt-crusted venison that transports everyone who eats it to a culinary Eden. It’s the ideal Azami talks about when he talks about Central, and even Souma has to admit it’s pretty powerful. But this isn’t a battle to determine whose cooking is best, necessarily, but how they come upon those flavors. It’s about the creative freedom of all chefs, not just an elite few.

As Souma cooks, he is constantly turning to Erina to taste things, tuning each of his ingredients like one would tune the strings of a guitar before a concert, “taking advantage” of her God Tongue the way her father wants to in his Central regime. His resulting dish combines two of his specialties—dishes only he could come up with—into one super-specialty that maximizes both his resourcefulness and playfulness with Erina’s God Tongue ability.

That resulting dish, “Countdown Caveman Meat, Cheeky Youngster Style”, wows all the judges and even causes another bout of Gifting from Azami, who cannot deny Souma juggled some very disparate flavors and techniques into a fascinatingly odd yet still cohesive plate. Unfortunately…it ain’t an appetizer. For one thing, the portion of meat presented is huge, and comes with a side of veggies. It appears to be its own meal, and for that reason, in this two-course Shokugeki, it gets a zero.

Everyone on both sides of the war is shocked that Souma, known for his rashness, would be so thoughtless as to sabotage the crucial final bout by failing to follow the simple rule of creating a dish that must come before another. But Souma hasn’t gone mad; he’s done this to challenge Erina one final time, when it matters most.

He tasted all of the mains she made the previous night; none of them would have beaten Eishi’s venison, because they weren’t her specialty. Souma went and created the best flavors he, Yukihira Souma, could make. Now it falls upon Erina to beat those flavors, and even overcome his un-appetizery portions, with her own gourmet specialty. In effect, Souma started a Shokugeki within the Shokugeki. If she can beat his dish, they lose. Time to put up or shut up!

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 08 – God is in…The Horse?

When no new requests for help were coming into the Hero Club, I assumed that the StuCo had finally commenced implementation of their plan to bring the club down. But then the Drama Club bursts in and begs the club for help so that their club won’t get shuttered by the StuCo.

They present their request as you’d expect a drama club to do so: dramatically, demonstrating a lot of shared qualities with the Hero Club members. The Drama nerds clearly see that potential too, and so have big plans for them.

While the Drama Club runs into a few snags—Kazuhiro won’t run, Yamato can’t remember his lines, and Futaba refuses to take the stage—they mitigate these problems as they come, and before long the operation is a well-oiled machine.

The Drama Club prez even manages to get Rei to believe the “prince’s horse” is an absolutely vital role! Mizuki also discovers that Futaba may have a side-hobby of posting videos in which he performs songs…rather uniquely, but doesn’t immediately put two and two together (another sign of anime-vision).

Throughout all of this, I was wondering where the StuCo was…they’ve been stalking the Hero Club all this time. Were they the ones who created this situation for the Drama Club; in order to keep the Hero Club busy on campus so they’d do less damage off it? We will see.

Then there’s the odd emergency of the wrecked scenery with one day left. A group of cats is blamed for the damage, and Futaba pulls everyone together and makes new scenery, so I’m not sure what the point of the emergency was! With three episodes left, I imagine the final showdown with StuCo will take place in the final episode or two. Until then, there’s a show to put on!

Astra Lost in Space – 04 – Songstress of the Mushroom Kingdom

In addition to action, adventure, and danger, there’s also quite a bit of plain old life aboard the Astra, and whenever the crew is not working against the clock to save their skins, there are little quiet moments of that life: Zack accidentally walking in on a naked Quitterie (and even worse for her, not blushing about it); Funi coming up with a new way to address Kanata (“Aye, yeah!”); or Kanata basically telling the traitor, whoever they are, to “do their worst.”

In the meantime, the crew is going to focus on food and water, not investigations that will waste time and sink morale. While I’m sure the mystery traitor will cause more problems down the road, I’m glad it’s not totally dominating the narrative or the headspace of the crew members. Instead, the crew splits up to find food on the planet Shummoor, a name that sounds kind of like “mushroom,” and thus a hint about who or rather what is the true king of the planet.

Thanks to some friendly Gruppies, one team makes it back to the ship with giant cacti full of water, while the other team has a pretty big haul of delicious fruits. Unfortunately, those fruits spoil almost immediately after being picked, making them unsuitable for storage. This presents a serious problem: their first day’s haul of food will only be good for five days at most; not nearly enough to reach the next planet.

After Ulgar earlier called the towering Yunhua a “big girl” and “useless”, Luca’s thoughtless joking words about being worried Yunhua inadvertently eating all of what little food they have are the last straw. Aries and Kanata find Yunhua’s glasses and a note saying she’s left the ship and will stay behind for the benefit of everyone else.

Naturally, Captain Hoshijima is not going to remotely accept that; each crew member is precious, regardless of their talents or other perceived value. Thankfully both Luca and Ulgar show at least a measure of remorse for their ugly words.

