The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

This episode was not for the faint of heart. Once faced with her past tormentor, Lord Idol Rabier, memories and emotions from Raphtalia’s past start to flow out like water from a spigot. She remembers her village, and her best friend Rifana, as she has her sword pointed at Idol’s neck.

But Idol only cowers so long, and when he learns she’s one of the demi-humans he used to torture in his dungeon, he draws a hidden sword and puts up a fight. He ends up tripping on his own whip and falling backwards out a window to his apparent death. Raphtalia then decides to investigate the dungeon, and Naofumi, Filo, and Van accompany her.

As she walks with Raphtalia through the dungeon where she once spent an untold duration suffering pointless beatings at Idol’s hand, Melty is disgusted that such things went on in her kingdom right under her nose. Unfortunately, the truth is Idol is not the only one perpetrating such heinous acts.

Raphtalia, meanwhile, continues to dredge up memories, both of her village being raided by Idol, to being carted off to the dungeon with Rifana, to the beatings. Through it all, Raphtalia tried to obey her late father (killed in the Wave) and keep smiling, even in the hardest times. During the beatings, Raphtalia defiantly won’t cry out, but maintains a semblance of a smile.

Her friend Rifana doesn’t fare as well; she loses the will to eat and soon grows weak and feverish. While Raphtalia clings to her duty to smile in order to keep others’ spirits up, the one thing keeping Rifana going is her hope that they can return to their village and raise their flag, the flag that was proof that the demi-humans were able to build their own village.

All Raphtalia can offer her is a small flag made from a stick and scrap of cloth, but she’s grateful even for that. Then one day, the two are ripped apart, as Raphtalia is sold to a slave merchant, leading to her eventual purchase by her and Rifana’s favorite hero, that of the shield. Back in the present they find three survivors in the dungeons, the third being her old friend Keel.

After Naofumi heals him, Raph asks Keel where Rifana is, and he tells her. While she must have hoped the rest of her life that the Shield Hero would save her, he came too late; there’s nothing left of Rifana but her skeleton, still clutching the little flag Raph gave her not long before they were parted.

It’s a sickeningly awful sight to behold, and it causes Raph to break down into a fit of despair and self-hatred. She curses herself for not being able to protect anyone, and deems herself unworthy of standing beside the Shield Hero.

Of course, Naofumi has something to say about this, and assures her she did nothing wrong. On the contrary, the only reason he didn’t fall into his own pit of despair and run away from his duty as hero is because he met her, the first person he could really trust, and which led to meeting Filo and Melty.

On another plane, Raphtalia says goodbye to Rifana before gathering her earthly remains for a proper burial. Then she and the others return to the surface, where not only is Idol still alive (they really should have checked to make sure he wasn’t), but is in the process of summoning a monstrous beast sealed away by past heroes…for revenge, I guess?

Once summoned, the T.Rex-like monster promptly steps on Idol, reducing him to a flat film of pulp. It’s a fittingly unceremonious, darkly comic end for a character who was never anything more subtle than sniveling evil incarnate—good riddance! As for our dino-pal, I’m sure he’s a tough customer but likely nowhere near as formidable as, say, Glass, so I’m confident Naofumi, Raph and Filo can take care of it.

But damn, what a dark past Raphtalia had. Hopefully her unplanned trip to the site of the worst times of her life, and putting Rifana to proper rest, will give her some closure and end the nightmares. Not to mention she was able to rescue Keel and two other demi-humans, who would have certainly shared Rifana’s fate were it not for her.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 14 – Unfinished Business

Despite being aware of her elder daughter’s movements and actions through her Shadows network, the queen still sees fit to let Malty run wild—and run she does, setting a massive goddamn wildfire and informing all the local lords that the “Devil of the Shield” is responsible. I’m not sure what the queen’s game is, but she seems content to wait for Naofumi to come to her. The fire blocks him from Siltvelt, so they head the other direction.

That takes them to the domain of Seyaette once ruled by a lord who was sympathetic to the plight of the demi-humans (as well as Raphtalia’s homeland). That lord was killed in the First Wave, and his efforts went to waste. Indeed, Raphtalia and her family and friends were all victims of the resulting oppression and enslavement of demis under the orders of…Melty’s dad, the king. Again, presumably the Queen was fine with all of this…I guess?

The new lord of the domain, Van Reichnott, is thankfully a friend of Melty’s, and invites them to his mansion where he agrees to harbor them. Naofumi warns that they can’t stay more than a night lest they get sniffed out by those loyal to Malty and the king.

