TenSura – 29 – Falling For Her Deceit

Youm wakes up in Mjurran’s lap after getting his ass handed to him in training session. He says he can get used to such a thing, and while Mjurran pushes him off and asks him to stop joking, the fact is, he isn’t joking. Of course, this means everything is going according to Clayman’s plan: Youm not only trusts his spy and puppet implicitly, he’s fallen for her.

Clayman couldn’t care less if Mjurran has fallen for Youm, and Mjurran isn’t even sure Clayman will hold up his end of their bargain. But if there’s a chance she can save Youm—and all the people of Tempest—by obeying Clayman, that’s what she’s going to do.

Benimaru is nominally in charge of the nation with Rimuru still on his way back—it’s the rare episode where the slime doesn’t appear at all. They get a cryptic message via crystal from Albus asking for permission to send their refugees to Tempest, as Milim is about to declare war on Eurazania.

This, while Souei reports 100 knights from Falmuth are on their way to Tempest. As Benimaru attempts to contact Rimuru, the three bad-tempered otherworlders arrive in the city, and are outraged that monsters are enjoying a higher quality of life than they have.

The Three Jerketeers were instructed to stir up some anti-monster shit, and Kirara does this by falsely accusing Gobzo of touching her butt, then pretends to be knocked down by him. This causes an adverse reaction to the other humans around them. I’d really rather not have anime portray a woman lying when IRL it’s so difficult to come forward with legit accusations, but let’s just chalk it up to Kirara being an piece of shit human.

Gobta arrives and deescalates, but angers Kirara even further when he trusts Gobzo’s word over hers because “he’s a friend”. Kirara actually has a point there; just because you’re a friend and believe it’s out of character doesn’t mean someone didn’t do something. Of course, we know full well Gobzo didn’t do it. Gobta is able to calm the crowd, which causes Kirara to break out her Unique Skill “Bewilder” to control their minds.

It fails thanks to Shuna, who nullifies it, declaring that such unpleasant abilities are forbidden in Tempest, due to the widespread harm they can cause. Shuna catches the eye of Shougo, who apparently gets off by torturing and dominating women. Shion can see the sleaze in his eyes and warns him and the other two to leave immediately, or else. Shougo takes it as an invitation to a fight, Shion obliges, and Kyouya uses it as an opportunity to try his own Unique Skills, “Severer” and “All Seeing Eye”.

As this is going down, Clayman delivers Mjurran her orders via telepathy: she’s to turn the capital into an anti-magic area in order to cut the nation off from outside communications. Mjurran prepares to obey, but is stopped in an alley by Grucius, who just received word of Milim declaring war on his country. She says she’s busy and runs off, now understanding why Clayman wants this done so soon.

Grucius chases her down and outs her as a Majin just as Youm appears behind her, demanding to “know more”. Mjurran, who has taken on her Majin form, fully expects Youm to wash his hands of her, but instead, he hugs her, assuring her that he’ll “keep falling for her deceit” over and over. His confession of love is quite abrupt, but she’s not altogether opposed.

The problem is, Clayman has her heart and is controlling her strings. Youm and everyone else she cares about is already in his guillotine, and only by following his orders can she hope to get them out of it. So as Youm and Grucius bicker over her, she unleashes her power, creating an anti-magic barrier around the city. At the same time, Reyheim and his holy warriors who have arrived at the outskirts summon a second barrier that falls over the first.

Instantly, Benimaru’s crystal ball goes dead before he can contact Rimuru, while Shion, currently toying with Shougo, suddenly feels all of her strength leaving her body. As long as those barriers are in place, Kirara, Shougo and Kyouya are probably the most powerful three individuals in a city they couldn’t care less about, full of monsters they don’t consider real people. It goes without saying this is just plain bad news.

Rimuru really dropped the ball on this by focusing on friendly relations and not taking steps to counter all of the less-friendly moves against him and his nation. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to solve this crisis with diplomacy, and while he is supremely powerful in this world, so are the three Otherworlders. But first things first: he needs to get home, like right now!

TenSura – 28 – A War Full of Holes

From Dwargon Rimuru returns to Ingrassia where he announces his five students have passed the exams and will move on to the next grade…but Tiss-sensei will be their teacher from now on. I know Rimuru is doing this because he trusts Tiss with their further education and is a busy slime leader, but as the other events of this episode prove, it’s probably a good thing that he’s returning to Tempest soon.

