The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 02 – Heart of Gold

After bathing and dressing, Ninym goes to wake Prince Wein up, only to find he’s dreaming of a woman with a bigger chest than hers. What would have been a sweet moment was marred by a dumb boob joke. It’s kind of a harbinger for what’s to come: a tolerable story marred by poor execution.

Last week I forgave the fact that armies looked like grey blobs, and that CGI chess pieces replaced the combat animation for the most part. But after this week’s siege of the gold mine Natra just conquered, I no longer see clever workarounds, but cheap shortcuts. Weeks supposedly pass in this episode, but the action is so poorly portrayed it feels like a long afternoon.

The whole premise of the show is that Prince Wein is a genius, but this week it’s abundantly clear that it doesn’t require a genius to defeat Marden’s larger numbers. Not only are the enemy commanders one-dimensional mustache twirling villains—and racist against “Flahms” like Ninym—they’re also dumber than a sack of bricks, falling for the most obvious traps and failing to understand concepts like “high ground” or “bottlenecks”.

That said, the Marden general’s biggest mistake is the racial slur his pompous envoy directed at Ninym. Wein confirms that the envoy’s words are the general’s, then sets up a raid on the enemy headquarters that ends with him telling the guy that Ninym is “his heart”, and any who wound his heart shall die by his own hand. This is devotion we didn’t quite see last week, and it at least gives this part of the battle a pulse.

Sadly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really measure up, as between the awful personalities of the enemy commanders and the awful production values that I sometimes worried would stray into Wizard Barristers Episode 11. With Wein’s common sense tactics being laughably portrayed as potentially empire-shattering genius, I struggled to find something to keep me watching next week, and for now, that’s the easy rapport between Wein and Ninym.

The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

The Faraway Paladin – 11 – The Other Side of the Coin

At the start of this outing, everything’s coming up Maryblood, as he, Menel, Anna, Reystov, and his merry band of adventurers march throughout the Beast Woods, clearing them of demons. With help from Bee and Tonio, the newly-safe villages are gradually revitalized. When Will returns to places he’d seen at their lowest point, he can see firsthand what his good works have wrought.

Then one grey day Reystov reports that one of the more talented adventuring parties is two days late from a scouting mission. Will rolls out with Menel, Reystov, and two capable parties in search of them, and eventually find their corpses. They’re then led into a ravine and surrounded by demon beasts, led by a particularly ferocious chimaera.

Will & Co. put up a stout front, but the bottom line is they’re very nearly outmatched, which comes down to a lack of caution and preparation. When Menel is severely injured by the chimaera’s dragon breath, Will flies into a panic. He tries to cast lightning on all of the beasts, but is interrupted and hits himself, a rare unforced error. He has to resort to pure adrenaline and matching the beasts in viciousness with his demonblade to survive the day.

When he wakes up, he learns from Reystov that he and Menel were carried out after the Chimaera fled, and that he burned himself out fighting too hard. Even so, Will doesn’t see this as an inevitable occasional slip-up. Rather, he suffers a total and complete crisis of confidence, cursing himself for believing he could treat Menel and the others as equals despite being so much stronger than them.

We even get the first glimpse of Will in his previous life before coming to this world, just when I’d come to grips with the fact the show didn’t care about that part of Will’s story at all. But the person he was is crucial to how he’s feeling now: full of guilt and regret for expecting too much of his comrades because he doesn’t want to be lonely. He doesn’t have to say anyting to Bee and Tonio for them to know something’s very off about him.

Will decides he’ll never let something like this happen again, visiting the still-unconscious Menel and healing him a bit more before going off on his own. However lonely he might feel, he’ll feel even worse if he ends up killing those who have stood beside him. Still being an impressionable young whelp, he instantly agrees with the chatter of passing soldiers referring to him as a “monster”, and concludes that he must walk his path alone.

