Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 03 – The Sorrows of Young Master

~Moonlit Fantasy~ is scratching all the right irreverent isekai itches as Makoto comes to terms with the fact he now has not one but two gorgeous and horrifyingly powerful women in who are also a lot to deal with. That said, no one can blame them for their personalities considering one is a ravenous spider monster and the other was a freaking dragon.

While they’re ever deferent to their master (and grateful for the names he gives them, which also makes them even stronger), things never get skeevy the way they often can in these scenarios, and more admirably, Makoto has no desire for things to take that turn.

Makoto also learns that while Tomoe and Mio are essentially his retainers, they themselves have their own personal armies of dragon men and spider people, respectively. Combined with elder dwarves and orcs, Makoto quite suddenly finds himself at the nexus of a burgeoning multicultural nation-state that would make Rimuru Tempest take notice.

Still, Makoto isn’t primarily interested in statecraft or harems, but in following his parents’ path in this Isekai. Combined with being a bit demi-humaned out, he soon sets off for a human settlement. Unfortunately, the first human he spots—a lovely lass with flowing golden locks—runs away from him like he’s some kind of monster, and when he approaches the town, they’re ready for battle and loose a cloud of arrows at him!

Makoto thinks it’s because he’s ugly, but it’s really because his immense aura appears to humans like he’s being accompanied by several demon lords; plus he doesn’t speak the common tongue, only demi languages, thanks to the Goddess. So over a month or so, Makoto learns Common while an elder dwarf crafts a ring that can absorb and compress his aura.

Armed with this ring (plus many more—a delightful sight gag), a mask, and flanked by Tomoe and Mio, he heads back into town…which is unusually expensive. He also pays a visit to the adventurer’s guild, where Tomoe and Mio’s levels are 1,320 and 1,500, respectively, but despite his power, his is still only 1.

He and his retainers cause a big ruckus at the guild, resulting in them being followed by those adventurers who aren’t tolerant of boisterous newcomers. Makoto assigns Tomoe the task of guarding their wagon while he and Mio go out for dinner. While Tomoe is eventually approached by a group of baddies, Makoto and Mio encounter a little girl in rags…and then the episode ends!

While the baddies will no doubt regret going up against Tomoe very soon, I’m more intrigued by this girl. Whoever she is, and for whatever reason she approached Makoto, she’s prominent enough in the OP for me to presume she’ll play a larger role in the near future. For now, her appearance is little more than a tease, but it wrapped up a very brisk, fun episode.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 18 – The Norman Invasion

After a recap week, Neverland is back, and as good as its been all season, although not for the reason you’d think. Norman’s back, and that’s great! Emma can’t believe it’s not a dream, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. This literally doesn’t seem real that their old friend is alive, well, and not just deep in the anti-demon resistance, but its leader. It changes everything.

Norman comes to the Temple where he receives a hero’s welcome from the other kids. Like Emma, they initially can’t believe it’s really him, but unlike her they weren’t in charge of ensuring everyone’s survival all this time. They see how they’ve fared, and how things aren’t going so well, and how now that Norman’s here everything will be fine.

Of course, they don’t consciously put it in a way that diminishes Emma’s leadership to this point. Instead, they see it as a great lifting of a weight from her shoulders she never should have had to bear alone. But with the lifting of that weight naturally means there will be a shift in power and authority.

That’s especially apparent when Norman regales the group with what he’s been up to since he left Grace Field House. Rather than processed for food, he was sent to Lambda, a facility for testing and experimentation. There, he made use of his superior intellect to wreck the place, freeing himself and many other captives who had suffered horribly.

Ever since then, he’s been developing a means of utterly defeating the demons: a drug that will cause them to degenerate into wild beasts who will turn against each other. In effect, it’s a biological weapon, and Norman intends for its widespread use in order to decimate their tormentors.

There’s no doubt that if the drug works as Norman claims, it will usher in a new era of freedom and peace for humanity. This is a big deal. And when you consider all he’s accomplished in the same amount of time Emma and her group have only barely managed to feed themselves, it really puts Emma’s relative lack of progress in relief.

Of course, Emma’s overwhelming concern with Norman’s plan is that it’s so barbaric, and renders humans as no better than the worst demons. Demons have names, thoughts, family. She wants a future where they don’t have to hate, fight, or kill. Ray can sense this, and he gets it out of her fairly easily, which means those so-called “secret” thoughts could have come out at a far worse time, in front of a far less receptive audience.

