Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 01 – Rich Kids Are Scary

Fast-forward over a decade from the prologue, and Ericht Samaya is now the teenaged Suletta Mercury, pilot of Gundam Aerial, arriving at the Asticassia School of Technology, where she has just transferred. While surveying the giant space station, she spots someone floating free in a spacesuit and executes a rescue operation. The person she rescues, Miorine Rembran, doesn’t want to be rescued.

She was trying to escape, and was about to succeed but for Suletta’s sharp eye and impeccable timing. Now that I know where these two end up by episode’s end, one could call it kismet. I also hasten to add that Miorine is the daughter of Delling Rembran, the man whose actions led to the death of Suletta’s dad and destruction of her family’s home. Obviously Miorine didn’t play a role in that, as she was only four at the time.

Upon arrival at her new school, which is full of rich, stuck-up jerkwards, Suletta is quickly treated like a Mercurian “country bumpkin” and also given the cold shoulder by Miorine. That said, she also meets a potential first new friend in mechanics student Nika Nanaura.

All of a sudden, all of the fake blue sky is replaced by clear windows out to space, and the campus is transformed into the ground for a duel between Guel Jeturk, son of one of Delling’s top business generals, and some nobody who dared to call him “a man with a runaway bride”.

Jeturk, an unrepentant preening jackass of the highest order, is Miorine’s fiance, a decision made not by either of them but by their parents. Her father, however doesn’t even bother to review the bodyguards assigned to his daughter, as he’s too busy financially destroying a business partner who posted too many quarterly losses.

As Suletta learns by following her like a puppy, Miorine would prefer to be left alone with her garden that emulates earth environs, and even lets Suletta sample a tasty real tomato before downloading the map app of the school and sending her on her way. But before Suletta leaves, Jeturk and his clique of syncophants arrives to declare that Miorine will live with him at his family home from now on.

When Miorine protests, Jeturk starts wrecking her garden. When she tries to stop him, he shoves her aside. Suletta, who has a stutter and is clearly not great with social situations, nevertheless knows very well between right and wrong,. What Jeturk is doing is wrong, so she spanks him. She even gets giggles from his patsies when she calls him a “pushy suitor”.

Jeturk doesn’t take these affronts lightly, and suggests that if Suletta has a problem with him, they can settle it with a duel. Despite learning he is the school’s undefeated “Holder” (i.e. Ace) with a 26-0 record, Suletta doesn’t hesitate to accept the challenge. Jeturk tells her if he wins, she’ll be kicked out of the school. Meanwhile, Jeturk’s dad intends to speed up his and his son’s ascension by arranging to assassinate Delling.

When the duel commences, both Jeturk and Suletta are surprised to find that Miorine has commandeered Suletta’s Aerial, having gained access when she had her school handbook. That said, she has no idea how to pilot a mobile suit, let alone a Gundam, and Jeturk proceeds to make quick work of her.

With an assist from Nika, Suletta is able to get to Aerial before Miorine loses the duel, and those observing the duel accept the second change of Jeturk’s opponent back to Suletta. Having been head-butted when they first met, Suletta returns the favor and takes over in the cockpit, asserting that she and Aerial grew up together (indeed, when she was four, she considered her a little sister).

No one can pilot her but her, and as long as she’s piloting, Aerial won’t lose to the likes of Jeturk. She maintains that running away gains you only “one” by not losing, but going forward and rising to fight gains you “two” – experience and pride…as well as trust (so many three?).

Jeturk repsonds to that insult with a charge, but he’s totally out of his league. His beam weapon is reflected by Aerial’s shield, which then disassembles into a swarm of drones that tear Jeturk’s suit to pieces, giving Suletta a clear path to behead him with her energy sword.

As one would expect of a high-class Sunrise flagship production, the battle is absolutely top-notch in design and execution, fast, fierce, and gorgeous, accompanied by Ohmama Takashi’s stirring cinematic score that calls to mind Hans Zimmer with its blend of classical and futuristic electronic orchestration.

After the episode wasted absolutely no time showing what a sonofabitch Jetark is, I was literally cheering and laughing at the television as Suletta effortlessly put him in his place.

Again, Suletta’s timing is impeccable, as she defeats Jeturk just moments before his dad is about to press the detonate button on Delling’s transport. His aid quickly informs him that Jeturk will inherit neither Miorine nor her father’s company, because he was just defeated in a duel for the first time.

To the victor belongs the spoils, so Suletta not only wins the title of Holder of her very first day, but also becomes Miorine’s new fiancé, effective immediately. When Suletta points out that she’s a woman, Miorine tells her that unlike the apparently more conservative Mercury, such things are commonplace here. Suletta’s look of bewilderment says it all: these rich kids are crazy.

