Spy x Family – 11 – A Dog Will Bring Peace

The agency expects Anya to earn eight Stella in four months, but it’s becoming apparent to Loid (thanks to Anya’s test scores) that academics might not be the way. Fortunately, there are other ways to earn Stella. Unfortunately, Anya is also not great at those other ways either.

Loid thinks her drawing of a moo cow is a cheetah or a panda; Anya plays the violin like a cello and breaks all the strings; she can’t hit a tennis ball she tosses in the air (I felt seen). There’s also volunteer work, but no sooner do Loid and Anya show up eager to work that the kindly head nurse loses her cool and tells them to clear out.

It’s important to Loid/Twilight that Anya earn these stars without any undue “outside assistance”, but with even a volunteer Stella feeling as far away as an actual star, he may have to ask his agency for that assistance in order to get Desmond in a room. Then Anya hears a boy’s thoughts: he’s fallen into the pool and he can’t move his legs.

Without any regard for her secret, Anya tells her dad that there’s a boy drowning in the pool, before taking advantage of Loid’s confusion to walk it back and come up with a (slightly) more plausible reason for racing to the pool. She dives in and swims with all her might, but soon tires out. Loid, having seen where Anya went, jumps in and pulls both her and the boy out.

Loid is too proud of his daughter to think too much about how she knew what she knew. There’s also the matter of Anya literally putting her life on the line to save a little boy’s life. It’s an act of heroism that earns her a Stella, the first in her class and the fastest ever to earn one at Eden.

While Anya’s legend grows among her peers, Loid and Handler meet in disguises that make them unrecognizable. Handler asks if any agency resources could be used to help quicken Anya’s rise to Imperial Scholar, but again Loid declines. He doesn’t want to put anyone else at risk. If Anya won one Stella on her own, she can win another. That may not be Twilight’s cold logic and practicality, but Loid Forger’s pride, trust, and love.

The dangers of Anya rising to far too fast are evident at her return to normal classes. While she earns the esteem of some classmates, rumors start to swirl about the legitimacy of her Stella. But when Damian is asked by a couple of girls to add his two cents, they get more than they bargained for: he scolds them for besmirching Eden’s good name with such spurious accusations.

He’d never admit he was standing up for Anya, but he is standing up for truth and justice, which make him good and cool. When Becky brings up Anya’s new opportunity to ask her parents for a reward, Anya tables her desire for a large amount of peanuts and decides that the right way to befriend Damian is by getting a dog.

When she makes the request at home, Loid is open to the idea for its security benefits, while Yor can’t help but imagine the ways dogs big and small might kill Anya if given the chance. All the while, we get a little closing sequence of what I presume to be the Forger’s future dog, currently in a cruel, dark kennel where experiments are being run on the dogs

Spy x Family – 10 – Star Seizer Anya

Professor Henderson continues to observe rancor between Damian and his lackeys and Anya and Becky, while the M.V.P. of a P.E. dodgeball tournament is rumored to be awarded a Stella. Loid steps back and leaves Anya’s intense training to Yor, and we’re awarded a lovely Rocky-style montage of Yor being her usual badass self and Anya just barely keeping up, while also learning the merits of hard work and stick-to-itiveness.

Of course, Anya isn’t the only one who wants that Stella for her dad’s mission. Damian believes he needs to be the first to earn a Stella, and Anya can read his mind as he reveals why: as the second son, if he doesn’t meet or surpass his older brother, his father won’t notice him. Damian may be a “shithead”, but he’s not iredeemable.

As for the third student rearin’ for that MVP star, we have our first exercise in Spy x Family descending into the absurd with Bill Watkins, who despite being six years old has the physique of Brock Lesnar. Just the sight of the large lad amongst all his tiny-mite classmates is enough to elicit a hearty chuckle; learning his dad is literally M. Bison kicked that up to a full belly laugh.

Against a normal human opponent, Damian’s shot and his teamwork with his lackeys would likely be enough to win the match and earn MVP (I got a kick out of the Calvin & Hobbes-style bending of reality in the glimpses of their training). Unfortunately, like being born second, Damian has he misfortune of having Watkins for an opponent.