Ray doesn’t agree with Emma. He’s fine with annihilating the demons, but he also wants to make sure Emma makes her feelings known to Norman. They don’t know, for instance, if Norman knows about demons like Mujika who can maintain their intellects without human meat, so it could be an exchange of information that could help Emma better determine and articulate a more peaceful counterproposal.

As soon as they reach Norman’s holdfast and meet his fellow Lambda escapees, the immense scale of Emma’s task becomes clear. After what they and their friends both dead and alive endured at Lambda, Cislo, Vincent, and Barbara harbor a pure and intense hatred of demons. Cislo can’t wait for the high that comes from massacring demons, while the suspicious-looking haunch of meat Barbara is chomping on turns out to be demon meat.

That’s right: Barbara says her anger melts away when she eats their meat. She believes every single demon should suffer what they endured, and worse. The atmosphere wasn’t altogether welcoming at the beginning of the scene, but as the Lambda kids start talking about how much they hate demons, the mood of the scene turns that much more sinister, to the point I feared for Emma’s safety!

Indeed, when Barbara can see what she’s saying is disturbing Emma, she makes it clear that Emma better not have any disgusting ideas about changing Norman’s plan. Cislo and Vincent tell Barbara to take off and cool down, but they feel the same way: the demons must go. When they leave Emma and Ray to wait for Norman, Ray tells her there’s no stopping hatred like that once it’s begun.

I honestly couldn’t help but think of the current situation in Attack on Titan’s final season, in which the “good” and “bad” sides have long since melted away, and everyone arms themselves with enough hatred to commit any atrocity against anyone who stands in their way. I’m with Emma that this isn’t the right way to forge a future, but I’m also with Ray: in this climate she’ll be steamrolled by the hate long before she can come up with, let alone implement, an alternative plan.

When Norman is free, he sits down with his brother and sister, and shows them a bottle of the drug that will be used in the plan. Emma doesn’t even get to the part where she objects to that plan when Ray mentions the demons who didn’t eat humans. Norman reacts in a way neither Ray nor Emma expected: like someone who had staunchly believed their nemesis was dead and buried suddenly having to call that into doubt.

Referring to Mujika as the “Evil-Blooded Girl” while glaring and grasping his face dramatically, Norman shows a side of himself Emma has never seen, and part of the New Norman with whom the other Lambda kids are familiar and comfortable. No doubt Norman cast away those parts himself that weren’t relevant to The Cause. And now she and Ray may be the bearer of news that could ruin his intricate plan for demon eradication. Not the reunion anyone wanted!

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of the episode here.

The Promised Neverland – 17 – Living On Grace

It’s been almost a year since the children escaped from Grace Field House. Rumors of how they have yet to be hunted down spread in a demon city, but more often than not they’re dismissed as having died long ago. All the while, those same children who escaped a year ago are walking among the demons who’d do almost anything for their high quality meat.

Neverland does a lot of efficient world building this week, and this opening scene lays bare the general social strata of the demons. Ordinary demonfolk who shop in the street markets will never see, let alone taste Grace Field meat. As for the kids, they’re older and wiser and more capable and resourceful than ever, but food is still scarce. The struggle for survival is constant.

While each and every one of the younger kids are absolute troopers, not even complaining about eating only thin soup day after day, the decision to leave the farm weighs heavily on Emma each night. When she can’t sleep in the night, she faces a wall, cursing her shortsightedness and arrogance.

Ray reminds her they all made the right choice—the only choice—to leave. If they hadn’t, Ray would be dead, and the others would soon find themselves on the wealthier dinner tables of the demon world. Better underfed than dead.

Their hilltop temple hideout is periodically visited by a solitary demon, who is blind and walks with a cane. He knows there are children there, but it’s left up in the air whether he knows whether they’re human. Perhaps he can’t smell so well anymore, or perhaps he’s just a very nice demon.

For the first time, Emma helps him when he drops his offering, and he thanks her before leaving. Gilda scolds her recklessness, but even if the old man is a human-eating demon, she couldn’t let him continue to fumble in the dark.

Returning to the pair of demons from the market, we see that they are trying to keep two starving demon children from degenerating to wild (and presumably vicious) state. But the low-grade, vat-raised human hand is hardly enough. When one of them reminds them of the Grace Field stock is still at large, they start to seriously consider searching for them.