So they have one night of tasty meals and soft beds, taking turns keeping watch. Melty thinks she should be doing something, anything other than continuing to run and hide, but Naofumi tells her her life and safety must come before any of that, and in time she’ll do what must be done; what only she can do.

Naofumi also tries to comfort Raphtalia, who is suddenly having the nightmares she suffered when she was small. Being so close to her home where she witnessed and endured so much is affecting her on both a psychological and a visceral level.

As Naofumi feared, they are found out the next morning, as a neighboring lord, Idol Rabier, accuses and arrests Reichnott for harboring the “Devil.” Naofumi hides with Raphtalia (who has an itchy sword hand at the sight of Idol) as Melty says what needs to be said to get rid of Idol and enable Naofumi, Raph and Filo to escape.

They do so, but while Melty believes her name and title will protect her from Idol and that he’ll safely deliver her to father for a proper dialogue, her determination to clear the Shield Hero’s good name probably strikes the wrong tone with a lord who is a member of the church that considers Naofumi the Devil himself.

Naofumi wavers at the opportunity to get away thanks to Melty’s gambit, abandoning her in the process…but only for a brief moment. At the end of the day, bad rep or not he can’t call himself a hero (not to mention look Raph or Filo in the eye) if he left Melty to mercy of that lord. So the trio infiltrates his castle start methodically taking out his guards.

They arrive in the nick of time, as Idol has tired of Melty’s refusal to disclose where Naofumi is and declares her to be in league with the Devil, which makes her fair game to torture and worse, even taking a nasty pleasure in threatening her and “making her face warp.” This dude and Malty truly deserve one another.

But Melty is rescued, and despite her “plans” being “ruined”, she still thanks Naofumi for coming for her. Naofumi then leaves Lord Idol to Raphtalia to do with as she pleases. He has a lot of demi-human blood on his hands.

We’ll see if she gives in to her rage and takes revenge (for which she’d be entirely justified), or if she stays her hand out of a desire not to go down that road. Like Naofumi with his Rage Shield, there are places you can’t come back from.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 10

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Thanks to Miyamura’s heretofore unmentioned sister (and scissor enthusiast) Leona, Yamada learns the identity of the seventh witch. Leona tells him because she’s amused he’s doing it for love—specifically to undo the future where Urara is all alone again. But there’s a cost to learning the seventh witch’s identity.

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That cost is that Yamada’s memory of the witches—all of them, including Urara—must be wiped, as only President Yamazaki is allowed to know the names of all seven witches. Yamada doesn’t treat it as that big of a deal, especially since his friends and Urara in particular promise to bring him back after his memory wipe. Urara in particular is looking forward to being the first person he kisses, just as she was when they first fell down the steps together.

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Yamada takes his leave from Urara, and even though things still don’t seem that serious, there’s an air of wistfulness and even foreboding to their farewell. That’s amplified significantly when the seventh witch, Saionji Rika, appears, boasting about going commando (like Urara made Yamada go when she was in his body) before placing her hands on his face, then walking off, apparently having done the job.

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Yamada is confused, then, that even though her instructions indicate it will take 24 hours for his memories to fade…they don’t fade. He enters the supernatural club to announce it didn’t work, but none of them know who he is, or rather, they know he’s Yamada, but have no connection to him.

Turns out Rika couldn’t wipe his memories, due to his immunity to witch powers. Instead, she wiped the memory of all his friends, along with all the witches. In other words, Yamada kept Urara out of that lonely future, only to find himself alone.

Initially, he doesn’t seem all that troubled by this; after all, Yamazaki is honoring his side of the bargain by backing Miyamura, so Urara won’t be alone and sad. But when fellow powers-immune Tamaki keeps asking him to team up with him so they can undo the situation, Yamada kinda snaps and destroys a lectern with his bare hands.

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Just as he does so, the person he both saved and exiled himself from, Urara, comes in, wondering if Yamada wanted to join the supernatural club. Yamada refuses, not wanting to cause her trouble, but as she turns away to leave he springs a confession on her, and she rejects him, because she likes someone else.

But even though Yamada gets angry about the prospect of her liking another guy (and the others seem to think she likes Miyamura rather than him), I knew from the get-go that the “other person” she likes is him, but due to Rika’s powers, can’t presently make the connection between the person she likes and Yamada.

It’s a tricky situation to be sure, especially since now that the witches have forgotten Yamada and everything he did to help them, they’re back to stirring up mischief all over school. He agrees with Tamaki that at least playing along Nene’s revitalized plan to gather supporters, her charm power can be put to good use.