Youm returns to Tempest before Rimuru, and Clayman’s spy Myulan (AKA Mjurran) soaks up the place like a sponge. You can see she’s somewhat unnerved at how nice everyone is to her. When it’s Youm, she can call him stupid, but even powerful Kijin are offering her friendship. To her eyes, the Federation is a direct threat to many other nations, but only because she cannot yet see any other way forward.

Rimuru is diving into the deep end of the commerce and trade pool by making deals left and right while his nation becomes an all-too-enticing potential new hub of trade. He fails to realize that this is an aggressive act in and of itself, even if not intended to be, especially considering his is a nation of “monsters” the human nations simply do not trust.

And because, say, the Kingdom of Falmuth sees Tempest as a direct threat to their very survival, let alone their continued future as an economic powerhouse, the King and his royal council devise a plan to subjugate Tempest. This is done during your typical “dour guys sitting at a table planning shit” scene.

Archbishop Reyheim announces that the Western Holy Church has already recognized the monster nation as an affront to their God, giving them religious cover. They can call it a Holy War to stoke the support of the masses, most of whom already fear the monsters.

In an interesting wrinkle, Falmuth’s advance attack will inlclude their stable of three Offworlders from in Shougo, Kyouya, and Kirara. Unlike Rimuru, they’ve retained their regular Japanese forms and look down on this new world with contempt as vastly inferior to theirs. Kirara in particular misses cosmetics and the internet.

I believe we’ve heard murmurs about others like Rimuru from Japan, but that we meet them in the flesh for the first time really drive home the fact that Rimiru is about to face the biggest challenge to great experiment, as like him they all possess insanely powerful abilities.

At the same time, there’s a pettiness, complacency, even laziness about the attitudes of these three. This world didn’t have manga, so Rimuru created it, along with the onsen and all the other things inspired by his world. It seems these three would rather bitch and complain than put in the effort to create homes away from home.

At least Kyouya seems the least content with their situation, and intends to use the coming war with Tempest as a vehicle to gain his freedom from Falmuth. They call Shougo “Berserk”, while Kirara’s deemed the scariest of all of them, so it seems easier for them to spread chaos, hatred, and destruction—the polar opposite of Rimuru’s designs for peace, love, and cooperation.

Rimuru wants to create a happy, prosperous world for all races; the other three just want to watch the world burn. After all, it’s not their world, so who cares? Speaking of chaos, Milim Nava makes her first appearance of the season, standing in Clayman’s office. Yeah, Rimuru really doesn’t have time to continue teaching the kids!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 27 – Bonds Through Brandy

While we initially see the king in his standard position on the throne in full armor, Rimuru’s meeting with him is a far more casual affair, the two sitting across from a coffee table as equals. Dwargo is pleased to hear that Kaijin, the brothers, and Vesta have all found a place where they can exercise their talents to their fullest.

He also has nothing but good things to say about the apple brandy Shuna presents to him, which gives Rimuru to mention that they’re in trade talks with Eurazania. This impresses Dwargo, who is now at the stage of friendship with Rimuru that he has no need to check his drink for poison. Shion gets into it and demonstrates what a messy drunk she is, but Dwargo isn’t offended. Heck, he’s entertained.

The next day, Rimuru gives his big speech to the myriad peoples of Dwargon in his slime form. Shion is sufficiently sobered up to hold him up high so those in the back can hear his message of mutual respect and excitement over the new alliance between their nations. Dwargo later awards him zero points for coming off far too friendly and humble than a leader of a great nation should be, but the bottom line is, the speech is a success—the people of Dwargon have heard Rimuru and like him.

That night, Rimuru arranges a boys’ night out with the goblins and dwarves at the Elf Paradise hostess club. While I realize that deep down Rimuru is still a salaryman and takes these kinds of rituals seriously, the fact that Gobta and his fellow riders look way too young to be in such a club made the scene a bit awkward.

Granted, this isn’t a brothel, and if Rimuru, the goblins, and dwarves are literally objectifying them by regarding them as lovely jewels in a wood-lined treasure chest, at least the women don’t seem to be exploited; indeed, they’ll happily teast Gobta until his nose is drained of blood. The club manager is also happy to sell the apple brandy and research how much people will pay for it, so Rimuru gets another potential revenue stream out of the business.

I can also forgive the subtle skeeviness of the club scene because the boys are ultimately caught by Shuna and Shion, as one of the elves was too pure-hearted to lie about what they were up to that night. The two women are rightfully hurt that they wouldn’t so much as tell them where they were going, which only indicates they knew they wouldn’t be pleased about it, but that’s no excuse for their secrecy. Rimuru’s punishment is to endure a week of Shion’s cooking. Sounds fair!