As to Yunhua’s crushing lack of self-esteem, it’s chalked up to Yunhua’s dream to sing like her mother (a famous professional singer) and that selfish mother’s commitment to making sure Yunhua not only never sings to anyone, but remains as invisible as possible.

Even though Kanata has skills for which he’s been praised (and indeed qualities that made him the consensus captain), he can still empathize with Yunhua, for the trauma in his past stems from an inability to do anything to save his sensei. He knows what it’s like to feel useless, but what’s even more useless is to keep feeling that way.

But Yunhua leaving the ship isn’t the crisis of the week, it’s the mushrooms, specifically, when the Pole Tree releases poisonous spores that knock out Aries, Zack, Luca, Ulgar, Funi, and Charce, who at leasts manages to send an SOS to Kanata warning him not to take his helmet off.

Every planet is going to have a bit of an edge of danger to it—it’s built into human nature to fear the unknown—but I like how Astra smartly builds up its threats with clues, while also presenting possible solutions that, while not impossible, still require the crew to work together—or for individual members to do what is necessary when it’s their turn.

Dr. Quitterie is stumped; the medical supplies on the ship can only make the six patients a little more comfortable, but aren’t sufficient to cure them. As Kanata did with the traitor mystery, Quitterie drops her beef with Yunhua running away (and risking everyone else’s life to look for her) and asks her to help out with the patients.

Charce, still barely conscious, figures out the process of the predatory Pole Trees that rule Shummoor, and their symbiotic relationship to the moss and other plants. When Kanata asks if the ecosystem has some kind of limiter on the predation of animals, Charce says there could be an antidote out there: a medicinal mushroom. Sure enough, Yunhua used that very mushroom earlier to cure an ill gruppie. Kanata runs back out there to find some.

He has no luck, and worse, Quitterie succumbs to the spores, having been around the infected so much. That means the only non-bedridden crew member on the ship is Yunhua. Remembering her chat with Kanata about her dream to sing but reluctance to defy her mom, Yunhua steps up and finally does what only she can do: sing to her ill crewmates, sing with all her might, and by doing so create a soothing atmosphere suitable for healing.

As she envisions herself on the stage, in a glittering purple gown, with her bangs out of her face, belting out a reassuring song, Kanata realizes that the Pole Tree won’t allow access to the antidote fruits unless he’s suffering the symptoms of the poisonous spores. So, in true Classic Sci-Fi Captain-y fashion, he takes a huge gamble, removes his helmet, and lets himself be poisoned.

 

Sure enough, the medicinal mushrooms reveal themselves before him, he eats enough to get back on his feet, and the very gruppie he and Yunhua saved gives him a ride back to the Astra. The other ill crew members eat the mushrooms and recover.

The captain put his crew before himself and they are grateful for it. But Yunhua is even more grateful for Kanata helping her break her chains of self-loathing, leading to her playing a vital role  in the crew’s recovery.

As for the crew, they’ve likely learned some vital lessons for future planetary excursions: just because a plant or a mushroom doesn’t have teeth or a roar doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous or deadly. Anything in this vast universe is capable of ruling a kingdom, and mere humans interlope at their own risk.

Astra Lost in Space – 03 – This Is NOT It!

Aries has heterochromia. It’s a detail I never noticed in the first two episodes, until it was explicitly mentioned this week. I thought I was so sure they were the same color, but I looked back on those episodes, and sure enough, one of her eyes is more yellow; the other more green. My eyes just…didn’t notice.

It’s a subtle and clever way for the show to communicate not only that one’s eyes (or other senses) can fool them, but that things could be going on right out in the open and we may not even notice them until it’s too late. The same goes for Kanata, who both suspects and doesn’t suspect everyone. Like us, he may suspect Yunhua and Ulgar the most, but just because we know the least about them.

On their twenty-fourth day in space, Zack anounces that the Astra has arrived at Planet #2, Shummoor, but the rest of the crew is too busy shooting the breeze, which should be seen as progress. Then Funi (and her puppet) start talking about how she was adopted the same day she arrived an an orphanage, and how she overheard adults saying “put her on Beego and we’ll illuminate them all.”

Change “Beego” to “B-go (or 5)” and “illuminate” to “eliminate”, and it sure looks like everyone was put on this ship because they wanted to get rid of them in one fell swoop. With this theory afoot, Kanata decides to tell the others that there’s a traitor in their midst. Ulgar finally reveals something about himself: he’s the estranged son of the school vice principal, a man able to transfer students and choose who goes on what team.

I loved that this exchange marked the return of the haunting music that backed up the first episode’s cold open; a piece that captures both the unfathomable size of space and the equally unfathomable variety of perils it offers. And yet the greatest danger to everyone may be someone among them, not anything out there.