You can tell from Gracefeel’s expression that Will is off-base here. He never forced Menel or anyone else to stand beside him or be his friend. It’s pretty clear Menel, and Bee and Tonio, and Reystov and Anna, are with Will because they believe in him and his strength and want to do everything they can to make a difference in this world with him. The question is, will they be able to bring Will out of these doldrums, or does his new self-imposed isolation represent the new normal?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 20 – Odd Man Out

Back when the explosion that shatters the Greyrat family occurred, Lilia has the foresight to grab Aisha and hold her tight for the expanding blast. She ends up teleported into the water, but manages to swim to the surface before she and her daughter drown. She makes her way on foot to Shirone, only for Prince Pax to capture and imprison them once he learns Lilia knows Roxy.

While Rudeus intends for the Ruijerd figurines he’s crafted to improve the Superd’s reputation, this week they actually come in handy rescuing him from Pax’s clutches. Pax’s older brother Prince Zanoba, you see, happens to be a figurine otaku the likes of which Rudy knows well from his old life. Wisely Rudy only owns up to being the artist once he realizes Zanoba wants to praise him and become his apprentice.

Zanoba doesn’t care about Roxy like his perverted brother does, just the figurine of her, which we learn has a detachable clothes. As such, he cares nothing for Pax’s plots, and so is immediately an ally to Rudy by default. Meanwhile, we see Ruijerd, Eris, and Aisha’s side of things as they work with Shirone royal guards to free their families, whom Pax has hostage to secure their loyalty.

That shortsighted strategy backfires as expected, first when Rudy tells Zanoba to lower the barrier and Zanoba grabs Pax out of bed by the head and presents him to Rudy, revealing Zanoba is a “Blessed Child” with superhuman strength. Ginger is Pax’s last line of defense, but when she learns her family is safe, she turns on Pax, informing him she first swore loyalty to Zanoba to begin with.

Shortly after Zanoba and Ginger free Rudy, Ruijerd returns from freeing Ginger and the soldiers’ loved ones, along with Lilia, who is immensely happy to be reunited with both Rudy and Aisha. Basically, Rudy didn’t actually have to do anything to get out of his latest predicament, other than make that figuring of Roxy years ago. Everything else kind of fell into place.

Later, Lilia gives Rudy a big hug, along with the box containing Roxy’s underwear and a pendant Sylphiette made for him. Also, Aisha wants to join the “Kennel Master” on his continuing adventures, thus saving her from the “perverted clutches” of her half-brother.

After Rudy gives her his Dead End head protector, she either connects the dots about him actually being her half-brother, or decides to drop the charade. Either way, with Zenith and Sylphiette still missing, Rudy can go forward knowing at least one of his little sisters likes him!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 19 – The Man-God’s Fast One

Rudeus appears once again in his original form from his own world before the Man-God  Hitogami, a year after their last meeting. Rudy decides once again to let the Man-God guide him to his next objective, agreeing to trust him in exchange for helping find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. While we can’t yet say Hitogami has steered Rudy wrong, his true motivations remain unknown. Is he earnestly trying to help Rudy, or just seeking entertainment?

After much vomiting over the side of a ship, Rudy, along with Eris and Ruijerd, arrive at last at the Central Continent, and the capital of the kingdom of Shirone. As has now become commonplace, the “OP” consists of a sequence of vistas of the new land, along with a new song to accompany it. It’s big, it’s grand, and it’s awesome. It’s a city I’d love to spend weeks exploring.

Of course, Rudy doesn’t have time for that; he has a family to locate and rescue. Going off the vision Hitogami gave him, he searches the city for Lilia and Aisha, and finds the latter, now six years old, being bothered by city guards. Rudy uses his incantation-less magic to bear both him and Aisha away from the guards, and just like that, he’s reunited with a sibling who was only a baby when last he saw her.

Unlike Norn, Aisha is friendly with Rudy…but only because she’s not aware that he’s actually her older brother, whom she’s certain is an awful pervert due to Roxy’s underwear he’d been keeping that she found one day. It’s a little sad that Lilia taught her daughter not to rely on his brother, but Rudy follows the Man-God’s advice to use an alias rather than reveal his true connection to Aisha.