These aren’t the plans of evil monsters who kill for sport, they’re desperate adults trying to save children with no other options in sight. This is the state of the demon side of the world a thousand years on. While there are certainly bad actors, demons are no longer homogenously “evil”, any more than the humans on the other side. There have no doubt been generations living under this system, and know of no other system.

It’s in this newly expanded picture of this world that we find Emma and the Kids fighting against the long-established norm, daring to sneak into towns to collect enough food to keep everyone alive. This week Thoma and Lannion convince Emma to accompany her, Ray, Gilda and Don, but they end up bumping into that desperate demon pair, and a stiff wind fills the demons’ noses with the scent of humans.

An tense and intricate chase ensues, one that demonstrates just how extensively the kids have trained and practiced evading pursuers. Emma and Ray end up luring the pair away while the others melt into the crowd, only to end up cornered by the pair and a group of other demons who have taken interest.

Then one of the other demons kills the pair who were chasing Emma and Ray, and a blue-cloaked demon lifts his mask to reveal none other than Norman. HI NORMAN! Not only is he still alive, he’s got some friends. Looking back at the beginning of the episode, he’d already  spotted Emma & Co. Months after losing their blessed shelter and on the cusp of losing hope for survival, the universe has graced Emma and the kids with a blessed break.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

See Also: Irina’s review of episode 17, via Crow

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 08 – Doctor Tamayo, Medicine Demon

Tanjirou pounces on the man Kibutsuji Muzan transformed into a demon, while urging bystanders to keep pressure on the wife’s shoulder wound. The police arrive, and demand Tanjirou get off the man. When he refuses (for their sake), they whip out the batons.

A woman in the crowd scratches her arm and from her blood a flowery screen of illusion occludes the cops’ vision. Tanjirou locates the source of the magic: the ethereally beautiful woman and her boy attendant…both of whom appear to be demons.

Last week demonstrated that Kibutsuji Muzan can turn humans into demons with one scratch and has no qualms about doing so in public. This week we learn a little more about the man. To his wife and adorable daughter he appears to be the model husband and father, and they’re rich enough to afford a car and fancy western-style clothes.

But when his family isn’t around, he doesn’t hesitate to bear his claws, easily killing a drunk kid and his big brother and then burying his clawed finger into the brain of a poor woman, transforming her into a demon so quickly her body can’t bear it, and turns into a horrific mass of blood and viscera that collapses into red dust.

After making things right with the udon vendor by eating two bowls, Tanjirou encounters the lady’s attendant once more. Things between the two boys don’t start out smoothly, as he calls Nezuko a “hag”—which is just objectively false, by the way—but the attendant was order to fetch him, and he follows his lady’s orders. He leads Tanjirou and Nezuko through an apparent brick wall to reveal a hidden medical clinic.

It is the refuge and laboratory of Tamayo (Sakamoto Maaya), a doctor who was transformed into a demon by Kibutsuji but was able to sufficiently modify her to survive on only a small amount of human blood to survive. Her attendant, Yushirou, whom she turned into a demon, can survive on even less.

Tamayo is excited by Tanjirou and Nezuko’s arrival, because they each have something they can offer one another. Tamayo tells Tanjirou something he desperately needed to hear—it is possible to turn Nezuko back. But the means to do so must be thoroughly researched and tested. To that end, Tamayo asks for permission to study Nezuko’s blood, and also asks that he bring her the blood of demons that were made by Kibutsuji or his creations.

In a beautiful little moment during Tamayo’s proposal, Tanjirou tenderly places his hand on Nezuko’s lovely forehead and she affectionately takes it into her hands. It says all that needs to be said about their bond without words, as do most of their interactions, as she is no longer verbal.

He agrees to the deal, but no sooner is it struck than two demon henchmen Kibutsuji ordered to find and kill Tanjirou (whose earrings reminded him of someone he fought in the past) crash their way through Tamayo’s illusory barrier, ready to fuck shit up.

These two look like tough customers, but as we know well by now, so are Tanjirou and Nezuko…and Yushirou and Tamayo are likely no slouches either. I like the good guys’ odds.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 07 – Taking the Plunge

Nezuko emerges from her box to viciously attack the tripartite demons, but when Tanjirou tells her to cease her attack, she dutifully returns to his side. He has her protect Kazumi and the young woman he rescued while he dives into the soupy bog where the demons dwell and devour.

While the demons are confident of their aquatic home-field advantage, the because Tanjirou trained in the thin air of the mountains and his attacks are water-based, he has no trouble executing a devastating whirlpool attack that chops the two demons into rustic chunks.

