Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 06 – Calculating Change

After a major shakeup last week, MT slows down as we remain in Roa for the duration. Rudeus learns that while he played a vital role in protecting Eris, Ghislaine is to be given all credit for reasons related to the intricate politics of the Greyrats and the land they rule. He meets Phillip’s father Lord Sauros, the ruler of the Fittoa region of the Asura Kingdom, which includes the city of Roa.

Rudy immediately sees how much Eris both takes after and imitates her grandfather, from their penchant for punching to the way they cross their arms. As for Eris’ mother, let’s just say she doesn’t seem too fond of young Rudy—particularly the way his gaze lingers on her bosom.

Eris asked Lord Sauros to ask Rudy to teach her magic, but Rudy insists that Eris learn to ask for things on her own, and Sauros agrees. Rudy is shocked when the “proper” manner of asking him is for Eris to hold her hair like drooping beast person ears and say “nyan” after every sentence!

A month of tutoring passes. Eris learns to summon fire, and is all about sparring with Rudy, since she always mops the floor with him. Honestly, the animation is so good I could watch her beat him up all day. Her reading, writing, and math lessons, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. Whenever she’s tired of learning, she runs away; when he catches her, she punches him.

One of these times, she falls asleep in a barn, and Rudy sees fit to try to assault her by copping a feel and then attempting to steal her underwear. After two straight episodes of behaving himself, it’s disappointing to see him reverting to his baser ways. At least he gets immediate comeuppance: a brutal beating from Eris in the barn, and again when they spar and she doesn’t hold back.

One day during lessons, Eris simply snaps, and it dawns on Rudy: he hasn’t given her any time off. So the two of them and Ghislaine head out to Roa to see the sights and shop. While Rudy takes notes about the prices of goods in different parts of the market, a merchant who can tell he’s from the Lord’s manor presents him with across a fancy aphrodisiac that costs the equivalent of a million yen.

Rudy also checks out the magical tomes, and Eris, feeling generous, offers to buy him one. When he learns she’d simply get the money from her gramps, he offers her another lesson: only give gifts with money you earned. She learns how little he makes compared to her Sword King bodyguard, while he says they’ll ask her dad to start giving her an allowance.

As the sun starts to set, an odd shadow dances across the buildings and streets, and for the first time since arriving in Roa, Rudy spots a massive floating fortress in the sky. Eris and Ghislaine tell him it’s the fortress of the Armored Dragon King Perugius, hero of humanity who along with twelve servants defeated the Demon-God Laplace over four centuries ago.

It’s a lot of world lore suddenly dumped on us at once, but it’s nevertheless intriguing, and I hope we one day get to explore that fortress with Rudy. Until then, the tutoring continues back at the manor. Eris casually presents him with the vial of aphrodisiac which she bought with her allowance as a gift to him. The catch is, she doesn’t know what it is, and insists he tell her.

Once he lets slip that it’s an aphrodisiac, Ghislaine is on to him, and has no qualms about restraining him while Eris tries to tickle it out of him. The vial eventually breaks, and it’s a good thing too—I was dreading either Ghislaine or Eris suddenly becoming love-drunk. Still, my distaste for the insistence on keeping Rudy a pervert affected my score.

Check out Crow’s episode 6 review here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 05 – Taking the Tsun with the Dere

Via a handwritten letter from Paul instructing him to read it out loud (Ghislaine can’t read), Rudeus learns about his new job as academic and magic tutor to a nine-year-old girl in the city of Roa, for whom Gislaine is both bodyguard and sword instructor. It’s a five-year commitment, ending when he turns 12, and in that time he’s forbidden to contact home.

Paul did this because he suspected Rudy and Sylphie might enter a co-dependent relationship that would be harmful for both of them. He also tells him the young lady is “fair game”, but hands off Ghislaine, whom he mentions having bedded previously. Fortunately, this is all we hear of Paul this week, and presumably for the next five years of Rudy’s life.

Rudy takes this sudden change in his life extraordinarily well for someone who had not only become comfortable in his previous life holed up in his room, but also became comfortable in his home village with Sylphie. He realizes one can become too comfortable, and life too easy. If this job will help pay academy, tuition, he’s game.