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The only problem is, Yamada and Nene pick a public place to kiss; a place Urara happens to be walking past and spots them. Now, Urara may not be consciously aware she loves Yamada, and that they both promised she’d be the first one he kissed after Rika did her thing, she’s clearly aware of it on another level, because she gets extremely upset when she sees him kiss Nene.

Yamada is in a deep hole with two episodes remaining. He has a lot of explaining to do, misunderstandings to clear up, relationships to rebuild from scratch, and, if  possible, witch powers to somehow undo, and he won’t have the supernatural club or Urara on his side to help him, because she’s/they’re the ones he’s trying to get back.

But he does seem to have the witch killer Tamaki on his side (who doesn’t want to be alone either), and could yet benefit from the powers of Nene and the other witches besides Urara and Rika. He’s down, but he’s not out.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 09

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What a tangled web Y7 weaves…and yet it all holds together marvelously. As thanks for helping to change her fiery future, Sarushima lets Yamada borrow her powers for their festival booth. Sarushima then asks Yamada to help her erase her power, stating she wants to fall in love and never will if she knows the future of everyone she kisses. As a practical matter, Sarushima has outgrown her power, so it’s not a bad thing for her to want to free it up for another girl.

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Unfortunately for Yamada, the “Witch Killer” whose services he seeks on Sarushima’s behalf is Tamaki Shinichi, a bit of an aloof trickster, who has already stolen the invisibility power of a witch, a power that will stay with him until he kisses another witch. Tamaki agrees to take Sarushima’s ability, but only if Yamada gives him valuable intel on whom Yamazaki will be choosing to succeed him as StuCo President.

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Yamada first asks Yamazaki upfront for this sensitive information, which Yamazaki predictably declines to surrender, so Yamada decides to try Odagiri’s power—given to him with her blessing, as she wants to help Sarushima too—to charm him. Only his lips can’t get anywhere near Yamazaki’s, because of his secretary and bodyguard Asuka Mikoto stops him with a furious, panstu-revealing kick.

They tie Yamada up, expecting to need torture to get his true intentions out of him, but Yamada is happy to just tell them: Tamaki wants the info. Ironically, Tamaki was atop Yamazaki’s list of successors, but is bumped down when Yamazaki learns of his scheming. We also learn Asuka was the sixth witch, who willingly had her invisibility power taken by Tamaki…though that doesn’t explain her amazing strength!

With the candidates neck-and-neck-and-neck, Yamazaki proposes that the one who discovers the identity of the seventh witch will win the presidency.

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There’s suddenly a lot of moving parts in Yamada’s plan to help Sarushima move on, but he never for a second considers backing out of helping her. In fact, he dutifully explains all these moving parts as the cause for the delay (everyone he needs wants something). Sarushima rewards him for his hard work with a kiss, forgetting that it means he’ll see her future.

It’s fun to wonder in the context of their kiss here, that if and when Sarushima does lose her power, whether she’d discover she was in love with Yamada after all.

Anyway, in that future, he sees that Sarushima has lost her powers (which is good), Tamaki has become president (which is fine), Shiraishi is Tamaki’s secretary.

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That last bit is concerning to Yamada, especially the way she walks away with Tamaki and looks back at him in the vision. It spurs Yamada to decide to change the future he sees, by helping Miyamura find the seventh instead of Tamaki.

At the bonfire where he and Miyamura keep their distance from their reveling friends and classmates, Yamada admits to him what we’ve known for some time, but he hasn’t been able to verbalize until now: he loves Shiraishi, and doesn’t want to lose her.

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Miyamura and Odagiri thus begin separately researching all the troublemakers in the school in their search for the seventh witch. Tamaki seems unmotivated to Odagiri, but by telling Miyamura this, and how it could be a two-horse race between them, Yamada figures out that Miyamura, Tsubaki, Itou and Shiraishi have been kissed by Tamaki, making him invisible to them, which he no doubt used to steal their research.

Rather than simply continue the race to find the seventh, Yamada, who is very much invested in Tamaki not winning, decides to use Shiraishi’s body-swapping ability to get back at him.

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That plan will be set into motion with him switching bodies with Shiraishi, but in the light of his realization of his love for her, Yamada finds it more difficult than ever to actually kiss her, worrying about all the variables they never bothered worrying about before. Shiraishi isn’t having it and kisses him.

This upsets him, and when Shiraishi asks why, he tells her: in that future, she wore a look he never wanted to see again; a look of isolation and loneliness; the antithesis to her warm bright smile at the bonfire, surrounded by friends. But Shiraishi responds to his concerns with her own resolution: to never go back to being that lonely person, before asking Yamada to change the future for her.

