Summer 2022 Preview Guide

Last Update: 3 p.m. 7/1/22

Welcome to my version of the Summer 2022 Preview Guide! I expect to cover every full-episode series that will be debuting this season and some but not all of the sequels. (I will cover the new installments of Utawarerumono, Overlord, Made in Abyss, The Devil is a Part-Timer, DanMachi, and Luminous Witches, the new entry in the Strike Witches franchise.) These will be listed in newest to oldest order, and this post will be updated multiple times per day on busier days.

Note #1: Bastard!! will not be a part of this Preview Guide, as I will be posting a separate full review on all 13 episodes sometime before the end of the season’s opening weekend.

Phantom of the Idol

Streams: HIDIVE on Fridays

Rating: 4 (of 5)

I may be overrating this episode slightly, but I felt compelled to give it a bump due to my mild shock over how well it worked. This title isn’t exactly coming from nowhere, as it did garner some attention in the run-up to the season, but I think it has the potential to be one of the season’s sleeper hits.

The concept is simple and straightforward: Yuuya is a lazy bum who let himself get scouted to be an idol (because of his looks) because he figured it would be easy money. He’s so put off by the effort and enthusiasm needed to become a proper idol that he’s willing to let himself get fired from the male idol duo ZING (due to half-assed performances) rather than continue. Asahi Mogami was an up-and-coming teen idol with enthusiasm and dedication to spare when she died in an auto accident a year ago. She can’t let go of her urge to perform, so she wandered, undetected, until both realize that Yuuya can see her. When they discover that Asahi can possess Yuuya, they strike up a bargain where she will posses him for performance. She gets to exult in the stage once more, he gets paid without having to put in the effort himself. A win-win scenario, right?

Yeah, it’s gimmicky, and yeah, Yuuya can come across as somewhat of a scumbag in this scenario. However, this is clearly not just a one-sided deal; if Yuuya is using Asahi to make his life easier, Asahi is still getting what she most wants and loves out of it, too. Also, I already get the sense that Yuuya is not being totally honest about his motivations. Asahi’s appeal to him got through to him more than he probably cares to admit, so seeing how this relationship plays out on character development and emotional levels could be interesting. Aside from their central story, it looks like a group of devoted Yuuya fans may also be regular, and the episode does have some decent comedy beats. The performance by ZING is also noteworthy for being fully-animated despite not resorting to any CG, which was a surprise for a production that doesn’t otherwise feel high-budget. Overall, this looks promising.

Spy x Family episode 12

Rating: A (equivalent to 5 of 5)

To put into perspective just how big a hit Spy x Family is as the Spring 2022 season comes to an end, it is approaching 75,000 ratings on Crunchyroll for just a single 12-episode season. This is a mind-boggling number that’s 10k more than Demon Slayer, 16k above Attack on Titan, and dwarfs last season’s most popular title (My Dress-up Darling) by multiples. It’s also nearly half again above the next-nearest title for the season on MAL (and with the second-highest star rating behind only Kaguya-sama). Series don’t get numbers like these just by being popular with their target audiences. This is a title whose popularity and appreciation is cutting across an abnormally-wide swath of fandom, and I will be quite surprised if it doesn’t prove to be a breakthrough hit with casual fans as well. I will be shocked if it doesn’t show up on Adult Swim at some point.

The season’s final episode shows ample reasons why the series has such a broad appeal, and may, in fact, be one of the series’ most perfectly-balanced episodes so far, as it gives time for all three of its trio to shine. I have long wondered if Twilight might be doing some other smaller jobs while carrying out the longer-term Operation Strix, and this episode shows that he’s stayed quite active – maybe too much so, as the stress is getting to him. The feeding stunt with the penguins was a beautifully-inspired scene which gave me a hearty laugh, and that was far from his only moment to shine. Yor also got her opportunities, both in the scene where she’s concerned about getting the blood from a recent assassination washed off and especially when she literally kicks Anya’s “kidnapper” into the ceiling and then wonders if she went overboard. As usual, Anya gets her opportunities by figuring out which penguin is Twilight’s likely target and then figuring out a little girl-like way to point that out to him. The “kidnapping” stunt, which she knows full well will provoke Yor, also deserves kudos for cleverness. She’s going to be a monster of a manipulator when she grows up! The scene where the aquarium worker that Twilight temporarily replaced gets the promotion he didn’t earn was also a neat touch.