He returns to the surface just in time to stop the third and final demon from further harming Nezuko, who’d already received a nasty slash to the forehead. Before dispatching him, Tanjirou asks about Kibutsuji Muzan, but the demon start to smell strongly of fear—a fear so intense he literally can’t say anything about Kibutsuji.

While Tanjirou was able to defeat the demon and save one of the women, that woman wasn’t Kazumi’s fiancée. Tanjirou tries to comfort him by saying he must keep living despite life’s devastating blows. Kazumi lashes out in anger—how could a boy know what he’s feeling? But Tanjirou gently takes Kazumi’s hands in his and smiles a gentle smile, and Kazumi realizes Tanjirou knows all too well, and his hands aren’t those of a boy.

A Demon Slayer is always in high demand, so within moments of completing his first official assignment, his crow arrives with his second. He and Nezuko travel to Asakusa, Tokyo, and he is immediately overwhelmed by the densely packed humanity and the lights that make it as bright as midday.

Since this is the Taisho period, electricity is commonplace in the capital and there’s a vibrant streetcar network; we don’t see any cars buzzing around, but only because they’re still pretty rare. The huge city looks and sounds fantastic, and seems to pulsate with a modern energy Tanjirou has never before encountered.

Tanjirou is only one slurp into some therapeutic udon when he detects a scent that quickens his pulse and has him leaving the sleeping Nezuko at the stand. He dives into the crush of Tokyoites, following the very same evil scent that was present when his family was murdered, and it leads him to a fair-skinned man in a western black suit, a white hat, and reddish eyes.

This is it: this is Kibutsuji Muzan, the progenitor of all demons whom Tanjirou has been seeking. It’s almost too tidy that he’d locate someone so reluctant to be found he threatened other demons not to talk about him, but then again maybe he simply doesn’t consider Tanjirou a threat and would just as soon dispatch him.

As for Tanjirou, before he can unsheathe his sword, Kibutsuji makes a quarter-turn to reveal he’s holding a young human girl, his daughter. Soon, his wife appears, wondering who the boy in the checked coat is. To the mother and daughter, Kibutsuji is their husband and daddy. To Tanjirou, they’re his hostages. But that’s only the beginning: Kibutsuji quickly slashes a passing man without his wife or daughter noticing.

That man instantly transforms into a demon and bites his wife, starting a panic in the chaos of which Kibutsuji will no doubt slip away while Tanjirou tries to clean up the mess. Perhaps this was just a matter of Kibutsuji’s guard being down, in which case he won’t be so careless next time.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 06 – Live and Direct

Tanjirou’s got his special Demon Slayer Corps uniform (most of which he covers with his signature aqua checkered coat), his black sword (the properties of which are mysterious), and a new lightweight cedar box in which to carry Nezuko.

In other words, he’s ready to set off on his first official assignment: rid a town of a demon that is abducting young women. While making his way to the town, the vistas along Tanjirou’s travels are beautifully rendered with parallax scrolling, in which the foreground moves faster than the background, just like real life.

Once in the town, one of the larger settlements we’ve seen in the show thus far, it doesn’t take long for Tanjirou to locate Kazumi, whose fiancée Satoko is among the vanished women. Tanjirou puts his nose to work, eventually detecting a demon who can hide in floors and walls.

When the sun goes down, Tanjirou manages to pluck a recently-abducted girl from the demon’s clutches, but he soon learns there isn’t just one or two but three such demons, all with different personalities. The more gluttonous of the three shows off his collection of hairpins from those women he’s devoured…among them Satoko.

Tanjirou becomes enraged by the idea these demons are destroying families just like they destroyed his, but because he has to protect Kauzmi and the girl, he can’t stray far from them and thus can’t swing his sword freely enough to cut very deeply. It’s a valuable lesson: depending on the circumstances, he can’t always go all-out.

When the three demons surround Tanjirou and one attacks from behind, they get a little surprise: Nezuko pops out of her box, wide awake and ready for battle. We also learn that Urokodaki performed hypnosis on her while she was asleep, so that she’d regard all humans as her family and only demons as the enemy.

Needless to say this is incredibly useful, but Tanjirou’s true goal is to change her back into a human, not simply make her harmless to them. According to Urokodaki, the only one who might be able to help him with that is the progenitor of all demons, Kibutsuji Muzan. Something tells me no other demon will be in a hurry to volunteer Muzan-san’s whereabouts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.