Perhaps, once he has, Shiraishi may not have further use for her power, nor Yamada for his, and these two can move forward, along with Asuka and Sarushima, to lives defined not by supernatural abilities, but confidence, devotion and love.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 08

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I’ve liked how deftly Y7 has kept things fresh by approaching each new witch intro from a different angle, which is also appropriate considering the unique problems that led to them getting their powers in the first place. Urara was and is Yamada’s primary love interest. Nene was an adversary, while Meiko and Maria needed his help.

With Takigawa Noa, we seem to be dealing with another adversary. Her powers are believed to be the opposite of Maria’s, meaning the Supe Club assumes Noa’s turned three formerly popular students into troublemakers through blackmail or manipulation. But nothing is ever as clear-cut as it seems on this show. In fact, Noa’s turns out to be the most emotionally complex witch cases yet.

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She’s also, at first, the toughest nut to crack. Yamada thinks at first he can put on the charm and get a kiss to make things easier, but to his shock, Noa is grossed out by him, having only teased him about liking him.

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With Yamada’s pride hurt, he tries again, but only gets a push broom to the face. When he reveals he’s in the Supe Club and knows she’s a witch, Noa pulls attitude 180, and is suddenly keen to kiss him. So keen, Yamada thinks something is fishy, and rebuffs her advances. Now she’s the one with the hurt pride.

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Using her knew knowledge of Yamada, she hits him where he lives, having her three troubled friends/minions brutally ransack the clubroom. I’m not sure how they weren’t simply suspended or expelled right then and there, but the adults are all but nonexistent in this school, so whatever.

Pissed off more than ever, Yamada confronts President Yamazaki for the truth about Noa, and he gets it: she wants to make witches out of her three friends, and eradicate all the others. That means Urara, Nene, Meiko and Maria are all in danger.

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Rather than panic, Yamada stages a trap for Noa’s crew, using a game, excited Urara as the bait. I appreciate her adventurous spirit throughout this mission, and the fact she trusts Yamada’s judgement more than anyone else. The female friend of Noa kisses Urara, and celebrates the fact she was able to switch bodies, so she can now pesumably do something to get Urara expelled and thus powers revoked.

Only Yamada kissed Urara before, so the girl only ends up switching with him, in Urara’s body. She and the other two are tied up and held captive in the club room while Yamada, still in the girl’s body, opens negotiations with Noa.

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Two others (not sure who) accompany Yamada in the bodies of Noa’s friends, but Noa knows who they are immediately. She offers the notebook, then both notebooks in exchange for her people, but Yamada wants more: for the witch-hunting activities to stop, a condition Noa flatly refuses.

The talks break down, and Tsubaki and Itou beat Yamada for failing again, but Yamada insists this is about more than getting the notebooks back: three students’ reputations are at stake, and Noa must be stopped. That’s when Noa’s friends agree to stop their activities of their own volition. They’d rather be together with Noa than for her to be alone.

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This awakens Yamada to a key point: Noa hasn’t been manipulating her friends. When he gives them back to her, he asks her if taking over the school with her power was really her goal, and castigates them for causing all those problems that caused them to lose the popularity they already had.

That’s when a frustrated Noa kisses Yamada, and he experiences her power firsthand: in a dream, he relives the most traumatic memory of her past, when her classmates locked her in a storage room for hours until she wet herself. Similarly, her three friends never did anything bad; they were framed.

Noa has wanted to save them for so long, and thought she could do so by getting them witch powers. But when Yamada stopped them, she remembered they were popular from the start, and only their association with her hurt them.

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Then the three friends come to Noa’s aid, fighting Yamada and insisting they won’t leave her side. But Yamada shoots back that it’s their wishy-washiness that’s causing Noa’s suffering. Yamada doesn’t have all the answers, but he thinks they should at least do whatever they can to make Noa smile.

At that, another switch seems to go of in Noa’s head, and when we next see her, she’s in the club clinging to Yamada, whom she claims to have fallen for completely. Urara, whom you’d think would be jealous about such a development, is actually happy, because Noa’s power is more about simply seeing someone’s darkest hour, it’s about both kisser and kissee opening their hearts to one another, eliminating artifice and pretense.

They haven’t known each other long, but Yamada and Noa experienced that, and now he knows she’s not just an annoying schemer, and he’s not just a nosy, gross upperclassman. Urara also remarks that the two aren’t all that dissimilar: Yamada’s power also ultimately brings him closer to each of the witches, since to know their powers is to know the problems that gave rise to them. He knew exactly what to do for Noa, and she appreciates it.

It was great watching the battle of wills between Noa and Yamada, as well as the breathless evolution of their relationship. Yuuki Aoi is a great addition to the already stacked cast. Two witches to go!

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