Upon meeting Phillip Boreas Greyrat, Rudy learns he’ll be under the employ of his father’s cousin (i.e. his cousin once removed), making his daughter, Eris, his second cousin. And while Phil says his daughter is “a bit willful”, that hardly does her justice. Rudy bows as a noble should, but is immediately dismissed as too young by the fiery, ultra-tsun Eris.

Eris brooks no back-talk, as when Rudy asks what age has to do with tutoring her, she slaps him across the face. He slaps back, but far from cowing her, she pounces and starts beating the shit out of him until he has to push her off with wind magic. She then chases him around the manor.

Despite this first interaction, Rudy isn’t ready to give up, which impresses Phil (at this point, all other tutor candidates quit). Rudy can see the challenge his father has laid out for him, and knows full well he’ll be laughed at if he turns tail and runs home.

More than that, Rudy has had his fill of being beaten up from his previous life. In his position as tutor he’s going to teach the intense, violent Eris that violence should never be the first resort, and one can’t get too comfortable committing it.

After proposing some kind of scheme with Phil to get Eris to accept him as her tutor, we cut to Rudy emerging from a wooden box with bound hands in a grimy dungeon. He wakes Eris up and explains the situation: they’ve been taken hostage by brigands.

When their captors enter and Eris treats them with immediate derision, she’s met with a level of violence she’s unable to keep up with. While she’s bloodied and missing several teeth, she’s still defiant. The degree to which she’s beaten also indicates to Rudy that the false kidnapping plan he arranged may have turned into the real thing.

Rudy is reasonably sure he could overpower the guards, but not sure enough to risk it, and in any case his first lesson as tutor is that might makes right, something he wants to avoid. Instead, he partially heals Eris, bars the door with stone, and busts through the window bars. Eris asks for help, but he’ll only take her with him if she promises not to yell and scream or be violent.

As the baddies bust through the barred door, Eris agrees, and Rudy whisks her off. The moment he’s fully healed her, she’s back to yelling and acting imperious. At this point he bids her farewell, but she soon forms up behind him, saying she was only joking and will honor their promise.

The two take a horse cart back to Roa without incident. The men who race ahead of them on horseback seem like bad news, but Rudy is condient once they’re within Roa’s walls that they’ll be safe. That is, until Eris is snatched up again and one of Phil’s attendants reveals he’s in league with the brigands to exact a ransom.

Rudy halts their escape with Eris by erecting a stone wall in their path and prepares for battle, but he’s outnumbered and surrounded. The baddies offer Rudy a generous cut of the ransom for his cooperation—equal to more than ten enrollments in Magic University with change to spare.

Rudy admits it’s a tempting offer, but if there’s one thing his dating games have taught him, it’s how betraying the girl for money can only bode poorly for one’s affection levels and chances of winning the girl’s heart. So he rejects the offer and launches a massive firework into the sky to blind the baddies, enabling him to snatch Eris out of their clutches.

Rudy is able to get some distance between him and the brigands and lays down suppressive fire magic, but one of the baddies practices the North God Sword Style, which includes deadly sword-throwing. Rudy cannot avoid the path of thrown sword or summon magic fast enough to deflect it.

Fortunately for him, Ghislaine saw the firework and headed for its launching point. Using her immense beastperson strength and speed, she’s able to make it in time to shatter the thrown blade into metal dust and kill two of the brigands in one sensational, fluid, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movement.

It’s a moment that briefly but powerfully demonstrates the potential of a show as well-funded and lovingly made as Mushoku Tensei—it can match the artistry and badassery of Jujusu Kaisen or Demon Slayer. Rudy is also haunted by the sight of one of the dead brigands, who is headless and robed in blood. He can’t hear, freezes up, and has to be snapped back to coherence by Ghislaine. Compare that to Eris, who is just happy to see her bodyguard and doesn’t really react to the blood.

The intensity of what Rudy just went though stays with him when they return to the Boreas Greyrat home, otherwise none the worse for wear. Rudy deems his plan to be a failure, as in the end things spiraled out of his control and he and Eris could have ended up dead without intervention from Ghislaine. Notably, Eris slaps her father’s hand away when he tries to help her, as she prefers to get up herself.