From there we travel to what I believe to be the human kingdom of Falmuth, which, if King Dwargo is right, may someday be supplanted by Tempest as the continent’s main trading hub…whether Rimuru wants it that way or not. For now it’s a pretty bustling city, and Youm and his party of champions are walking along when his friend Isaac introduces Youm to his sister Myulan, the wizard we saw who is working for Clayman.

Myulan requests that she join Youm’s party. When he says he has enough magic users (and one of his more sexist comrades mutters that they have no need for a woman) Myulan decides to demonstrate her power to Youm in a duel between them. Myulan wins in an total cakewalk, with Youm ending up waist-deep in the ground and enveloped in a magical wind funnel.

Youm is convinced not only by Myulan offensive capability, but the insights she can offer into improving his clearly-lacking magical defense. They shake hands to make it official: Demon Lord Clayman now has a mole in the party of one of Rimuru Tempest’s best human friends. [Grabs popcorn and apple brandy]…This should be interesting!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 23 (Fin) – How the Sausage is Made

In its penultimate episode Great Pretender pulled the wool over our eyes as well as those of con artists’ hapless targets. The finale opens with Liu, Chen, Suzaku, Ishigami, and a couple henchmen adjusting to their new reality: stranded on a deserted island with water and emergency rations.

There’s an absurd surrealism to seeing Liu, typically perched in his gaudy Shanghai tower, sitting on the beach looking defeated, or Suzaku lighting up a smoke in her ruined red throne, no longer surrounded by her lacquered and gilded office. They were well and truly conned like they’ve never been conned before.

The question is, how? After that quick check-in, we rewind back to the morning of the job. Before waking up, Makoto dreams of the time she gave her mom a wizard figurine, and she hoped it meant she’d see Seiji soon. Abby visits Makoto unannounced, urging him to hurry up and forgive himself, noting she was saved by doing the same.

From there, we follow Makoto as he clandestinely puts a sleeping drug in coffee he serves to Suzaku and Ishigami, while Laurent drugs the champagne he serves to Liu and Chen. This way, the targets are asleep while they are transported to the island where they’ll eventually be marooned.

We learn that while only Eddie Cassano is involved in this game as a favor to Laurent (they’re apparently on good terms now), the similarly reformed James Coleman and Sam Ibrahim also tagged along. Another character from a previous arc who plays a role is Shougo, who provides the air transport to the island.

On that island, Oz has led the construction down to the minute detail of a replica of Suzaku’s Tokyo HQ office. He had Makoto order the real thing re-painted recently so that the smell of fresh paint could be explained, while Suzaku herself is too woozy from her “nap” that she shrugs off the presence of cat sculptures Cynthia included because she thought they were cute, but weren’t in the real office.

The gun battle from which Liu, Chen, Suzaki and Ishigami escape was really just the “police” and Cassano’s “henchmen” firing their guns into the air, making enough noise to cover their escape down the elevator. As for Makoto’s “slashing?” The sword was real, but Oz only cut deep enough to break the blood bag inside Makoto’s jacket.

Fast-forward to the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the job, the con artists party on what turns out to be Cassano’s boat. Makoto feels good about getting one over on Laurent (as well as following Abby’s advice to forgive himself), while Laurent tosses Dorothy’s ring into the ocean, satisfied she was properly avenged.

In the epilogue, Oz visits his wife’s grave, and we learn she knew what happened to him all along, but never told Makoto. Oz dedicates himself to finding homes for all of the rescued refugees, though Cynthia takes one of the older ones under her wing, giving him the choice of what to do with his life.

Abby reaches the top of a rock in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and sends a bird-flipping selfie to Makoto; I really liked how their relationship progressed, how they remain in touch even though they’ve parted ways as con artists. Laurent, meanwhile, is still in the game, and picks the newly inaugurated U.S. President as his next target. Four Seasons, anyone?

Finally, in a feel-good surprise ending, it’s revealed Dorothy is still alive after all, having apparently washed up in Taiwan with amnesia (she could be faking it, but then why did she never reunite with Laurent?). One of her adoptive parents presents her with a ring he found in the stomach of a fish—her old good luck ring, which Laurent tossed into the sea.