But for all of the hijinks at the aquarium, the best part was undoubtedly the final segment where they are back home and Anya is playing pretend-spy with her plushies. Anya may have her telepathy and be quite clever for her age, but she’s still a little kid, and that was a beautifully-portrayed full-blown Kid Mode there. (Of course, the irony that her make-believe isn’t that far from the truth is probably lost on no one.) The way Loid and Yor instantly jumped to play along to calm Anya down after she ventured towards dangerous areas was a wonderfully charming bit of parenting, too.

In other words, the series is earning the attention and ratings that it is getting. Really, this is a once-in-a-decade level of magic going on here, which is why the second half of the series not airing until the Fall 2022 season is a bit of a disappointment. (On the other hand, there are plenty of big-name sequels coming out in the Summer ’22 season, so at least some other viewing distractions will be out of the way by then.) Based on what has aired so far, however, this one gets my top recommendation.

Other Series That I Am Following:

Date a Live season 4 – This one has ended with a notice that season 5 has been green-lit, which is good since the series ends on a couple of major twists and somewhat of a cliffhanger. The final arc about Kurumi (aka Nightmare aka The Worst Spirit) is easily the season’s high point and contains some of the franchise’s most compelling content to date. This is, I believe, the first time in my following the franchise that I am actually looking forward to the next season.

Spring Wrap-Up Part 2: Skeleton Knight in Another World

The concept for this series could not be more generic: a dedicated gamer wakes up to find himself in a fantasy world in the form of his uber-powerful game avatar. He doesn’t know how he ended up there or why, so he decides to just go with the flow and begins adventuring. Along the way, he acquires three equally-stereotypical adventuring companions: a cute spirit creature who cannot talk but seems quite intelligent, a sexy elf on a mission, and a ninja catgirl. He also performs many feats that are mind-bogglingly powerful by the standards of his new world and involves himself in great feats of derring-do despite claiming that he is trying to not draw attention to himself. The only minor catch is that he cannot take off his armor in public since he is only a skeleton underneath. (This results from him using a special skin for his avatar in the game setting, which translates into a curse in this world that can only briefly be remedied.)

As bland as this may sound, the series works – and is a title that I have no reservations about recommending to isekai fans – because it gloriously captures a spirit of pure fun. Plot points can get serious and the content is, at times, rather dark (assassinations, human trafficking, attempted rape, and extreme graphic violence are present), but the story content never loses sight of the fact that Arc is on a grand adventure and is fully committed to experiencing that to the hilt. Not everything may go his way, and he plays things very cautiously until he gets a sense of where he stands in his new world’s power scale, but even when he’s being careful he still has a grand time. Most importantly, the series accomplishes this without ever giving him the stuffy, smug feel that all too many other power fantasy protagonists have.

As appreciable as Arc is as a character, the supporting cast make big contributions as well. Ponta may fill the requisite Mascot character role, but he is somehow less obnoxious than most of these characters are and serves an important purpose by showing that Arc, despite his oddities, can be trusted. (Creatures of his type are known to never associate with those who aren’t good at heart.) The busty, sword-specialized elf Arianne fills the requisite Sexy Female Companion role, and does seem to be gradually growing to like Arc as he helps her rescue some elves caught up in human trafficking (elf trafficking?), but she earns points for being both quite capable on her own and having a steadfast purpose beyond just accompanying Arc; that he is accompanying her is, in fact, a far more accurate description. The way they grow to respect each other feels natural as well. Much later, they encounter and eventually start working with Chiyome, a ninja catgirl from an animal person village that appears to have been heavily influenced by a previous isekai visitor. (Don’t expect that tantalizing mystery to be explored further before the end of the series, though.) She is not around Arc enough for much of a relationship to develop before the end of the season, but she is also quite capable and has a skill set which complements the other two well. There’s also a male ninja from her village who constantly gets into contests of brute strength with Arc but also teams up with him quite synergistically when the need arises, but (sadly) he is not a regular traveling companion.