All this talk of a traitor is too much for Quitterie, who loses her composure, even pushing Aries away when she tries to comfort her. The fact is, no one can prove they are or are not the traitor. So Aries decides to table that particular dilemma for now, and have some snacks before heading down to the planet.

Both in this defusing of a volatile situation and in the insight she offers vis-a-vis the possibility of the traitor being on the kill list themselves, making theirs a suicide mission—Aries proves she’s far brainier and tougher than her space-cadet-with-a-photographic memory exterior would suggest.

In the midst of the discussion about this potentially suicidal traitor, another act of apparent sabotage goes down: a hole is blown in the ship’s hull, rupturing a water pipe.

Charce finds fragments and determines that it was an accident, not treachery from one of their own: a meteor pierced the hull, causing damage that if not repaired will spell the end of the ship. It’s actually comforting that it was a truly random, chaotic event, something that happens in space all the time, and something even the traitor did not expect to happen when it happened.

After reciting a couple more lame, vague “survival tips,” Kanata quickly and decisively assigns tasks to each member of the crew, each according to their strengths as he knows them. And after the events of last week, where he made decisions and acted when no one else could, the crew responds by going along with his assignments without protest. He also instills in everyone a palpable sense of “we can do this” by dint of sheer charisma.

The crew springs into action…well, all but Yunhua. Yunhua gets water in her face and some of it ends up down her throat. Because water forms balls in zero-G, she starts to drown, but Quitterie, the closest thing to a medic on the crew, acts quickly to save her, absorbing the water with a cloth. Yunhua is left alone to rest, and while it’s highly unlikely she meant to almost drown, I couldn’t help but think she was up to something arranging to be left on the bridge with no one watching.

Once a series of cables connect the backup generator with the gravity reactor thingamajig (technobabble), the system still throws and error due to a weird bird/bug-like critter flying about that the computer does not recognize. If they can’t nab it, they’ll plummet to their deaths.

The resident marksman, Ulgar, volunteers to shoot the thingy with Luca’s glue gun, as Luca and Kanata keep him steady. He succeeds, and the ship’s gravity and power are restored, halting its death dive into the planet’s atmosphere. Thanks to the talents of the individual crew, and their ability to work together as a unity under Kanata’s direction, the latest crisis is averted.

But that doesn’t change the fact there’s a traitor in their midst. As Luca praises Ulgar’s marksmanship and claims that with a real gun he’d be “unstoppable,” Kanata retorts that guns haven’t been legal in a very long time. And yet there Ulgar goes, into his quarters, to pull out a case containing…a gun.

Could it be as simple as one of the most obvious suspects in the crew actually being the traitor? Or is the reveal of the gun more misdirection? Like Aries’ different colored eyes, the answers may have already stared me in the face long before I discover them for myself…

Fire Force – 01 – (First Impressions) – Exorcising Fire Demons

The premise of Fire Force is as bizarre as it is frightening: in its timeline, the “Solar Era”, spontaneous human combustion is not only a great hazard to Tokyo, but the beings that emerge from the flames, “Infernals,” are demons who must be defeated in order to put the souls of the victims at rest.

That’s the job of Special Fire Force Company 8, of which young newcomer and third-generation pyrokineticist Kusakabe Shinra is its newest member. He just happens to be a witness to the latest emergence of an Infernal, which Company 8 is dispatched to the train station to tackle.

In this way, Shinra gets a first-row view of how the Fire Force gets things done, and it’s as much a battle with a demon as it is a religous ritual; there’s even a sister, Iris, on staff to deliver the proper prayers at the proper time. While Shinra doesn’t participate in the battle, which is another success for Company 8, his quick thinking (and literally flaming feet) manage to rescue Iris from suffering a freak accident at the hands of a falling lamp.

From there, Shinra is taken back to Co.8’s HQ, a somewhat run-down but still very cool-looking cathedral (all of the architecture and mechanical design is very quirky and cool-looking, for that matter). He already met Iris by sweeping her off her feet like a princess, but soon meets Captain Oubi, Lt. Hinawa, and the first-class fire soldier Oze Maki.

Still, while his job is ostensibly to purify fire demons, Shinra clearly has some demons of his own, something he largely gives away every time he gets nervous and his mouth tightens up into a sinister-looking crooked grin. Those demons revolve around some kind of tragedy in his past where he was blamed for his mother and little brother’s death and subsequently ostracized by most other adults in his family and among their friends.

He doesn’t have time to contemplate how he’ll wrestle with those demons for long; the alarm sounds and within minutes he’s prepped and deployed with the rest of the company aboard the armored firetruck “Matchbox” to a factory fire caused by the manager’s wife combusting.

Another firsthand look at a scene of fire and destruction triggers his worst memories of the end of his mom, brother, and home, as he insists within his thoughts that someone else was present who was the primary culprit; it wasn’t a matter of his powers going out of control but someone causing them to.

We’ll see how that pans out, but his Captain and Maki work to keep him in the here and now, focused on the not inconsiderable task before them: the Infernal is one tough cookie.