And that about does it. What a ride this was! Every arc of Great Pretender had its strong points and a distinct atmosphere owing to their varying settings and types of cons. It’s a show that seemingly got better and better, and this longer final arc brought everything together quite nicely, with its usual stylish cheekiness. I’d highly recommend GP, especially as a gateway show for entering the world of anime.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Great Pretender – 21 – Language Barrier

After learning how his last princess-trafficking job went south and cost Laurent the love of his life, we return to Cynthia’s island, probably not long after Makoto returned to Japan. There, Laurent informs Kim, Cynthia and Abby of the next job—perhaps their most dangerous yet—and introduces them to Oz the Wizard.

Naturally, no one elects to back out, and we watch what unfolds after Cynthia, Abby, and Oz are shot off Suzaku’s boat. All three were wearing bulletproof vests with squibs, and were retrieved from the sea by Kim apparently a diving expert even in her old age.

Why not simply tell Makoto about the whole plan? Easy; because he’s Makoto. They all know him from their previous jobs. The less he knows, the less chance of him accidentally messing up the job. And even then, he can be unpredictable.

Laurent heads to Shanghai to reunite with his old boss, Liu. Liu is happy his old Mahjongg opponent is back, while Chen believes the fortune teller was spot-on about an interpreter falling into their lap after the loss of Oz. Oz, meanwhile, visits Makoto, alive and well, and tries to explain that he abandoned him and his mom for their own safety. Makoto isn’t convinced.

While alone in his hotel room, Laurent is fiddling with Dorothy’s good luck ring when he’s suddenly visited by her ghost. This is the one job in which Laurent has the most personal stakes. Its success determines whether Dorothy is properly avenged. It’s akin to Worf & Co. trying to get Jadzia Dax into Sto-vo-Kor.

Makoto plays his role well, and as was the case with his father, the role he’s playing and the person truly he is have started to blur. Makoto seems to harbor legitimate affection for Suzaku, and as a son who lost her mother connecting with a mother who lost her son, there’s good reason for that.

The logic and legitimacy of their bond makes the con that much more convincing, but ultimately the entire job leans on the inability of Suzaku and Ishigami to understand Chinese, and the inability of Liu and Chen to understand Japanese.

In their remote video meeting, Makoto and Laurent are the interpreters, and they invent a fictional dialogue their bosses can only assume is an accurate interpretation of their adversaries’ words. As such, both bosses believe the other is about to pay them ¥100 billion in cash.

This is right on the edge of what either side can afford (especially Suzaku’s side), and if Laurent’s crew ends up handling that ¥200 billion, it won’t just be their biggest score ever and a worthy victory for Dorothy’s memory, but ruin both Suzaku and Liu’s organizations.

What definitely seems to not be part of Laurent’s plan is the fact that both Liu and Suzaku intend to murder each other when they meet in person. Ishigami had a sword concealed in Suzaku’s chair, while Chen has a ring that can inject poison into whomever’s hand is shaken.

Laurent probably included the potential for treachery on both sides in his calculations, considering both Suzaku and Liu have no qualms about selling kids (As Sloan once said to Dr. Bashir: “These are not nice people we’re dealing with here.”). If everyone plays their roles as expected, the job will succeed where it failed last time.

But will Makoto play the proper role? At the onsen in Japan where the rest of the crew is lying low, Abby worries he’ll go off-script as he has in the past—only this time it might cost him his life. One key question is whether Makoto is merely pretending to care about Suzaku or has come to truly care about her? She did gift him an adorable kitty tie (continuing this arc’s synergy with the end credits), after all.

Unlike his father, Suzaku is there for him, and has always been upfront about who she is. Meanwhile, Oz once told his son to “always be lawful”, “contribute to the world”, and “be a respectable person” while doing none of those things. We also see him making a mysterious phone call from his moonlit apartment. So we’ll see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 20 – One Mistake and You’re Gone

The fake princess job turns out to be the last job, but not in the way Dorothy’s crew had hoped. Of course, at first things unfold exactly as planned: a few doctored pictures are sufficient to convince Liu to part with $10 million for the Ethiopian princess.

Chen accompanies Kim and Oz to Osaka to abduct her while she’s being driven home from college classes. Laurent visits Dorothy, who is sleeping soundly in her tawdry cell despite the rats and foreign insects. They share a kiss before they part for the night. It turns out to be their last kiss.

The next morning, the worst thing that can happen to con artists dealing princesses-in-exile happens: pure dumb coincidence. There’s a prominent story in the paper about an Ethiopean princess-in-exile—the real one. Dorothy ends up on a boat anchored offshore.

Laurent is helpless to save Dorothy, but Dorothy doesn’t sweat matters, sticking to her code till the end by repeating “make a mistake and you’re gone.” Liu’s men go after Kim, who is apparently killed in a car chase, while Oz gives up the location of the cash in hopes of currying favor with Liu.