The other big plus for the series is that, while its power fantasy status is never in doubt, it isn’t just that; it also has two distinct, somewhat interrelated plot lines running through it, one which Arc influences directly and the other which Arc unwittingly plays a key role in. The former involves the aforementioned elf trafficking, which proves to have links to royalty. The other involves power plays within that royalty, which results in the assassination of a princess who is innocently seeking to ease tensions with the elves. But with someone like Arc around, she doesn’t stay dead, and that generates its own new batch of complications, especially when that princess mistakenly takes being anonymously raised by Arc as divine favor for her mission. Arc did at least worry about what impact his actions might have, but he still may have underestimated on that once again, and that will likely have bigger (and welcome) repercussions should a sequel ever be made.

Another key to the series’ success is the balance it achieves, and central to that is the revelation that being vastly more powerful does not also mean that Arc is vastly more skilled. Thought not as powerful as him, Arianne can match or exceed him when it comes to combat skill, and when faced against an opponent where only skill matters, he gets soundly trounced. This is something that I have long felt gets all-too-often overlooked in these isekai tales, as fighting in a game does not at all equate to real-life fighting, so I am pleased to see its inclusion here.

Technical merits are solid on both visual and audio fronts. The character designs are unquestionably the visual highlights, whether it’s Arc, Arianne, Chiyome, or the aforementioned princess. Animation quality has its moments but isn’t exceptional overall, with moderate reliance on shortcuts and occasional slips some on quality control. Monster designs are far more generic, but despite the production’s flaws, it still gets enough right with dramatic look and feel for a lot of flash and some cool action scenes. A jaunty musical score complements the tone of the work nicely, including an opener which harkens back to ’80s rock dramatics (and sports some fun visuals on its own) and a peppy, partly-CG-animated closer with a catchy beat. Kudos also go to Tomoaki Maeno, the voice of Arc, for an iconic performance, especially his hearty laughs. English voice actor Brandon Johnson, in his first lead role, gives it a fine effort that would be sufficient if you listen to the English dub first, but Maeno’s performance is better still. By comparison, Caitlin Glass is ideally-cast as Arianne and Sarah Wiedenheft and Emi Lo make good choices as Chiyome and Ponta, respectively.

The one problem with the series is that its most potentially objectionable content is in the beginning – like, the very first scene. Nothing as severe as that comes up in any of the later 11 episodes, however, so if you can tolerate that then you’re in for a fun ride.

Rating: B*

* – While I have been using number values so far, letter grades feel more natural to me, so I am going to use them for everything other than Preview Guide entries from now on.

Other Series That Have Finished

Love After World Domination – Not sure what more I can say about this one that I have not already said. Sure, the series can be watched for all of its homages to (and parodies of) Super Sentai series, including such delightful details as how loyalty to an evil organization can be a family calling, but the true enjoyment comes from watching the interactions of Fudo and Desumi in their quasi-Romeo-and-Juliet-style relationship. 2022 has already offered up some strong competition for Best Duo, including Life With an Ordinary Guy‘s Tachibana and Jinguji and My Dress-Up Darling‘s Wakana and Marin, but Fudo and Desumi are just so adorable together – and so made for each other – that I now consider them the front-runners. This one is every bit as fun a romp as Skeleton Knight, albeit in entirely different ways. Grade: B+.

Spring ’22 Wrap-Up Part 1: I’m Quitting Heroing

NOTE: This review does not include the first of the two-part OVA for the series, which streams the evening of Thursday 6/23 on HIDIVE.

If you had asked me early in the season what series I thought might have been worthy of a full review at the end of the season, I’m Quitting Heroing probably would not have been one of the titles to come up. Sure, it uses a novel twist on the standard Hero/Demon King fantasy premise, but nothing that the series does its early going at all suggests the quality it gradually develops or the weighty, redefining twists it uses in its later stages. This is a far more involved story than it initially appears, and that makes its success in the later stages end one of the season’s mild surprises.

The premise here seems straightforward enough: the Hero, Leo Demonheart, is tasked with defending the human realms against the invading forces of the Demon King. This he accomplishes virtually single-handedly, but in a classic “the warrior has no place after the war” scenario, the people fear his overwhelming might to the point that Leo no longer feels welcome in human lands. Hence, in an apparent rejection of this behavior, he decides to go somewhere he feels his abilities might be more appreciated: to the Demon Queen, who sorely needs help restoring her Leo-decimated forces. There he makes a very business-like pitch to offer his services in helping her rebuild, but the Demon Queen Echidna, of course, has none of this after Leo soundly thrashed her. To get around her resistance, Leo instead works with her generals under a disguise (which is initially known to only one of the generals) and does exactly what he claimed he would to ingratiate himself to Echidna.