Ultimately Shinra has to put aside the fact he couldn’t keep his promise to protect his family like a hero, but he decides to make a new promise never to let that happen again, and to protect anyone else affected by the Infernals. He delivers a devastating kick to the core of the Infernal, dispersing it, and Iris says the prayer. Mission Complete.

Outside, Shinra and the rest of the Fire Force gets its due congratulations, thanks, and adulation of the assembled crowd of citizens, not just for stopping the blaze but saving the soul of the manager’s wife. And for the first time since before his mother died, Shinra finally smiles a genuine smile, not the forced smirk with which he is so often cursed at the wrong times.

Fire Force, in a couple words, is pretty damn good. Stylish, fast-paced, and uncomplicated in its presentation of its protagonist, his motivations and goals, and the introduction of his new family and life among Company 8, which is definitely not your typical fire department. It’s a fun and imaginative setting that still feels grounded in reality and modern life.

The vaunted David Production studio provides a feast for the eyes, blending the reds and oranges of the flames with the ever-glowing blue of the fire soldiers as well as the eerie green aurora above Tokyo’s skies. The orchestral score also delivers the appropriate sense of occasion, peril, and excitement, particularly during the boss fight. I’m looking forward to this one.

One Punch Man 2 – 12 (Fin) – A Blow from the Weak

Bang, and then Bomb, and then Bang and Bomb start whaling on an already diminished Garo, and Genos is reasonably confident the old dudes have this in the bag. But he underestimates Garo’s almost bottomless stores of resentment and disdain for the heroes of the world.

As a kid, he was always made out to be the monster while so-called “heroes” beat him up, just because he was weak and unpopular. The monster never got to won. This fuels a fourth or fifth wind for Garo, but the battle is interrupted when he is airlifted out by a big talking bird monster.

I have to say, I’m as pissed off as Garo, Bang, and Genos about this twist. This was supposed to be the Hero Hunter’s final battle; this episode should have brought some kind of closure to his story (and this season), even if it ended with him meeting Saitama’s fist. But that expected period became an ellipsis. Clearly OPM has other plans for our bloody-eyed friend.

As Garo exits the stage prematurely, Centichoro appears in all his very big, evil-looking CGI glory. As skilled as Bang and Bomb are, their gifts just aren’t that effective against an enemy so freakin’ huge, while Genos is similarly hamstrung by a firepower limit that can barely scratch Cent’s carapace. Even Bang and Bomb’s final one-time combo attack only works temporarily; the centipede simply shrugs it off molts.

Genos offers to stay behind, but the old-timers don’t think that’s right. Young’ins need to live on; Genos’ own scientist mentor said as much. But Genos ignores the advice of his elders, because he doesn’t think it’s right to let the old protect him while he sits back and watches.

So he blasts off and starts going at Centichoro, pushing him away from the civilian centers, blasting through one of his teeth, entering his digestive tract, and incinerating him from the inside out. As he’s spat out of the boss’s mouth, all his clothes burned off, it looks like his reckless abandon did the trick…but it just wasn’t enough.

That’s when Bang, Bomb, and Genos finally run into a little luck, as “S-Class” King starts egging on Centichoro with a megaphone, telling him he’s brought his rival, “Blast”. Of course, he’s only serving as bait for Saitama, who arrives just in time to save King from being squashed like a bug.

Saitama steps between King and Centichoro, rushing at him at full speed, and delivers his One Punch special, totally eradicating the monster, just as we all knew he would. It doesn’t matter how much other heroes struggle in vain to defeat a boss; Saitama will always make it happen.

That’s why it seems like a bit of a letdown he wasn’t able to deliver a punch to Orochi, chopping off the head of Monsters, Inc. so the body will die (or alternatively, punching all of the monsters into oblivion, Orochi included). Instead, Genos is yet again inspired by his master’s excellence, and Garo is probably off to be transformed into an actual monster. Those twelve episodes just flew by!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 25 (Fin) – Beginning Anew?

With the arrival of a Glass, a bad-ass virtual force of nature during the previous wave, one could have expected the battle to intensify exponentially. Well, one would be wrong; all Naofumi needed to do was level up thirty-three times to not only survive Glass’s attacks (and her combo with Therese) but deliver considerable damage with his Soul Eater Shield (with no Maka Albarn in sight).

In rough shape but refusing to surrender, Glass activates a Tunnel of Moving Pictures® that we see way too often in anime as a cheap way to remind us of Everything That’s Happened™. It also offers Naofumi a glimpse of Glass’s (and L’Arc and Therese’s) devastated world. He ponders whether he wants to save this world as much as Glass wants to save hers, and if he’s willing to kill her for that cause.

Ultimately Naofumi decides to fight on for this world, if for no other reason than it contains Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty. They have been loyal and true friends and servants. But L’Arc tosses Glass a potion that restores the SP the Soul Eater took away, and seems ready for another round…that is, until she suddenly gets sloshed.