Rudy turns to leave, but after a few beats, Eris turns back around and orders him to stop, then tells him he has “special permission” to call her Eris—no “lady”, just Eris. When he asks if that means she’ll let him teach her, she turns back around, but it’s clearly not a “no”, and his mood brightens appreciably.

While an archetypal tsundere out of the gate and throughout this episode, I still found Eris’s desire to stand on her own two feet and utter lack of patience for bullshit admirable. Like Rudy when he arrived in the world and to this day, she has a lot to learn, and from reading, writing, arithmetic and magic, Rudy has a lot to offer.

The faux-then-real kidnapping was a worthy means of bringing the two together, and showing us just how awesome Ghislaine is. I’m sad Sylphie gets the short end of the stick, but it should be a fun five years. I’m hoping they don’t fly by too fast!

Check out Crow’s review of episode 5 here.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 12 (Fin) – The Multitudes of Me

Elaina’s final trip takes her to the suspiciously foggy “Country That Makes Your Wishes Come True”. Elaina enters the country wishing to become rich, and is utterly mystified when she happens upon a landscape comprised of all of the places from her travels thus far.

Things get even stranger when she enters Mirarosé’s palace to find no less than fifteen alternate versions of herself. Some of them represent individual personality traits she possesses, while others are just random like the gel and ghoul versions.

Hondo Kaede has a blast voicing all these different one-note versions of Elaina, but I have to admit…it’s all a bit much. The intros were fun, but the gimmick wore quickly. This wasn’t one of those dreaded Recap finales, but it did borrow elements from the previous episodes, without adding much new or compelling, which gave it the sheen of a recap.

Deemed “Protagonist Me” by her intellectual version, Elaina sits down on the throne and orders the others to go out and investigate, but all of a sudden the “Violent Me” everyone else had been avoiding bursts into the palace.

Violent Me’s hair is still short from being cut by the ripper, as apparently she never emotionally recovered from the events at the town with the clock tower. All the other versions kind of hang around while the Protagonist and Violent Elainas fight to a draw (as expected).

Only when both are completely exhausted of magic and can no longer fight does Elaina try to calmly discuss things with her violent self. While we heard Elaina wish to become “rich” back in the beginning, it seems the country interpreted that as becoming rich with different “experiences”.

As such, all of the versions Elaina has now encountered represent different paths and possibilities available to her on her journeys. She also believes her other selves wished for the same thing, which brought them all together to pool their stories into a single book: Wandering Witch.

Elaina then wakes up in a meadow; the whole ordeal with her versions was just an elaborate dream. She hops back on her broom and continues her travels, cognizant of and excited for all of the possibilities and choices those travels will present.

In an epilogue that seems to preview a second cour of Elaina I’m not sure it earned, Elaina (in plain clothes) bumps into someone with similarly ashen hair but green eyes. They’re both holding red books, and when they bump into each other, those books get switched. This person’s name is apparently “Amnesia.” Um…alright then!

It’s a curious yet also fitting way to end a show that was never quite sure what it wanted to be: episodic or serialized; lighthearted and comedic or dark and dramatic. It started strongly and had a couple of powerful episodes, but that lack of decisiveness and focus in the stories it wished to tell ultimately dulled its impact.

Read Crow’s episode 12 review here!

Fruits Basket – 50 (Second Season Fin) – Feather Brain

Despite all of the chaos and craziness of These Times, leave it to the trusty Fruits Basket’s second season to end one year to the day after the first season ended in 2019. And it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a one-two punch that will leave your pulverized heart slowly stewing in your stomach, even as the brightest rays of hope yet shine upon Tooru’s mission.

The opening images herald what’s to come. As soon as I saw a young, bewildered Kureno surrounded by floating feathers and a positively terrified Akito cowering behind him, I knew the big secret Shigure has known, and would be dying to reveal were it not up to Kureno himself later: Kureno is not a Zodiac member. He hasn’t been for years. His bond with Akito was severed; the curse lifted…only to be immediately replaced by a new curse of his own making.

To the part about his curse being lifted, it’s the best news yet that Tooru’s dream of lifting it for all isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but a reality waiting to be realized. Of course, Tooru doesn’t know anything about this at first, and nor does Rin: but the fact that Rin will remain in a room and talk with Tooru (but leave the moment Yuki shows up) may well foreshadow future collaboration between the two. I certainly hope so, anyway!