With Aisha safely under Eris and Ruijerd’s careful watch, Rudy accepts the invitation of Ginger York, a member of the seventh prince of Shirone’s royal guard, who escorts him to the castle of Shirone. He’s under the impression Ginger is taking him to see Roxy, who has been serving the prince, and is excited to see his master for the first time in seven years.

Alas, it’s only a trap. Lilia is indeed in the Shirone castle, the captive of Pax, the seventh prince.  But Rudy ends up falling down a hole into a king-class barrier meant for Roxy. Pax is determined to lure Roxy back so he can capture and have his way with her. Since Lilia wasn’t sufficient bait, he’ll use Rudy instead.

It’s understandable that, now that he finds himself in this predicament after following Hitogami’s instructions pretty much to the letter, Rudy considers the possibility the Man-God played a trick on him. But to what end? Is Rudy really trapped? I doubt it; a trap intended for Roxy means Rudy, who has far surpassed Roxy in magical ability, should have no trouble escaping it.

The problem is, Lilia is currently Prince Pax’s hostage. Rudy can’t act carelessly lest any harm come to Aisha’s mother. I don’t foresee Pax being a credible threat for long—I mean look at him—but at the moment Rudy does seem to be in a rather sticky situation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 12 – All Dogs Go to the Dark Realm

This fun grab-bag of Jahy-sama situations begins with the most Wile E. Coyote-ish: Jahy finding a big mana crystal but assuming it’s a Magical Girl trap. While she analyzes all the ways she could be done in, the manager shows up and prepares to pick it up.

That’s when we see how much living among humans has made Jahy a better person: she dives at the rock to save the manager at the potential cost of her own life. She was scared to grab it before, but when her friend is in danger, she didn’t hesitate.

That acquired Jahy-sama goodness shows up again when she’s surveying the upgraded playground. While she’s trying to focus on looking for crystals, she can’t help but think of how to make Kokoro happy by going on the slide, the wobbly bridge (a favorite of wee me) or picking a flower for her. Then she spots Kokoro being accosted by two men, and again springs into action.

Turns out one of the men was just helping her up after she tripped, and Jahy committed unnecessary assault. When she spots the police, she runs for it, as she abhors any authority other than her own, and the police, with nothing better to do, give chase. Jahy ends up back at the station for questioning. Perhaps she shouldn’t have kicked that guy, but in the heat of the moment she put her beloved Kokoro’s safety first, so I can’t fault her.

Our next segment is another welcome Saurva-centric one. This time she’s completed “Woof Woof DX”, a potion that will transform Jahy into a subservient pup and give Saurva the second-in-command mantle she desires above all else.

Making the potion took many sleepless nights, and in her fatigue, Saurva accidentally drinks the potion instead of her matcha, and transforms into the very dog she intended Jahy to become. Not just physically, mind you…but mentally, Saurva starts acting more like a dog, despite herself.

This results in her running around outside instead of staying home and waiting for the potion to wear off. She encounters the white dog who chased her as a human, then encounters Jahy, and learns the unparalleled joys of having your tummy rubbed and playing fetch.

Later, when Dog!Saurva encounters the landlady she fears so much, she recoils, but soon learns the lady’s kinder side, as she leaves her umbrella behind to keep Saurva out of the rain. She concludes that people are nicer to dogs than her, and just when she gets used to the idea of being a dog a little longer, she turns back into a human…a naked human. This begs the question: she were arrested, who would she call?

The final segment post-credits is about the dangers of gambling. Jahy just wants to take Kokoro out for a shopping trip to the mall for snacks, but gets overly competitive over a crane game, and soon spends all of her money trying to get a big bag of snacks that costs far less than she put into the game.