Throughout this battle, the meek green-haired mage who is a member of the Bow Hero’s party and mostly says “HOEEE!” like Cardcaptor Sakura, is quietly distinguishing herself as a key contributor.

First, she rowed Melty over to the dead shark thingy so she could join the party. Then, acting on a light bulb from the queen, she uses her wind magic to shoot some great casks of that weird wine that seems to get everyone drunk immediately (but has no effect on Naofumi).

I can’t help but applaud this audacious, completely-out-of-left field way to conclude the battle, as time runs out, the waves recede, and L’Arc, Therese, and Glass bid goodbye until the next one.

With the Wave gone, Naofumi’s party, done with leveling up for now, still has to wait for a storm to pass for them to sail back to Melromarc. They spend the time on various leisure activities, during which Raphtalia blushes and beams at Naofumi roughly 96% of the time, to no avail…

More intriguingly, the green-haired mage, who finally gets a name—Lecia—joins Naofumi’s party after she’s thrown out of Itsuki’s for the same reason Jar Jar was banished: shesa bein’ clumsy.

But Lecia whines a lot and has a very low opinion of herself, she’s the victim of a false accusation, just as Naofumi was (in her case, destruction of an accessory, though that was probably just an excuse to get rid of her). That automatically makes her a spiritual ally of Naofumi, so he goes a bit further and makes her a literal one.

For the remainder of the episode, Naofumi strings Raphtalia along across land and sea to surprise her with the reward bestowed upon him by Queen Mirelia for his leal service to her kingdom: lordship over the lands of Seyaette, including her rebuilding home village, which is to become the Shield Hero’s official headquarters and training facility.

All the other decent sorts with whom Naofumi has crossed paths made it a point to move there and help his cause. He tasks Raphtalia with revitalizing the fishing industry. Raphtalia is obviously very happy and grateful for all this, but none of that matters compared to having Naofumi by her side. He makes her promise never to leave her or Filo, even when the last Wave is beaten back. She doesn’t like how all this looks like him prepping for the time when he’ll be gone—an eventuality she can’t accept.

While Naofumi doesn’t 100% promise her he’ll never leave or die—I mean, he can’t really do that; it’s out of his control for the moment—he gets a flash back to his own world, as he walks past his old, useless self, and reassures her that he won’t leave her side. There’s still so much to do:  get the village up and running, recruit and train new party members like Lecia, continue to level up for the coming threats, even trying to uncover the mystery of why the heroes of different worlds are competing.

Basically, Iwatani Naofumi isn’t going to dwell on the the what-ifs of after the Waves end, because he’s just getting started. In other words, there’s more than enough to fill another season, which is likely forthcoming but not yet officially confirmed. In this viewer’s opinion, I hope it’s confirmed soon, and in a year or so we get to watch more of Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Melty, Lecia, heck, even Bitch and Trash—and just as importantly, get to hear more excellent Kevin Penkinage.

One Punch Man 2 – 11 – When It Rains Heroes, It Pours

Unlike the other kids (and the kid hiding in the shack), Garo didn’t really care that much about the heroes. He liked the monsters, who were perpetual underdogs and were almost always outnumbered, outmatched, or both.

Death Gatling would seem to have assembled a crack team of Garo-hunters, what with their diverse array of ranges and styles of attack, as well as the motivation to prove to the world that Class S heroes aren’t the only ones who can get the job done.

The thing is, Garo is just too strong and fast for any of their best-laid plans to matter. He isolates and throttles them one by one (often using others as shields against the marksmen), drawing from a second wind.

Even Mr. Stamina, Megane, who was encouraged to keep getting stronger by Saitama himself when all seemed lost, doesn’t last long once he’s one-on-one with even a gravely injured and poisoned Garo. Soon only Death Gatling remains, and once he fires off his special move that expends all his bullets, Garo is relatively unscathed.

Notably, he warned Gatling about the kid in the shack, but Gatling didn’t believe him, so Garo had to shield the shack. Once Gatling is taken out, the kid is so frightened of Garo he runs off screaming. Garo thinks he’s finally earned a rest and a drink of water, but he’s only completed Round One. His next challenger is the new-and-improved Genos.

The difference between Class B, A, and S is pretty clear in the sheer level of fighting Genos is able to maintain with Garo, just as the gap between Genos and Saitama is evident in the fact that dozens of blows and blasts from Genos aren’t enough to knock Garo out, but one even half-hearted punch from Saitama is more than enough.

Garo first learns of “Master Saitama” from Genos, but when we cut to Saitama, he doesn’t sneeze from being talked about, because he’s too busy losing eighty-one matches in a row to King, who then gets a Class S alert. Saitama hasn’t seen Genos for a day or so, and is a bit worried about him, so he prepares to head out and look for him.