For now, Tooru is happy for a new year with Yuki and Shigure and oh yeah, Kyou, who doesn’t appear in this episode, since the exploration of his and Tooru’s failure to confess to one another is best left to a future season for it to be done justice. Instead, most of the episode is given over to the truth about Kureno, and how he’s always seemed “off” to both Shigure and Hatori.

Kureno manages to steal away from a sleeping Akito’s side deep into the night, and plays the Cinderella-ish DVD given to him by Tooru c/o Momiji Both of them pray he’ll watch it, and he does. The scene with Tooru and Kyou was so powerful I almost forgot Arisa also bore her whole damn heart in the play.

First she castigated Prince Kyou for not acting on his feelings when there are “people out there (like her and Kureno) who can’t see the ones they wish to see.” When Arisa cries out “I want to see him!” Kureno can’t help but reach out. But his image of a smiling Arisa in her work apron is juxtaposed by a hysterical younger Akito begging him “Don’t abandon me!” and the dimensions of Kureno’s own personal prison come into clear focus.

The moment Tooru returns home to Shigure’s, he sends her out on an errand to buy envelopes, knowing full well she’ll do it immediately and with a smile (this is Tooru, after all). He also knows it will take her past a certain park where Kureno is waiting. Before noticing him, Tooru approaches a flock of sparrows, who naturally aren’t afraid of her what with her gentle soul and calming aura.

Then Kureno approaches her, and the birds scatter. This confuses Tooru to no end since she’s seen rabbits, rats and cats naturally gather around Momiji, Yuki, and Kyou, respectively. Then the absolute kicker: Kureno draws Tooru into a hug…and nothing happens. He tells her plainly: he’s different. His curse is broken. He isn’t a member of the Zodiac.

It would have been one thing if his burgeoning love for Arisa had broken the curse, but it happened long before they met, and to this day Kureno couldn’t tell you exactly why. All he knows his how he felt when it happened. At first he was sad upon realizing he’d never fly again. But he also felt a happiness and a freedom and a sense of humanity he’d never felt before.

Even so, he says, upon returning the DVD, Tooru’s present “was for nothing”, as he doesn’t intent to see Arisa again, and will instead remain by Akito’s side as he has done. It seems like a firm declaration, but as he tries desperately to rationalize two simple insignificant meetings with Arisa as easily forgotten with time…he just can’t do it.

There’s no supernatural or spiritual bond keeping him by Akito’s side. It is more pity than love, along with years of trying to make it something it hadn’t been since the curse broke. Upon realizing their bond was broken Akito lost it, taking Kureno aside and threatening to kill anyone else who approached. And then she sobbed and begged and pleaded for him not to leave her. And Kureno, being younger than Tooru is now and not knowing any better, gave in.

Things are even more different now than they were then. Kureno resolved neither to go too far into the outside world nor seek anything there, but he’s fallen in love for the first time since the curse broke, since he “became human”, as he puts it. And as much as he may want to stay by Akito’s side, just as back then, something has happened that cannot be undone.

Kureno might have been able to deceive the other Zodiac members for a while, but I doubt he ever deceived Akito. And yet despite knowing the curse was broken, his staying probably signaled to Akito that their power still held sway, which turned out to be true, only if psychologically and not supernaturally.

As Tooru tries to comfort the long-tormented Kureno, he tells her without self-pity, hatred, or regret, that he made his choice to live only for “the one who cried until sobs racked their body. Weaker than anyone…more fragile than anyone. For the one…so afraid…for a sorrowful girl.”

Akito wakes up before Kureno returns, and notes that it’s the first time he’s left without permission. After ordering their attendants to find him, Akito takes a bath, and when their robe slips off in the mirror, it is finally officially confirmed that Akito is a woman. This had already been heavily implied, both in design, choice of seiyu (Sakamoto Maaya), and in other subtle ways. But that doesn’t lesson the impact of learning the truth explicitly.

Immediately upon Tooru learning Akito is a girl, the second season ends, having answered so many questions and yet left us with so many more about what’s to come. Will Tooru (and Rin, and other allies) succeed in her quest to lift the curse for all? Will she even continue the quest, knowing how much pain it will cause Akito to take her remaining Zodiac members away? Will Tooru ever allow herself to love someone more than her mother? Will Kureno and Arisa meet again? Will Akito escalate her grudge against Tooru?