Bill easily catches Damian’s best shot and takes out four opposing players at once. Damian’s lackeys sacrifice themselves to keep him in the game. When it’s down to Damian, Anya, and a third guy, Bill targets Anya, but thanks to a combination of knowing where he’ll throw it and Yor’s training, he just can’t hit her, and soon shows his age by getting very frustrated.

That leads to him yelling “DIE!” and forgetting all about “going easy on the women” by firing a fastball directly at Anya, who is a sitting duck when she trips and falls. This is when Damian exhibits his inherent “goodness” by sacrificing himself so Anya doesn’t take the hit. In that moment, he stopped caring about winning and status, and only cared about Anya’s safety.

After he tsunderes the heck out of his explanation for why he did it, the end result is it’s all up to Anya to bring Watkins down. Recalling Yor’s teachings in the park, Anya unleashes her killer move, “Star Catch Arrow”, and for a moment, appears to become a Powerpuff Girl.

Alas, despite perfect form and creating an intense atmosphere that has both teams and Bill in her thrall, she releases the ball so it bounces straight up into the air, then harmlessly in front of Bill, who swiftly ends the game by beaning a stunned Anya.

The consolation is that no one was ever going to win a Stella for exceling in a game of dodgeball. Henderson doesn’t know how such a silly rumor came about, but does know that anyone who yells “DIE!” in a friendly game is asking for a Tonitrus Bolt! Watkins stands chastened and rebuked.

While he praised her for her “not bad” dodging and took a direct blow for her, Damian is so disappointed in the end result of Anya’s ratcheting up of suspense that he can’t help but yell at her and call her “stubby legs”, even as he’d probably be the first to admit that until those last moments Anya was cool as hell out there. As for Henderson, observing these brats bickering, he wonders if this new class is really worthy of Stella…

This Spy x Family did not care how ridiculous Bill Watkins looked or how seriously this dodgeball game was being taken. It summoned and harnessed the outsized importance of mundane things all little kids engage in, taking after their adult counterparts while infusing the proceedings with their vivid imaginations. The result is another thrilling and hilarious outing.

Love After World Domination – 07 – The Reaper of Oyafuko-dori

Green Gelato, AKA Todoroki Daigo, is regarded as the unflappable psychological rock of Gelato 5. But when he delivers a home-cooked meal to Fudou and sees he is writing an exchange diary for his girlfriend and hears her full name—Magahara Desumi—he suddenly goes into convulsions and collapses. When he comes to he tells Fudou why: Desumi was the monster he created.

So begins a tale of regret and trauma, as Daigo recounts how he regarded himself as the top karate student in the prefecture (both of them were Hataka natives). Then a pint-sized, seven-year-old Desumi showed up one day, his sensei assigned him, a middle schooler, to look after her…and she nearly killed him with one punch.

Each time she nearly one-shotted him, he refused to do anything but save face and look cool, which of course only made Desumi more enthusiastic about training. Within days, she’d defeated Daigo’s master, who closed the dojo and became a hermit. But Daigo kept training her, even as it seemed likely to shorten his life considerably. No doubt he simply couldn’t turn his back on such a talented (yet cute and innocent) fighter.

His face-saving delusions that she always bought aside, Desumi didn’t so much surpass Daigo as was always superior. She developed a reputation as “The Reaper of Oyafuko-dori” as a middle-schooler, eviscerating all challengers and developing the thick lonely, bored shell which Fudou would eventually help her break out of.

Daigo’s parents divorced and he had to move to Tokyo, he met her one last time on the riverbank, and despite going all out, was put on his back easily. Now that Young Desumi is back in his life, Daigo feels he must put his trauma aside and do his duty as Gelato 5’s recruiter by bringing Desumi into the fold. Of course, he’s still oblivious to the fact she’s already a Gekko executive.

 

Fudou can’t help but admit that having Desumi as Black Gelato would mean spending a lot more time together, so he arranges a meeting with her and Daigo. After some reminiscing, Daigo gets down to brass tacks and offers her a job with Gelato 5. Like Fudou, it’s an enticing offer, but she thinks about her family and comrades and respectfully declines.