While it’s a stretch to say he’s in any danger against such a heavily-wounded and fatigued opponent, Genos is certainly having a rough time knocking Garo out, or even tying him down. Then Garo gets unwanted help from a band of monsters who come out of the ground following orders to escort Garo to the Monster Association.

Of course, Garo isn’t going anywhere, and Genos liquifies half of the monsters in the blink of an eye, then prepares to incinerate Garo once and for all. Round Two is then ended in a draw when Silverfang swoops in and delivers a devastating kick to Garo, who had just died his hair with his own blood.

Bang’s “big bro” ices the remaining monsters while he focuses on Garo, remembering the day he arrived at the dojo exhausted and starving. It would seem Round Three will be a cakewalk for the geezer, but as we saw throughout this episode, Garo is not one to be underestimated or counted out.

If Bang and Genos can’t put him down, the “Ultimate Hero” Saitama may have to intervene after all. I just hope if and when he does, it’s with his usual nonchalance.

Isekai Quartet – 12 (Fin) – Not Too Bad At All

Class A agrees to fight the three teachers (Rerugen backed out, not wanting anything to do with the other three) while Ainz, Tanya, Subaru and Kazuma must deal with Destroyer. It’s a great realization of the potential of putting these four together, and an appropriate way to end the first of at least two seasons of this super-deformed super-crossover.

Tanya’s shield gives Ainz time to cast Effulgent Beryl, pushing the spider back, and he then summons an entire army of chibi undead soldiers, many of whom flock around a very uncomfortable Aqua as Emilia smiles cheerfully, happy everyone’s getting along.

Ainz leaves the rest to Tanya, who flies Subie and Kaz up into the air. Subaru volunteers to fall first, cleverly using his Return by Death to attract a column of undead that serve as a shield against Destroyer’s beam. Kazuma then jumps, casting “steal”, which actually works for once, only not on underwear, but on a bolt holding one of the spider’s legs.

Finally, Tanya swoops in and grabs Destroyer’s purple headband, earning them the victory and 100 million points…but pointedly not the reward of returning to their respective other worlds! Turns out Roswaal’s “maybe” meant just that…”maybe.”

That said, the class is in agreement that this new world and school life aren’t that bad. It’s a good attitude to have considering they’re in store for at least twelve more episodes there, with a fresh batch of “transfer students.” Will the likes of Clementine, Mary Sioux, Priscilla, and Wiz be among them? We shall see, next season.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 24 – Fair and Square

With the discovery of the hourglass in the underwater temple, Naofumi now knows another Wave will arrive in 48 hour’s time. Fortunately, that’s enough time for him to teleport back to Melromarc and warn the queen, who quickly mobilizes a fleet of ships.

I’m not sure how she arranged things so quickly—unless such ships are on 24-hour standby—nor do I know how they know the next Wave will be at sea, but it is, and when they all teleport, they find themselves contending with monsters large and small.

The small fry are no problem for the soldiers, and Melty, who still considers herself part of the Shield Hero’s party, does her part, until one of the monsters grabs hold of her and threatens to drown her in the sea or worse. That’s when L’Arc Berg springs into action, demonstrating his impressive offensive power by eliminating scores of the beasts.

The giant leviathan sub-boss is a far tougher nut to crack, but a leveled-up Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo along with their new friends L’Arc and Therese press their attack and manage to kill the thing. There’s some great battle music to accompany their fight, complete with saxophones.

But once the sub-boss is dead and floating in the water, and the other three Heroes come to pick up rare drops (vultures), the mere mention of them being Heroes gets a weird reaction from L’Arc, who says if they’re joking about being Heroes, they’re not funny.

Turns out he and Therese aren’t ordinary elite adventurers from this world, but full-fledged Heroes from another world entirely. In order to save their world, they have to eliminate the heroes in this one, starting with Naofumi. It’s nothing personal—Therese feels horrible having to do it after all of Naofumi’s help—but do it they will.

As predictable a twist it was that L’Arc and Therese would end up powerful new foes of Naofumi & Co., I do appreciate that they’re not evil, nor do they have any petty beef with Naofumi, they’re just doing their duty as protectors of their world; apparently one world cannot be saved without condemning the other.

In any case, the fight between the former allies is appropriately intense and impressive. Not only do L’Arc and Therese not hold back, but Raph and Filo show just how much more powerful they are now that they were finally able to level up.

Also, L’Arc may do what most cliched villains do and explain his tactics to his opponent, but he does it in the name of fighting Naofumi “fair and square,” Naofumi is similarly transparent in the service of playing psychological games with his former buddies.

Ultimately, the fight comes down to a stalemate: blows have been dealt to both sides, but no one’s in terrible shape, and have plenty left in the tank. That’s when Glass makes her second explosive appearance, revealing herself as allied with L’Arc and Therese and a member of their world. Perhaps she’s a Hero as well?

