Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 01 (First Impressions) – Getting Serious About Living

Fast on the heels of Zane’s Horimiya comes another contender for Anime of the Season: Jobless Reincarnation, the latest in a rare collection of common stories told uncommonly well. Our protagonist is a 34-year-old NEET hit by a car and killed, but he’s reincarnated as a baby in a fantasy world with all his adult mental faculties and memories intact.

That all-too-familiar premise (for the record, the source LN dates back to 2012) hardly does Jobless justice: from the moment our boy realizes he is the child of the well-endowed young woman who just gave birth to him, his droll adult voiceover (Sugita Tomokazu, I believe) provides a hilariously dry running commentary on his new world.

Rudeus or Rudy, as his parents Zenith and Paul name him, grows up fast, going from a highly mobile infant to a precocious toddler. When he falls down go boom and his mom uses a real healing spell on him, he seeks out the five tomes in his family’s house, learns to read, and gradually learns how to wield water magic.

There’s a wonderful procedural structure to Rudy’s early journey of just figuring things out, but not so rigid a structure that it detracts from the human and emotional sides of his experience. His precociousness also goes noticed by Lilia the live-in maid, as Rudy’s facial expressions betray an older man’s inner wisdom of the world.

While his first attempt to conjure water results in him looking like he fell asleep and wet himself, Rudy hangs in there, gathering any and all basins in which to deposit the water he conjures. Notably, he is able to use magic without the incantations or magic circles the books describe as vital to the process.

Without really trying to, his magical growth remains largely hidden from Zenith and Paul, who are portrayed as dimensional characters with their own needs and wants (they get it on often, as one would expect of a healthy young couple). His family’s home is his entire world, and he’s usually shut up in his room, much as he was as a 34-year-old NEET. This explains a bit why we don’t get to see as much of his family as I’d have liked.

With that hikikomori mentality in mind, it’s as symbolic as it is momentous when Rudy accidentally obliterates the wall of his bedroom with his most powerful water conjuring yet—a giant orb that streaks through the bright blue sky, creating rain for the crops and a rainbow as well. The top-notch animation really sells how powerful—and frightful—magic can be in untrained hands, and how exciting it is to “figure things out.”

When Zenith sees him unharmed and with the magic book nearby, she puts two and two together, and cannot contain her pure joy and delight to have reared a magical prodigy. She and Paul bicker over the promise that he would be raised as a swordsman, but Lilia (showing she’s more than a mere maid—more of a second wife) suggests “Why not both?”

Rudy’s parents—his dad’s a Knight who basically runs the village, and so is not without means—hire a magical tutor to train him, but both they and Rudy are shocked to find she’s no bearded retiree but an adorable young woman with bluish-violet air, ably voiced with by with vulnerability and defiance by Kohara Konomi.

We have the fascinating situation in which Rudy is mentally older than his parents, let alone this mage Roxy Migurdia, and his otaku side comes out when he first sees her and sizes her up (or down, as it were). Roxy isn’t aware of this, has dealt with other parents who thought their kid was The Chosen One, and is dubious of Rudy’s abilities.

Still, she does her job, showing him how a focused magical attack can cleave a tree down in one swipe, then how said tree (treasured by Rudy’s mom) can be repaired with healing magic, which Roxy also knows. Then Rudy demonstrates he can use magic without incantations (again, accidentally, as he’s thrown off when Roxy’s skirt flips up), and re-fells the restored tree, and Roxy knows she’s dealing with someone worth training.

Roxy takes the blame for the tree, but Rudy uses a dating sim-esque line to comfort her, and it works. Then the family welcomes Roxy like one of their own to a sumptuous welcome banquet, and during these lovely warm images Rudy beautifully recites the mission statement of the show:

“It’s like a dream…a dream I’m having as I die from that crash. No, even if it is, I don’t care. In this world, I bet even I can make it. If I live and try as hard as everyone else, get back up when I fall, and keep facing forward, then maybe I can do it. Maybe even I, a jobless, reclusive bum like me can get a do-over at life…and get serious about living.”

