The Faraway Paladin – 07 – The Paladin’s First Pal

I don’t make much about it until Will mentions it, but his first night camping with Meneldor is his first such night with anyone who wasn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus. As ready as those three made him for the outside world, making connections with others would be all up to him. That said, it helps to have been raised pious, polite and amenable…it’s just that that personality initially comes off to Menel as a stuck-up, privileged rich kid.

If we’re honest, Will was a rich kid, just not monetarily. Add modesty to his virtues, as after absolutely mopping the floor with an entire ruins complex full of demons and lizardmen without breaking a sweat, he simply tells Menel he owes his ability to “having great teachers”. He does what he does so well because he was taught well.

While this episode brings Will and Menel closer together, Will’s placidness can quickly become dull in the absence of those three colorful teachers. After all, he was basically a sponge soaking up their training and life lessons. But that’s why I like the introduction of Marple, or at leas the ghost of Marple, whom the long-lived Menel met and befriended many years before when he was at one of his many nadirs.

I’d like to think Marple would have no trouble sharing some booze with Will’s parents, and if it seems that Menel hasn’t sufficiently matured for someone of his age with someone like Marple, we can chalk it up to Menel not bein explicitly raised at birth by someone of Marple’s caliber. Instead, she pulled him out of the mud and encouraged him to move forward.

Despite his many tsundere moments, by episode’s end all of Menel’s skepticism of Will has dissolved, replaced by ungrudging respect and even a bit of awe, as he decides to make Gracefeel his guardian spirit and asks Will to help him form a contract with Her. When the two go back to the village they saved to party, you can tell Menel is as happy to have befriended Will as Will is to be making his first. It is surely the first of many friends to come, as you can’t spell paladin without pal….I’ll show myself out.

The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

The Faraway Paladin – 04 – Divine Protection

Gus manages to fight off Stagnate, but it turns out Stagnate split himself in two. Stagnate’s second half arrives and puts Blood, Mary, and Gus out of commission, and gives Will an ultimatum: join him, or lose them all. He’s clearly the more charitable, patient half, because he gives Will 24 hours to decide. Will uses that time to sulk.

It’s at this point that the show reminds us that Will was, as he calls it, a useless garbage person in his past life, something he’s kept from his parents to this point. But when he wakes up and starts ranting about how useless and garbage-y he still is, Mary won’t hear it. She slaps him, tells him to stand up and get ahold of himself. Will may not have cried for his parents in his first life, but the fact he’s so shook up about his new parents proves he’s not the same person in this life.

Will turns Stagnate down, then has to fight a bunch of skeletons, which he does successfully, leading Stagnate to once again ask Will to join him. Will can tell Stagnate is genuine in his passion for and desire to create world without life or death, but simple everlasting…stagnation. The thing is, Will already had his fill of that in his past life, and is now in a position to reject it.

That’s because, even after Stagnate offers Will a cup of his blood, Will cuts of Stagnate’s hand holding the cup, and then the hand turns into a snake that injects Will with the blood like venom anyway, Will wakes up in the divine domain of Gracefeel, Goddess of the cycle of death and rebirth. A caring, benevolent God not unlike Mary in personality offers Will her divine protection.

All he has to do is what he wants to do anyway: move forward. Live. Not stagnate. When Will comes to, he’s able to use the Divine Torch, which spooks Stagnate into launching an emergency destruction spell. But Will realizes almost too late that Stagnate was using that as a smokescreen so he could get to his true target: Mary and Blood. Will Will make it in time to save his parents? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 45 – Demon Lords “R” Us

From the battles of Benimaru, Gobta, Gabiru, Geld, and the Beastketeers we rewind a bit back to Rimuru’s palace, where he sees Shuna off before heading through the ominous portal from which an extremely powerful demon maid named Misery emerges to escort him to Walpurgis. Before heading off, Veldora and Ramiris tell Rimuru the names of the other demon lords: the giant Dagruel, the vampire Roy Valentine (and his predecessor …Milis?), the demon Guy Crimson, and the lazy Dino.

As Rimuru, Shion, and Ranga walk through the portal to a very important and potentiall very perilous meeting, Shuna arrives at the outskirts of Clayman’s castle, flanked by Souei and Hakurou. They’re surrounded by a mist that dulls their magical senses, and before they know it they’re surrounded by an undead army led by Adalman, the Index of Clayman’s five fingers.