In any case, she accuses her allies of wasting time playing around and launches the same attacks against Naofumi that very nearly did him in in their previous match. She’s pleased to see that his skills have improved since then, but warns him that they still won’t be enough, as those attacks are far from her worst, and she’s totally committed to personally erasing him.

While I thought this season would go out with a whimper, here we not only have a new Wave, but a paradigm shift in the structure of the plot, with a heightening of stakes and urgency. This is no longer a binary matter of saving or not saving this world; it affects other worlds as well, with other sets of dedicated Heroes whose goals don’t align with theirs.

The final episode is titled simply “Rising of the Shield Hero”, so it’s a good bet Naofumi won’t lose next week (that would be a fall, not a rise), but it will be interesting to see what he and his friends will have to sacrifice in order to fight off Glass, L’Arc, and Therese,  and where they go from there.

One Punch Man 2 – 10 – Stating the Obvious

Saitama may be bored with a life of beating everyone with one punch and never losing, but thanks to King he’s able to forget about that for a little while, as he is beaten over and over again in a Street Fighter-esque combat game, to his unending frustration. “THIS GAME IS SHIT!” is his only defense. Reminds me of me when I play video games!

As for the Monster Association infiltrating the executive board room, the eyeball that serves as a conduit through which King Orochi’s adjutant, Gyoro-Gyoro, can mess with the humans by offering an olive branch than shooting the first taker. Thankfully for the other suits, resident Class-S hero Superalloy Blackluster—basically Luke Cage—has no trouble dispatching the baddies.

Still, shots have been fired, and the Monster Association officially declares war on the Hero Association. It’s in all the papers and on all the news channels. Over at MA HQ, the amassed monsters aren’t impressed with Gyoro-Gyoro’s motivational speech, but actions speak louder than words, as Orochi demonstrates when he eats Cockroach for losing.

Speaking of losing, a badly-wounded Garo wakes up, assuming it was King who knocked him out, while Genos gets a shiny new upgraded metal body from Dr. Kuseno, who only asks that win or lose, Genos is careful enough to live on and fight another day.

As the top heroes debate the merits of the HA’s plan to storm MA HQ , the news spreads to independent monsters, who pour out of City Z full of piss and vinegar, eager to join up with the MA. Unfortunately, they’re all obliterated by Saitama while he’s taking out the trash.

Garo ends up healing up in a shack that happens to be used by the brat with the hero guide he’s encountered in the park. That brat is the runt of his circle of friends, so he has to go in to see who’s in their secret hideout. Garo offers some obvious advice—the kid should become stronger, duh—but before sending him on his way, the shack is surrounded by eight Class A and B heroes led by Death Gatling, who tracked him there.

Even having unknowingly been recently pummeled by Saitama, Garo could probably take on, say, four of these heroes, but not eight, and certainly not all at once. Thanks to the brat’s guide, he at least gets some intel on all of them, and learns that they possess quite the diverse and complementary skill set.

The heroes marvel at his ability to dodge their attacks, but as he gets tired cracks in his defense start to form. Worse, the guy he worried about the least, Megane, is actually a hand-to-hand specialist with a lot more stamina and endurance than he currently has. Gatling demands he surrender and let them take him alive. How’s he going to get out of this one? Does the brat have a role to play in rescuing him from a bad end?

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 23 – Island Grind

Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo meet their cabin-mates L’Arc Berg and Therese Alexanderite (Hayami Saori), neither of whom will believe he’s the Shield Hero. Not because he doesn’t look the part, but because they deem themselves good enough judges of character to conclude he’s not “that scumbag,” not realizing that his scumbag reputation is largely fiction.

In a wonderful bit of karmic justice, the other three heroes who took all the private cabins end up horribly seasick for the duration of the voyage to Cal Mira, and Filo doesn’t make it any better by violently catching strong-smelling shark-fish for dinner.

Once they arrive at the island and get out into the field, they find even small fry net huge amounts EXP…until all four heroes end up in the same spot. Rather than bicker with the others, Naofumi & Co. take a boat to another island, where the monsters are tougher the EXP greater, and the enemy drops both epic and timely, as the weapons Raphtalia and Filo started needed replacing from overuse.

After a day of gaining two dozen-plus levels, the party makes camp, but L’Arc and Therese arrive, responding to their ferryman who was worried they were killed. These are the kind of guys who won’t let acquaintances die out in the field if they can help it…but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of dread about them. After all, “Myne” seemed like a nice partner at first too.

The five head back to an inn for food and drink, and we see that Cal Mira is as much about pleasure and fun as it is grinding for levels and loot. Kevin Penkin rolls out another beautiful orchestral theme over the carousing scene, which includes Raph getting drunk on wine and beating the racist knight at arm wrestling, as well as Naofumi not getting drunk at all on the same intoxicating fruit that knocks Motoyasu to the floor.

The next morning, Raph seems to have suffered no hangover, and L’Arc and Therese join Naofumi’s party for the day’s grind. Naofumi also presents Therese with the accessory she commissioned, and its power and craftsmanship quite literally move her to tears as she hands Naofumi all the gold she has.