All Laurent can do is interpret between Liu and Dorothy…until Dorothy tells Liu to go fuck himself in his native tongue. He has an underling shoot her, and she falls overboard. The bullet just happens to break the chain holding her good luck ring, which lands on the deck at Laurent’s feet.

In the aftermath, Laurent can’t hide his pain, and envisions stabbing Liu right there in the middle of their game. He lies to Liu about his mother in France falling ill, and Liu gives him leave to visit her. The moment he’s in the air, however, he regrets not killing Liu.

Back at Paris HQ, Laurent goes down a spiral of guilt and grief when Dorothy doesn’t magically reappear. Despite watching her get shot and fall off the boat, he still held a small hope it was an expertly faked death, but while Kim did manage to pull that off, Dorothy did not.

In her last moments, she knew the time had finally come when she made a mistake, and that was it; she just wished it hadn’t been their very last job. Laurent hears a pot breaking outside and rushes out to the patio. For a moment he spots Dorothy, alive and well…but it’s just one of the cats from the end credits.

Fast forward a few years. Laurent meets Cynthia when she tries to scam him. Ozaki, who intentionally got himself arrested and put in jail for his mafia activities, is now out of jail, and we see how close he comes to bumping into his son when he visits the hospital. Laurent meets Abby right after she’s beaten up three would-be rapists. And, of course, Makoto approaches Laurent with his wallet con, which brings us back to the beginning.

I imagine those first episodes (and indeed first arcs) where his background remains so opaque would have quite a different vibe to them, now that we’ve learned so much more him. Building the team he has in the present was an effort to create a con job that would make Dorothy proud and honor her unwavering adherence to their noble thieves’ code.

And now we know why $10 million is a plenty large score this time. It was never about the money—It was about the people they were taking it from.

Great Pretender – 19 – The Interpreter

Laurent could hardly have envisioned that his failed revenge mission in Paris would set him on the path—and connect him with the people—that would define the rest of his life. No one person is more important than Dorothy, the woman he accidentally stabbed when trying to kill the man who scammed his mom.

Turns out Dorothy is working a scam on the scammer, as Laurent learns when he meets her, Kim and Oz, a trio of confidence artists looking for a fourth operative who is good with languages (and other stuff too).

Dorothy’s natural charisma and the lure of scamming bad guys proves irresistible to Laurent—He’s in, and the jazzy theme plays over their first jobs together, which span the globe and capitalize on their ability to pose as international dealmakers.

They scam a developer into buying overvalued land in Brazil, then scam a mafia boss into buying a soccer team in Milan. It’s basically what we watch Makoto go through in the first arcs of the show, but compressed into a montage.

The jobs keep coming, and with them the cash and security Laurent and his mom lacked. He also falls for Dorothy, despite her saying at the very beginning that they’re neither partners nor lovers, just a collection of lone-wolf strangers working towards the same goal from job to job.

Even so, in one of the loveliest-looking scenes of the whole series, Laurent tries to convince a just-awakened Dorothy to give up the increasingly dangerous life of conning powerful assholes and settle down together as husband and wife.

In another gorgeous scene, Laurent leads Dorothy up a frozen hill in Finland to see the Northern Lights. The combination of the reflection of the light ribbons in her cool jewel-like eyes and her rosy nose and cheeks is adorable, and brings an earnestness to someone who has played so many roles it’s hard to determine who is real.

That brings us to one of many meetings the con artists have in their Paris headquarters. Both Kim and Oz are considering retiring and enjoying the cash they’ve made (with Oz contemplating returning to the wife and son he abandoned). Laurent wants to retire with Dorothy, but she wants to do One Last Score. And wouldn’t you know it, that score involves Liu Xiao and the Shanghai mafia.

Laurent ingratiates himself with Liu by proving an adept Mahjongg player, but also a capable and loyal fellow who jumps in the way when an unknown assailant tries to stab Liu in the elevator. This is, incidentally, the same trick Dorothy pulled on him when they first met. Liu quickly hires Laurent as his interpreter.

Laurent introduces him to Oz, posing as a Japanese buyer of refugee kids at the auction, as well as Kim posing as a broker. They get Liu interested in the prospect of selling royalty, with Dorothy ultimately posing as an Ethiopian princess living in exile in Japan (a place she chose because she wanted to visit).

