Chihayafuru 3 – 14 – Beware the Dried Persimmon

Last week Harada Hideo looked like he was doing absolutely all he physically could to maintain a six-card deficit with Arata, and then his knee seemingly gives way. The surging, crackling pain is ably expressed by a nest of rough crayon scrawls. But this could be his last chance at claiming the title of Master, so he plays through it and ups the aggression of his moves.

In doing so, his hands move before the rest of his body, resulting in Harada taking a nasty spill more than once that unsettles the entire game. As expected, Arata isn’t able to resist being the good guy that he is and help Harada pick up his cards, and he doesn’t call out Harada when he faults.

He also reverts to following the edicts of his grandfather in seeking balance on his right side. That ends up being such a critical error that it couldn’t even be said Arata lost the match playing as himself; he lost it too closely emulating his gramps…and by being too nice to an his mentor.

Still, it’s those kinds of things that separate the young from the old in a game like this. It was certainly touch-and-go with a couple of questionable calls and lucky breaks, but Harada Hideo beat Arata fair and square. Frankly, he needed the win more than Arata, who is, after all, only 17 for cryin’ out loud.

Unlike Arata, Harada wasn’t related to an Eternal Master. He was also dealt a serious blow to his career when his medical duties sent him to regions of Japan where Karuta simply wasn’t popular. Harada waited decades for the right time—and the right reader—to claim his victory. And his students and peers are to a person so moved by his win they’re all in tears…even Kitaro!

Arata wonders if he fussed too much over the one card he had to have—the Chihaya furu card; the first card Chihaya memorized—leading to his fatal fault. At the same time, when Chihaya comes to congratulate him for a close and thrilling match, he comes right out and says I love you, then tells her he wants to play more karuta with her.

Chihaya seems stunned into catatonia and slithers off to be by herself, while Oe and Sumire are gobsmacked. Only time will tell if Arata’s simple words reached her and  how she’ll respond to them, if she responds at all. In any case, it was a damned brave, manly thing to do moments after one of the greater defeats of his life!

Taichi is similarly manly in returning to Suo the scarf he gave Chihaya, envisioning her as his “bride.” I’m sorry, but I don’t much care for the prospect of Suo stalking Chihaya, no siree! Thank goodness Taichi had the guts to tell him Chihaya was “his girlfriend”—and that those words seemed to spell the end of his creepy pursuit!

In his evening phone call to Shinobu to report the results of the playoffs, which amounted to two instances of veterans defeating youth, Suo uses fruits as a metaphor. While Arata—and perhaps in the Queen match, Shinobu—are “fresh apples”: cool, crisp, and sweet, Harada and Inokuma were “dried persimmons”: deep, complex, and of a flavor able to completely overpower the apples.

It’s clear he’s also warning himself: an apple a day won’t keep Dr. Harada away!

Chihayafuru 3 – 13 – The Iceman Cometh


After receiving a bouquet from her adorable firstborn, Haruka wins the second match and becomes the challenger to the Queen. Not a lot of time was spent on their match, which is good, because while Haruka’s a perfectly likable character neither she or Megumu have very fleshed out characters.

During the break he got when Harada withdrew, Arata takes a stroll and thinks about what Chihaya whispered to her, and returns with the face of someone envisioning their imminent victory.

Chihaya also took the opportunity to get some fresh air in the park near the karuta hall, and encounters Suo. When she asks why he always gives out pastries, he says it’s because they contain vitamins, but when she asks why he speaks so softly, he wonders if that’s all she wants to ask him. He’s not wrong on that point.

Chihaya wants to ask him karuta questions she’ll probably never get satisfying answers to, but even something from the guy could prove useful. Unfortunately, Suo takes Chihaya’s attention the wrong way and repeatedly tells her he doesn’t have a girlfriend!

When the third and final match begins, what Chihaya said to Arata is revealed: he’s not going to beat their mentor just by being the same ol’ Arata. He has to channel his grandfather, Master Wataya, and everyone is struck by how much he succeeds in doing so, both in how he carries himself and how his tactics are constantly changing to foil Harada’s uber-offensive style.