The Witch from Mercury follows up its thrilling, bittersweet prologue with an equally impressive opening sortie, establishing Suletta as a meek but determined and clearly immensely talented heroine (the first female Gundam lead), Miorine as her frenemy-cum-fiancée, the current financial and political power dynamics in play, and the system of duels that determine far more than they probably should. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next week.

Overlord IV – 13 (Fin) – Princess Front-Renner

We open on Mare, perched on a rooftop, surveying the Royal Capital, and suddenly he starts to weep. Is the meekest, gentlest Floor Guardian lamenting having to kill every last man, woman and child in the city? Of course not….he’s anxious about his destructive magic not being up to snuff and a few of those men, women and children surviving and escaping. Lest we forget: our pals from Nazarick are supervillains. Granted, some of them are adorable.

Princess Renner sure didn’t seem concerned about the impending invasion of the Sorcerer Kingdom, did she? Clued in as we the audience are not only to the twisted personality she conceals, as well as her dealings with Albedo, explain her attitude, but not the actual means by which she manages to slither out of this crisis and turn it to her advantage. Climb proves his loyalty by declining an offer from the King both he and Renner wouldn’t mind: approving a marriage of the two.

While Aura dispenses with Old Samurai Dude before he can even introduce himself, then leaves the others to her beasts before strolling into the capital’s repository of magic items, Climb takes a rucksack filled with the Royal Crown, heirloom tomes, and other items that are a part of the royal legacy, and hides them away in the warehouse district.

On his way back, he encounters Mare, who is kind enough to tell him to run away if he wants to live. Remembering Renner’s order for him not to fight, but run—the better to return to her side safely—Climb does just that. But as he turns toward the palace, he finds it’s already been encased in Cocytus’ ice.

The Snow Maidens grant him access to the throne room, where he finds Ainz, Albedo, Demiurge, and Cocytus, along with a frightful sight: Renner kneeling beside her father, who is lying dead in a pool of his own blood, some of which is on Renner’s hands. Demiurge commands Climb to prostrate himself, and Climb figures they used mind control on Renner to make her kill the king.

Ainz tells Demiurge to release Climb, and even allows him the privilege of fighting him one-on-one. Climb’s a tough customer, but it’s safe to say he’s no Gazef, nor is he Brain, and we know how things went for those warriors. So Ainz is just toying with him. That said, Climb manages to pull off a move that impresses Ainz before using “Grasp Heart” to kill him.

…But this is not the end of Climb. He wakes up, to find a relieved Renner leaning over him, but something’s different. The dialated pupils, the sharp black nails, the fangs and little wings. Renner explains that she pledged her allegiance to The Sorcerer King, and was transformed into an immortal demon. She asks Climb if he’ll become a demon and pledge allegiance to Ainz as well, so that they can be together for eternity.

This may be a lot all of a sudden for Climb, who had only just been resurrected from death, but I wasn’t surprised when he assented to Renner’s offer without hesitation. After all, he’s sworn to be her shield, whether she’s a princess or a demoness.

After meeting with and thanking her new superior Albedo, Renner celebrates having gotten everything she wanted for the low low price of betraying and sacrificing her kingdom.

She does so by singing a hauntingly beautiful song while dancing with herself and laughing maniacally in a gorgeous and stunningly animated sequence, which was both a complete surprise and a season highlight. Renner—the real Renner—has never looked more radiant, and will fit right in at Nazarick. I’d be ride-or-die for her too if I was Climb.

Whither Lord Philip Montserrat? Well, his last pleasure in life is getting to gaze upon the loveliness of the Lady Albedo when she deigns to visit his family manse. She then presents him with the heads of his family members before killing him. An inauspicious demise for a character who was never anything but an arrogant but disposable pawn.

In the center of the ruined capital of the fallen Re-Estize Kingdom, Ainz Ooal Gown sits upon a impromptu throne of rubble, flanked by Albedo, as Marquis Raeven and the other great nobles kneeling before him, pledging their allegiance. Raeven assures his new king and overlord that the destruction of Re-Estize will serve as an abject lesson to other nations not to mess with the Sorcerer Kingdom; a lesson that likely won’t be forgotten for millennia.

Citing this as a very good justification for what has been done, Ainz lets himself be satisfied and content. To make the land as sweet as honey, he had to burn part of it down. But there’s much more to be done, which will no doubt be chronicled in the forthcoming third Overlord film, along with a presumed fifth and possibly final season.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 13 (Fin) – Bless This Mess

Shuu, Ayano and Sharon are fighting as a cohesive unit, but against Kanna the best they can do is maintain a stalemate. Enter Tabula Rasa Kisara, who despite having no memories decides on her own not to let what seem like nice people die in a battle with a not-so-nice person.