While Souei and Hakurou buy time by battling a zombie dragon and knight, respectively, Shuna uses an Alignment Field to cordon herself and Adalman off so they can have a nice little magic battle. It seems like it’s been ages since the good princess got something to do, but it was worth the wait, as she kicks some serious skeleton ass.

Mind you, Shuna doesn’t move around much, nor does she ever raise her voice. But that’s fine; the dignified, elegant princess isn’t one to scurry around or shout. She stands with absolute confidence in her power as she calmly counters his Acid Shell with her Flame Wall and his Curse Bind with her Holy Bell. That last one surprises Adalman, who didn’t know a monster could summon a Divine Miracle.

When she rewrites his suicidal Disintegration mega-spell with Overdrive and disperses most of the undead army, she also inadvertently lifts the binding curse Clayman cast Adalman and Co. in order to have their…er…undying loyalty. But now that he’s been soundly defeated by a worshipper revere-er of Great Rimuru, Adalman is all about meeting the Lord Slime, and happily offers to guide Shuna & Co. to Clayman’s castle.

As for Great Rimuru, he encounters Guy Crimson (who definitely has his game face on), Dagruel, Guy Valentine, Milis (possibly), and Frey for the first time, and has some harsh words for Leon regarding what he did to Shizu that results in Leon inviting Rimuru to his castle…assuming the slime survives Walpurgis.

That’s when the other new kid on the block Clayman arrives, with a very out-of-it-looking Milim in tow. Rimuru surely could tell something was very wrong when Milim didn’t immediately run to him and gather him into a warm embrace—they are BFFs, after all. But what really sets Rimuru off is when Clayman, clearly drunk on power, strikes Milim in the head. Everyone is shocked by Clayman’s conduct, but Rimuru is just mad, and promises Clayman’s death won’t be painless. Can’t wait to see it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 07 – We’ve Got a Live One

This week’s opening minutes are very familiar, because they unfold very similarly to the very first episode of ZLS, when a super-chipper Minamoto Sakura’s life was unfairly snatched away by a passing car.

In the case of Yuzuriha Maimai (Hanazawa Kana!), she trips and falls on the way to the bathhouse, smashing her glasses. Undeterred, she accidentally walks into the men’s bath, then slips on a bar of soap that happened to slip out of a bathing Koutarou’s hands.

Cue the death metal and multiple camera angles that, in its first ever episode, made clear that this wasn’t going to be quite like other idol series.

We quickly cut to the briefing basement, where Koutarou, Maimai’s wrapped corpse behind him, announces they have a new member! There’s no doubt that among the many thoughts going through the girls’ heads is Did Koutarou finally go too far and murder someone??

Fortunately, the “corpse” comes to—apparently, Maimai is too dumb to die (either that, or the blow to the back of her head wasn’t as bad as it looked). In any case, Maimai’s series of errors led to Koutarou panicking and not confirming she was actually dead before exposing the rest of Franchouchou to a living person.

Fortunately, Maimai is a good girl, and also a huge fan of Franchouchou and Number One in particular. She has no intention of telling anyone their secret, but since she’s there anyway, she asks if she could join the group anyway! Koutarou, thanking his lucky stars he didn’t accidentally kidnap someone brighter, agrees, and Maimai is christened Number Seven.

While Maimai knows all the words to their songs and all the moves to their dances, her brain and body rarely operate in concert. As a result, her training does not go smoothly at first, but Ai, consummate professional that she is, never loses her patience, and Maimai eventually starts to improve.

When her school’s cultural festival committee is deadlocked on what the big act should be, she says she can get the Franchouchou. The girls are excited to perform there, particularly since they either didn’t spend much time in high school or, in Lily’s case, never made it there. It’s also slightly implied that Koutarou seduces the principal to get approval.

The girls stop by for a pre-festival tour of the festival, and when Maimai tells Sakura how she thought Saga was “done for” until she heard Franchouchou, Sakura can’t help but remember how negative her outlook was until she first heard Ai and Iron Frill. Maimai is shocked to learn of the group’s intention to have a “revenge” show at EFS, but Sakura tells her that’s what Franchouchou is: they never give up.

The big day arrives, and wouldn’t you know it, Maimai doesn’t screw up once! Instead, she totally surprises her friends and classmates by appearing on stage and performing with Franchouchou, announcing after their first song that she’s the newest member…only to then immediately announce she’ll be “graduating” from the group as soon as she leaves the stage.