By channeling a much older man—someone fifteen years older than Harada himself—Arata is able to take control of the game, but he also inadvertently lends his opponent a second wind, since Harada feels like a young man again (he was nineteen the one time he faced Master Wataya). He’s truly raging against the dying of the light, but disaster strikes when his knee suddenly gives out. Will the kind-hearted Arata subconsciously take pity and ease off his game, or will he do what has to be done to face Master Suo?

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 12 (Fin) – Victory Lap

With the Team Shokugeki won by the Rebels, everyone’s expulsions are canceled and their student IDs returned—albeit in far worse condition thanks to the abuse to which Momo subjects Bucchi. Azami steps down from the directorship, while the eight Elite Ten members who participated in the Shokugeki for Central lose their positions, freeing up the spots for the rebels.

At first I thought Erina would take the first position in the New Elite Ten, but instead she acknowledges that none of the rebels would have been victorious were it not for Souma’s actions, so she recommends him for the top spot. At the same time, Senzaemon is content to remain retired, so it’s Erina who takes over as director when Azami vacates the position.

With the third years moving on to the next stage of their lives, the New Elite Ten consists of Souma, Satoshi, Terunori, Akira, Ryou, Alice, Takumi, Etsuya, Nene, and Megumi. Both Souma and Erina are far busier with their lofty new positions, but Souma makes it clear to the whole school that no one will be punished for siding with Central, and anyone—anyone—is free to challenge him to a Shokugeki at any time.

With the Rebellion triumphant, the episode basically takes an extended victory lap, as the framing device of a letter narrated by Tenth Seat Megumi shows us where everyone has ended up, and how a number of characters  have made slight updates to their appearance for the new school year. There’s even a quick glance a a new potential challenger to Souma and/or Erina, who may be a new first-year. Further developments will have to wait until the fifth—and likely final final—season.

Chihayafuru 3 – 12 – Damming the River

As Chihaya makes dreamy eyes at Arata, wondering if he’ll be the first of them to realize their dream of reaching the highest Karuta summit, Dr. Harada has a plan. He once played Arata’s grandfather years ago when he was a young lad, and considers it a great joy to be playing Arata now.

That said, he must use every tool at his disposal to try to throw the kid off his game. That means suddenly interrupting the opening stanzas to ask that the A/C be shut off. If Arata plays in the style of water, he’ll disrupt the flow.

Harada also has a lot of intel on Arata from his other two students in Chihaya and Taichi, but that doesn’t give him the full picture of who Arata is, how his game has advanced, and how it will continue to advance even in this very match. For instance, Arata was never one to move cards at the rate he does here, but it’s to counter Harada’s strategy of hitting one side hard by making sure there’s as little on that side as possible.

Chihaya is ultimately torn over who to root for, which she takes as a sign she’s matured, since the younger her would have rooted shamelessly and enthusiastically for Arata alone.

But Arata is also glad he’s playing Harada and that he’s still playing at such a high level, since Harada was the first one to tell him he could pursue his dream of Karuta and gave him and the other two a safe space to explore it to their heart’s content.

With a Herculean effort, Harada manages to eke out a victory in the first of three matches, proving that youthful exuberance and momentum won’t always win the day—and inspiring Inokuma to rally and defeat her high school opponent.

Throughout the match, two of Harada’s peers are decidedly not rooting for him, but very much for Arata to crush him. That’s because he and Kitano were once set to win a match read by Makino Midori, Kitano’s “Madonna,” only for Harada to withdraw from the match, citing Midori’s reading skills.

It seems Midori was so angered by Harada’s slight that she ended up working her ass off to become a certified Grade 6 reader. Ironically, Harada ends up acknowledging her efforts by withdrawing from the second match altogether and banking on the third, for which she’ll be reading.

By withdrawing from the second match, Harada ensures his fifty-plus year-old body will be fresh for the third. Arata, young and spry, can only stew in anger over getting an automatic win, while the third match will carry that much more tension because he didn’t learn anything new about Harada’s game, which Harada could completely change up in the third match.

This puts Arata at a disadvantage, since he was expecting to play the second match (with the second reader). Sensing his frustration, Chihaya comes to his side to whisper advice in his ear, a gesture that’s a lot more romantically charged than it would have been were it not Arata….and Taichi notices. Will their mentor really end up blocking Arata’s best chance yet to become Master?