The addition of Kisara to the battle definitely gives Team Shuu an edge as Kanna starts to flounder a bit, but then she summons three powerful demons, which means all of the other demon hunting contractors spring into action, for the city that’s the only home they have, for honor and glory, and money too.

When even Kisara can’t quite get to Kanna’s heart to seal her, Shuu lends her power in the form of a kiss. Turns out their old contract terms work just fine, and the newly re-Hot Topic’d Kisara has a stiff second wind at her back. She keeps Kanna occupied enough for Shuu to fire his demonic bullet. Asmodeus flees from Kanna, and Kisara carves her into ribbons, sending her back to whence she came.

In the aftermath, while some demons made it to the city, there were no civilian casualties, so the contractors call it a victory. Sharon admits the Abbey will still be coming for Kisara, but at least today, Sharon won’t be the one to kill her. Wondering where a demon girl fits in a human world, Kisara gets a supportive hug from Ayano.

The Hachisukas continue their sibling rivalry for control of the city—and international coverup to maintain their autonomy. Sharon makes a joke to Ayano about spending the night with Shuu before boating off to face inquisition. Shuu visits his parents’ grave and promises his work isn’t done, but he’ll do it the right way this time.

As for Kisara, she wants Shuu to teach her all the memories she lost, which apparently includes fulfilling the role of his girlfriend. Things are about to get hot and heavy in his apartment when the lights come on to reveal Kanna gobbling up all the food in the place. While the authorities kept her restrained in the bowels of city hall, this is only the latest of several escapes.

Those escapes result not in her unleashing demons on the city or causing any damage, but inserting herself back into Shuu’s home and life and voicing her disapproval of Kisara. Now Kisara has in Kanna what Ayano has in her: a younger rival for Shuu’s attention.

With Kisara, Ayano, and now Kanna all pointing weapons at him and asking whose side he’s on, Shuu’s in the messiest mess yet. And frankly, that’s the best way for this series to end: never taking itself too seriously and gleefully embracing the mess.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 05 – Gong of Ice and Fire

Without Bell, the party finds itself well and truly against the wall, to the point both Lili and Aisha decide it’s time to bring out their fox in the hole, Haruhime. Thanks to her study of the grimoires, she’s now able to summon five tails from a fox spirit that bestow Level Boost on Welf, Daphne, Aisha, Ouka, and Mikoto. Suddenly, fighting back the monsters is easier.

But there are so many, and even when they’ve slaughtered them all, the Moss Huge eats all the crystals they dropped and becomes even stronger. I don’t know if it knew the party had someone like Haruhime, but it was counting on using their power and effort to increase its own.

The last couple episodes have really built up the fact that this is a smug, ugly brute of a monster whom I simply could not wait to see ethered by Bell.  But before that happens his party has to endure more setbacks. It takes a huge bite out of Aisha’s shoulder with its toothed trunk.

Aisha then proceeds to demonstrate just how tough she is by continuing to try to fight off the Huge, since she’s the only one who can, even with vines growing out of her gaping wound. Meanwhile, her and everyone else’s level boost fades as the monsters continue to swarm around her.

It’s at this point the injured party they found can’t sit around and do nothing anymore. They decide as a group to make their last stand here, to give Hestia Familia a chance to escape and spread the vital news of the Moss Huge. And Lili knows that a Strategist must sometimes be coldhearted and underhanded.

But she doesn’t leave the injured allies behind. She can’t, and still live with herself or look Bell in the eye. She uses her lightning blade to push back the monsters and save those who were about to give their lives for her. And just then, Haruhime’s fox ears hear a tolling bell, signifying that they just managed to hold out long enough for the one-man cavalry.

Everyone finds cover so Bell can unleash a Firebolt that blasts the Moss Huge clean out of and about a hundred meters below the cavern they’re in. There, in a much larger space, Bell, demonstrates how being on these Lower Floors have helped his mana and physique synchronize better. In short, he’s figured shit out.

As a result, he’s able to observe his opponent rationally, and revels in the fact that it’s neither as fast as the Iguazu nor nearly as strong as Minotaur. The rest of the party is relegated to the grandstands, but that’s fine; at this point both they and we the viewers have earned the right to sit back and enjoy this decisive battle.

DanMachi brings out all its most epic and bombastic battle music for this one. When all of Bell’s melee attacks amount to nothing due to Moss’ ridiculous regenerative abilities, he takes off the kid gloves, imbues his black dagger with Firebolt and awakens its runes, naming the attack “Argo Vesta” after an alternate name of his goddess.

This finally does the trick, and if I have any complaint about the Moss Huge’s demise, it’s that it doesn’t suffer nearly as much or as long as it made so many others suffer. For a being of such obvious intelligence to use it purely to hurt and kill and make itself stronger…it was a bad dude and I won’t miss it!

