Cautious Hero – 12 (Fin) – Who Cautions the Cautious?

Determined not to let him die alone, Rista opens a gate in the final area of the Demon Lord’s palace. It’s against Divine regulations, but she doesn’t have time to trudge through a dungeon. When she, Mash, and Eruru arrive, Seiya is already trapping the Demon Lord in the Gate of Valhalla.

The only problem is, time and time again the gate fails to close. The episode plays with our emotions as just when we think everything is over (Rista and Seiya even return to their antagonistic repartee), a more monstrous version of the Demon Lord spills out and fights on.

Rista manages to unlock all of her divine healing power—another instance of breaking the rules—but suceeds in fully healing Seiya, only for the Demon Lord to burst out of the gate once more. Seiya is prepared right to the end, summoning a second, bigger Gate of Valhalla to swallow both the Demon Lord and the smaller Gate.

The gambit succeeds, but this Gate can talk (and laugh), and insists upon collecting its payment immediately: Seiya’s life. Rista’s healing can only slow down his deterioration, until all she can do is let herself be drawn into Seiya’s resigned arms and say goodbye. Before he disincorporates, Seiya recognizes Rista for who she once was—Tiana—and his last expression is a smile of relief he was able to save her this time.

Rista leaves the knighted Mash and Eruru under Queen Roselie’s care and returns to the Divine Realm. She’s momentarily haunted by a ghost of Seiya—a low blow for the show, to be sure!—but more than anything you truly feel his absence and a sense of emptiness and emanating from Rista and her house.

The other gods and goddesses try to cheer her up in their own goofy ways, but they can’t change the fact that in saving the S-Class world Gaeabrande, she lost her hero, someone whom she loved implicitly. Aria also has the unhappy duty of bringing Rista before Ishtar, who announces her punishment for violating regulations.

At first, the punishment seems almost too cruel: she must liberate the SS-Class world Ixphoria, the world where her human self died, and where the Demon Lord took over and transformed into a Demonic Realm. Furthermore, her healing powers will be locked away, preventing her from offering any support for her hero. If she fails, she’ll be stripped of her godhood forever.

Just when we (and Aria for that matter) think Ishtar is needlessly piling on poor Rista, Ishtar reports that Seiya’s Double Gate of Valhalla ended up swallowing not only the Demon Lord, but the Chain Destruction effect that would have prevented him from returning to his own world upon dying. She then hands Rista a letter with the name and stats of her new hero.

She’ll be reunited with Ryuuguuin Seiya, albeit with a thousandth of the power he once had. She’ll have to somehow support him without the use of her divine powers, and he’ll more than likely have no memory of his previous lives with her. He’ll also be just a ridiculously cautious.

Cautious Hero took a very bold turn towards the serious and dramatic in its final two episodes, but it was an incredibly effective turn that felt both earned and necessary. All of the previous clashing of hero and goddess was suddenly placed in proper context, while the emotional stakes shot through the roof.

I was glad for a happy compromise of ending. Ristarte and Seiya will be reunited, but face a far greater challenge than Gaeabrande. If a second season is produced, I’d definitely want to see how they manage, and who will help them.

Cautious Hero – 11 – Seiya the Unready

This episode comes a long way from its comedic beginning, in which Rista leads Eruru and Mash on a shopping trip, she ends up sniping with a clothier about topless and bottomless swimsuits, then gets the idea to arrange an evening that will end with scoring with Seiya.

Things take a distinct turn when, upon returning to the palace at sundown, Seiya is nowhere to be found. No matter what reasons the three can come up with for his absence, and no longer how long they wait, Seiya…just doesn’t show up.

On the verge of panic, Rista visits Ishtar for guidance, where a tearful Ariadoa leads her, Eruru and Mash to a realm where time stands still. There, Ishtar informs them that Seiya has already headed to the Demon Lord to defeat him himself.

The reason Seiya has been so cold and distant to the three of them is that he actually cares for their well-being to the point he doesn’t want to put them in harm’s way. Since the Demon Lord now has a weapon that can destroy Rista’s soul, Seiya felt it best to keep her away from the battle.