Deca-Dence – 02 – A Bug’s Second Life

Well now…that was weird. Deca-Dence completely changes gears in its second episode, all but putting Natsume’s story on hold to answer some of the most pressing questions of the opening outing. Why is Kaburagi so good at fighting? He was once a high-ranking Gear. Why is he collecting “chips” from random humans in the shadows? It’s the true nature of the new job given to him after falling from the system’s good graces.

What was the deal with that crazy Yellow Submarine-like city at the end of the last episode? Well, uh…that’s actually Kaburagi’s reality. His human form is only an avatar, and Deca-Dence is a huge and elaborate entertainment facility run by the all-powerful Solid Quake Corporation.

The Gears are all like him: robot-like beings liking in the corporations “Chimney Town” when not playing Deca-Dence. Only the Tankers are all real human beings—the last of their species.

That’s…a lot, but what’s so incredible is how organically all this new information fits into what we’ve seen thus far, and how everything that seemed a little “off” about last week is logically explained here. And in an extended flashback to seven years ago, we see Kaburagi and his elite ranker team. They all sport odd skin and hair color because they’re not really human, just avatars.

Kaburagi is in the Top-5 Gears in all of Deca-Dence, but he can feel he’s reached his peak and bracing for the down-slope. On the other hand, his young and eager comrade Mikey is slowly rising in the ranks, with much the same stats as Kaburagi in his prime. When not playing, Kaburagi is ingesting Oxyone like all the other people in Chimney Town, or getting stimulation in the form of “beam” sessions.

While Kaburagi sees a bright future for Mikey, Mikey himself is impatient, and feels something is missing, namely the ability to release his limiter, a risky maneuver that will give him enhanced strength and speed in the game.

Now that Mikey knows what it’s liked to be a ranker, he no longer wants to feel like he’s “replaceable” (even though he kinda unwittingly is replacing Kaburagi). After quite a bit of begging Kaburagi relents and shows Mikey how to do it.

However, Mikey gets caught as a cheater and labeled a “bug” by Hugin, the stoic, matter-of-fact system administrator. Mikey gets scrapped and the entire ranker team disbanded. While all of Kaburagi’s other teammates were sent into confinement for refusing their next assignment, Kaburagi decides not to go against the system today so he can live to possibly fight it another day.

The nature of Kaburagi’s new job? He’s demoted to armor repairer with the Tankers, but that’s just his day job. By night he’ll be a “recovery agent”, collecting the chips from humans deemed by the Hugin to be “bugs” that could harm the system.

Now that (mostly) all has been explained, we return to Natsume incessantly begging Kaburagi to train her to fight. Having already lost a dad and an arm to combat, she isn’t fazed in the slightest by the gory aftermath of the Gadoll battle. No doubt Kaburagi compares her to Mikey, who also begged to be more significant and paid the price for it.

Even when Natsume halfheartedly tries to blackmail him with a photo she took with Pipe, Kaburagi won’t budge on helping her. However, one night she spots him sneaking around in the shadows and catches him removing a chip from someone. Of course, not knowing his story, as far as she knows he’s just robbing him because he’s hard up for cash.

Natsume gets Kaburagi to promise not to rob anyone else, and stop talking about it being “over” for him. Little does she know he’s telling the truth, as he’s been intentionally refraining from ingesting oxyone or rebooting, which will eventually lead to shutdown—a slow suicide, if you will.

Kaburagi always assumed that Natsume was another bug—maybe even the next on the list provided by Hugin. But when he scans her face, he finds no data among the current population of Tankers, and a deeper search reveals that she was listed as deceased way back when her dad died and she lost her arm.

That means she’s not only a bug in the system, but one that’s outside it’s control due to the lack of a chip. If the system won’t recognize her, or believes she’s of no value, then he’ll recognize her. He finally ingests the oxyone, crediting her with saving him from an early demise, agrees to train her, and shows her around the swanky Gears’ base.

The more I learn about this weird whimsical world, the more I like it, and the more invested I am in watching how Kaburagi and Natsume manage to resist a cruel system that considers her an anomaly to be eradicated. Deca-Dence has exhibited a willingness to take big bold risks in each of its first two episodes, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 16 – The Feathery Fifth Heroine

It happens sometimes in RPGs: You come upon a boss you just can’t beat, either because you’re underleveled (as Naofumi and his party certainly are), or because you’re meant to be rescued so that a potential ally even more powerful than that boss can be introduced.