With the defeat of the Moss Huge, the parasitic vines growing in Chigusa and everyone else vanish, restoring them back to normal. Marie, not interested in meeting his friends, thanks Bell, says she loves him, then waves goodbye. I was hoping for more Marie Time!

But that’s okay, there’s no shortage of allies and hugs waiting for Bell after his impressive feat. But the members of Hestia Familia and their colleagues must understand that their role wasn’t simply to await rescue. Everything they did bought them and Bell crucial minutes he needed to get to where they were.

Everyone contributed, from Cassandra’s well-timed heals to Haruhime’s clutch five-fold boost. And conducting it all was Liliruca, who like Bell learned a lot from being down here. For her, that meant learning that a Strategist doesn’t have to be coldhearted or underhanded, and sometimes luck will reward them.

Made in Abyss – S2 06 – Gooey Tokusatsu

When Riko starts seriously considering giving up her eyes or legs (she reckons she needs more than half of her organs), Majikaja and Maaa stop her from striking any kind of deal with Belaf. Both Maji and a briefly lucid Nanachi warn her “it’s all over” if she does, and Maji and Maaa drag her out screaming.

Once back outside, Vueko turns their attention to the start of a “Luring”, when the Hollows, who cannot leave the village, lure creatures in so they can hunt them. Only in this case the Hollows bit off more than they could chew with this creature in question, and it starts methodically slaughtering them.

When the creature nears the shop where Prushka is being worked on, Riko races there, but to her surprise the shopkeeper freely offers the whistle back to its original owner, as that’s the whistle’s desire. (The shopkeep also mentions having come while polishing the whistle, but that’s neither here nor there…)

The big goopy purple menace is soon confronted by Juroimoh, one of the biggest Hollows in the village and also one of the Three Sages (presumably the one who replaced Vueko). While Juro is as big as his opponent and he fights boldly, his attacks don’t have much effect on the creature.

When the creature threatens to destroy the market district, Riko, armed with more knowledge from Moogie (the restaurant lady), prepares a gambt to save the district and neutralize the threat. It all starts by souping up Majikaja by offering her trademark twin tails.

She rides hot rod Maji as they lure their purple foe away from the market and into an open space, where Riko prepared for Hollows with fire affinity to ignite the creature, then called upon another group to create a restraining web around the stunned creature, and then yet another group to poke and stab it until it’s dead.

The entire village rises in celebration and applause for Riko, who proves she’d make a good strategist in DanMachi. When she describes why she decided upon the course of action she chose, it only further demonstrates just how bright, resourceful, and quick-thinking this girl can be when the shit hits the fan.

When the party is suddenly interrupted by the purple goo monster reviving and then reaching out with tendrils to grab a number of Hollows, Maaa is one of the victims. But before Maaa is destroyed, Riko cries out, and Prushka hears her, and tells her to use her.

The whistle reverberates throughout the village and the Abyss, and in the blink of an eye, Reg is there, his helmet and necklace white instead of their usual black. He tells Riko that the moment he heard the whistle, he knew where he had to go and what to do. He asks her to keep directing him.

The creature is either dead or gone before Reg can attack it again. Wazukyan arrives, and explains that the creature wasn’t a single entity but rather a massive collective organism, a floating nest composed of millions of individual males around a central queen. When Riko asks him how she can trade for Nanachi and Mitty, he says a part of Faputa would do the trick.

Back at their accommodations, Riko tells Reg how Belaf would only trade Nanachi and Mitty for something equal or greater than the value of a human child. Vueko, in her most loquacious state in literal ages, proceeds to tell Riko who she really is, and how due to the time distortion of this layer, she couldn’t tell her how long ago she and Ganja first set out on the journey that brought them here.

While telling her tale and also talking of Faputa, Vueko’s inner voice asks Irumyuui if she brought these children here. She also noted her surprise Wazukyan could still “get that scared”, clearly seeing beyond his static outward appearance.

She tells Irumyuui that the time has come for her to dredge up her “existence, memories, and desires”, as Reg sets out to meet with Faputa again. Whatever the strange item is that the episode closes on, it must be the “embodiment of value” that trumps all else; and it’s most likely somewhere inside Faputa. Is she a time capsule? A time machine? A nuclear bomb? Or all three, or neither? The mind races…

Overlord IV – 04 – Away Game

As soon as Albedo departs from E-Rantel for her special envoy mission, Ainz takes a trip of his own, using Gate to slip into the Imperial capital of Arwintar with his new pal Ainzach. He’s there to begin enacting his plan to recruit adventurers who actually go on adventures, and also checks in on his old pal Flugel, giving him The Book of the Dead from Earth and just a tiny taste of the secrets it holds.