Rista also wasn’t aware due to his Fake Out skill, but Seiya has been totally maxed out since the fight with the Dragons, and has been adding skills like Valkyrie’s Gate of Valhalla to make up for his stagnation (it wasn’t sex after all).

There’s more: Aria is in tears because in a different world 100 years ago, Seiya was the Hero she summoned, and he was far less cautious, adopting the catchphrase “Gonna be okay. Something will work out.” The healer of their party was Tiana, a princess from that world…who happens to have the same eyes, face, and voice as Ristarte.

Things wouldn’t work out for Seiya back then, as his party members were eaten one by one by the Demon Lord, whom he’d insufficiently researched. Tiana meets a particularly grisly doom, as it’s revealed she was with child when the Demon Lord ate her.

Finally, Rista learns that she was Tiana, before she was reborn as a goddess. Neither she nor Seiya retained memories of knowing or fighting each other, but fate brought them back together, and Seiya, knowing he was summoned before and failed, became far more cautious, and hence unwilling to let anyone else die this time around.

It’s a lot for Rista to take in, and Toyosaki Aki does as good a job as she can reacting to it all, but this was an awful lot of exposition, rather inelegantly presented in one big plot-bomb. Regardless, the shift from goofy comedy to serious drama was surprisingly effective, and all the information we learned really does enrich what had initially seemed to be more of a skin deep relationship between Rista and Seiya.

Their history, even if there was no overt memory of it, explains not only why Rista and Seiya are a pair again, but why she’s so devoted, attracted, and at times obsessed with him. One could almost call them soul mates. The issue is, she now knows the truth of their past and he doesn’t, and his overarching mission to defeat the Demon Lord and save Gaeabrande overrides all other considerations.

Of course, Rista isn’t going to let Seiya have his way. She insists on joining up with him, and damn the consequences. Ishtar opens a portal for her, and Eruru and Mash announce they’re coming with her out of solidarity—Seiya saved them, after all. Hopefully, things are gonna be okay, and something will work out.

Cautious Hero – 10 – The “Perhaps” Monster

Rosie chalks her dad Warmaster Wohlks’ post-battle transformation to an infant as a curse of the Demon Lord, but he’ll recover in a couple hours. In the meantime, Rista, Eruru and Mash are eager to explore the town, drink, play casino games and shop, but Seiya forbids all forms of fun and entertainment. After all, the war isn’t over.

His overcautiousness comes in handy when Rista is tricked into being separated from the rest of the party by Wohlks, who it turns out is now a worshipper of the Demon Lord, having concluded defeating him isn’t possible. He also possesses a goddess and hero-killing “God Eater” sword that he immediately uses on Rista, only to be interrupted by Seiya, who decided to double-check on her out of an abundance of…you know.

A smouldering battle ensues within the cathedral, with Wohlks swallowing a Demon Spirit Orb to transform into a young Demonkin warrior, and for the first time Seiya actualy meets his match. When the God Eater shears off one of Seiya’s arms, things look bleak, but it was all part of Seiya’s plan. Due to his mastery of Valkyrie’s special skills, Wohlks also loses his arm as a result of taking Seiya’s, giving the Hero the opening he needs to dispatch him.

After falling, Wohlks transforms back to an old man, but with the mind of a child. Roselie turns away, not considering the traitor her father anymore. Seiya, demonstrating uncharacteristic emotional intelligence (though of course executing it in the worst way, by slapping the shit out of her face again), urges Roselie to say goodbye to her father before he passes away or she’ll regret it forever. She does, and gets one last wonderful head pat, and then ascends to the throne.

While Seiya recovers over three days, Rista encourages Eruru and Mash to have fun in town while they still can…only Seiya wakes up in the middle. Yet, surprisingly, instead of pooh-poohing Rista’s suggestion, he seconds it, saying two or three days of R & R won’t hurt. After that, it’s on to the toughest opponent yet, the Demon Lord himself. In what new ways will Seiya prepare himself for the final boss?

Cautious Hero – 09 – Riding the Valkyrie

Kilkapul sacrifices himself and his family in order to summon the “hyper-conceptual reaper” Thanatus, who merely splits into two copies when sliced in half and even manages to lightly bruise Seiya. Even when they retreat to the Divine Realm, the reaper follows them, and makes quick work of every god and goddess that tries to bring him down. Meanwhile, Seiya’s party just runs.