Chihayafuru 3 – 11 – Be the Master, Beat the Master

Back at school, Chihaya’s game still has momentum from the Yoshino Tournament, while Mashina has slid a bit since losing in the qualifiers, as evidenced by how badly Chihaya beats him. But Chihaya is going all out because she thinks Mashima will quit altogether if she goes easy on him.

Meanwhile, Chihaya finally manages to call Arata to congratulate him, but she’s so stiff she ends up blasting his ear off. In any case, one hopes the two will get to spend a little more time together in the next cour, because I felt seriously short-changed in this first one where Chirata shippin’ is concerned.

 

Chihaya also makes it clear to Arata that he’s going to LOSE to Dr. Harada and the Shiranami society, as Harada has recruited all classes of players to help prepare him for his playoff with Arata. Indeed, the whole reason he started the society was to one day become Master.

To that end, he has Mashima serve as a “Virtual Arata”, making him memorize Arata’s layout so he can play against him as if he were playing Arata. Chihaya volunteers to serve as “Virtual Suo”, intensely studying the Master’s play and even starting to talk very softly and offer candy to people, leading to a misunderstanding from her tutoring cousin Shinji.

Watching Chihaya emulate Suo—and hearing Mashima trying to talk in Arata’s dialect—is jolly good fun, while we get a couple of tear-jerking moments with Inokuma Haruka, who at 34 sees both her challenger and reigning Queen and wonders if she’s simply done. She also worries she’s putting karuta before her children.

When Haruka has a nursing emergency just before her match, Mama Oe is there to calm her, and show her that kimonos are open on the side so that you can nurse a child without undoing or wrinkling it, which is some choice Traditional Clothing Mama advice. Having fed her lil’ Jin, Inokuma regains her composure and is ready to go.

When Chihaya arrives at the playoff as a spectator, she’s seriously regretting not being one of the players. That said, one would hope a show as long and sprawling as this isn’t about build her up as a future Queen for years, only for her to not attain that title. For now, the playoff is still a valuable resource. Now is the time to watch and learn from all four finalists.

Chihayafuru 3 – 10 – The Same as Always

Aside from a minute at the women’s final (a minute so quick I wonder why it bothered) the episode is dominated by the final between Arata and his society-mate Murao. The two have played countless games together, but Arata enters the match unsettled.

He’s unsure why he sighed after learning Taichi lost, and when he tries to visualize himself in his old room playing against Chihaya, he’s suddenly replaced by Taichi. Rather than a motivating factor, Taichi becomes a distraction Arata can’t afford.

Matters are made worse by the food Yuu gave Arata, which gives him the runs in the middle of a match. By the time he returns he’s lost four more cards and Murao has built a lead of eleven. Arata also doesn’t know which cards were read and which are dead.

He eventually settles down and mounts a calm, efficient comeback, focusing on offense rather than his usual balanced game. He ends up with the victory, and will face Dr. Harada (an offensive specialist) in the match that will determine who challenges Master Suo.

Back in Kyoto, Chihaya is hanging out her girl friends, staying up past curfew playing cards and chatting. But when she goes to grab some tea, she encounters Taichi in the hall; he says he “felt better” so he rejoined the class, and tells her Dr. Harada won the qualifying final and will face Arata.

Chihaya isn’t sure quite how to react, nor does she know yet who she’ll root for in the East-West match. Taichi, meanwhile, passes out as soon as he re-enters the boy’s dorm, leaving Desktomu to tuck him into a futon. Not being able to face Arata is certainly a blow, as is knowing that if he couldn’t get to him, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance against him regardless.

Vinland Saga – 19 – What Are You Looking At With Those Eyes?

Having entertained him so much thus far, Thorkell gives Thorfinn a few minutes to rest before continuing the fight. An intermission, if you will, during which he tells the boy about Thors. The two of them were fellow Jomsviking commanders, and Thorkell is Thorfinn’s great-uncle, since his brother, their leader, gave Thors his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In one battle, Thors was thrown from his boat, never surfaced, and presumed dead. But one night, Thors returned. Thorkell was delighted, until he realized Thors didn’t mean to stay. Thors wouldn’t explain to his satisfaction why, only that he learned the secret to being a true warrior, and had a look in his eye Thorkell had never seen.