Ainzach is actually the one to suggest Ainz himself fight in the coliseum in order to advertise his recruiting plan, but you also get the feeling Ainz has been itching for a good old-fashioned fight. He meets with the Warrior King’s tiny-eyed promoter Osk, who has not only thoroughly researched Ainz, but uses a Bunny Person Maid’s heightened senses to gauge his power.

As you’d expect, fighting one-on-one with any other individual would be too short a fight, so Ainz not only agrees not to use magic, but also commits to not using magical items (other than his own body and its built-in attributes). Also, if Albedo knew her beloved Ainz-sama would be fighting in an arena while dressed so cool, she’d probably teleport right over there.

Overlord is great at quickly building up grizzled, noble characters, and the Warrior King, a War Troll named Go Gin, is as grizzled and noble as they get. He and Ainz actually exchange some banter and laughter before getting down to it, when we see that the very best warrior an empire can offer is absolutely no match for even an Ainz Superleggera.

When Ainz indicates he’s about to go in for the kill, the Warrior King removes all of his armor. He knows Ainz has been holding back, and asks him if he’s really so weak. Ainz assures him that it’s more a matter of him being so strong. But he acquiesces to the King’s demand that he show him at least a “fraction” of his full strength.

Once he does, Ainz’s defense is so strong, a flurry of blows from the great Warrior King’s massive club bounces harmlessly off him, allowing him to get within point blank range and casually plunge his blade into the Warrior King’s chest, killing him. Ainz then flips on his magic mic and announces his adventurer recruitment plan.

To do so before a stone-silent crowd who just saw their beloved champion so comically bested shows Ainz’s lack of showmanship. It turns out he also didn’t come just to mess with El-Nix, though he is irked that the emperor rooted loudly for the Warrior King throughout the match.

Ainz’s intent hardly matters, however. By so easily killing the empire’s greatest warrior—then bringing him back to life during his speech—El-Nix is convinced right then and there that surrender is the only way to save his empire and its people. When Ainz visits his box after the bout, El-Nix offers his empire to Ainz as a vassal state.

Hilariously, Inner Ainz has no idea what that means, so makes up an excuse to skedaddle with haste. But El-Nix even interprets that as some kind of shrewed 5D-Chess move. At least one of his generals suggests that maybe Ainz wasn’t really thinking of anything…which was the truth!

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 12 – Savage Burn

After some glimpses of both Naofumi and Kyou’s past lives in the real world—the latter having nothing but contempt for those days and said world—we see the transported Cardinal Heroes of this world just managing to hold their own against the new Waves of Catastrophe, while Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Rishia, and Yomogi enter Kyou’s lab. They’re met by three of the late Kazuki’s ever-loyal attendants in chimera form, and Raph makes quick work of them with her katana.

After that, Kyou does his gloating villain thing and then sends a zombified version of Kazuki after them. While Raph and Filo deal with him, Naofumi and Rishia break through and reach Kyou. Kyou is good enough at what he does to enrage Naofumi enough for him to draw upon the Rage Shield, which quickly takes control of his persona and even tries to choke out Rishia, saying some horrifyingly mean things about her in the process.

Rishia doesn’t take the insults personally, but insists that the rage shield release Naofumi immediately. But what ultimately quells his rage and frees him from the shield’s hold is an echo of Ost, who asserts that he doesn’t need the shield’s flames. Naofumi wakes up flanked by Raph and Filo, accepting the anger he feels for Kyou but letting it pass and moving forward—much to Kyou’s consternation.

Wielding the Vassal Weapon of the missing Mirror Hero of this world, Naofumi ethers Kyou, not because it’s the right thing to do or because it will save this world, but for himself, of his own free will. Even as he is defeated, Kyou seems to think that Naofumi’s troubles are far from over, so he should enjoy his victory while it lasts. After one last appearance from “Ghost Ost”, Yomogi thanks Naofumi for defeating her friend gone entirely astray.

After that, the Waves of Catastrophe vanish and Naofumi’s party is reunited with Kizuna, Glass, L’Arc and Therese. There’s talk of returning to L’Arc’s palace and having a celebratory banquet, but a one-minute countdown sudenly begins on Naofumi’s HUD, the result of having defeated Kyou and retrieving the Spirit Tortoise’s power; the reason he and his party were able to travel to this world.

Kizuna tears up as she accepts the fact their goodbye must come far sooner than she thought, and Naofumi invites her to come by his world anytime she likes, assuming she’s able to do so. Back home in their world, Naofumi is given a medal and the title of Viscount by Queen Mirelia, and learns that the other three Cardinal Heroes made themselves useful while he was gone by repelling the Wave that appeared at the same time it did in Kizuna & Co.’s world. But while things are relatively peachy, other problems remain to be dealt with, like a new awakened Guardian Beast, the Phoenix.