That’s what happens in this thrilling episode of Shield Hero. The “dragon emperor” (read: souped-up dinosaur) wreaks havoc in the town after smushing Idol, but Filo’s able to use her fragment to lure it out of town to a lake where they can fight without collateral damage.

Only the best Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty have isn’t enough to scratch the dragon. Naofumi prepares to bring out the Rage Shield, but a mysterious voice warns against it. Then a massive retinue of slim, disciplined Filolials march out of the forest and circle the boss.

Then something comes out of the lake—something huge: the Filolial Queen. That’s right: for sixteen episodes we’ve waited in vain for Melty and Malty’s mom to take the stage and use her authority to bring an end to Naofumi’s persecution. But a very different queen beats her to it.

After a magnificent entrance that really drives home the difference in scale between the Filolial Queen and the party, she confronts the dragon face to face and gives it a chance to surrender its fragment. When it refuses, she delivers a kick for the ages that throws it back hundreds of feet.

Not interested in a quick fight, the Queen finishes the dragon off quickly and decisively, with an attack so lightning-fast we can’t see it. The Queen then transforms into human form and introduces herself as Fitoria, voiced by Cardcaptor Sakura, Cardinal, and Saber Nero herself, Tange Sakura.

To Naofumi’s shock, Fitoria has been around for centuries, ever since she was raised by a previous Hero and tasked with protecting humanity in their stead. Her prodigious age and experience means her warnings about Naofumi’s overuse of the Rage Shield carry weight.

She also has many questions for the Shield Hero, so she bid he and his party get in a carriage, which she uses a portal to teleport them to some ruins that serve as a filolial sanctuary. There, she samples Naofumi’s cooking, and her lesser filolial subjects’ puppy eyes force him to make enough for everyone.

With the rest of the party sleeping off a long, hard day, Fitoria and Naofumi talk, speficially about her and the Cardinal Heroes’ symbiotic relationship. She is currently more powerful than any of them, so they’ll need her for the tougher Waves to come; seeing Glass in action proved that.

But while she’s very powerful and has lived a long life, she isn’t immortal. When her power starts to wane and flicker out, she’ll need the Heroes as much as they need her now to protect the world—not just Melromarc—from the Waves. This is all news to Naofumi.

Which brings us to her main complaint: the Heroes cannot under any circumstances be at odds; even the classically shunned Shield Hero. He must find a way to reconcile with them. When he outright refuses (and not without good reason…we know what he’s had to contend with) and assures her he won’t be convinced to make nice with the other heroes, Fitoria’s demeanor grows very grave.

She informs him that in the event the Heroes can’t get along, it’s her duty to kill them, for “the sake of the world”, as four dead Heroes are apparently preferable to four warring ones. For his sake, I hope Naofumi changes his tune and entertains diplomacy. Otherwise, this show will be without its titular character for the balance of the series…which seems unlikely.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 02

The battlemage whom Satoo saves is one Zena Marientail, who calls off her suspicious comrades and gives Satoo a ride to their mutual destination, Salue City, a lovely walled and terraced town with friendly faces and reputable businesses.

After securing proper papers (denoting him as Lv.1 despite his much higher level), he is snagged by Martha, the daughter of the keeper of the Gate Inn, where Zena’s comrade Iona recommended. Throughout these interactions, Satoo utilizes trickery, persuasion, bartering, and other skills he’s amassed.

The innkeeper tells him about a Demon King that a chosen Hero must defeat, but Satoo settles for some cold quiche and cabbage to sate his hunger. I for one have always lamented the fact one cannot taste all the different foods one finds in an RPG; watching Satoo enjoy it is the next best thing.

While Martha shows him around, Satoo learns about the strict caste system; commoners cannot use the public baths, and there are a good number of slaves, many of them demi-humans whom the other humans fear, distrust, and in some cases outright hate. When Satoo is nice to a couple of young demis, Martha seems confused, but quickly changes gears to other things.

Upon returning to the inn, Satoo happens to spot Arisa—who bears the inauspicious titles “Exiled Witch” and “Crazy Princess”—being ridden on a cart, presumably with other slaves. I’m sure he’ll see her again, but first, he has a hearty supper of veggie soup, wild boar, black bread and mead, which proves so tasty he has seconds against his better judgment.

As he tosses in bed with an upset stomach, he ponders his situation, and concludes it might not actually be a dream, but…something else. After all, the “game” he’s seen so far doesn’t really match any games he knows of or has helped to develop; rather it’s something unique.