She’s happy where she is and is worried if she was any happier she’d open herself up to karmic retribution. But seeing this older, gentler, somehow cuter Desumi flirt with Fudou like an ordinary girlfriend gives Daigo the completely wrong impression that she’s gone soft, and calls her out to a riverback to fight once again.

He sets the stake of their duel: if she wins, he’ll give up on recruiting her. If he wins, she’ll join Gelato 5 and end her relationship with Fudou, mentioning to her for the first time that Gelato forbids workplace relationships. While Desumi would have likely beaten Daigo (even in his Gelato suit, which his survival instinct activates without thinking), she gets super-fired up about winning when her relationship with Fudou is on the line.

Just as in the past when she’d very nearly killed him, Daigo plays it cool, saying he couldn’t go all out against his beloved pupil after so long, and grudgingly accepts defeat, with some final words of warning: whatever she ends up doing with her immense power, don’t go over to the dark side of Gekko. Whoops…

After parting ways with Daigo, Fudou and Desumi agree that they’ve gotten a bit too loose and comfortable being a public couple, and vow to take steps to being more careful. This includes Fudou pulling her off him should she take him by the arm in public, though that might prove both emotionally and physically impossible.

Regardless, they are still being watched and photographed in the shadows by someone I assumed at first to be Misaki, but might actually be a heretofore unseen character. Looks like Fudou and Desumi are in store for more drama and adversity…

Spy x Family – 06 – Smiling Doesn’t Help at All

At the fitting for her new Eden uniform, the seamstress warns both Anya and her parents of all of the pitfalls of student and parent life. There are all of these ongoing overlapping battles—between the richer kids and less rich kids, between children of Eden alumni and non-alumni, between boarders and commuters. Oh, and the kidnappers. Anya isn’t sure she wants to go to school anymore.

But the must, as she’s the lynchpin of Operation Strix. Loid visits a secret installation beneath a photo booth where his Handler gives him the details of Strix Phase Two. Anya simply attending Eden won’t be enough for Loid to get to Desmond, whose son is sure to be an honor student, called an Imperial Scholar. Students must earn eight “Stella” merits to become one. Alternatively, earning eight “Tonitrus Bolts” or demerits will result in immediate expulsion.

With the new information that Anya must not just be an Eden student but an elite one, Loid is no doubt headed to the drugstore to purchase a couple bottles of Mylanta to deal with his stress. Meanwhile while he’s out late for work, Yor takes Anya to get her newly-completed uniform, which she then shows off to everyone in the park.

When they go to the supermarket to buy stuff to cook (Yor wants to give cooking the old Eden college try), some n’er-do-wells attempt to kidnap Anya to extort Yor for cash, thinking she’s the maid. She puts them in her place, ruining the groceries, but Anya pats her head in praise. She likes her cool, strong mama, and asks her to train her so she can be strong and cool to. Despite believing otherwise, Yor is being a good mother to Anya.

Considering the cutthroat atmosphere of Eden College the next day, I would think that basic martial arts training would be a requisite of every new student. Yor also teaches Anya some important social skills, but one kid is so nasty, she eventually cant help but punch him using what she learned from mom.

The kid who gets punched just happens to be Damian, the second son of Donovan Desmond. But if she doesn’t get off on the right foot with befriending him, at least she earns a new best friend in Becky Blackbell.

Post-punch, Henderson has no choice but to give Anya at least one Tonitrus Bolt, though the usual punishment is three. There hasn’t been a single day of actual classes and already Anya is negative-one Stella star from being an Imperial Scholar and has made an enemy of the boy she was supposed to befriend.

It’s here where I must comment that Loid really did take a gamble simply throwing Anya into the fray having nothing but a little basic combat and social training from Yor. Granted he doesn’t know Yor is a socially awkward assassin, but he knows what he is: a master spy, and thus a master of human behavior.

I get he needed that briefing from Handler, but he should have taken the lead with teaching Anya more about how to act arond others and how to properly react to adversity. Her bolt is as much his fault as hers. Still, I’m not as pessimisstic as all three families look in the photo taken at the end of orientation.