This episode gets the job done introducing Dorothy, who has more than a little bit of that Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy that can be simultaneously endearing and annoying (ennoying? andearing?) Mostly, it shows us a Laurent who would very much like to get out of the con artist business, marry Dorothy, and settle down, thank you very much. Of course, we know how that turned out, so tragedy is sure to strike at some point in this “one last job”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 18 – The Pressure is the Reward

Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia are bound, fitted with weights, and taken out to sea to be executed. However, Oz begs Suzaku Akemi to spare his boy. Oz tells Makoto to kill Abby and Cynthia to prove his loyalty, and the two women tell him they’re neither friends nor family, and would kill him if they were in his shoes.

Makoto doesn’t believe that, and in any case can’t hurt either of them, so Oz shoots them instead, and they fall overboard and under the waves, apparently dead…but quite possibly not? What matters is Makoto thinks they’re dead, and when Akemi offers him Oz’s life, he takes it.

For several days Makoto neither talks nor eats, but turns a page when he’s able to grieve his losses in Akemi’s welcome arms. Two months pass, and she’s taken him under her wing like a surrogate son—replacing the one who walked away from the family business.

Because Makoto is a highly capable person who increases Akemi’s profits, she puts him in charge of the human auctions without hesitation and arranges for him to have a room at her house, deepening their relationship. Ishigami has never seen the boss like this, and fears she’s taking it too easy.

He makes sure Makoto understands that the pressure he’s feeling is both the reward and what keeps one on their toes enough to hang in there. He also warns him that while Akemi won the last round, Shanghai problem isn’t going to go away. Makoto comes home to find Oz outside his apartment. (If he faked his death, it stands to reason Cynthia and Abby are probably fine too, though that’s left up in the air for now).

From a slick office overlooking a futuristic, fluorescent Shanghai, Liu has his fortune told by a famous fortune teller—whom we later learn was paid by Laurent to give him a particular fortune that will accelerate his plans to “resolve” things with their Japanese parent. After the teller leaves, Laurent walks in asking for Liu.

As Liu tells Chen, how a book was translated made the difference in which received the Nobel Prize. It’s the same with international business negotiations. Flashback to when Laurent was a boy in Brussels, and intrinsically understood the value and the power of being a good interpreter…as well as the cost of not having adequate skills.

Laurent’s mother, who is severely dyslexic, gets swindled and ruined by a businessman, all because she couldn’t read what she was signing. While cooking dinner for her and Laurent while out of sorts, the pan slips out of her hands and we can speculate that she was killed by oil burns.

Flash forward several years to Paris when Laurent is a poker hustler and womanizer. The men who lost to him beat him unconscious, but when he wakes up in an alley, filthy and bloodied, he spots the very man who swindled his mother years ago—and whom he blames for her death.

Laurent buys a knife at the hardware store and follows the man, but when he chooses the time to stab him, a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman steps in front of him and the blade plunges into her instead. In seeking revenge for his mom, Laurent accidentally stabbed the wrong person.

Makoto is hearing about Laurent’s past from his suddenly-not-dead(again) Oz. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two were in cahoots, while Makoto is yet again an unwitting pawn in an even longer con, even as he and Akemi grow closer as surrogate mother and son.

Great Pretender – 17 – Coward of Oz

Edamame is moving up in the Scarlet Company thanks, in part, to the Chinese lessons his late mother insisted he take. Back then, he idolized his valiant attorney father Seiji, as did his mom, whose only complaint was that her husband worked too much. Both were completely unprepared for the news that he was helping the mafia traffic children.

While Makoto responded to his dad’s betrayal with rage and resentment —and eventually turning to a life of crime just like the ol’ Pops, only pettier. His mother collapsed from the shock, and was bedridden the rest of her days, but she never gave up hope in her Seiji.

The flashbacks to good times abruptly turning bad then worse for Makoto are efficient but particularly well-done. His mom warmth and forgiveness despite the harsh betrayal she endured—something it’s clear Makoto never understood.

“Sleepy Princess” Abby and her reluctant jailor Makoto is such a bizarre scenario, such is her keeping-it-real ethos, Abby doesn’t treat her jailor any differently than the guy with whom she jumped out of a building in Singapore. Their growth as something like friends is evident when she asks him if he’s alright working for such a despicable business, and isn’t just asking, but is genuinely concerned.

She should be! Suzaku Ikemi’s Scarlet Company is on the brink of war with their satellite organization in Shanghai, which due to China’s economic boom has grown more profitable than its parent and unilaterally declared independence. Their disdain for their Japanese bosses is expressed when their boss, Liu, sends his second-in-command—the boorish Chen—instead.