However, while Leo did not lie about what he would do, he was less than forthright about why he was doing it, and that is where the series’ unexpected depth lies. Leo has a much bigger goal in helping the Demon Queen Echidna than what he lets on, one which asks surprisingly deep questions about identity and purpose. In the process, the series redefines the meaning (or, perhaps more accurately, the extremity) of its title and presents a more involved and philosophical take on the role of the Hero than most fantasy titles do. To what extremes might the Hero go if he literally has no identity beyond being the Hero and no purpose beyond saving humanity? And what if conditions force your calling as a Hero to be endless rather than just a one-time thing?

While the first episode implies that acceptance is a big part of this scenario, that is only a relatively minor factor in the end. The story is ultimately mostly about Leo finding a new role for himself, one which doesn’t involve playing the hero. This isn’t exactly a novel storytelling approach, as other recent fantasy series (most notably Banished from the Hero’s Party) have tackled a somewhat similar premise, but this series takes a much different angle on the concept. That is not initially apparent, as the first half or so of the series focuses on Leo cycling through each of Echidna’s four Generals and helping them learn to carry out their roles more effectively and efficiently. That starts to change when a mid-series revelation shows that this is not, by far, Leo’s first time around as a Hero, and that being a Hero is an imperative rather than a calling for him. The gradual revelation of Leo’s backstory leads to some harsh twists later in the series, which makes the second half of the series much more compelling. Even somewhat chickening out at the end doesn’t hurt that much. Slightly more of a problem is the way the pacing drags things out a bit in the late episodes, but again, that’s not a crippling problem.

The effectiveness of the cast in supporting this varies widely, and that is the series’ main weak point. Leo is a more interesting character than he appears at first, Echidna is instantly-likable, and female general Steiner is appreciable as (essentially) the Demon Army’s manager, though her role wanes considerably as the series progresses. By comparison, Edvard is a standard pride-obsessed musclehead, assassin-like Melnes is clearly aiming too much for the Emo Teen stereotype, and Lily is just annoying as the cute animal girl who has absolutely no business having the responsibilities that she does (although that is also part of the point of the episode focusing on her). Fortunately, the three better ones are enough to carry the weaker ones, and an imp who has a major role in one flashback episode also makes an impact as a guest appearance.

Artistic merits for the series are about average. The only character designs which stand out are those for Echidna (which give her a young look which flirts with being sexy but never really sexualizes her) and especially for Edvald’s daughter Julietta; she’s one of the most appealing-looking fantasy females to come along in a while, which makes it disappointing that she has only cameo appearances outside of the episode focused on Edvald. A surprisingly limited number of action scenes do offer some pop, but this is not the series’ strength. It does better with its background art, especially some nice-looking mountain landscapes and the beat-up look of the Demon Queen’s castle. Musical merits are competent but mostly forgettable.

Overall, I’m Quitting Heroing is an unexpectedly solid non-isekai fantasy series, one whose strengths are enough to overcome its more mediocre aspects. It is a series that I can recommend.

Rating: Writing 4 (of 5), Artistic Merits 3.5, Overall 3.5

Other Titles That Have Wrapped for the Season:

The Rising of the Shield Hero – Over, season 2 has mostly been a disappointment compared to season 1, and the climactic resolution of this season’s storyline in episode 12’s finale doesn’t change that. The dramatic presentation of the final fight scene just does not come together well, but that has been a problem throughout the season; the emotional intensity just isn’t there. I also had some issue with the unsettled status of the relationship between Naofumi’s group and L’Arc’s group; they seem to want to be chummy, but these were also the same people who tried rather hard to screw over the world Naofumi was protecting in the name of protecting their own. Yes, Kizuna wasn’t part of that, but there is a disconnect here. The one part of this season that I do like is that Raphtalia, by becoming the Katana Wielder, is no longer technically Naofumi’s slave and now has the power and status to stand beside him rather than just be helping him. (This does, of course, leave lingering the question of what consequences there might be for such an important weapon leaving that world, but perhaps that will be addressed in future seasons, if there are any.) The ending certainly leaves the door opening for more animation, as it throws out some character cameos that seem to be teasers for future developments. I would welcome more, but hope that any future seasons put together a more compelling story.