For one thing, I suspect being punched by Anya might endear her to Damian, considering she did something no one ever did. For another, Anya’s ability to read the minds of her classmates can be an enormous boon…once she learns how to use use it properly.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 06 – Deep in the Sand Trap

In a rather nasty twist of fate, the land for a new casino that Eve was golfing for on behalf of Catherine is the very land on which her found family presently squats. I had assumed Klein owned the bar they live in, but nope. We also learn that the three little ones are immigrant orphans who will be deported. Eve can’t help but think she’s responsible for potentially destroying her family.

She visits Rose to voice her outrage, as Rose most certainly knew full well that Eve’s fam lived on the future site of the casino. But Rose has no sympathy for Eve; she did her a favor by letting her play against Aoi, while Eve repaid it by beating Vipére. Eve goes over everything that’s happened in the episode so far, and decides that the solution to this crisis is, of course, hitting a ball with a stick…in a way only she can.

As luck would have it, Vipére just happens to stop at the very spot Eve is doing her reflecting. Eve asks for golf betting gigs, but if Snake Woman had any, she’d take them. After she lost to Eve, Nicholas took everything she had (except, oddly, her Morgan roadster…). I must say, the speed with which Vipére became a comic book villain to a charming and likeable (temporary?) ally to Eve is truly impressive.

Aoi’s sole scene in this episode is a brief one, as we follow her on her extended press junket. The scene makes clear two things: 1.) No matter how cutthroat the Japanese high school golf circuit is, Eve has a lot more shit to deal with than Aoi, and 2.)  Eve is still foremost on her mind, so much so that she confuses journalists by insinuating she lost to someone in a tournament she won by 12 strokes.

Much to Catherine’s consternation, Nicholas does not honor their proxy golf deal and assassinates her politician so that the council votes for him to maintain control of the Casino. When Cathy won’t accept a 70-30 split in Nick’s favor, it comes down to another game of golf (though why either party would believe the other again escapes me). One of his underlings is, ahem, good friends with Vipére, who gets the lowdown on the impending game.

Knowing that Eve will give her a better chance of crawling out of the abyss, Vipére basically takes her in (to what I assume is a safe house) and puts her on a grueling training regimen. Or at least the thought it would be grueling; instead, she’s astounded by Eve’s stamina. Turns out Eve already underwent even more grueling training under Leo, the man who taught her how to golf with a lot of tough love.

The name Eve, AKA Evangeline, is the only thing Eve remembers when she suddenly woke up with bandages on her head. She was saved by Klein and Lily, who were then living and working at a brothel at the tender age of 14 and 10, respectively. Eve accepted Leo’s tutelage so she could golf her new sisters out of that brothel and into a life of safety and comfort. But now that life is back on the line.

Back down in her high-tech underground course, Madame Catherine learns that Nicholas, through Vipére, has hired Eve to be his golf proxy this time around, with Vipére serving as her caddy. Catherine, in turn, has picked Rose to be her proxy, and clearly this is something Rose has set up from the beginning…and something tells me she’s immune to Vipére’s stinky charms.

The stage is thus set for the most over-the-top, high-stakes golf game yet: one that may decide whether Eve’s friends have to return to prostitution to survive while the little ones get shipped back to their home countries. As halfway points of cours go, it’s not a bad place to be. I can’t wait to watch Eve potentially struggle but ultimately prevail over a too-arrogant-by-half Rose…and wish nothing but the best for dear, déar Vipére.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 05 – The Truth Is Revealed

Smells Like Teen Spirit of Expression

Oh, my sweet summer child…you didn’t perchance think Miyuki’s rapping was never going to addressed, did you? It all starts when Kei calls Chika asking her big sis to murder her brother. Turns out he’s been practicing at home. When Miyuki tells her there’s no other way to convey his feelings to a certain someone, she’s eager to help him out, just as she did with his anthem singing.

Alas, not only is Chika not remotely inoculated against the scourge of Miyuki’s sea sluggish rhymes, she’s not that strong a rapper herself in the first place, having never really done it before. Still, she stands by the axiom that it’s not how you express something that’s important, it’s what and to whom. Miyuki sets her straight: rap is both a sport and an art, but most of all, it’s a conversation.