Thorkell tried to kill Thors for deserting, but ended up with his axe smashed and knocked out cold by Thors…who didn’t even wield a sword. Fifteen years later, Thorkell learned Thors had died for real. Thorkell doesn’t see that same look in Thorfinn’s eyes, which means Thors never told him his secret.

Thorfinn listens to Askeladd one more time, warning him if he loses, the man he wishes to duel will be killed by another. Askeladd is the only one there who has ever seen Thorkell fall in battle, and the reason is almost comically simple: the man has a glass jaw.

Thorfinn jobs for a while, until Thorkell drops his guard to kill him. Askeladd blinds him with the reflection of the sun on his blade, and Thorfinn leaps up and kicks him straight in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. When Finn tries to go for the kill, he’s surrounded by Thorkell’s men.

The first duty of those men is to keep their commander alive, but Thorkell is furious they disrupted his duel. That’s when Prince Canute arrives, the changed man he became last week, and orders all fighting to stop. When Thorkell bristles, Canute tells him the truth about his father not loving him, choosing Harald as his successor, and sending him to England to die in battle so he didn’t have to assassinate him.

What Canute seeks to do is head to the main camp at Gaineborough and fight his father the king, snatching the crown and the throne from the man who forsook him. Thorkell thinks this is just a tough-guy act, and Canute will crumble if he pretends to punch him, but Canute doesn’t flinch in the slightest. Furthermore, Thorkell sees the same look in Canute’s eyes that Thors had.

Thorkell tells his men his one greatest regret in life was not following Thors rather than trying to stop him. By getting knocked out, he missed his chance to learn what Thors had learned about being a warrior. In Canute, he’s been given a fresh chance to learn, so he agrees to become his follower and fight for him. No doubt Thorkell’s men will follow his lead.

Finally, the wounded but not-as-near-death as we thought Askeladd confesses to killing Ragnar, and offers his sword to Canute with which to kill him. He adds that if Canute spares his life, he will fight for him as well. Canute, loather of pointless deaths, declines to execute Askeladd, instead ordering him to honor Ragnar through leal service.

And with that, ladies and gents, everyone we’ve been following have joined forces behind Prince Canute in what is to be a glorious fight against King Sweyn. Since Thorfinn is Thorfinn, he’s going to follow the man who killed his father. Oh, and he shouldn’t look now, but Canute is now his legit co-protagonist, while Thorfinn remains a callow boy who needs to grow up.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 07 – Battle of the Two Queens

After a brief repsite, we’re on to the fourth and deciding bout, with Elite Ten’s top three (and only three still standing) facing off against three of the four remaining rebels. Souma sits this bout out. He’s earned it! First up: Momo vs…Erina! It’s not often we get to watch the God Tongue in action, and even the Central-loyal crowds acknowledge her general amazingness.

That, and the nature with which Megumi went after her, all conspires to put Momo in a foul mood, a mood she intends to improve by baking and confectioning her tiny butt off. I have to say, she’s awfully “lucky” she keeps getting theme ingredients that are perfect for deserts! She goes into overdrive, erecting a massive and ostentatious castle of roll cakes decorated with animal designs and exquisite ribbon candy.

It’s not all about showmanship and “cuteness”, however. Like her basket of roses, “big ass cake castle” is a simple concept, but excels in he little details, as a perfectionist patissier like Momo is wont to do. She even employed soy sauce as a rich and salty element in the whipped cream to accentuate the sweetness, similar to the similar tactic used with salted caramel.

Because the castle is so big, Momo is able to enchant not just the judges and Urara, but the entire audience as well, turning the Shokugeki into another opportunity to promote her celebrity. The judges are certainly impressed, and Momo uses everyone’s approval to stare down menacingly at Erina from the battlements of her fortress.

But Momo is sadly mistaken to underestimate her opponent. I mean, we’re talking about the God Tongue here, daughter of the current and granddaughter of the former headmasters of Totsuki. Whether the dish is savory or sweet, Erina knows what she’s doing, and not even Momo’s preternatural ability to assess the cuteness of flavors is any match for Erina’s culinary instincts.

Erina’s dish is, as you’d expect, much smaller than Momo’s, but packed with refinement. It is, at the end of the day, two pancakes with red bean paste in the middle—a dorayaki, like Megumi’s. But where Megumi didn’t quite transform the elements enough to beat Momo’s rose basket, Erina infused her knowledge of cuisine with the resourcefulness and willingness to stray outside the bounds of “what is normal” she’s gained from Souma.