Chen is accompanied by his interpreter, whom Makoto recognizes is his damn dad, who now goes by the name “Oz”. So that’s where he slithered off to!

Suzaku isn’t impressed by Shanghai’s little power move and declares an ultimatum, claiming 80% of Shanghai’s profits, even she must know won’t be forthcoming without a degree of bloodshed. Still, her options are limited; with their Chinese cash cow’s leash becoming slacker by the day, she can’t appear weak, lest they regard her as a paper tiger.

Makoto, meanwhile, is furious with the news of his dad’s participation in this job, and suspects it was kept from him on purpose by Laurent, who is flirting with a couple local women when Makoto violently confronts him. That leads Laurent to ask: if the geezer truly “means nothing” to Makoto, why get so worked up about him?

In his next meeting with Abby in her cell (where she’s playing way too many video games), she raises the possibility Seiji did what he did “out of necessity”, got in too deep. She suggests he compare his “loser scumbag” critique of his dad to what he himself was, before he met her and Laurent. Perhaps Seiji has returned to his life because he wants to be forgiven.

Makoto tests that theory by visiting Seiji in his hotel room. Seiji reveals he was actually just outside the door of Mom’s hospital room, but was too ashamed to walk inside. If he walked inside, she might forgive him, and he wasn’t sure he deserved that. But seeing what a shell of a man his dad has become, Makoto decides to be like his mom, and give him that second chance to be in his life. After all, Seiji is still wearing his wedding band.

Early in the morning, Makoto executes a modified version of the prison break plan, this time threatening the kids with his dad’s handgun; a necessary tactic to get them to go with him. Cynthia arrives with a bus big enough to hold them all, and seems both amused and heartened to see not one but two Edamuras in her presence.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until they get off the main highway and are immediately sandwiched and forced to stop by two mafia cars. One of them carries Ishigami, who while so charming and friendly before suddenly exudes cruel menace. He laments that both he and Suzaku saw something in him, and are disappointed it “didn’t work out”—i.e. that now he’ll have to murder him for his treachery.

Speaking of treachery: Seiji is the one who ratted Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia out to Ishigami, identifying them as the same group of con artists who have been causing trouble in the underworld. When Makoto can’t contain his rage and rushes at his dad, Seiji puts a gun to his forehead, reminding him he’s not his dad anymore…he’s “Oz.”

It’s possible he’s playing a longer game that requires he betray his son so he could save him later. Or he could just be a bastard. We shall see. In the meantime, Makoto & Co. are in deep shit!

Goblin Slayer – 05 – When in Doubt, Go Clubbing

In a quieter low-key episode of GS, the Slayer wakes up after three days of rest at the farm and immediately sets back to work checking it for signs of goblins. Cow Girl asks him how he is, and he responds with his usual “fine/no problem.”

They go into town for guild business, and GS meets his eclectic team. He gives the Lizardman more of that sweet sweet cheese and tells the High Elf Archer he’ll “think about” joining them on another adventure soon, which makes her very happy.

Parallel to GS going about his business is a pair of Porcelain-ranked adventurers, one of whom lost his sword in the sewers fighting giant rats and bugs. They’re able to get away, but with no weapons or money, they’re at a loss of how to get the sword back.

The halting-speech mage gives them a candle that will indicate when they find the sword, while GS suggests they try using a club in lieu of a sword. It works, even if it’s a bit messy and requires the club wielder to mercilessly swing the thing at the heads of his foes, grossing out his partner. But he gets his sword back and they both return unharmed, so all’s well that ends well.

Finally, there’s more focus on the Guild Girl than in previous episodes, as she asks GS to serve as a subsitute observer at a promotion hearing. There, she accuses a Rhea of taking the whole contents of a treasure box to himself and selling the contents, resulting in his demotion and banning him from adventuring in the town.

The Rhea is furious, but when he senses what would happen if he attacked the Guild Girl (GS would smash his face in) he simply storms off. Guild Girl is glad to have GS by her side, and even has a bit of a crush on him, as she digs “straight-laced” adventurers, even if he may well be a bit too stoic.

GS surprises her by returning with a special quest that comes from none other than the Sword Maiden of the Church of the Superior God. Looks like GS is going to get his wish to slay goblins again, this time perhaps with another high-caliber partner by his side.

 

Goblin Slayer – 04 – He’s Always Like That

The High Elf Archerhad no idea what she was getting into when she teamed up with ‘Orcbolg’. At first, it was kinda fun, sitting ’round the campfire, getting a bit drink, nibbling on melted cheese, teasing him about his helmet. It was the start of an adventure she was hoping to have.