I would never have thought I’d be so quickly and easily drawn into yet another Isekai series, but the characterizations and technical execution are so well done, the world it’s crafted so gorgeous and inviting, and the comedy so effortless, it renders Jobless Reincarnation all but irresistible. Yes, we’ve seen this story before, and yes, Rudy is a bit of a creep, but for once it doesn’t matter, at least for me. It goes without saying I can’t wait to see more.

P.S. Looks like Anime News Network’s early reviewers of JR weren’t as enamored as I was, focusing on Rudy’s abhorrent skeeviness and the fact this premise has been done to death.

While I respect their takes, which are just as valid as my own, I prefer to take a more clean-slate approach to the show, and execution can—and in this case, does—outweigh familiarity.

Also, and this is key, Rudy isn’t supposed to be immediately likable or virtuous. He’s just started on a long road of redemption, and his closing monologue suggests he wants to become a better person than he was in his past life.

P.P.S. Crow has written on this episode as well. Check it out here.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 06 – Karma’s a Ba-ba-bitch

Baba got to kick Mitsuko around to his heart’s content because she was alone at the time and unaware of his immobilizing robot mosquitoes. But she was never going to be alone for long; Mitsuko is someone with many friends, and two of them in Awatsuki Maaya and Wannai Kinuho arrive in time to save her.

Maaya uses her buoyancy manipulation to make Mitsuko temporarily light as a feather, so Ruiko can get her to the hospital quickly. Then she and Kinuho show how well they work in sync by demolishing Baba’s dog-bots one by one. Unlike Mitsuko, Baba has no friends. It would be pitiable if it were not all his fault for looking down on everyone.

Ruiko succeeds in getting Mitsuko to the hospital, and Misaka just so happens to witness her battered friend being unloaded from the ambulance. It’s too much to bear. Blaming herself for letting Mitsuko get hurt, a switch flips, and Misaka calmly starts walking, not running, towards her target.

When two of Shokuhou’s clique attempt to stop her, she gives them a choice: let her walk right past them to her destination, or walk right through them. The girls wisely stand aside. Hopefully they’re merely being controlled by Shokuhou and aren’t aware of the crimes she’s committing.

Baba turns down help from his mysterious business associate so he can claim all the credit, which turns out to be his undoing, as is overconfidence in his ability to quickly analyze and neutralize Kinuho and Maaya. He believes he can trick Kinuho into exhausting her water then mobilize his reserve dogs, but Kinuho had a water stream in reserve, and uses it to waterboard him, for a duration that’s not as long as he deserves.

He also thought Maaya was a telekinesis-user, but she’s actually able to control the buoyancy/gravity of herself and objects, including the last trick up his sleeve: his second robo mosquito. She neutralizes it just as it’s about to bite Kinuho, proving yet again that there’s no substitute for friends who care about your well-being in your corner.

Baba ends up running away screaming after Wannai tells him something he needs to hear about his personality flaws, but he’s not screaming because he’s scared. He’s angry because the girls looked down on him, which is what people do to worms like him but he for whatever reason doesn’t see himself as a worm.

He flees to a trailer in a cargo depot and prepares to mobilize his giant Mantis-type robot, planning to get back at Kinuho and Maaya by not just killing them, but defiling and humiliating them and broadcasting it on the internet. You know, just in case you forgot what an apocalyptic asshole this guy is.

Of course, Baba’s most fatal flaw of all is relying so much on things that the Railgun can manipulate and destroy as easily as breathing. And he’s gone and made the Railgun very very mad.

The calmly ferocious avenging Misaka leisurely strides up to the Mantis, relieves it of its arms one by one, and with one nonchalant wave of her arm, reduces it to a cloud of metal shards and wires. She only keeps the communications equipment in tact so she can have a nice little chat with Baba, who is cowering in his suddenly useless control van.

Misaka can’t be 100% sure Baba isn’t being controlled by Shokuhou, so she let’s him of…this one and only time. If he lays a finger on any of her friends ever again, she promises not to hesitate to track him down and crush him. Part of me hopes Baba will learn his lesson and never bother anyone again, or even reform his ways…but another part hopes he’ll test her again and get buried in the grave he already dug for himself.

BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 09

“A lot happened, but today was a good day.” Sakura could say that about just about any day, considering how much she has going on in her life, but I’ll concede that this day was better than most because she got to finally go on a date with Syaoran.