Chika’s first attempt at rapping is like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly tentative steps. But once she locks in on the fact that rapping and piano are not that different, she starts to put out something that does more than just bear a passing resemblance to rap. No sooner does Miyuki tell her he has nothing left to teach her, he proceeds to ask her to teach him how to rap. The teacher hath become the student…

Straight Outta Chiba

It isn’t until their training is nearly complete that Chika bothers to ask whether the person Miyuki needs to rap to is someone she knows. He says she does, and we flash back to that karaoke box, where we learn Ai actually opened up to him (presumably before the rapping) about who she is, what she does, and who she works for.

As a fellow commoner who can empathize with what Ai must be going through, Miyuki embraces her as a friend and gives her his number. He uses it to invite Ai to Chiba Park where he has something he wants to tell her. As Kaguya eavesdrops on her employee-sister’s call, she tags along, while Chika is eager for some BL action, believing Herthaka to be a male butler.

With Chika backing him up, Miyuki spits out his feelings, which challenge Ai’s belief that one needs to put on an act in order to be loved. This rapping Miyuki is being his own best self, and sees no reason why she can’t be hers too.

When Kaguya feels confused, lost, and left out, she eventually cut loose with the illest rhymes of the group, on her first try no less! Then she gets cocky and puts Ai on blast, provoking Ai into delivering her own freestyle rap. As with Miyuki and Chika’s raps, Ai’s is accompanied by music-video style dramatizations.

Ai finally comes out as being jealous of Kaguya enjoying her life as a teenager, with all its highs and lows. She wants a friend in Miyuki…with the option to possibly steal him from Kaguya in the future.

They’re in Nirvana…Never Mind

The final segment somewhat surprisingly does not involve rapping, but is the second of Shijou Maki’s visits that put the council in “student” council. She’s joined the volunteer club at Nagisa’s behest…a club that includes just her, Nagisa, and Nagisa’s boyfriend, whom we finally learn after three seasons is named Tsubasa.

Unaware of Maki’s feelings for Tsubasa, Nagisa is transparently lovey-dovey with him around her. As such, she’s come to think of Nagisa as the devil. Yuu and Miyuki warn her that as the couple is in “nirvana”, breaking them up will be nigh impossible. Maki, as innocent as her cousin, is unaware that the Nirvana they speak of pertains to Nagisa and Tsubasa having knocked boots.

In the end, Maki doesn’t get any useful advice other than the kind that is no longer useful: love is all about speed. Once you know you love someone, it’s imperative to confess to them ASAP, lest they get stolen away, as Tsubasa was. Miyuki, exhibiting the same self-awareness as Kaguya did last week, warns her waiting for the other person to confess is just a passive way to save face.

But Maki’s visit isn’t a waste. She can take some solace in commiserating with and warning these boys not to follow her down the path of inaction. Miyuki envisions Yuu with Kaguya and Yuu envisions Miyuki with Tsubame, and they can feel a glimmer of what Maki feels in reality. So the StuCo office will always be open to her, whenever it gets too hard watching Nirvana from the outside.

P.S. There’s a new ED involving the gang rapping and breakdancing on stage. It’s awesome and features some pretty slick animation (as well as more “serious” character design of the characters) and better rapping than any of the raps in the actual episode. Like the Starship Troopers ED, it also ends with a sweet moment of togetherness with Miyuki and Kaguya.

 

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 03 – Turtle Soup

The time for talk has passed—this episode is all action. The Spirit Tortoise—that is, the somewhat janky CGI Spirit Tortoise—must be stopped, and with an alliance of nations at his back, Naofumi is never going to have a better chance to do it. I have to respect an episode that is devoted to one thing and one thing only: covering the battle from start to (apparent) finish.

That said…deary me…Shield Hero is to be commended for its ambition. The execution, however, is very much a mixed bag. Often times animation is dispensed with in favor of panning stills or, in the case of the masses of soldiers and the tortoise, the aforementioned janky CGI. There’s quite a bit of suspension of disbelief in viewing this grab bag of battle visuals.