Lots to ponder, for sure. And that’s even before we get into how we’re supposed to feel about Akito, who regardless of gender has been a pretty consistently selfish, cruel, dispicable character from the start. It goes without saying she’d have a tragic past of her own to match her myriad psychological issues, and while I can empathize, goddamn is it hard to sympathize, when weighing the suffering she’s caused the others.

For all of that food for thought, and yearning for the next season, and the expert direction and framing and pitch-perfect music throughout, I found this one of the best episodes of Fruits Basket yet, which at this point is saying something, and it will be very very hard to wait for what’s next.

P.S. Additional food for thought: the reason Akito cherishes Kureno so much is because he is there by his own free will, and not due to any binding curse, something I hadn’t considered until we learned he’s no longer a Zodiac member. Ultimately this is the way all her companions should be: there by choice and not force. Of course, she’d have to be much nicer to them…

Want to read more? Read Crow’s thoughts here.

Fruits Basket – 49 – Wishing for Change

When Kakeru brings up ranger colors, Yuki surprises Machi by asking her what her favorite color is. No one has ever asked her that, and she doesn’t know anyway. She gets up to leave when Miki organizes a lunch meetup, but Yuki doesn’t let her slip away wordlessly, giving the cell phone-less Machi a written note of the time and place of the lunch.

Nobody ever paid any attention to Kuragi Machi. She passes through people and places as if she is invisible. She has no favorite color or preferred restaurant. She calls herself dull, a void, and a defective doll. Her apartment is a mess, because why bother keeping it clean if no one ever visits? She’s watched Yuki and how he’s changed, but can’t see if or how she can do the same.

Still, she took the simple maple leaf Yuki gave her and made it into a lovely bookmark, and possibly also a talisman; a reminder that change is not just possible, but necessary. Just as she’s wondering if her existence is necessary, Yuki answers that question by flagging her down; in her half-asleep stupor she happened to end up at the meeting spot for an even she had no intention of attending.

I’d been hoping for more Machi material, and this week we get lots. Despite her claims of dullness I find her a fascinating example of a non-Souma with Souma-like baggage, and thus an intriguing potential partner for Yuki, whom we’ve learned never had particularly romantic feelings for Tooru. Her problems are also an opportunity for Yuki to pay forward the progress he himself has made.

New Year’s is here, and there too are changes from last year. Yuki will be attending in addition to Shigure, so Tooru and Kyou will spend the holiday at Kazuma’s house, where Tooru is perhaps overly excited to learn that Isuzu is staying as well as she continues her recovery. Unfortunately Rin isn’t in the mood for Tooru’s exuberance.

Considering the line they independently drew between themselves, I’m not surprised Tooru and Kyou are fine with not spending New Years alone together—even though that delays the inevitable. That said, it’s still a hoot to watch them interact, with Tooru playfully hitting of Kyou with the pompom of her new scarf easily making the list of Top 10 Most Adorable Things Tooru Has Ever Done.

Meanwhile the banquet appears to be going off without a hitch. After Hatori performs a dance we sadly don’t get to see and Ayame entertains the others with his magnetic personality, Akito and Yuki seem on the cusp of a détente, with Akito deigning to forgive Yuki his past insolence now that he’s here.

But Yuki, as bold in front of Akito as we’ve ever seen him, deigns to forgive him as well, then goes on about how he’s done blaming others for his problems, and has resolved to be more aware of his flaws and areas in his life which he can improve. Yuki is essentially talking about change, which is anathema eternal Zodiac god like Akito.

Akito likes Yuki the way he is—or rather the way he thinks he is, which is in reality no longer the way he was. Yuki isn’t back because he was cowed or came to his senses or is admitting he was wrong; he’s back as a simple courtesy, which must feel patronizing to Akito. So Akito breaks a ceramic pot across Yuki’s face, and just like that, Yuki’s past and future absences from the banquet are handily justified.