Naofumi, Raph and Filo learn that L’Arc and Therese are very good to have on your side in a fight, as the former is another trusty swordsman while the latter has powerful offensive magic of a style none of them ever heard of. Naofumi even cracks a smile or two; while L’Arcs type usually rubs him the wrong way (See: Motoyasu) they get along just fine.

After a somewhat awkward farewell where L’Arc and Therese decline Naofumi’s invitation to join them tomorrow, they part ways. I’d like to see the duo again, even if they turn out to be plotting against him. Naofumi decides to take the next day off, which means both Filo and Raphtalia get to show off the very stylish swimsuits they bought at the market. Sadly for Raph, Naofumi still doesn’t see her as a potential love interest, and never will.

The lightweight atmosphere of sun and fun is interrupted by Filo’s discovery of underwater ruins (incidentally one of my favorite levels in FFX), which contain a Dragon Hourglass. That’s bad news because it means Cal Mira is a target for the next Wave of Catastrophe, which is just 48 hours and change away. With that, the stage is set for the final battle of Shield Hero‘s first season, as well as the possibility it will end with a bang rather than a whimper.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 21 – Making Things Right

After a strange, ethereal dream, Naofumi wakes up in a bed, having not awakened for three days following the damage caused by Blood Sacrifice, surrounded by Raphtalia, Filo and Melty, who likely rarely left his bedside.

When two “medics” come to change his bandages, he immediately calls them out as Shadows, and sure enough, they’re escorting Queen Mirelia Melromarc herself to his chamber to introduce herself…and to talk about clearing his name and punishing those who poisoned it.

In that regard, this is an episode that’s been a long time coming, and one that rewards everyone who suffered beside Naofumi for so long as his reputation and life (and those of his party) were threatened by the lies and villainy of Malty and her father the King Consort.

After explaining where she was (putting out fires with nations angered that Melromarc summoned all four Heroes) and why no one kept her daughter husband in line (the lord she entrusted died in the first wave), Mirelia lowers her head in apology to Naofumi, promises to clear his name, reward him for his service, and give him justice.

That night, Naofumi has a premonition of the form of that justice: Malty’s and the King’s heads being placed in stocks, defiant and enraged to the last despite their guilt. But when the guillotines fall and Naofumi wakes up, he’s far more disturbed than relieved by the dream.

The next day, Queen Mirelia holds a trial for Malty and the King, placing a Slave Crest upon the former so she cannot lie without being shocked. Since lying comes as easily as breathing for Malty, she’s shocked quite a number of times trying to deny the crimes leveled against her. The only instance of her not being shocked is when she denies colluding with the church to kill the Heroes.

But everything else, right down to her false accusation of sexual assault that started Naofumi’s long path of misery, is exposed as lies. Even when she forms a slave pact with Motoyasu, she can’t help but lie and deny. There’s nowhere left to hide; not from Motoyasu, and not from the public, who are watching on magical screens and gradually turn against her and the King.

Mirelia finds them both guilty of high treason, strips them of their titles, and sentences them to death, to be carried out immediately in the courtyard. Naofumi’s dream starts to repeat itself, but where in the dream Malty is neither repentant nor scared, here she’s both, and increasingly desperate not to die.

That sour feeling returns to Naofumi’s gut; cancelling out whatever weights may have been lifted from his shoulders by the favorable verdict or clearing of his name. When Malty finally calls out to “Naofumi-sama,” the man she tried to kill many times, to spare her life—and her Slave Crest doesn’t react—Naofumi finally calls for the queen to hold up.

He doesn’t want to see Malty or the King executed, but puts on his brash/infamous Shield Hero persona in explaining why: a quick death is too good for them! Instead he suggests they be allowed to live on, but with new names: King Trash and Princess Bitch (with the adventurer’s name of “slut”).

Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly elated upon hearing such sophomoric, misogynistic names being thrown about so casually. But I was happy he realized their deaths wouldn’t make him happy, and, well, both of them do deserve harsh punishment, so Trash and Bitch it is. Now the two unquestionably owe the Shield Hero their lives, and had better not forget it.

With that, the Queen prepares the ceremony to bestow upon Naofumi all the awards he’s due, but he’s ready to leave Melromarc for other parts of the world that suffer the devastation of the Waves of Catastrophe. He leaves the other three Heroes on a good note, and the Queen accepts his decision. While leaving, Melty doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Naofumi, at least until her mother says if he hadn’t told her to stay the executions, she would have offered her own life to him for her husband and daughter.

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo depart the city at the head of a friendly, thankful, even adoring crowd (how fast public opinion turns), Melty manages to catch up, thank Naofumi, and say goodbye properly. He bids her farewell with a smile that moves her to tears. After twenty episodes of beating Naofumi down, his spirits have never looked higher, and he and his party look poised to do great things.