But if the animation can’t cash all the checks the composition writes, Kevin Penkin sells the hell out of what we get. I can’t stress enough just how important the quality of the soundtrack contributes to a sense of gravitas and awe. That, and seeing Naofumi not only recognized but celebrated by the marching troops is something of a revelation. He’s come a long way, baby.

While things get a little hairy due to the Spirit Tortoise firing a flurry of deadly purple thorns that decimate the allied forces, those forces are still able to stop its advance by taking out one of its legs. The mage corps then pierce the skin of the tortoise’s neck, allowing Raphtalia and Filo to go in there and deliver a devastating combined strike that beheads the beast, which was the whole objective of the operation.

Throughout the battle, Ost selflessly (and awesomely) offers her not inconsiderable magical powers to assist in both offense and defense. But she’s also something of a canary in a coal mine; everyone expected her to disappear when they beheaded the Spirit Tortoise, since she’s it’s familiar and all. But even after the head has been detached, Ost lingers on. While I’m glad she’s not dead, the fact she isn’t means the Tortoise isn’t either. Thus the threat endures.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 02 – We Are Who We Are

After showing us the current state of their relationship in the premiere, Koiseka takes us back six months ago to when Desumi and Fudou first met. Standing atop a building and looking down on him, backlit by a crescent moon, he found himself immediately captivated by her gleaming green eyes shining through her cartoon skull mask.

From there, we’re given more world-building through action as the Gelato 5 battle Gecko while “Hero TV” copters hover and record. Under the pretense of going somewhere to duel where collateral damage would be minimal, Desumi and Fudou are almost caught, but Desumi wisely plays dead as he and his comrade Misaki (Yellow Gelato) are interviewed by a reporter.

When they’re alone again, Desumi is feeling a little lonely since she just saw how popular Fudou is with the ladies. Then he asks how he can make it up to her, and she says she wants to go on an ordinary date. The only problem is, neither of them have ever been on a date, so Fudou relies first on Google and then a drunk Misaki to help him plan one.

The two meet on a lovely day in the park, with Fudou wearing glasses and his hair different as a “disguise”, and he marvels at how resplendent Desumi looks in normal clothes. However, under the assumption that the best date is one where they do something they both enjoy, Fudou has planned a date mostly of weight training and running.

By the time Fudou breaks out a backpack full of sugar-free protein bars, Desumi excuses herself to “go to the bathroom”, and it sure looks like she’s noped out on Fudou’s sorry excuse for a date. A sober Misaki calls him from a hot spring to tell him to ignore all the advice she gave him while drunk, then proceeds to tell him he’d better not do all the things he just did on his date.

Fudou, suddenly an emotional wreck, wanders the park looking in vain for Desumi, whom he’s sure took off because his date plan sucked, and just wishing with all his heart that she’d give him a second chance…and then he feels a cold drink on his temple, and Desumi is there, wondering why he’s acting so strange. When he tells her, she laughs. Of course she’s been having fun on their date, because she’s on a date with her sweetheart!

The two then hold hands and lean in for a kiss, but are rudely interrupted by their respective alarms calling them to duty. In the ensuing battle between Gelato and Gecko, both the Reaper Princess and Red Gelato are understandably out of it, still soaking up the pure bliss of their wonderful date…no doubt the first of many!

While a gold-standard series like Kaguya-sama blows Koiseka out of the water in both comedy chops and production values, Koiseka is by no means a slouch in either department. It looks as good as it needs to, and the chemistry and sweetness of its couple is impossible to resist. I also enjoyed the cute little post-credit segment introducing Desumi’s kitty Hellko, who is glad her mistress is smiling and laughing more.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 02 – Do It, Then Think Later

Remember when the latest season of TenSura started with a bunch of long, boring meetings? Well, in the first half or so of this episode Shield Hero takes the same tack, putting Naofumi and Queen Mirellia in a room full of crotchety generals bickering over who should take command or lead the forces against the rampaging Spirit Tortoise. It’s all…a bit dry?