It matters not in the end, as Jahy gets a lucky roll and wins the snacks with her last 100-yen coin. The taste of the steak and strawberry snacks is enhanced by the taste of victory, and having again proven her greatness to her dear Kokoro. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gambler!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 09 – Jahyat Emptor

After last week’s charming Druj-centric episode, we get a substantial serving of The Magnificent Saurva, which totally sounds like a Mad Max character. Specifically, we get the bathhouse segment from her POV, and learn that she just wanted somewhere to get away from worrying about defeating Jahy.

Instead, Jahy steals half of her fancy shampoo! Saurva also slips on soap, but lands in the soft bosom of the manager, thus attaining the peace she originally sought.

The next segment is something totally different, as Jahy gets her monthly paycheck and decides to hit up a home goods megastore to stock up on weapons with which to defeat the Magical Girl (who doesn’t appear this week, and remains menacing in her mere absence, like in Jaws or Alien).

Unfortunately, Jahy is extremely suceptable to the hard sell, and marketing in general, and ends up blowing her pay on a bunch of mostly useless junk.

In the next segment Jahy prepares birdlime and other traps at the entrance and window of her apartment in order to trap an attacking Magical Girl. By doing so, she traps herself in, and she has to wait for a Magical Girl that may never come.

Fortunately, Kyou comes in to unknowingly save Jahy from being trapped forever, and as thanks, Jahy takes not a bullet, but a washtub to the head to protect Kyou. It’s a sweet little moment that shows how close they’ve become.

We’re back to Saurva in the fourth and final segment, as she has nightmares about Jahy (and Kyou) and sits in the park feeling sorry for herself. That’s when she finds a little girl with Jahy’s complexion and hair whom she still doesn’t realize is Jahy, but is amazed by how hard she’s fighting against three crows stealing her lunch.

Lil’ Jahy ends up giving Saurva some encouraging advice not to let a few failures get her down and keep doing her best. Alas, when Saurva finds a pissed adult Jahy aggressively waiting tables on an unusually busy weeknight at the craft pub, Saurva decides not to attack quite yet, but give it some time…what’s the rush?

TenSura – 43 – Harder to Lose Than to Win

After helping Treyni evolve into a Dryas Doll Dryad so she can leave Jura forest as Ramiris’ escort, Rimuru goes over the final preparations for Benimaru’s fight. Turns out after Rimuru became a Demon Lord Benimaru was gifted a rare skill that allows him to read the enemy’s every move, thus assuring victory.

Nevertheless, there’s no reason not to take certain precautions, especially where a trickster like Clayman is concerned; someone who will only get more dangerous the more cornered he gets. That’s why Shuna, an accomplished magic user, volunteers to accompany Benimaru, Souei, and Hakurou…but not before she’s done hand-sewing Rimuru’s Walpurgis suit!

When Clayman’s forces approach from the bottom of a canyon as planned, Benimaru knows that victory is all but assured. Gabiru’s lizardmen and Souei’s ninjas mop up whoever doesn’t fall down the sinkholes created by Geld’s Orc soldiers.

The Beastketeers subordinate themselves to Benimaru specifically so they can see combat on the front lines, in order to get revenge for what happened to their beloved Lord Carrion.

Gabiru and his pals team up with Suphia, presumably to face off against Father Middray and his student. Phobio seeks out Tear and Footman, who are a lot tougher than they look, but Phobio’s no slouch either, plus he has Geld backing him up. I love how arrogant the harlequins are, but again, they have the skills to back it up. Of all the foes Rimuru’s forces clash with this week, they’re the most concerning.

Less so is Yamza, who despite being one of the “Five Fingers” (such a lame name!) is far more concerned with retreating in such a way as to save face in the eyes of his master, Clayman. It’s admirable that he’s able to think many moves ahead, but his plans of slipping away are dashed by Albis. It’s clear that she, along with her fellow Beasketeers, are as eager for action as we the viewers are!

All of Rimuru’s main and secondary lieutenants and allies get chances to shine, even Gobta, who saves Albis from a sneak attack and demonstrates that despite his cartoonish looks and lack of confidence, he’s pretty much a match for Yamza…he just needs to apply himself!