The result of that fusion is an easy victory over Momo, who in an arrogance that has been rewarded all her life, presumed that she ruled over all things dessert. In fact, there were entire nations, regions, and worlds she not only didn’t have dominion over, but didn’t even know existed.

Megumi gave Momo a taste of those worlds and irritated her, but Erina beat her with them. Erina even acknowledges Megumi’s inventiveness by using the French version of her name, “Grace”, in the name of her dish. As for Erina admitting Souma inspired her, well, she goes right back to her tsundere safe place. But it’s a good solid victory.

Next up: Takumi vs. Rindou in a spear squid battle. In a final twist to make it harder on the rebels, this and the battle between Satoshi and Eishi will be judged by Azami himself, meaning Takumi and Satoshi will have to prove to him that his philosophy is wrong.

Chihayafuru 3 – 07 – Tailwinds and Fever

Chihaya does her best…and wins. Moreover, the match isn’t dragged out any further than it needs to. Chihaya just wins. Of course, that means Taichi loses, and we knew he was not going to be a happy rich boy about that. So he does what rich boys do when they lose…waste precious potable water!

Arata has to shut off the faucet that represents Taichi’s bitter tears. Arata thought Chihaya “belonged” to Taichi, Taichi thought she “belonged” to both of them, while Arata has realized she doesn’t belong to either of them. If they both continue to wallow in their own angst, she’ll leave them in the dust, a tailwind at her back.

And yet, despite having slugged it out so hard to win the Yoshino Tournament, Chihaya tearfully admits to her just-arrived mom that she really wants to go on the school trip, because one day she wants to be a teacher and coach, like Miyauchi and Sakurazawa. So she goes to Kyoto, skipping this year’s Queen qualifiers. She’ll just enter them next year.

While on the Shinkansen, Chihaya learns Taichi skipped out on the trip. She keeps calling him until he answers, and he tells her he had a fever…which she buys. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well, but it had nothing to do with a fever and all to do with moving past his latest defeat, which he wouldn’t have been able to do in Kyoto (where a rich boy like him has already visited many times).

Chihaya may have the luxury of a modest future beyond the grander dreams of Queenhood, but Taichi has no such luck. This time next year, when Chihaya intends to enter the qualifiers, Taichi won’t be able to, since he’ll be studying for medical school, as his mother has prescribed. Once in med school, he’ll have no time for competitive karuta. This is his time, so he’s going to use it. It’s now or never.

Arata, meanwhile, is punishing himself for saying what he said to Taichi about Chihaya and belonging, but I maintain he was right to say it and shouldn’t feel bad. There’s way too much floating around these three that they’ve tried to keep unsaid and expressed through karuta instead, but now that they’re all competing for greatness, that’s no longer an outlet. That said, Arata has a good and caring friend in his neighbor and classmate Yuu.

Chihaya wanted to go on the class trip to make memories, but she’s distracted the whole time, first by Taichi’s absence, and then by the meaning of his absence. I’m sure a part of her feels lazy, selfish, or arrogant for even being in Kyoto when Taichi is still in Tokyo.

As Harada says during the final, results are the foundation upon which all one’s efforts are held in place. If those results aren’t achieved, the whole structure falls apart; all the efforts feel for naught, even if they weren’t.

Perhaps sensing that a strong result in this year’s Yoshino is no guarantee of similar results at next year’s qualifiers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chihaya catches an early train back to Tokyo. Right now she has a strong wind at her back, and a strong foundation on which to build.

DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!

DanMachi II – 05 – Assets and Liabilities

In what is very much a post-climactic battle, catching-your-breath episode that doesn’t skimp on the fanservice, Hestia Familia familiarizes themselves with their sprawling new digs, which have been purged of Apollo’s, er, distinctive decor.

As thanks for joining her familia, Hestia also made sure Mikoto had a huge cypress bath and Welf has a well-stocked forge for blacksmithing. It’s nice to see Hestia and Bell somewhere other than dilapidated ruins.

Considering how all of Apollo’s assets were seized in addition to his mansion, such relatively extravagant renovations don’t seem like a problem; Hestia is rolling in cash now, and everyone in Orario wants to join the David that defeated the Apollo Goliath.