It seems more fun outside as Filo and Rishia are joined by Elrasla, noted tough old broad, and Eclair, whose dignity and decency I admire even as I rack my brain trying to figure out who voices her (I’m sure ANN will list it eventually). They’re basically at the kids table on standby while the brass talks things out.

That brass is soon joined by the same woman voiced by Hanazawa Kana who asked Naofumi to please kill her last week before suddenly disappearing. We learn her name is Ost Hourai, and while everyone knows her as the concubine of the now-deceased king of the Tortoise Kingdom, reveals that she’s actually one of the Tortoise’s familiars in human form.

She was created to seduce her way to the highest levels of human political power, and then use that power to get them to start wars. The Spirit Tortoise, ya see, uses human souls to stop the Waves. But someone has gone and unsealed the Tortoise itself, and its resulting rampage is not by choice.

Ost is there to help in any way she can, but rather hilariously, none of the advice she offers is anything anyone in the room doesn’t already know. I love how offbeat and quirky she is, it really spices up the otherwise dull meeting scenes (as does the Kevin Penkin score, as always). Also nice is Raphtalia meeting Naofumi on a moonlit bridge that night, telling him if the other generals will follow a good plan, they just need to come up with one.

Naofumi thinks he has one, and will utilize the unique qualities of the various allied kingdoms to pull it off. Manpower, siege machines, mages, and explosives, there’s a wealth of resources with which he will stop, pin down, and eventually behead the Spirit Tortoise. Everyone pitches in, even Rishia and Ost pulling Tortoise research duty at the library.

One night while Naofumi’s suddenly much bigger party is gathereda round a fire, Ecliar mentions that she brought some new weapons and gear from Elhart in Melromarc, including a new sword for Raph, a new gauntlet for Filo…and a stat-boosting Filo mascot suit for Rishia, which is pretty adorable.

It’s while she’s in that bird suit that Ost picks up on Rishia being in love with the Bow Hero, and encourages her to “get intimate as soon as possible” and not overthink things. Honestly I can’t imagine what Rishia sees in that stuck-up prick, but hey, you can’t choose who ya love!

While a bit stronger than last week owing to Ost’s weirdness (and Eclair’s profound uprightness), this was still a table-setting episode packed with exposition and information leading up to the trip to the Tortoise-beheading fireworks factory…and is thus scored accordingly.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 01 – The Tortoise and the Hero

lot has happened in the real world since the last Shield Hero aired in late July 2019. It actually feels like much more than three years ago…more like thirty! And that’s even taking into account we saw Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo in Isekai Quartet, the last episode of which aired just when shit was starting to go down in 2020.

Anywho, this episode marks a relatively understated, workmanlike return to the world of Shield Hero, with Naofumi settling in as lord of Lurolona Village, where the old and young, strong and weak alike train for the next Wave of Catastrophe, including his newest party member, Rishia, who rather comically must wear a penguin mascot suit to up her stats.

The relative peace of the status quo is rocked by the sudden arrival of a flock of monstrous bats. Raphtalia and Filo make quick work of them, but Naofumi’s HUD identifies them as “Spirit Tortoise Familiars.” Also, the next Wave countdown has cirously…stopped.

Naofumi and the other Cardinal Heroes are summoned to Melromarc where Queen Mirelia explains what’s happening: the Spirit Tortoise has revived and is starting to wreak havoc on the kingdom that bears its name. However, the other three heroes aren’t interested in assisting. After the meeting Rishia beseeches her former boss Itsuki, who tells her she’s not strong enough to fight for him.

After Naofumi gets Rishia a new sword at the weaponsmith’s, Raphtalia suggests they head to the slave merchant to make Rishia one of Naofumi’s slaves so that she can be stronger than Itsuki’s party members. Naofumi bristles at the idea, as he believes only Raph would volunteer to be a slave.

However, Rishia wants to become stronger, and she’s willing to be tattooed on her decolletage and endure the pain of forming a contract in order to do it. Rishia may be convinced she’s a failure, but if Naofumi and his party can offer her a chance at redemption and to prove herself to Itsuki and her former colleagues, she’s game.