Sakura arrives at the meeting spot early after a quick chat with Yue (during which Kero once again transforms for no reason other than ‘it’s cool’), but Syaoran is earlier still.

The date unfolds as one would expect, with the two periodically getting embarassed and blushing but also generally having a great time. Syaoran also gets to show off his encyclopedic knowledge of jellyfish—they’re poisonous…who knew?! ;)—as well as his fluency in English.

In an interesting scene, Touya appears as a waiter at the aquarium tea room, and Syaoran later feels bad for simply glaring at him (though Touya glared back!) Also, the height difference between Sakura/Syaoran and adults like Touya is a pretty weird quirk of the show. Look how low that table is!

It wouldn’t be a Sakura date without some kind of Card-related excitement, and Sakura almost seems to be expecting some, especially when she takes Syaoran to the same place where she secured the Watery Clow Card. That excitement takes the form of a cracked water tank, in which…something grabs hold of Sakura.

Touya hits the emergency drains and Syaoran plucks her from the water (interestingly, neither seems embarrassed by him carrying her). That tank burst occured just when Syaoran was going to tell Sakura he officially wanted to go out with her.

Instead, it’s a wash (pun intended), but there’s nothing saying they can’t go on another date in the near future. Indeed, when Sakura vows to return to the aquarium after dark to secure the Card there, Tomoyo dresses both her and Syaoran up and makes sure she has plenty of pics and footage taken.

Sakura uses Lucid to hide everyone from security, then goes through various Cards from Gravitation to Flight to Gale, and isn’t quite able to bring down the Card, which rather than watery, has the form of a kind of giant Slinky.

Syaoran comes through with an assist, freezing the Card with ice magic so Sakura can secure “Spiral.” While larger questions loom and few were answered, Sakura is still quite correct that a lot happened, but it was a good day. From the happy would-be couple’s priceless interactions to the gorgeous environs of the aquarium, to even Tomoyo’s next-level surveillance, it was a pretty good episode too.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 11

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Off everyone goes to war…or hopefully (but not realistically), the prevention of war. We meet Ian, a bubby personality who somehow managed not to get killed this week, while Rose takes Alisha up on her offer to witness her actions. Then there is Sorey, who likes Alisha but won’t take a side if there’s war. Instead, he’ll do his job as a Shepherd: purity the malevolence, and try to stop war, not make it.

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Unfortunately the war is already in progress when they arrive, so Sorey has to split off from Alisha and use his three Seraphim to try to do damage control. It’s Alisha’s first taste of large-scale combat, but she’s protected by her honorable underlings.

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No-so-honorable are the Rolance troops who went behind their general’s back to launch a rear suprise attack, while Hyland’s general won’t listen to Alisha’s orders and instead orders his men to capture her, wounding her if necessary.

Bartlow is in full control here, even if he’s nowhere near the actual battle, and Alisha’s reluctance to use violence plays right into his hands. But when the soldiers start coming at her and Rose, they hold their own pretty well, without killing.

Meanwhile, Sorey exerts a good deal of energy to purify an entire battlefield of hellions and malevolence…only to discover there are other battlefields. His task has been made so much harder by the fact everything is already in motion.

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And such is the implacable cowardice and unreasonableness of the Hyland forces under Bartlow’s command, one soldier uses Alisha’s moment of compassion for her own troops, keeping Rose from killing him, to stab her in the back. Things look very bad up until all the troops in the room are swept away by some kind of telekinesis wielded by a mysterious figure floating above them.

So it’s a rough start for Team War Prevention, and with the “Lord of Calamity” superboss on the literal horizon, it’s not getting smoother anytime soon. Though I imagine, with a second season officially coming sometime in 2017, this season’s final episode will feature some kind of resolution.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 10

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I was a lot more into this episode than last week’s, perhaps because it felt like so much more got done. Marlind was a murky mess last week, but here Sorey and Mikleo, now reunited, make quick work of purifying the town’s water.

Of course, those are only the first steps, and the full healing of the town will take the better part of a year, but it’s in far better shape, and Princess Alisha wants to make sure it stays that way, and that her people choose hope over despair.