Seiya may not know how to beat Thanatus, but he has a pretty good idea who could beat him: Valkyrie. He knows she’s painting, and and sets things up so an attack by Thanatus destroys her almost-finished canvas, enraging her into fighting. She ultimately defeats Thanatus by using “Gate of Valhalla,” a godly technique she believes no human could achieve. But Seiya wants to train with her and prove her wrong.

When Rista checks in on the two, they appear to be banging in Valkyrie’s bed, but Seiya insists it’s “just training,” I’m a little skeptical, as Rista is, but she’s gotten so obsessive about her love-hate relationship with the lout that she’s taken to making dolls out of her own hair—and developing ever more manic faces. She’s also developing a self-defeating neurosis about her body odor, leading to compulsive bathing till her skin is raw.

Ishtar informs them the fourth Heavenly King and his army are advancing on the Roseguard capital, so Seiya & Co. head back to Gaeabrande. But the boss is dealt with not by Seiya, but by the “Warmaster”, an elderly but extremely powerful knight who dispatches the HK with one shot and the army with another. The catch is, after his immense attacks he reverts to infancy, leading to the strangest Ristaface to date.

Val x Love – 07 – The Doc Is Not In

In what has to be one of the strangest conceits of the show thus far, Ninth Daughter Kururi demonstrates her powers of invention by building a kind of “auto-doctor” suit for Takuma. It’s a very thin and random excuse for him to examine most of the sisters’ bodies in various ways.

Aside from a few bizarre moments, it’s not that amusing. It also repeats a number of character beats without adding anything new, and it’s all very lazily-animated.

The second half is focused on Third Daughter Misa, who has to demonstrate to Itsuya what a Midgard date is like. This takes the form of her being alone in a room with Takuma as he folds laundry and she sews a giant stuffed doll for Natsuki in a loose-fitting sweater, leading to various compromising ecchi situations.

Again, nothing much of note here. Things happen to Takuma, he gets embarrassed or nervous or afraid, and the girls berate, praise and titillate him in more or less equal measure. It all happens within the confines of Takuma’s dark, drab house. It was as if, after the battles of last week, the show decided to take a nap under the kotatsu.

Val x Love – 06 – Victory by Sustained Frenching

Two Minutes into their fight, Futaba thinks she’s won, but Garm’s slashes carry parasitic blades. Takuma is sliced in half, but is immediately put back together by Mistilteinn, summoned from within him due to his growing will to fight. As Futaba keeps Garm busy, he bulldozes through akuma to reach Natsuki.

Once reunited, the only way to defeat the huge boss Svadilfari is to level-up through a five-minute French-kissing session without wearing “a stitch of clothes.” Takuma and Natsuki handle this about as calmly tastefully as they can, but they first have to wipe each other down, and that Natsuki is already exhausted. Much in the way he summoned the tree to save him, Takuma summons a book that warms Natsuki up and recharges her energy.

They continue going at it, and by the time the other sisters are about to get gobbled up by the boss, Natsuki rescues them and uses “Rune” to reinforce her sword, producing a single strike so devastating Svadilfari can’t devour it, leading to its destruction. The battle is over, and Garm is reprimanded by his superior, who takes the form of a grim-looking little boy.

The beauty pageant follows the sisters’ victory. Mutsumi wins, and as per the triplets’ earlier agreement, the winner gets to dance with Takuma. Even so Mutsumi lets Natsuki take her place, considering she wanted to to begin with. Takuma apologizes to Natsuki for turning her down so brusquely,and agrees to dance around other people. Takuma gradually showed more and more spine this week, which is encouraging, while he and Natsuki are growing more comfortable with the roles Odin bestowed upon them.

Cautious Hero – 05 – Heaven Hath No Fury Like a Goddess Scorned

With Mash all healed up and Seiya agreeing to let him and Eruru carry his stuff, Rista deems it time to head to the Dragon’s Den to recover a powerful new weapon. Seiya insists on making a stop to the Divine Realm first so that his new assistants can train a bit. After the torture of Seiya, Cerecus is happy to have a normal student in Mash, though Eruru doesn’ t make any progress with the fire goddess Hestiaca.