Only one problem: while Hestia is rallying the new recruits, Mikoto happens to find a debt slip in the amount of 200 million valis, incurred by Hestia for Bell’s blade. Bell faints upon hearing she spent all that money she didn’t have for him.

Just like that, the hordes of recruits scatter and Hestia’s children are contemplating some overtime in the dungeon. But she’s committed to paying back the debt on her own, and reiterates as such after overhearing Bell speak such kind words to her in the bath. As for Apollo’s money? All spent on renovations. Not the best with money, this Hestia!

Hestia Familia’s going to be alright; at least, depending on what news Shigure delivers to Mikoto about a certain fox/dog-eared woman—who features prominently on the show’s promo art and is thus probably going to play a sizable role going forward.

DanMachi II – 04 – The Lightning Rises

With Liliruca successfully rescued and Bell sufficiently trained up, he arrives home to find his familia has grown by three, with Lili, Welf, and Mikoto official Hestians. Ryu, merely a helper and not a familia member, keeps her distance, but is with them all the way.

The night before the siege, Cassandra relays to Daphnie what many a Star Wars character would call “a bad feeling about this,” particularly when she sees their pint-sized ally Luan entering the fortress at the last minute and pulling a wagon carrying a massive cargo. Who do we know who’s that small and can lug that much?

Cassandra calls this a Trojan Horse, and that it will seal their defeat. Who am I to argue with her?!

Every eye (and a good chunk of cash) in Orario is trained upon the magical viewscreens transmitting the War Game, from the adventurers in the tavern to the gods in their meeting place. Outnumbered 100-5, Hestia gets off to a rousing start, with their elven masked mercenary Ryu rushing the walls wielding not one but two of Welf’s magical swords, one fire, one lightning.

Ryu expends every drop of magical power in both those swords carving through as many Apollos as possible, including a fellow elf who is outraged by her use of the same swords that burned through their villages. Ryu feels helping a friend in need is more important than keeping the fires of hatred burning. She also makes such a rukus that Mikoto easily dashes right through the lines and into the castle courtyard.

There, she repels dozens of arrows and lets herself get surrounded by as many Apollos as possible before unleashing a spell that took a few minutes of incantation to cast, but is well worth it from a tactical perspective: it’s high-level gravity magic that immobilizes everyone who pursued her, taking still more Apollos off the board.

Proving each one of the five party members is worth at least ten Apollos, and that big, bold moves by every one of them is absolutely essential to snatch victory from such lopsided numbers, “Luan” “betrays his god and opens the front gate for Bell and Welf. Turns out he’s not Luan at all, but Lilisuke in disguise, who snuck in the night before. The huge wagon wasn’t the Trojan Horse, she was.

Welf covers Bell as he rushes to the central tower where Hyakinthos has so far been comfortably watching. Daphnie holds Welf up, but as one of the two main DanMachi themes blares (“Heroic Desire,” an all-timer that always gives me chills) Bell slides right in and blasts a massive Firebolt straight up, reducing the tower to a pile of rubble and bringing Hyakinthos right to him. He also wastes no time snapping his prized sword.

Cassandra almost spoils the upset when she tackles Bell, letting Hyakinthos unleash his special attack, but Lili tackles her just in time to let Bell dodge it enough to survive. Bell also got some help from that pendant Syr gave him before he went off to battle—one bearing the symbol of Freya Familia.

That moment, when he is so close to defeat and Hyakinthos so close to victory, is what Ais drilled into his head was the moment to wait for. When it comes, Bell doesn’t waste it. He knows Hyakinthos is about to finish him, so his opponent is basically opening himself up. Bell evades his dagger, kicks him off his feet, then delivers a knockout punch.

War Game Over: Hestia Familia is the winner.

Those who voted for the ultimate underdog get one hell of a payday while all of Bell’s friends who cheered him on rejoice, from Ais to Syr and even Freya. Even better, Hestia does NOT go easy on Apollo, who tries to backtrack and pretend he was just messing around because he found Bell cute.

Hestia confiscates all of Apollos property, declares his familia disbanded, and banishes him from Orario forever. She then takes her newly-expanded familia to the front gates of their new palatial home, and scrawls a new symbol to represent them: the guardian flame of Hestia, combined with the bell of…well, Bell.