Rose is also back in the picture, and her presence as friendly merchant early on meant she’d likely show up as a deadly merchant later.

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Like Sorey the Shepherd, Alisha really needs to be everywhere at once in order to be the most effective, but she can’t be, and when the cat’s away the mice will play. The most troublesome rodent is Lord Bartlow, who is sending troops to the buffer zone between Highland and Rolance for war and plunder. She has loyal soldiers to follow her, but little time: she has to leave Marlind at first light to have a chance to stop Bartlow.

Meanwhile, after kicking some baby dragon ass and receiving quite a bit of praise from the town for his hard work, the other shoe finally drops on Sorey’s role when he must purify a hellion who was once a human. He must bear all the malevolence he pulls out of the hellion, something the Seraphim can’t help him with. It’s a lonely, painful duty, and it’s sure to alter Sorey’s demeanor over time.

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Just as Sorey must bear the malevolence born of the despair of ordinary folk, Alisha also understands that choosing not to fight has a cost she’s prepared to bear. When the assassins surround and attack her once more, they are there to prevent the “senseless deaths” from Alisha’s ideals. But even I think they have it all wrong. If Alisha were to give in to Bartlow and allow a free-for-all, it will only worsen global malevolence and hasten calamity.

Alisha tells the leader of the assassins that she doesn’t believe she’ll stop Bartlow; she will, and if they want to stop her, they’ll have to kill her. The masked leader is moved by those words and by Alisha putting her foe’s knife to her throat without the slightest hesitation. The assassin stands down, and Alisha cuts their mask off, revealing Rose. Alisha asks her to accompany her to Glaivend to bear witness to her actions; Rose agrees.

This solid outing of Zestiria aptly illustrated just how awesomely badass Alisha is, how heavy are the burdens she and Sorey (and only they) must bear moving forward, elaborated on the nature of malevolence (hint: it starts with despair over loss), and finally brought Rose into the party.

Even the next ep preview shined, as Rose playfully attempts to swindle Alisha on some beauty sundries, only for Alisha to turn the tables using Rose’s guilt. I’m looking forward to these two interacting not as acquaintances, or opponents, but as comrades.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 09

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This week’s Zestiria still shined in the technical and aesthetic sense, but it felt a bit mechanical, perfunctory, and inevitable, like very practically moving pieces on the board closer together. In this case, it was uniting Sorey/Lailah/Edna with Alisha, and then with Mikleo and his new mascot-like friend Atakk, a Normin Seraphim specializing in powering up other Seraphim like Mikleo.

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We learn of the cause of the storm that blew out the bridges (an Ouroboros) but that boss is soon usurped by a drake (or baby dragon) who is the cause of the malevolence that is sickening and killing the people of Marlind.

Alisha isn’t particularly useful this week, as her attempts to heal the townsfolk with medicine have no effect, to her frustration. However, sometimes it’s about who you know, not what you can personally do…and Alisha knows Sorey, who is happy to help.

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Edna and Lailah aren’t enough to help Sorey rid the city of the drake’s reign of terror; it takes the sudden arrival of Mikleo, whom Sorey can sense and knows everything will work out. Forming a quick sub bond with Sorey and Lailah, Mikleo’s power turns Super-Sorey blue, and they take out the drake with a purifying water-based arrow.

The drake is toast, and the clouds around the city part. It’s good to see everyone back together, and the episode looked and sounded great as usual…but it also felt very neat and tidy, and after last week’s scrap with Eizen, the enemies seemed like pushovers.

There’s also the looming certainty that if this series wraps in three weeks, a satisfying solution worthy of all the buildup won’t be forthcoming. I’m hoping, as with F/s n, the story will continue after a season or two off.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 08

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As Sorey explores the Galahad Ruins for the means to fight beside Sorey, Sorey and Lailah encounter another seraphim, the Earth-aligned Edna, battling a large hellion among Rayfalke’s malevolent fog-covered crags. Edna’s almost bored manner of speaking is in sharp contrast to the expressive Sorey and the rest of his “party members.”

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Sorey tries to lend a hand, but the hellion is finished off—indeed, killed—by another Seraphim, the wind-aligned, pistol-toting, boisterous Zaveid, whose personality is more similar to the characters we saw in Berseria than “teacher’s pets” like Sorey, Mikleo and Alisha.