As for Seiya himself, he almost starts a fight he might not be able to win with goddess of destruction Valkyrie; thankfully Aria is there to calm the “exhibitionist” down. Instead, she introduces Seiya to the war goddess Adenela, whose disheveled appearance gets more and more girly as she falls deeper into love with him, only to be callously rejected, sending her into a fit of rage. Thus, Seiya has now proven a “goddess-killer” in two very distinct ways.

Seiya says sayonara to the Divine Realm, and the party begins their first real quest together, to the Dragon’s Den. Rista learns the hard way that he won’t let her peek at his true levels (the fake-out “1’s” even turn and poke her in the eye!). Mash and Eruru may be useful insofar as they can sense when they’re getting closer due to their dragon blood, but Seiya doesn’t let them actually fight any monsters on the way.

Instead, he simply relies on his “Automatic Phoenix” to instantly destroy any monsters under Level 30 within a certain radius. Mash can’t get close to any monsters, and the Phoenix even rudely knocks down one of Eruru’s fire arrows! Just when the two dragonkin think they can be of help by opening the gate to the den, Seiya simply smashes through it with his sword.

Inside they find a magical circle, and after Seiya tests it on a lizard (bemusing the people on the other side), the party uses it to transport to the remote Dragon Village. There they meet the…ahem, Mother of Dragons Leviae, who shows Mash how to turn into a dragon to boost his levels.

When Eruru asks if she can do the same, Leviae casually tells her that won’t be necessary, because she has a different role: that of Igzasion, the mightiest of weapons. That, of course, means sacrificing her life, something clearly Eruru doesn’t want. As for Seiya, his stone face doesn’t give away much, but could it be he wouldn’t be particularly enthused about Eruru dying?

Val x Love – 05 – No Obedient Banquet

All nine Valkyrie sisters attend the campus festival despite knowing the chance of an attack there is high, because they have the opportunity to all level up at once. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Takuma is his usual insufferable scaredy-cat self, but that doesn’t stop him from ending up spilling viscous white liquid all over Yakumo or having to fish an eel out of Misa’s clothes—pretty standard lucky lecher stuff.

When the enemy (whom they don’t know is Garm) strikes, he robs the women of their source of power, the Einherjar by impaling him through the stomach and locking him in the bounded cube, while all the other festival attendees are converted to akuma minions that keep the sisters plenty busy. First sister Ichika and Natsuki protect the entrance, while inside Garm toys with Takuma, counting on him to do nothing and die as he enjoys a McDonalds banquet.

Things start to get dire as Itsuya and Mutsumi end up overwhelmed by akuma army and their various appendages, providing more ecchi content. But it’s Natsuki’s earnest belief that Takuma will indeed stand and fight when the time comes (because he’s done so and saved her many times before) that holds more power than all the T, A, and ahegao. Upon standing, Takuma is swiftly taken down by Garm, but Second sister Futaba finally locates them. He held out just long enough; now a Valkyrie has access to the Einherjar, and the tables can be turned.

Val x Love – 04 – He’s “It” (Unfortunately)

Val x Love loses the nice rhythm it had developed in which a different sister’s power was awakened to eliminate a demonic threat. Instead, it felt like nothing of consequence happened. The second daughter Futaba indeed reveals her “Castle” power, but it doesn’t quite fit in a game of tag where she’s the one who is it and thus on the offensive.

While the game of tag is meant to “refresh” Takuma after some stressful exams, thinking he’d be okay with them running around the house destroying stuff as she steals her sisters’ underwear makes Futaba look pretty dumb. The game is a transparent vehicle for incidents of accidental groping.

VxL digs deep into the cliche toy box for the second half, which has no connection to the first, combining a school festival, maid outfits, and jealousy of Takuma’s male classmates for his proximity to Natsuki. Garm ends up using this as an opportunity to transform the classmates into akuma to test a Valkyrie’s strength in human form.

He determines that Natsuki isn’t much of a match even for low-level demons, but that Takuma will spring to the rescue. And there’s the main issue with this episode. Aside from rescuing Natsuki and later telling her he thinks she’s cute, his general denseness, near-constant terrified state and dopey stammering is really starting to get old.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.