But upon entering the once-grand ruins taken over by goblins, and finding a nearly-dead elf much like herself hanging from chains, things suddenly aren’t fun or exciting anymore. They’re sobering and dark and cruel. GS brains the goblin behind the poor woman, who is carried off to safety by one of the Lizardman’s conjured dragonbone warriors.

The experience of suddenly encountering a fellow elf in such a state lingers; the High Elf Archer looks traumatized and weighed down. The GS doesn’t have time to comfort her or anyone else; if anyone can’t continue, they should go; otherwise, they should stay.

She decides to stay, not feeling at all right about abandoning the party (especially since she’s the best ranger and marksman among them). But then GS comes up with a plan to take on the far greater goblin numbers…and it isn’t exactly sporting. They basically cast Stupor and Silence on them, and kill them in their ‘sleep.’

At first, the Archer wants revenge for what the gobs did to the other elf, but after the sixth or seventh or seventeenth goblin she’s repeatedly stabbing and letting the blood splatter on her face, she’s kinda not feeling it anymore…or feeling anything for that matter. She looks numb, and hard, and wonders how GS could have done this alone for so long.

The next stage isn’t as easy as slaughtering sleeping gobs, however, as it turns out they’re being led by a massive ogre, capable of speech (and trash talk). The parties’ efforts don’t really seem able to put a dent in his thick and quickly regenerating skin, the Priestess runs out of miracles for the day protecting them from fireballs, and the GS gets slammed hard against a column and briefly stunned.

When he has a couple potions, he gets back up and carries out another “plan”, which is to use a gate scroll to “transport” water from the bottom of the sea into the same space the ogre’s body occupies. The high pressure water cuts him in pieces as a blade would.

After finishing the ogre off with a sword to the brain, the party exits the ruins and are met by a friendly group of elves eager to join the fray…but it’s already all over. The party members wordlessly board the wagon. What is there to say? As the High Elf Archer later tells the Priestess, whatever that was, that wasn’t adventuring.

It was savage, joyless drudgery. Even if the end result was one of her people was saved and many more made safe by eradicating the goblins and the ogre, the way it was done just left a bad taste in her mouth. But more than that, she doesn’t like how easily the GS abosorbs such experiences as if they were just business as usual.

It goes a long way to explaining how he ended up so taciturn, unemotional, and obsessed with doing only what is necessary. She wants to show him another way someday, if it’s not too late for him.

Goblin Slayer – 03 – A Fellowship Forms

A High Elf, a Dwarf, and a Lizardman walk into the guild, and then into the lives of the Priestess and Goblin Slayer. While they have far loftier goals in mind—defeating a horde of world-ending demons—the Slayer won’t give them the time of day until they propose he kill goblins, to which he asks how many, how strong, and where.

The trio of adventurers adds much needed new personalities to the show, and I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings-style banter, with the Elf and Dwarf going at it about any number of things while still tolerating their company, and the stoic Lizardman floating above the fray.

The Elf doesn’t think much of the GS at first, but the Dwarf can see much practicality in what he does and how he does it. We also learn why the GS never cleans his arms or armor: the goblins would be able to smell clean metal, putting him at a disadvantage.

The GS would probably be content rushing into a situation where there were so many goblins he’d end up getting killed, but he’d certainly take a lot of goblins with him. He’s not quite sure that’s what the Priestess wantshowever, and so prepares to leave her behind to “rest.” However, the Priestess doesn’t like how he’s making decisions without her input, and voices her desire to come with.

And so the group of five adventurers set off to their first goblin target. But before that, they make camp and have a meal, in which everyone introduces themselves and offers a gift to the others. The Lizardman provides the meat, the Elf some elven bread, the Dwarf some firewine (that gets the Elf tanked), and GS provides some cheese from the farm where he hangs his hat (so to speak), which the others love.

He even opens up, but only when the subject of conversation turns to, what else, goblins. Specifically, how they come from the desolate green moon, and live their lives envious of the riches of Earth. It’s a story his late sister told him, and it’s clear he treasures it. As for the priestess, her contribution to the evening is insight into the GS, whom the others find particularly inscrutable.

At dawn the five strike out, and the High Elf demonstrates her prowess with the bow by sending a single homing arrow through the heads of two goblins at once; very Legolas-esque. They move with accompaniment of a metal riff, indicating that the goblins within the lair they approach aren’t going to be much of a problem; the main question will be how cleverly and awesomely they can dispatch them.