While there’s still an episode remaining, this felt like a finale, and not a great one. Things felt incredibly rushed, Naofumi moving past his rage felt like a retread of last season; the occasionally fun Kyou was profoundly one-dimensiona, and while Ost was a warm and loveable character, her emotional involvement in this episode and arc felt unfinished and unearned.

While it wasn’t without a couple of decent episodes, I’m sad to say this second season has proved to be a pale shadow of his predecessor. That said, there’s one episode—and an entire third season—to come. Maybe they’ll be better.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 08 – Live Your Own Life, Then Die

Moments after Rose’s prosthetic hand and wrist shatters after one too many Crimson Rose Bullets, we learn how she ended up with it in the first place: she got in too deep with the underground, and one day (or probably more appropriately, night) she lost, and the price was her hand. Leo only visited her to tell her she was stupid and he was having nothing more to do with her. He found someone new.

Rose meets this someone new, watches her fire a Blue Bullet, then tries to get her to work for her, but Eve isn’t about that. In fact, she didn’t show up on Rose’s doorstep until she wanted to play against Aoi. Fast-forward to the present, and Rose is going to play golf with one arm. Yes, you heard me. And she does.

Not only that, she comes heart-crushingly close to sinking the ball on just her second shot, a perfect shot from 140 yards away. But close is no cigar, which opens the door for Eve to take the win. The episode then jumps forward, to when the construction vehicles are about to level Klein’s bar while she, Lily, and the kids watch.

That’s when Eve shows up in Vipére’s car (and Vipére does a J-turn waaaaay too close to the children) and tells them to hop in, even though the car in question is tiny. Their problems are solved. She opens her new briefcase full of cash (again, a questionable decision in an open convertible traveling at high speed). She won. Rose lost.

From there, things start flying high. Vipére, as a treat, gives Klein’s whole family new identities (a snake keeps her ear to the ground), which allows Klein to buy a new bar, Lily to help out there, and the three refugee kids (from Palestine, Syria, and Somalia, by the way) to go to school for the first time.

Vipére herself ends up on a yacht, seemingly retiring both from golf and from wearing fangs. But while her family’s future is secure, it’s not all gravy for Eve. She meets Rose’s underling Anri on a rooftop, where Anri tells her that as a result of her victory, Catherine has put hits out on both Rose and her. Anri can’t quite kill Eve herself, even though she wants to. Instead, she runs away in tears, telling her to live her life however she wants, then die…with emphasis on the “die”.

Certain for some reason that A., Catherine won’t go after her family and B., Catherine will never know to send hitmen to Japan, Eve gets on a train to the airport bound to Aoi’s homeland, to fulfill the promise she made to meet her on a legit golf course. It’s the promise that drove her stunning victory, bouncing her ball of Rose’s and landing in the cup.

Mind you, shit like that probably won’t fly in above ground golf. But knowing her best years were behind her, Rose always intended for Eve to surpass her, and is glad her ass was kicked so thoroughly. She sits by the water with a cig, having summoned Leo to ask why he gave up on Eve. He tells her because he didn’t believe he could awaken her full potential.

But that time is seemingly coming. As if to underscore the official changing of the guard, Leo’s departure is immediately followed by the arrival of Catherine’s hitman. Before he pulls the (real, not metaphorical) trigger and ends her life, Rose briefly glimpses an ideal possible life when she was on the pro tour, with Leo as her proud caddy. Maybe in another life. This tragic moment is followed up by Eve is on a plane bound for Japan and to her beloved Aoi, who just can’t believe the drinks are free.

I will savor and treasure this episode for a long time, and you should too: it’s about as good as anime can get. Engaging, deadly serious, and absolutely window-lickingly bonkers in the same breath. And with only 4-5 episodes left, I desperately hope we get a second season, as it seems Eve’s golf story is only beginning now that she has emerged from the shadows and leapt into the light. The world would be a better place with more Birdie Wing in it.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 12 (Fin) – Gochisousama

I love the battle music in PriConne not just because it’s tremendous in its own right, but reminds me of other great battle themes, like this one from early in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which gets me in the mood to write about this fantastic finale.

The final feast of PriConne 2 is a sumptuous multi-course smorgasbord comprised of myriad shapes, sizes and colors. Yuuki not only powers up Pecorine, but everyone, and the townsfolk rally for the sake of their princess. Kaiser is wrong; they’re not useless in just being able to yell. It’s because of them Peco and the others are able to fight and break through.