As he rushes out into the night to explore the city some more—it’s very pretty at night—he decides that whatever is going on, it behooves him to soak up as much as he can, that he might become a better game developer by what he sees, hears, and experiences in this fantasy world.

I don’t really blame him; he’s flush with cash and overpowered to boot. I wonder how he’d fare right now against that Demon King. Of course, he’s nowhere close to encountering such an overboss; instead, he gets a surprise visit from Zena, who has come on her day off to thank him for saving her life by spending the day with him.

Desumachi continues to be nothing groundbreaking, but I cannot deny it scratches an itch; that of a fantasy slice-of-life that takes its time unveiling its world and not skimping on the details, be it currency, society, cuisine, and relationships. Basically, it’s comfily low-stakes and entertaining enough to keep watching for now, though my socks remain firmly un-knocked-off.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 01 (First Impressions)

Here we go: Another anime about another black-haired dude somehow ending up transported to another fantasy RPG where he’s soon surrounded by another group of ladies. It’s directed by Oonuma Shin, whose resume includes Kokoro Connect and Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, which weren’t bad. And hey, neither is this! But it isn’t what I’d call great, at least not yet. It is merely good.

I won’t say it started bad per se—I actually liked how we spent a good amount of time in the real world to watch Suzuki Ichirou’s “death march” at the game company where he works. But the time there clocks in at nine minutes; personally I would have been fine with a much shorter montage to establish the guy.

That would have given us more time in the the virtual world of War World where Suzuki ends up. But once he’s there, things get much more interesting.

By “interesting”, I mean “a little nerdy”, since the programming jargon of the real-world act is replaced by the clean, smooth heads-up menu interface of the game, which Suzuki, AKA “Satoo” is able to navigate with his mind.

He assumes he’s merely dreaming a very elaborate dream, and since he’s known nothing but RPG programming for 30 hours without sleep, it stands to reason that dream would be about the game. Oh, and he’s also been de-aged to around fifteen. Seiyu Horie Shun raises his voice when he’s talking out loud, while his thoughts remain in 29-year-old Suzuki’s voice.

Satoo starts out at Level 1, but when a horde of Lizardmen numbering 300, all with levels hovering around 50, and he unleashes a Meteor Rain that takes them all out, raising his Level to 310.

Suzuki doesn’t realize this until one last lizardman standing with critical HP tosses him a sword and challenges him to a final duel, and Satoo takes him out without any difficulty.

With the defeat of all those lizardmen, Satoo is suddenly maxed out in all attributes, HP, MP, and Stamina—the kind of levels it would normally take hundreds of hours to reach.

From there, he inspects all of his new skills and loot, tests his Meteor Rain ability again (then promptly turns it off because it’s too damn powerful), then kits himself out and starts to explore War World’s world.

It’s not long before he comes upon a city, which is then attacked by a Wyvern – one he could easily defeat. Instead, he sits back and watches things unfold with the city’s mostly medieval defense force, in which archers direct the beast and mages throw spells at it (nice use of distorted voices to portray the spells being chanted).

One of those mages is Zena, who fires off a particularly big spell at the wyvern, but gets tossed high into the sky. One of her comrades slows her fall, but it’s Satoo who leaps up to catch her in midair. Now that he’s rescued a fair maiden, Suzuki’s checked off another box in the stuck-in-an-RPG conventions.

Who Zena is or how she’ll react to being saved is a question for next week; again, blame the nine-minute prologue if you must. I must also report that this show did not impress with its visuals (the wyvern was particularly iffy compared to, say, Bahamut or  Zestiria), and aside from the piece that played while Satoo traversed the overworld, the music was also unremarkable. If you’d told me this was made five or even ten years ago, I’d believe you.

Despite its technical shortcomings I honestly enjoyed following Suzuki/Satoo around as he gathered his bearings, and will be back to see what he gets up to, and who he meets, next week.

 

GATE – 12 (FIN)

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GATE ends its first season with a somewhat transitional episode that takes stock of what’s happened (and all that Itami has done) and sets up some new storylines to come in the second season (whenever it airs). Sure, there’s a dark elf looking for help from the Green People to save her village and not having a lot of success, but there’s not much else going on here, and certainly not any kind of season-ending cliffhangers where anyone is in imminent danger.

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That being said, Yao Haa Dushi’s story is a good one, even if it’s familiar (it’s a lot like Tuka’s, only there are still survivors in her village). She comes in fully prepared to use her body to seduce the green people to help her, which comes off as a bit of a sexist move by her village elders, alone with sending her alone with no help. A lot of the time she has trouble with something as basic as language, and is wrongly accused of mugging one of the seedier elements in the Alnus town after she refused his advances.