After being forced to sit around and wait while all of the pieces of this arc are painstakingly set up, it’s exhilarating to watch those pieces suddenly set into motion, like a wonderful piece of clockwork. I can’t wait to see what next week brings as each of these little isolated battles progress and evolve.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 75 – Piecking Sides

Zeke barely survived the Thunder Spear explosion, but believes he may be soon pushing daisies until a Pure Titan arrives, cuts open its belly, and places Zeke inside; presumably to facilitate healing. Levi’s gambit failed and his fate remains unknown.

To the last, Attack on Titan is to tense, unpleasant meal scenes as Yuru Camp is to relaxing, pleasant ones, as Pyxis is forced to dine while soldiers wearing the same uniform hold a gun to his back.

Pyxis notes that various colored handkerchiefs adorning everyone—white for Jaegerists, red for those who found out they drank wine and forced to comply, and black for those who drank wine without knowing it—seem an awful lot like “how Marley does things”. But Yelena makes one thing clear: this isn’t about revenge.

In the jail, Connie and Jean want to know what Eren said to Mikasa that made Armin throw a punch at Eren, then get the shit beat out of him (though his Titan healing seems to be working fine). Mikasa doesn’t want to talk about it, Connie thinks it doesn’t matter; Eren is a piece of shit and now he’s gone mad; and Jean wonders if Eren is actually playing some kind of 4D chess.

Then Yelena arrives to tell the once-“heroes of Shiganshina” that they’re to sit quiet and behave until Zeke and Eren meet. When Niccolo berates Greiz for selling them out to become Yelena’s lackey, Greiz lays into Niccolo for falling in love with a “devil spawn whore”.

His words earn him a bullet to the head…from Yelena, who bows in apology and assures the others that Paradis “has no need for those who would call you devils”. She decides to come clean with Zeke and Eren’s true goal: the Eldian Euthanization Plan that will end the cycle of hatred.

Gabi, the rootable yet pitiable poster girl for that cycle throughout The Final Season, is visited by Eren, who asks her to help him if she wants her friend Falco to live, by calling for help on the radio to flush out her allies. Just as he’s making this not-a-request, one of those allies in Pieck slips right in, cuts the guard’s throat, and points her Luger at Eren, ordering Gabi to train the guard’s rifle on him.

Eren is unmoved. Pieck’s orders were to retake the Founding Titan, not kill him, otherwise he’d already be dead. He impresses upon her how both she and her family would be punished by Marley for disobeying orders. Pieck stands down and orders Gabi to do the same, declaring that her true goal is to free all Eldians—in Marley and around the world.

When Pieck asks Gabi what they are, she says “Honorary Marleyans”, but Pieck says they’re Subjects of Ymir first and foremost. Port Slava showed that the time of the Titans’ usefulness is nearing an end due to the advancement of military technology. When it does, Marley will slaughter the lot of them.

While Pieck tries to convince a still-thoroughly conditioned Gabi of their need to fight for their right to live, Yelena finishes explaining to the prisoners how the Jeager brothers’ plan will end the Eldians’ time on this earth “gracefully and peacefully”. Armin is moved to tears by the nobility of such a cause, apparently in agreement that the only way to end the cycle is to end the Titans.

Having agreed to point out her fellow Marleyan invaders to Eren from atop the Shiganshina citadel’s tower, they walk through the citadel. She waves to soldiers like an idol and is met by blushing faces…there’s no denying Pieck is extremely cute—and cool-headed to boot. But until Eren is satisfied she can be trusted, he has her shackled to Gabi so if she tries to transform into the Cart, she’ll kill her.

Just when Gabi couldn’t be feeling lower, Pieck squeezes her hand in hers and gives her a soft, kind smile. When Eren orders her to point out where the enemy is, Pieck turns around and dramatically points…right back at Eren. She’s not lying, nor is she talking about Eren, as Porco/Jaws blasts through the floor and snaps up everything below Eren’s waist.