When Kaiser decides “screw it, I’m going to destroy this cursed world”, she brings up her two aces in the hole, Neneka and Labyrista, whose minds she’s overthrown. But their combined attack (which resembles the bankai Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) is blocked and nullified…by a reinvigorated Karyl, choosing the right side and sticking with it.

As the battle progresses, Kaiser (AKA Mana) longs to be reunited with someone named “Minerva”, without whom she’s endured crushing loneliness for countless time loops. Yuuki is able to release Kaiser’s hold on Labyrista’s avatar, and Labyrista quickly releases Neneka. Having lost her two most powerful weapons, Kaiser doubles down on her recklessness by letting the shadows envelop and overthrow her.

As final bosses tend to do, this turns her into a colossal slime monster, but thanks to the other guilds showing up to support them, the Gourmet Guild are able to leap inside the mass of goo, and Yuuki, Kokkoro and Pecorine are able to clear the way for Karyl to reach her majesty and try to save her.

In a gray morose world on the brink of destruction, Karyl, Kaiser’s Princess Knight, won’t let her body and soul vanish into the abyss. Even when the structure around them crumbles, Karyl doesn’t let go, and even though geting her there mortally wounded Yuuki, he chooses to go back and reach out to Karyl, pulling both her and Kaiser out of sure oblivion and back into the world.

The townsfolk rejoice as the Gourmet Guild emerge unharmed and victorious. Kaiser, either no longer a threat or unwilling to fight any further, accepts her loss and is arrested. Her spell on Peco’s parents is lifted, and they remember their daughter and embrace her.

Her friends look on with full hearts as she weeps buckets of tears of joy into the bosom of her mother the queen. And then she takes her rightful place back at Landosol Castle, addressing her adoring people.

Back at the Gourmet Guild, Karyl is the new chef, and assures the others that her meal might not look like much but it tastes great. Yuuki and Kokkoro praise her, but Kokkoro makes the mistake of serving tea to their fourth member, and all three of them suddenly feel her absence.

That is, until they hear her voice and see her in the doorway. While she’s glad her parents remember her and she’s a princess again, she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to rule the kingdom she just took back. So she re-joins Gourmet Guild as Pecorine, primed to go on a lot more adventures and gain the experience she’ll need once she comes into her throne.

This was a breathless banger from start to finish; an episode with a whole lot to do that managed to pull it off with a brilliant flourish before returning to the warm and peaceful Gourmet Guild house. It’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a finale…I just wish we could spend a little more quiet time with the guild now that there are no more secrets or divided loyalties…just food, fun, and family!

P.S. While it’s a totally different an much older game, I feel compelled to end this write-up with one of my favorite victory themes, from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time:

86 – 22 – Somewhere Left to Go

Remember 86? The show left us hanging, but it’s finally back to give us a conclusion. Shin succeeds in defeating Kiri, but is knocked out by the blast of Morpho’s self-destruct. He dreams of those who died before him, from his brother to his fellow Eighty-Six who thank him one by one.

I don’t think Shin’s interested in thanks, or for the gratitude of scores of people who died before him. Rather, he’s tired of being the one to survive; for everyone to fight till the end, only for their ends to come before his. This is someone who never thought of the future because the only future he could see was one of soul-crushing solitude.

But when the Legion flak fly away en masse, revealing a vivid bed of funereal higanbana, a solitary female soldier appears and makes contact. We know it’s Lena, but since Shin has never actually seen her, he’s not sure at first. The two exchange cordial words as Lena draws closer, teasing the long-awaited in-person meeting between these two seeming soulmates…

That said, a part of me prepared for the possibility Shin and Lena actually wouldn’t actually come face-to-face, despite being so close…and being kind of oddly okay with that, despite how cruel it felt. Seeing Lena alive and well, in the flesh, and unwilling to run from the war restores Shin from his doldrums. Seeing her hold Theo’s drawing of her as a pig and a photo of Spearhead in her hands, and hearing her say she wants to catch up to him, brings a rare smile to his face.

We learn that Lena is the commander of what’s left of San Magnolia’s forces, which isn’t surprising at all considering she was one of the only soldiers who took her job (and the threat of the Legion) seriously. We also learn that the Giad Federacy will be assisting San Magnolia with rescue efforts.

Shin expected his trip would be a one-way variety, while he would be the last person standing against the overwhelming might of the Legion. And yet here we are, Morpho gone, the Federacy still intact, and, to his delight, Kurena, Raiden, Anju and Theo are still alive, as are Frederica and Wenzel. In Frederica’s case, it was Kiri who protected her from his own explosion.

When the Spearhead gang is back together in the briefing room, everyone is eager to hear Shin describe what the Major looked like. He lies and says he couldn’t see her, but it’s clear to them Lena has grown quite a bit, and that Shin always had a soft spot for her.