Her reasoning is solid: while she initially thought she was “one of” them, and they welcomed her with open, caring, and encouraging arms, the bottom line is that other seven have no choice but to do what they do, because they’re zombies. Maimai reckons she needs to live out her life in Saga first in this new Reiwa era, inspired by their dedication to continue rising up and living life to the fullest despite being dead.

After giving a giddy Saki a parting gift of a 20th-anniversary color Tamagotchi, Maimai parts ways with Franchouchou. Part of me is sad Hana-Kana’s time with the group was so brief, but I absolutely understand, respect, and even admire Maimai’s choice.

And while she’ll absolutely never spill the beans about Franchouchou’s true undead nature, reporter Ookuba Shinta has now matched all seven members except Yuugiri to their living counterparts.

Whether he’ll put this scoop on the front page immediately, or go to Franchouchou first for further explanation, I don’t know the guy well enough to say for sure. All I know is, the preview for next week confirms that Yuugiri, the only member on which he has no info, will finally get her own focus episode, which looks to be a period piece. It’s about time!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of this episode here!

Mars Red – 02 – Sin From Thy Lips

In the ruins of the bunker where Misaki was being held, Moriyama informs his newly-promoted boss Col. Maeda that there have been more vamp sightings in Kayabacho. Nitto News reporter Shirase Aoi is after the truth of the recent spate of “human combustion” incidents and keen for details on Misaki’s “elopement”, while yearning for her childhood friend, who never returned from battle in Siberia. She’s also miffed that Salomé has been replaced by Romeo & Juliet at the theatre.

We meet the vampiric members of Maeda’s vampire unit Code Zero—the “unranked” Yamagami, “A Class” Kurusu Shuutarou, and “mad scientist”-type Takeuchi—as well as Suwa, who seems to be human. Their first trip for intel on the vamps in Kayabacho is Tenmanya, a shop full of knicknacks, antiques, and curios. Its proprietor plays both sides of the human-vampire conflict.

Tenmanya is willing to offer some info in exchange for ruining his competition. Those rival “blood sellers” are selling a bootleg of his “product”—the vamp equivalent of the hard shit—and a vampire couple are enjoying it and themselves, though the woman seems to think her mate is drinking a bit too much.

While playing a bouquet of asters at the stigmata where Misaki burned up, Maeda encounters Aoi, and learns that one of his vampire agents, Kurusu Shuutarou, is her childhood friend reported dead. He doesn’t tell her of Shuutarou’s fate, nor why he’s leaving flowers, other than he “couldn’t keep his word.”

At midnight, all bridges and streets leading out of Kayabacho are sealed and Code Zero moves in on the vampire couple, who sense danger and aren’t prepared to go quietly. I love how simple yet frightening vampires are depicted in Mars Red, and once again the lighting and camerawork really sell their speed and ferocity that far exceeds human limits.

Unfortunately for our couple, they are cornered on a bridge, and Maeda has brought plenty of his own vampires to take them down. The male vamp chugs one more vial of the black blood and goes out in a blaze of glory, but it’s Suwa and not the Class A Kurusu who delivers the killing blow. Despite being an extremely powerful vampire, Kurusu is disgusted and even a bit scared of blood.

The “parent root” female vamp tries to flee, but she’s headed off by Maeda, who rather violently stuffs his fist through her mouth then slashes her with his sword. How he, a mere human, can do this is not clear. Is he not a mere human? Unfortunately Maeda’s aide Moriyama has to be put out of his misery. Maeda handles it, then has a solemn smoke on the bridge.

Like Tenmanya, Mars Red has the eclectic style and pleasantly musty scent of a shop with odd hours filled with neat things. I also like the connection between Aoi and Kurusu, though I wish after two episodes I could summon more than a shrug about Colonel Maeda, who’s almost too stiff and stoic for his own good.

Assassins Pride – 11 – A Vast and Insidious Conspiracy

From the moment Mule and Salacha arrive, Melida and Elise are at Mule’s mercy. Her family administrates the library, and she knows what all the books do, from dressing them in fairy tale cosplay to showing them the way through the labyrinth. The whole time, we know Melida and Elise’s “new friends” are up to something.

What we don’t know is why, aside from loyalty to their respective houses. What those houses are conspiring to do to Melida is evil, and all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing. So…who are Mule and Salacha, really?

When the quartet completes a trial, which consists of defeating low-level imps and organizing books, four new books bearing their names materialize on a shelf. This is when Salacha decides: forget her bro’s orders, she’s Melida’s friend, and she owes her at least the warning that all of this is a trap, and help her chase down Mule, who’s taken her book.