With that, Naofumi’s party loads up the Filo-drawn wagon and journey to the Spirit Tortoise Kingdom to meet this latest non-Wave-related threat. While stopping to camp for the night, Filo reveals her ahoge serves as an antenna for direct communication with her queen, Fitoria.

She tells Fitoria they’re headed for the kingdom, and Fitoria responds that Naofumi will now face the choice she spoke of before: do something about the Spirit Tortoise, but also learn to get along with the other three heroes, or she’ll personally kill them all. Yes Rishia…even Itsuki!

They arrive at the capital of the kingdom as it is already under siege by massive swarms of bat monsters in the air, primate-like beasts on the ground, and scores of refugees running for their lives. They hear rumors that three of the four heroes were already killed going up against the Tortoise.

Filo’s two-way connection with Fitoria pays off again when the queen confirms that none of the three are actually dead; they were just rumors, thus calming Rishia down. Filo and Raphtalia then get to work eliminating the baddies while Rishia leads the people back to the safety of the capital’s walls.

Naofumi ends up using one of his many abilities to lure a huge host of enemies in his direction, then uses Dark Curse Burning to eliminate them all in one fell swoop, though not without bearing a physical cost he can’t hide from the trusty Raphtalia. In the aftermath of the battle, a mysterious, slightly pious-looking woman flat-out asks him to “please kill” her. To quote Rishia … Kweeeeh?

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Entertainment District Arc – 01 – Flash in the Pan

I’m on record as saying Rengoku wasn’t established enough as a character to warrant what felt like a 20 minute-long death scene, and that maudlin atmosphere returns to start this new arc-opening double-episode, which is really more of a grab bag of epilogues to the Mugen Train arc. It does its job: getting our demon slayin’ boys off the grief train and onto their next mission to the entertainment (i.e. red light) district. But a cohesive episode it is not.

Lest we forget how goshdarn powerful Muzan is, Akaza arrives at the mansion where Muzan is posing as the adopted son of kind wealthy couple, and has his ass handed to him. Muzan is not impressed that his underling was able to defeat one measly Hashira; he wants every last demon slayer wiped off the face of the earth. It kinda makes you wonder: why doesn’t he just do it himself? He’s clearly strong enough.

Tanjirou visits the Rengoku home to deliver a message to Kyoujurou’s family, and meets his fallen friend’s meak and underpowered little brother Senjurou and his drunken former-Hashira father. Both grieve in their own ways, but Tanjirou is not about to let the dad get away with bashing and mocking his own son, and gives him a patented Kamado Headbutt.

After receiving Kyoujurou’s sword guard and a promise from Senjurou that he’ll piece back together the Flame Hashira Chronicles his dad tore up, Tanjirou returns to the Butterfly Mansion to rest, heal, and train, aided by Aoi, Sumi, Kiyo, and Naho. It’s a pleasant and fun enough way to re-introduce the cast for those who like me may not have seen them since last summer, while enabling the show to break out its comic zaniness.

Months pass, and the three lads all go off to defeat various low-to-mid-level demons in nearby villages. One such mission represents the only real non-flashback action sequence, and is also the first time we see Nezuko, which occurs halfway through this 46-minute outing. That’s too late if you ask me, but it was good to see the siblings fighting together to bring down a demon.

This new arc’s quirky Hashira character does not ingratiate himself with Tanjirou, Zenitsu, Inousuke, or me: not when he’s forcibly carrying Aoi and Naho away for some undisclosed mission seemingly requiring women. When the three lads surround him and Tanjirou says they’ll go with him in their place, it doesn’t make a lot of sense…didn’t he need women? He also spanks Aoi…for no discernable reason.

So yeah, this Sound Hashira Uzui Tengen guy seems like a real piece of work, in contrast to the brash but fundamentally decent Rengoku. I also have no idea what he’s going for in the fashion and accessory department…only that it’s a lot. Fortunately, the Aimer-sung OP shook off the cynical cobwebs and got be back into a Demon Slayer state of mind, which is to accept wild changes in tone from overcooked drama to madcap comedy and everything in between, this time in a fresh urban setting.

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