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to snap his head off, gobble him up whole, and Eren simply transforms into the Founding Titan. But that’s apparently just what Pieck, Porco, and their compatriots want, as five Marleyan airships arrive right on time, with both Commander Magath and Reiner Braun on board. We get one last look at the Founding Titan’s glorious glutes before the cut to yet another To Be Continued.

That’s right: The Final Season isn’t over yet, only the first part. This actually came as news to me, but I’m also eternally grateful things don’t end here with some kind of “Want to find out how it ends? Read the manga!” message. As the minutes were counting down I had a feeling there simply wouldn’t be adequate time for an anime-original wrap-up of everything going on. But the endgame is certainly nigh, and this first part of the final season covered some serious ground and ended with Eren as the Big Bad.

Will he remain so in Part 2, or go against his brother’s plan to exterminate their race? Is his relationship with Mikasa and Armin been permanently destroyed, or will a chance at redemption present itself, possibly aligned with his split from Zeke? How many more twists are we in store for? Questions abound, just as they always do at the end of a cour of Shingeki no Kyojin—and as always, the next cour can’t come soon enough.

The Promised Neverland – 22 – Playtime Has Only Just Begun

First of all, Vincent is not a turncoat; I can’t see how someone otherwise proven as intelligent as him would think Ratri and the demons would honor any deal he made for them. Instead, Norman has Vincent leak one plan, knowing the farms will prepare for it, while executing an entirely different plan. And not a moment too soon, either, as that very day Phil and all the kids at Grace Field House are notified that they’re being shipped off.

Final preparations are made in Mujika and Sonju’s secret tunnels, and then everyone boards a fleet of hot air balloons—which presumably were part of Norman’s original “Kill All Demons” plan. When Ratri and the head demon spot the fleet proper approaching the farms and separating into small groups, the demon spearmen atop the walls shoot them down one by one.

Of course, the initial wave of balloons was only a feint; all of the ones that were shot down are armed with firebombs that soon set the forests within the farms alight. While the demons are busy putting those out, they’re suddenly ambused by the Lambda kids, while the other balloons land safely and the Farm’s administration facility is raided using Minerva’s blueprints. Soon Vincent has hacked into the system and shuts down all of Ratri’s surveillance and comms.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to the mothers escorting their kids to the shipping area, each of the farms has been infiltrated by little kids sent by Emma, who uses the hacked comms to give the signal to “play tag”. Phil and the others obey and run for it while the gates are closed on the mothers, keeping them from pursuing. Everyone meets at the massive central elevator. Everything’s going according to plan…until the elevator refuses to budge.

The kids below look up in horror at dozens of mothers armed with assault rifles, led by Grandmother Isabella and smirking Gatekeeper Peter Ratri. “Playtime is over,” he tells the “lost” children. That certainly seems to be the case. How are the kids going to get out of this one? They brought bows and arrows to a gunfight, and they don’t even have the benefit of the high ground!

But what saves everyone, as usual, is Emma, or more precisely, her words and her indomitable will. When Peter tells her to give up and accept they were all born to be eaten, Emma refuses to do so. She and her suddenly huge family have a future they want, and she’s going to keep fighting for it no matter how many times she fails, so Peter can take his destiny and shove it.

That’s when Isabella—and all the other mothers and sisters she leads—turn their guns on Ratri. She tells Emma not to misunderstand; she claims not to be doing this for them—though she is proud of how well she raised them. She’s simply grown tired of how Ratri and the others run the farms, and now has the power to do something about it. And with the system hacked, the chips Ratri once could have used to blow them up no longer work.

Ratri still has one card left to play: the demon reinforcements from outside of the farms. The lead demon warns all of the children to be obedient and yield, as once those forces arrive there will be no more hope of victory, even with Isabella and the mothers on their side. Unfortunately both the lead demon and Ratri, another, much larger force of lower-class demons overwhelm those reinforcements before they can even arrive.

That’s right: thanks to a coordinated effort between Mujika and Vylk, a huge number of demons have been cured of their need for human meat, and they’re ready and willing to help overthrow the farm system that has oppressed them all these years. Mujika and Vylk enter the elevator room, surprising both Isabella and Ratri with their presence. For them it must be unthinkable to see demons standing in solidarity with these kids.