I’m duly impressed by the speed with which DanMachi II has gotten things done. Here I was loathing a long, drawn out, multi-episode arc involving just the war game with Apollo, complete with constant reaction shots from the assembled spectators, changes in momentum, and cliffhangers.

Instead, the show understood that, outnumbered 100-5, the Hestians had to get shit done in a hurry if they wanted to win. And they did, in a superbly breathless battle helped in no small part by a cinematic orchestral soundtrack by Inai Keiji that absolutely fucking OWNS. Nice to see the little guys win one going away.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 21 – Making Things Right

After a strange, ethereal dream, Naofumi wakes up in a bed, having not awakened for three days following the damage caused by Blood Sacrifice, surrounded by Raphtalia, Filo and Melty, who likely rarely left his bedside.

When two “medics” come to change his bandages, he immediately calls them out as Shadows, and sure enough, they’re escorting Queen Mirelia Melromarc herself to his chamber to introduce herself…and to talk about clearing his name and punishing those who poisoned it.

In that regard, this is an episode that’s been a long time coming, and one that rewards everyone who suffered beside Naofumi for so long as his reputation and life (and those of his party) were threatened by the lies and villainy of Malty and her father the King Consort.

After explaining where she was (putting out fires with nations angered that Melromarc summoned all four Heroes) and why no one kept her daughter husband in line (the lord she entrusted died in the first wave), Mirelia lowers her head in apology to Naofumi, promises to clear his name, reward him for his service, and give him justice.

That night, Naofumi has a premonition of the form of that justice: Malty’s and the King’s heads being placed in stocks, defiant and enraged to the last despite their guilt. But when the guillotines fall and Naofumi wakes up, he’s far more disturbed than relieved by the dream.

The next day, Queen Mirelia holds a trial for Malty and the King, placing a Slave Crest upon the former so she cannot lie without being shocked. Since lying comes as easily as breathing for Malty, she’s shocked quite a number of times trying to deny the crimes leveled against her. The only instance of her not being shocked is when she denies colluding with the church to kill the Heroes.

But everything else, right down to her false accusation of sexual assault that started Naofumi’s long path of misery, is exposed as lies. Even when she forms a slave pact with Motoyasu, she can’t help but lie and deny. There’s nowhere left to hide; not from Motoyasu, and not from the public, who are watching on magical screens and gradually turn against her and the King.

Mirelia finds them both guilty of high treason, strips them of their titles, and sentences them to death, to be carried out immediately in the courtyard. Naofumi’s dream starts to repeat itself, but where in the dream Malty is neither repentant nor scared, here she’s both, and increasingly desperate not to die.

That sour feeling returns to Naofumi’s gut; cancelling out whatever weights may have been lifted from his shoulders by the favorable verdict or clearing of his name. When Malty finally calls out to “Naofumi-sama,” the man she tried to kill many times, to spare her life—and her Slave Crest doesn’t react—Naofumi finally calls for the queen to hold up.

He doesn’t want to see Malty or the King executed, but puts on his brash/infamous Shield Hero persona in explaining why: a quick death is too good for them! Instead he suggests they be allowed to live on, but with new names: King Trash and Princess Bitch (with the adventurer’s name of “slut”).

Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly elated upon hearing such sophomoric, misogynistic names being thrown about so casually. But I was happy he realized their deaths wouldn’t make him happy, and, well, both of them do deserve harsh punishment, so Trash and Bitch it is. Now the two unquestionably owe the Shield Hero their lives, and had better not forget it.

With that, the Queen prepares the ceremony to bestow upon Naofumi all the awards he’s due, but he’s ready to leave Melromarc for other parts of the world that suffer the devastation of the Waves of Catastrophe. He leaves the other three Heroes on a good note, and the Queen accepts his decision. While leaving, Melty doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Naofumi, at least until her mother says if he hadn’t told her to stay the executions, she would have offered her own life to him for her husband and daughter.

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo depart the city at the head of a friendly, thankful, even adoring crowd (how fast public opinion turns), Melty manages to catch up, thank Naofumi, and say goodbye properly. He bids her farewell with a smile that moves her to tears. After twenty episodes of beating Naofumi down, his spirits have never looked higher, and he and his party look poised to do great things.