Zavied is trying to kill a dragon, who shows up shortly thereafter. Turns out the dragon is Edna’s big brother Eizen. Sorey wants to purify him and bring her brother back, but everyone insists once you’ve turned into a dragon there’s no turning you back.

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Sorey brings up a good point: there’s a lot of legends in this world they sitll don’t know about, and indeed many legends that have yet to be written; it’s only reasonable that one such legend in either column would be the first time someone was brought back from being a dragon.

Eizen is a huge and terrifying dragon, moving about and attacking at will with force and fire, while effortlessly dodging Zaveid’s bullets. The conversion effort is going nowhere, so Sorey fuses with Lailah to try to force the issue.

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Eventually, Edna, only prone to emotional outbursts where her brother is concerned, puts herself in the line of fire to plead with him to stop, if a part of him is even still in there. Turns out, it is; Eizen sees his sister and swallows the fireball he was going to launch.

Sorey plucks her out of the air, saving her, and Eizen flies off, the battle ended in stalemate. Frankly, it would have been to quick and easy to both encounter and free Eizen in a single episode. Instead, the battle to save him continues.

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Zaveid goes his separate way in this regard (Eizen was his friend, after all), but Edna forms a sub-contract with Sorey and Lailah, thus joining his party, both to thank and to help him pursue and one day purify Eizen.

They’ll be one Seraphim stronger when Mikleo joins back up with them, as he successfully secures a sacred bow from the ruins (in a pretty but rote scene). We also see that Alisha is running into issues geting to her destination, as a river swell has knocked out the bridge to Marlind.

I imagine the narrative will shift to her story next week, whether or not Sorey & Co. meet back up with her or continue their own quest. But this was another solid and very attractive episode with gorgeous environments, sleek combat, and a score that evokes awe and adventure.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 07

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And so we return to Sorey, Alisha, and Zestiria, right where we left them: staring down a massive storm with a dragon at its core. But just as soon as it appears, it disappears, and while everyone gives him credit as Shepherd for vanquishing it, Sorey didn’t actually do anything.

It was so anticlimactic, it made me wonder if it was the same dragon Velvet was fighting last week, and it vanished because she vanquished it? Maybe dragons transcend time and place, being the manifestation of malevolence and all?

Anyway, all Sorey can do is accept the gratitude of Alisha, the town, and even Lord Bartlow, who invites him to sup with him. Nobody trusts the guy, but he only seems to want to get the measure of the lad, and lets him go when dinner’s over.

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From there, Sorey, Alisha, and Mikleo’s paths diverge, although Alisha and Sorey travel together for a spell, affording Alisha the opportunity to learn more about the Shepherd. As for Milkeo, he’s starting to feel like Sorey has surpassed him so far, he doesn’t know what to do next.

Lailah steers him in the direction of the Galahad Ruins, where a scred relic similar to the holy sword lies; if he can retrieve and wield whatever it is, she believes he will have amassed the strength to continue standing beside his friend.

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Alisha is headed to the learned city of Mirland to deal with a worsening epidemic, while Sorey is headed to the intimidatingly-named Rayfalke Spiritcrest, where he hopes to find a dragon to slay.

By the episode’s end, everyone has gone their separate ways – an interesting development this far along in the show, considering the OP and ED are so gung-ho about a united party that includes Rose, whom we still barely see, and a few characters we have yet to meet.

Instead, everyone has their own business and are on their own in radically different (and beautiful) lands. Only Lailah is with Sorey, but he and Mikleo are looking at the same sky. We’ll see everyone fares in their solo missions—and when and how they’ll reunite.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 06

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The two-part Berseria mini-arc comes to a very exciting and promising close, though its greatnss is blunted by the fact this is likely the last we’ll see, as we’ll be returning to Zestiria next week, meaning this is goodbye to Velvet Crowe for now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the Zestiria story so far, but Berseria might just be the better scenario, as evidenced by her showdown with Praetor Exorcist Oscar Dragonia…then with an actual dragon. Velvet is a particularly rootable badass avenging her little brother, and she doesn’t back down from the white cloaks for a second.