But again, it’s all about aligned interests. Just as Isabella is sick of the system, so are the demon masses. Ratri’s final threat—that the human-demon conflict resolved 1,000 years ago by his ancestors will start back up—is nullified by the presence of Mujika and the Evil Blood.

Suddenly fresh out of haughty remarks, Ratri falls to his knees in defeat, while Emma approaches him and holds out her hand, not asking for his surrender or ordering his death, but asking him to join them; to join the future they’re well on their way to realizing.

While I had to suspend an air balloon fleet-load of disbelief for much of “Operation Playtime”, I can’t deny it was loads of fun watching it unfold, as long I didn’t think about anything too much! Looks like we’re in store for a slightly rushed but hopeful and happy ending.

Check out Irina and Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

The Promised Neverland – 21 – More Important than Revenge

By arriving just in time with Mujika and Sonju, Emma is able to talk Norman down and get him to drop his knife. Despite all the time they’ve been apart and the things Norman has done and planned to do, Emma still feels absolutely certain that he doesn’t really want to do those things he planned, even going so far as calling him an “arrogant coward”.

The show deems that she is correct in her assessment, and that, when offered, Norman is willing to share the suffering, pain and fear with Emma, Ray, and the others instead of shouldering it all himself. Mujika then goes around the town administering her blood to those who have degenerated, not only curing them but ensuring they’ll never degenerate again.

As Norman’s plan to annihilate the demons of the village is reversed, Barbara prepares to kill a demon girl and her infant sibling, but when she sees herself in the cowering girl, she finds herself unable to do it. We’re to understand this is the first time she’s been presented with the opportunity to kill a demon child, and was all talk before.

Norman and Emma emerge from the burning town, and Norman tells his comrades the truth: he didn’t want to get revenge on demons, but to save his family. He used the ticking clock on his life to justify taking a path he wouldn’t have otherwise chosen. And he lied about not having succombed to the same Lambda drugs as all of them because he wanted to project reliability.

Barbara, who just stopped herself of her own accord from murdering a child, can’t very well argue, and says Norman is more important than revenge. Cislo and Zazie are also extremely understanding of Norman’s coming clean. Vincent isn’t, but the others tell him to stand down.

Upon returning to the hideout, the kids there tell them they just got word from the Grace Field radio: Phil and everyone else are being shipped. We cut to a scene with Petri and Isabella, who have sent the message as a trap, knowing the kids who escaped will come to the rescue.

What’s odd is that Petri is talking with the demons like Norman and the others just escaped from Lambda; presumably that happened weeks if not months ago. And don’t get me started on Isabella, who we were led to believe was on a short leash, and yet has been allowed to fail for quite some time now.

Of greater import in this scene is Petri’s announcement that the Lambda materials weren’t lost in the bombing, and the entire high-class farming system is poised to be replaced by Lambda-style farming through drug-induced brain enhancements.

Ray rightly suspects the message about the premature shippings is a trap to lure them there, but it doesn’t matter, because they still need to return to Grace Field if they want to save Phil and the others. The fact we haven’t seen one second of Phil or the others at the farm somewhat dulls those particular stakes…as do the developments at the hideout.

Vylk, the grandpa who’d regularly visit the hideout—and who Norman almost killed—and his granddaughter Emma visit so he can tell a story about a small piece of a pen a dying human was grasping, and the remorse he feels for not using his blood to save others besides his own family. When screwed into Emma’s pen, it not only provides blueprints for farming HQ and the gate to the human world, but a cure for the side-effects of the Lambda drugs!

That’s an inordinate amount of coincidence and suspension of disbelief in one little flash drive! But even with all this new information, and with almost everyone on board with returning to Grace Field, the one holdout—Vincent—ends up betraying everyone by using the radio to exchange intel for a deal. I guess he wasn’t moved by the embrace of the Emmas…

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