Meanwhile, the Headmistress and the upperclassmen (of whom apparently only Shenfa can actually fight) are attacked by a Guild Grimface necromancer, but are bailed out by Kufa, who in turn is bailed out by Williams Gin when the necromancer transforms into Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin.

Grimface has apparently come to eliminate any and all witnesses to the screwing over of Melida, but Kufa made sure some students, led by Rosetti and Naqua, stayed on the surface to repel the guild’s raid. Thanks to Salacha, Melida at least knows that even two of her friends are working against her on behalf of their blood purity-obsessed families.

But what does Mule mean when she says she’s doing this because she “likes” Melida? Is she really doing her father’s bidding, or does she have a third, distinct agenda all her own? Was she just putting on an act in last week’s secret meeting? The final episode (at least of this season) has a lot of questions to answer.

Assassins Pride – 10 – No Point Imagining Bad Scenarios

No sooner than Melida returns to Flandore, she’s encouraged to enter the Vibria Goat Librarian Certification Exam, which in addition to being a damn mouthful, involves exploring Flandore’s sprawling central labyrinth library. Melida and Elise are eligible owing to their status as Luna Cadets, but the headmistress just wants them to stay on the safest level and get the feel of the place for a future exam.

Meanwhile, a widespread conspiracy is in motion against the Angel family, whose political rivals are annoyed that a girl of dubious parentage continues to rise. The movement is led by Salacha’s older brother, and she and Mule flank him as he discusses how they’ll take the Angels down. Mule even offers a magical book to aid them, which begs the question: whose side are these girls on? Salacha’s hesitation over harming Melida seems to suggest the answer isn’t so simple.

Salacha’s brother’s first move is to send in a goofy joker-masked man into Melida’s school to loudly and publicly declare he, not Lord Angel, is her real father. While examining her mana, Kufa reminds Melida that he warned her this kind of thing would happen when she started to gain renown, and to simply keep facing forward and doing her best.

Despite the headmistress’ meager expectations, Kufa thinks Melida should try to win the Certification Exam, in order to silence further doubters of her potential and prove that even if she is technically a bastard, she has what it takes to serve Flandore with distinction. So of course, things don’t go as planned when the Exam begins, with the lift being interrupted and a strange tentacle monster snatching up only Melida and Elise.

As the two girls battle high-level undead—apparently the ghosts of past librarians, very Ghostbusters—in the sprawling library, Lord Angel himself visits her school, and is received by Kufa and Rosetti. After the incident with the impostor claiming to be her father, the Lord’s fears about Melida’s fast rise causing trouble for the family has led him to decide to pull her out of school—away from both Kufa and Elise.

Kufa protests, and the Lord can tell he has reason to, but the dispute is interrupted by a message from Guild Grimface, indicating that Melida and Elise are in grave danger. Back in the library labyrinth, just two undead enemies cause severe wear to the girls’ swords, making it unlikely they’ll last if more than two were to appear. Naturally, ten ghosts appear, surrounding them, which is when Salacha and Mule drop in and eliminate them.

Is Salacha here to carry out her brother’s wishes and those of the families who have allied against the Angels? Is Mule seriously going to take steps to expose Melida’s “blunders”? Or are they there as they were at the slumber party: fast friends who want to protect and aid them?

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 06 – Though Our Battlefields Differ

Other episodes of F/GO have presented bigger earth-(and history)-shattering events, but this was the first one I felt best brought all of the series’ myriad elements together. All the adventure, history, action, comedy, and romance levels were set just right so that they complemented each other rather then got in each others’ way.

This was also the episode in which I most felt the humanity of the characters. It’s apropos the cold open should feature the origin of the current Ishtar. It also had the most one-on-one interaction between Ritsuka and Ushiwakamaru. She’d always seemed drawn to him, and I should have known it was because they’re both Japanese.

Among the many servants with whom he interacts, Ushiwakamaru is the only one Ritsuka sang songs of as a kid, something that both astounds and flatters her. He was a real person, after all, and his story is an amazing one. One of the low-key great things about Fate is that it nudges you to learn more about these historical and legendary figures.

As such, wonderful to see these two countrymen assert their bond of friendship as people, not any Master-Servant contract. Ushiwakamaru also sports one of the more awesome costumes in a show positively bursting with them. Like this episode, it’s a satisfying balance of elements—a little cute, a little sexy, all bad-ass. Not to mention Hayami Saori is perfectly cast as Ushi’s voice—warm, caring, and determined.