It’s not a severe laceration—just a small cut on the scalp—but if anyone from Prince Yuki had seen their beloved Yuki’s beautiful face thus marred I’m not certain Akito would have made it out of the room in one piece! To Yuki, it was probably worth it to say something to Akito that in a perfect world all Zodiacs would be able to say to Akito: It is YOU who is a useless piece of shit who should just disappear. Mind you Yuki doesn’t actually say this; but it’s implied!

When Hatori cleans up the cut, Yuki also makes sure to apologize to him for blaming him for erasing the memories of his childhood friends. He now knows better, and that Hatori too was young and had to obey Akito. Hatori tells him, quite rightly, that there’s nothing to apologize for.

Tooru and Kyou actually end up alone together anyway, as Kazuma steps out and Rin has an early night. Hatsu stops by, but to be with Rin. Explaining Shisho’s mention of Kyou and Rin’s propensity to stare each other down as kids, Kyou tells Tooru that he felt like he stole Shisho from him, and so came to not like her.

As for Tooru’s New Year’s wish (which Kyou asks her for before he tells her his), while last year she wished for Kyou and Yuki to get along (and by their standards, they pretty much do now) this year her wish is arguably more ambitious: for the curse to be broken and happiness to come.

Against a Zodiac system that has endured for centuries without change, Tooru is wishing for change…for revolution. And by golly, if anyone can move the gods in the heavens to grant that wish, it’s Tooru. If they don’t, they can expect no quarter in the scarf pompom-thrashing to come!

Want to read more about episode 49? Check out Crow’s review here!

The Promised Neverland – 06 – The Sting of Omission

Don and Gilda are extremely lucky it’s just Lil’ Phil who comes through that door, quickly defusing the cliffhanger from last week. But Don persists in creating increasingly tense situations for himself and Gilda, and is obsessed with learning the truth the other three won’t tell them, so he steals Mama’s key.

Meanwhile Norman, Gilda, and “Two-Face” Ray agree that in order to escape and survive they’ll have to gather as much info as possible about the outside world, and how they’ll be able to live out there. Emma “introduces” the guys to a potential ally on the outside, discovered by chance by Phil—that squirt’s dropping mad dimes! 

Within many books in the library there are bookplates bearing the name “William Minerva” and various words in morse code. If they can figure out the order of those words, they may be able to glean some kind of useful information Bill is trying to secretly relay to them. It gives the kids hope there might be other humans out there, resisting the demon hegemony.

As for Don and Gilda, they explore deeper and deeper into Mama’s secret chambers, finding all of the stuffed animals and toys (including Little Bunny) that not only confirm that what Norman said about the adults being bad was true, but make them suspect something far worse is going on. Again, a little kid ends up saving them by distracting Mama, who is this close to catching them red-handed.

Norman and Ray scold Don and Gilda, but they know they haven’t gotten the whole story. Norman decides to tell them the truth, and as expected, it’s a lot to take. Don takes out his frustration by slugging both Norman and Ray—the most violent exchange we’ve yet seen between the orphans.

But Don doesn’t hate them, he hates that he was so weak and useless they felt they had to shield him from the truth. After he cools off with Gilda’s help, the other three go outside to properly apologize for lying, and asking if they’re still with them even if failure means death. Without hesitating, Don and Gilda say they are.

Emma feels like a weight has been lifted, but it’s not as if their job has gotten any easier. It only means now there’s no further tension between the five orphans “in the know.” Don and Gilda help steal certain materials that Ray mentions in his report to Mama, detailing Norman’s plot to kill her.

But Norman tells Emma he’s having Ray feed Mama false intel, no doubt so she’ll ultimately be misdirected or otherwise distracted when they make their escape. During his report, Ray also learns that when the monthly shipment occurs in January, he will be the one being shipped out. His time grows short.

Only a week remains until the agreed-upon date of the escape, but the kids get a bit too careless in their open conspiring, and Sister Krone suddenly pops out from behind a tree to announce that she knows everything about what the five of them are plotting.

However, she isn’t angry, nor does she threaten them (not that she has to); instead, she suggests they “join forces” against Mama. I don’t know about the orphans, but I wouldn’t want to legitimately ally myself with any of the adults, particularly Sister, who’s kind of nuts. Then again, if they don’t play ball with her, she could rat them out to Mama. It’s quite the predicament. Where’s William Minerva—or hell, Lil’ Phil—when you need him?