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The refrain throughout the episode is twofold: the bureaucracy is bad because it keeps the JSDF from helping people (and because in Japan, the ASDF has to share airspace with civvies and the U.S.), and the question What Would Itami Do? It seemed like stalling a stalling tactic to make Yao’s first impression of Itami so poor (at the tavern last week), and even more of a stalling tactic to send Itami away on a random mission just when Yao finds an interpreter (in Lelei, who is starting to augment her magic with Japanese science).

Everyone who isn’t Itami and is still in town wants him to get back so he can do something, because surely he would in this situation. Which begs the question: how is he going to get past the General’s order not to help Yao? Sure, he’s got some privilege and pull in the Special Region, but there’s still the JSDF chain of command.

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The rest of the episode seems concerned with further stroking Itami’s ego and stoking his legend both in the Special Region and in Japan. Pina seems happy to receive a new supply of BL literature (AKA “Art!”), but it turns out to be translated articles from Japan singing praises of everything Itami has done. This is a bit odd, since Pina and her aide react like they didn’t already know all this, when in reality they were present for much of it! Also, it looks like Pina has a bit of a crush on Itami.

So yeah, this episode wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a fiasco, either. And it paves the way for an interesting second season. I don’t think it’s a matter of will Itami go off to fight the fire dragon, but when. His JSDF comrades would seem to welcome this, but it’s implied there will be further consequences involving the military brass and civilian government, both entities the show has shown pretty transparent contempt for.

As for me, Itami’s head may be getting a bit big for my taste, but between Rory, Tuka, Lelei, Pina, and now Yao, GATE has a solid cast whose future adventures and fates will have me coming back, and hopefully its more troublesome elements can be kept at bay long enough for me to stick with its second season to the end.

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GATE – 11

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This was a pretty good episode of GATE; a vibrant episode thankfully bereft of real-world leaders and full of transition and change, opening five months after Itami & Co returned to the Special Region. The area around the military base and refugee camp is now a bustling town and a melting pot of Special Regioners and JSDF.

Pina continues the diplomacy, bringing a minister from Japan to work with the Imperial elites to negotiate a peaceful resolution, and as an old elf continues to struggle in the present, there’s a new elf on the block who has a mission only the JSDF can pull off.

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First, Tuka: Itami’s subordinate Mari wants to do more to help Tuka, who’s spent much of the last five months wandering the new town, looking for her dead father. Mari wants to make Tuka see reality so she can move forward, but Itami basically tells her not to rock the boat, because Mari doesn’t know she will be around to support Tuka indefinitely. No one knows what the future holds, so Itami is content with the status quo for now. Mari is understandably frustrated with Itami, but agrees not to do anything.

Having checked in on the Tuka situation (and even more briefly on Lelei, who looks disheveled but content in her modern clothes) we shift to Rory, still stubbornly donning her gothic lolita garb and trying to sleep with Itami. Itami, while flattered, still has an issue with Rory looking like a child, even if she’s 27 times older than him.

Her evening plans are foiled for good by the appearance of a new dark elf character, who also mistakes Rory for a child. Interestingly Rory plays along by pretending to be a child, putting Itami in a spot and forcing him to beat a hasty retreat when the elf draws her sword. I like how Rory takes her frustrations out on both the elf and Itami.

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We learn this dark elf is named Yao Haa Dushi, continuing the show’s George Lucas-style approach to fantastical-sounding names. Her misunderstanding about Rory is forgivable because she’s on a noble quest to meet with the JSDF. Her village has been attacked by a fire dragon, and she needs the “green people” to help finish it off. She doesn’t intend for them to work for free, either: she’s brought a ginormous adamantite crystal as payment; a material that doesn’t even exist beyond the Gate in Japan, which makes it very valuable.

Yao spends the night in a beautiful forest on the town outskirts, dreams of the village attack, and then wakes up to the sound of practice-dogfighting JSDF fighter jets screaming through the sky. It’s a sight that’s full of awe and majesty, and convinces Yao the JSDF are indeed the people who can save her village.

She’s convinced again when she spots a dual-rotor cargo helicopter zoom overhead. Itami is aboard that chopper, which is packed with goods from Japan furnished by the ministry of foreign affiars, who regard such items as ammo in the fight to turn Imperial hawks into Senatorial doves.

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