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Ufotable puts on its expected clinic when it comes to smoothness and inventiveness of combat, putting the exorcist’s by-the-book style up against Velvet’s more improv style.

We’re also somewhat clunkily introduced to Magilou (real name much longer), the comic relief mage who becomes the third member of Velvet’s party as the two of them plus Rokuro all want the same thing: to get off this island.

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To do so, Velvet must devour a mortally wounded Seres in order to absorb her power and her “Arte” overpowered attack. Seres gives up her life willingly, so that Velvet can continue the good work of opposing Artorius’ ideals.

Seres is putting her faith in Velvet and her new friends to finish the job she started by freeing her from the prison. Velvet also receives the comb that once belongs to the brother she cherished, no doubt an important talisman.

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When Rokuro and Magilou run into some trouble with the dragon, Velvet re-emerges from the dungeon she was thrown into, and proceeds to devour the dragon, gaining even more power. Oscar is pretty powerless to stop her, and she, Rokuro and Magilou take the one surviving ship off the island.

Velvet sets their destination: Loegres, the capital of Midgand, where her quest to defeat Artorius will continue. And that, it seems is where we will leave Velvet and her little band of badasses. I’ll be sad to see them go, but I have no doubt the continuation of Zestiria won’t disappoint either.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 05

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Last week’s TZX left us hanging, with apocalypse apparently upon Ladylake, but this episode made no attempt to arrest that suspense in any way. Indeed, this week’s story may well have been in another world than the adventures of Sorey, Alisha & Co., but I didn’t mind, because it was so goddamn awesome.

TZX has proven adept at embellishing simple scenarios with its imposingly gorgeous production values, and does not stray from that M.O. here. This is a simple prison break for the episode’s protagonist, Velvet Crowe. But it’s a prison break given great weight by how it’s presented and more importantly, why she’s breaking out.

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Trapped in the lowest dungeon for three years fighting and absorbing daemons into her left arm, Velvet receives a sudden visit from an unlikely ally: Seres, a former(?) Malak of her nemesis, Artorius. I loved how Seres would land softly on her feet no matter how hard Velvet tossed her.

Once they’ve climbed out of her vast cell, Velvet and Seres immediately face a group of exorcists, and Velvet demonstrates the results of all that daemon-eating by taking them all out herself.

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The duo reaches a storeroom where Velvet dons her sexy, elaborate armored pirate outfit and finds a gigantic Tempest Blade. Shortly thereafter, the blade’s owner shows up, also breaking out of jail. Velvet claims finders-keepers, but will give the guy his blade back if he joins the party; he agrees, and the duo becomes a trio. There’s a great satisfaction in watching Velvet clear each hurdle and build a party that will facilitate her escape.

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Rather than fight wave after wave of exorcists with no distractions, Velvet has Seres open up all the cells, and the prison becomes a chaotic battleground between the escaped daemons and exorcists, allowing Velvet to reach the top of the tower.

There’s a definite tinge of “badness” to Velvet and her party that’s not present with the innocent goody-two-shoes nature of Alisha, Sorey, and Mikleo. These guys, particularly Velvet, have been through some shit, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means a big collateral body count.

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TZX also breaks out its “dramatic vista unfolding” to show us how isolated the prison tower is, upon a rocky island surrounded by ocean. Velvet isn’t going to let a steep drop stop her, and she uses her daemon claw to slow her descent. Rather than a pancake, she survives the drop with a dislocated shoulder she nonchalanetly pops back into place, and which Seres (who teleports down) quickly heals.

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So…they’re out of the prison. But how to get off the island? As fortune would have it, a ship is approaching, and it would seem that Velvet’s nemesis is aboard, meaning a huge confrontation is imminent. And thanks to the game-like previews, we learn that we won’t be switching immediately back to Sorey’s story next week. I haven’t mentioned those previews yet, but I like them, because they allow the characters to take a breather and let their hair down a bit.

And despite Velvet looking for all the world like a tortured villain, the fact she’s seeking revenge for a guy who killed a kid to become stronger (and is now considered a savior) is all we need to know her heart is in the right place: seeking to avenge the innocent and week from those whose heads have grown too big to do the same. And as a quick look at her Wiki indicates, she’s the heroine of Berseria.

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