Another thing I’m enjoying about F/GO is that while there is a larger overarching story arc, it doesn’t get in the way of smaller, more self-contained episodic stories. Last week felt like a road trip with Gilgamesh; this felt more like a good old-fashioned fantasy quest. Their mission couldn’t be simpler: go to the city of Kutha and recover the Tablet of Destinies.

(In a well-placed moment of comedy, Ritsuka asks why Gilgamesh doesn’t remember what he himself wrote on said tablet; Gilgamesh response is Pure Gilgamesh: “Why do I have to retain in my memory a clairvoyant premonition I wrote in a dream?” #DemigodProblems)

Sadly Ushiwakamaru can’t join them, but the party of Ritsuka, Mash, Merlin and Ana is more than adequate. On the way to the city, whose entire population seemingly died peacefully in their sleep, the party encounters the collateral damage caused by Ishtar’s Cautious Hero-style demonic beast extermination, and she’s been making off with the gems of those she “saved.”

The night before they enter the city, Ritsuka has a nice chat with Merlin about how even though he’s just an ordinary human, he has to do what he can to the best of his ability, which means a strict workout routine to stay in shape. From her tent, Mash seems disappointed Ritsuka thinks she only chose him because he was virtually “the last man on earth.”

Once in Kutha, the party splits up to look for the tablet…simple enough, though Mash was weary of Ritsuka going off with only Fou for protection. Turns out her intuition was correct: Ritsuka suddenly strays into the Underworld, which in this age is a very real place people stray into all the time (and in Gilgamesh’s case, even went on a quest there).

The hostile undead who surround Ritsuka are eventually dismissed by a man Ritsuka seems to recognized named Ziusu-dra, who castigates Rituska for entering the Underworld while still alive; a big no-no. Still, he sees Ritsuka is a nice guy and so lets him off this time, sending him back to Kutha.

He awakes to find Mash shedding tears of joy and relief after she shed tears of panic and worry for his safety; going back to what he said to Merlin last night, Ritsuka may well not quite grasp just how much Mash cares for him, and is not merely resigned to serving him. And what do you know, the Tablet of Destinies is in his hands. Looks like he was meant to stray into the Underworld, if only briefly.

Of course, the mission was never going to be quite that simple: Ishtar suddenly arrives like a fighter jet; Chaldea only warns the party four seconds before she attacks. She’s there to “save” them just like she saved the ranchers whose lands she ravaged and pockets she picked, and intends to collect payment in the form of the tablet.

Ritsuka’s not about to fail Gilgamesh, so they must fight. And what a fight. From Ishtar’s concussive kicks to Mash’s shield and her graceful gliding through the sky, to Ana’s decisive chain-assisted counterattack, we’re treated to a beautiful, deadly dance. My only complaint is that it’s over too fast, but I’m also glad it didn’t go on too long.

Going back to the cold open, we learn Ishtar was summoned using ahuman girl as a vessel. Despite nearly all Mesopotamian gods being blonde as a rule, Ishtar retained her vessel’s black hair, since the human girl’s will merged with Ishtar. That goes a ways towards explaining her peculiar behavior that both saves and hurts humans.

It may also explain why she’s willing to cooperate when she wakes up finding herself tied up, surrounded by Ritsuka’s party demanding answers. She explains that the other two goddesses were drawn there by Gilgamesh’s Holy Grail. The three of them decided to enter a competition whereby the first to defeat Gilgamesh and claim the Grail shall rule his lands. They also entered a three-way non-aggression pact, so Ishtar won’t go so far as to tell Ritsuka the true names of the others.

The party fails to connect the ease with which Ritsuka entered the Underworld to Kutha’s status as a place where undead congregate and dwell…until they’re surrounded by massive horde of skeletons. With the tablet in hand they make a run for it, but not before Ritsuka frees Ishtar from her binds. Having been treated so kindly despite her hostility (and perhaps motivated by her human half), Ishtar returns the favor by obliterating all of the skeletons with a single all-out arrow burst, sparing the party a tough battle.

When Ritsuka earnestly thanks her before turning back to Uruk, the blonde goddess half of Ishtar wonders if perhaps he’s “a sacrifice too good for the other goddesses.” I enjoyed the ambiguity of that line, just I enjoyed the entirety of this splendidly balanced episode.