More importantly, the universe decided to cut Shin a break for once. Be it Lena or his Spearhead colleagues, those he thought dead weren’t dead after all, but fought and survived. Lena, not knowing she was talking to the Reaper, said that’s something to be proud of…and for the first time in his life, Shin was.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 09 – The Thing You Wanted Most

Once, in a blue moon, an anime gives you exactly what you want. This was one of those times. All I wanted was to bask in the adorable bliss of Takagi and Nishikata’s 100% Unrequited Love: The Movie Date, and that is what I got. No school, no ancillary characters…just our main couple, together, like they were always meant to be.

The show teases us a bit by starting with Nishikata’s dream of “SanTa-kagi” visiting his home in the middle of the night and giving him a gag gift, then shows us Takagi at the ferry pier looking lonely and a little worried…until she spots Nishikata running to her, late and apologetic.

Nishikata realizes that with the year about to end he hasn’t scored a single victory against Takagi; a wrong he’s determined to right. After the ferry ride, he suggests they kill time at an arcade, and come across a new 100% crane game. His heart is set on the Kyunko+Ikeo plushie set, but tries to go for the easier score: a puzzle.

He fails, losing both to Takagi and to himself for trying for the easy win at the cost of what he really wanted. Then it’s Takagi’s turn at the controls and she quickly and effortlessly acquires the plushie set…which she can tell was the thing Nishikata really wanted, and so immediately gifts to him. She’s simply happy to have done something to make him happy.

When the two move on to the movie theater, Nishikata is very cognizant of the fact that some “couples” there might be fake couples who are only putting on airs so they can get the special gift for couples. While he considers himself and Takagi to be one of those “couples of convenience”, he’s determined to pass them off as a real couple (which of course they actually are).

This results in him strutting up to one of the attendants and declaring “two tickets for the Nishikata couple”—rather than Nishikata reservation—both surprising and delighting Takagi in the process. They also decide to go in on a “100% In Love Set”—two sodas and a large popcorn to share. Before heading into the theater, Nishikata hangs back to go to the bathroom, but he really just needs some time alone to write a Christmas card for Takagi.

When he enters the theater and spots the familiar back of Takagi’s head, he thinks to himself “I’m gonna sit…right next to her?” Yes you are, Nishikata, and you’ll like it! The two unwrap the special couple gift, which turns out to be a set of miniature figurines of a Santa Ikeo giving Shunko a Christmas gift.

The movie starts, and as the two lovebird dip into the popcorn their hands touch. As we know, the same voice actors who voice them also voice Shunko and Ikeo. The two thoroughly enjoy the movie, with Nishikata unable to hold back tears as the credits roll.

After the movie, the two stroll around town a bit, with Takagi asking Nishikata what kind of girl is his type, guessing that it’s someone like Kyunko—a bit of a klutz but also earnest and kind and always trying her best. Nishikata says he doesn’t think of Kyunko quite that way, and that’s to be expected, as he’s the Kyunko to Takagi’s Ikeo in their relationship!

Quite suddenly, Takagi challenges Nishikata to a race to an electric pole, which he wins easily, netting him his first and only “win” of the year, just what he wanted. Naturally, he gets totally full of himself and believes he simply cannot lose to Takagi, proving it by having her guess which hand he has a coin in.

Later, she bumps into him from behind, and, sensing something’s up, asks her straight-up what’s up with her. Turns out she decided to try acting like the klutzy-yet-earnest Kyunko for a little while, hoping he’d think she was cute. But Nishikata likes Takagi the way she is, teasing and all.

Takagi just happens to pose in front of the town Christmas tree as it lights up, spurning Nishikata to produce his Christmas present to her: a pair of gloves to keep her hands warm. Takagi can’t hide her surprise, nor her joy, at being given a thoughtful gift by the boy she likes. Nishikata notes that this isn’t turning out anything like his dream…which is good!

Takagi then gives Nishikata her Christmas gift to him: a scarf she made for him, partly while they were on library duty. Then they board the ferry back home, and Nishikata walks Takagi to her house, and they wave goodbye to each other. There’s no classic “confession” scene…but there doesn’t have to be one.

Nishikata walks, then runs home full of joy, having experienced perhaps the best day of his life. The Christmas card he bought and wrote for Takagi was advertised at the store as something “to someone you care about!” Turns out Takagi bought the very same card for him.

So while the actual messaging on the cards is somewhat cordial—he writes “Thanks for everything today”; she writes “Thanks for another fun year”—the more important message conveyed to one another is that they wrote those messages on a card they bought knowing it was for someone they cared about. Someone they love spending time with.

I don’t see how Nishikata can ever dare to deny who Takagi is to him anymore. Not after he, and Takagi, and all of us got everything we could have ever asked for, and more, out of the Best Date Ever.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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