KonoSuba 2 – 03

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KonoSuba calls back to its first season more this week, but for some reason it didn’t bother me as much, probably because it’s always a hoot to watch Kazuma and Megumin explosion training montages, and even more of a hoot to have Kazuma and Aqua tackle a dungeon, with no one but each other to bounce off of.

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The episode also doesn’t hesitate to remind us that Kazuma is a bit of a cad and a perv, considering the “rustling” going on when he and Aqua used to sleep in the stables. But with Darkness away (having seemingly but probably not unspeakable things done to her) and Megumin sitting out the dungeon (an accidental explosion could kill them all), the balance of the episode has a fleet, stripped-down feeling to it.

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Also, it manages to surprise by making this one of the times when Aqua is not only the most capable party member, but absolutely essential to clearing the dungeon. Whether undead are naturally drawn to her or not, one can’t deny she’s good at dispatching them, and with style to boot. I loved how a string of anti-undead spells were suddenly interrupted by an exuberant “Nature’s Beauty!” for good measure.

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Once they reach Keele, the former court wizard who has a whole story and after whom the dungeon is named, there’s a bittersweetness to the fact he became a lich to protect his love, and thanks to Aqua, can return to her through purification.

Kazuma is pleasantly surprised throughout the dungeon trek with Aqua’s staggering awesomeness, right up until he realizes the reason they’ve been chased around by undead all this time was because of her.

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Still, I maintain it was a good thing Aqua accompanied Kazuma. They got a bunch of loot, and Kazuma was reminded that Aqua isn’t always useless, and sometimes he is. Unfortunately, none of the gold they make goes towards their towering debts, because they instead end up buying the house however many rounds it takes to send Aqua into the alley to vomit the gold away.

As is so often the case, Kazuma & Co. can’t help but take two steps back for every step forward, at least as far as money goes. But that was still a damned entertaining dungeon trip.

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KonoSuba – 08

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Winter isn’t Coming, it’s already here, and Kauzma and Aqua are finding it impossible to continue living in a freezing cold stables. One wonders where Megumin and Darkness are living. Anyway, Kazuma decides the best way to make enough money to pay for warmer digs is to gain a new skill.

The person he asks for that new skill is a friendly lich named Wiz. Her introduction is initially a bit confusing, becaue Kazuma and Aqua seem to know her well, yet couldn’t recall who the heck she was. Turns out she’d never been introduced until now. Furthermore, they learn for the first time that she’s actually one of the eight generals of the Devil King’s army.

As such, she was a contemporary of the late Verdia, though quite amusingly she’s not choked up about his demise, considering he often tossed his head by her feet so he could look up her skirt. The Devil King needs a better HR person, ’cause that shit can get you sued. Also, due to her undead nature, Aqua constantly wants to eliminate her.

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Kazuma doesn’t let her, and gains a skill from Wiz that drains an opponent of magic and health. Then a happy coincidence occurs, as someone comes in Wiz’s shop needing a big haunted mansion exorcised. Kazuma and Aqua take the job, and Megumin and Darkness join them at the impressive and comfy-looking new place.

Of course, I assumed Kazuma and Aqua would end up right back in those freezing stables, huddling for warmth without regard for propriety. Because since when is a seemingly awesome mansion not have some huge problem with it that renders it utterly unlivable?

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Sure enough, even though Aqua seemingly does some exorcism work on the place, Kazuma is visited in the night by not one or two but hundreds of that good old cliche, creepy laughing dolls. He eventually finds Megumin in Aqua’s room, wanting to go to the bathroom with her.

Kazuma also has to go really bad, so the two have to deal with constantly being surrounded by creepy dolls and having to hold it in to the point of agony. Megumin even leaves her pants and pantsu behind in the ongoing chase.

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The cliched creepy dolls (and ludicrous number of owls!), along with the much more mundane need to pee really bad, made for a reasonably chuckleworthy combination of problems.

Though it’s all resolved pretty easily in the end, Kazuma forces Aqua to give back their “special reward” for eliminating all the new spirits that had taken up residence in the mansion, after he realizes it was her own magical barrier that kept the spirits from going where they wanted – the graveyard where they met Wiz.

All’s well that ends well, though, as the party finally has a respectable place to live, and Kazuma is a little closer to achieving the ideal “down-to-earth lifestyle” he desired. Adventuring will surely be more rewarding now that he’s not risking hypothermia every night!

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