Spy x Family episode 11

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Sometimes the funniest jokes aren’t always the most obvious ones. That is definitely the case with this episode, where some of the best humor comes from a surprisingly simple device: in Anya’s imagination about how people react to what she’s doing, they all speak in her voice. Something is just terribly funny about seeing Loid, Damien, Mr. Desmond, and Mr. Elegant sounding like Anya, and that joke only gets better as the episode progresses.

Of course, sometimes the standard, up-front fare works just as well. When Anya starts talking to her “parents” about wanting a dog, her reads from Yor about what a proper dog might do are absolutely sputter-worthy. In a bigger sense, though, the talk about getting a dog as a reward for Anya finally earning a Stella allows a brief glimpse of one yet-to-be-formally introduced major character: A dog Anya is pictured with in some promotional material. That is clearly the same dog seen in shadows in the pound at the end of the episode, and there’s a hint that the dog could have some kind of precognetic ability as well. Very interested to see how that plays out.

Before all of that, Anya is struggling. She’s just not a good student (perhaps because she’s underaged for the grade she’s in?), she does not have Yor’s athletic talent, and she’s predictably incompetent at helping around a hospital. The one thing she is good at is the one thing she cannot tell anyone about, but kudos to her for finding a creative, age-appropriate way to affect a rescue on the drowning boy whose thoughts she just happened to pick up, and for not hesitating in a crisis. Yeah, this is another case of her telepathy being all-too-conveniently specific (though perhaps the intensity of the boy’s situation allowed her to pick up on him despite not being in the vicinity?), but I can overlook that for the way that the whole scene drives home a very important lesson: always, always keep a constant eye on kids when they’re near the water. Have to wonder how Twilight knows that kids can drown all too silently – there’s a story yet to be told there! – but given that there was a double-drowning of youths locally just a couple of days ago as a I write this (and under “took their eyes off them for a minute and they were gone” circumstances, too), this point hit home with greater intensity than normal.

But the great thing about this series is that, for all its serious moments and focus jokes, it doesn’t miss the little jokes, either, like how Yor hugs way too hard. And Anya’s still up there with the all-time-greats when it comes to her expressions. Let’s finish with a bonus look this week, shall we?

Ascendance of a Bookworm episode 36 (finale)

Rating: 5 (of 5)

This season of Bookworm was only scheduled to be 10 episodes, as that much brings the overall story to its most obvious transition point. Hence it’s quite satisfying that the last episode is also the best and most emotional for part 3 of the series.

It also loads up with bombshell revelations which finally fully explain the relative status of numerous key characters. As I postulated last episode, Sylvester is, indeed, Aub Ehrenfest, aka the lord of Ehrenfest. What I did not expect is that Ferdinand is Sylvester’s younger half-brother and the High Priest is Sylvester’s (and thus also technically Ferdinand’s) uncle. From that, we can postulate that the High Priest is the younger brother of the former lord, who was shunted to the Cathedral for being an “extra;” this also explains why he has the highest status in the church. This also explains why Ferdinand had the highest status among the knights; even if he was illegitimate, he’s still the brother of the lord, and he clearly has magic on par with his rank. I have heard mention that he’s in the church more for political reasons than because he’s in the same situation as the High Priest, so there may still be something there to be revealed. It’s also interesting that Gunther recognizes Sylvester as the lord, so apparently he has met him at some point. (Presumably when Sylvester traveled through the city gate?) Benno also clearly knew who Sylvester was and what the blood seal on the black pendant meant, so either he knew Sylvester was the lord at the time of their meeting back in episode 31 or Sylvester told him when he made whatever offer he did to Benno, and that’s part of why Benno was so flummoxed.

Much of the rest of this plays out about as expected. Main is getting formally adopted, which means both that her name will change (to Rozemyne) and that any connection she has to her previous family is severed. She’ll be regarded as having died, and they will have to both spread that story and treat her as both a stranger and noble on any future meeting. The connections will still remain, but just won’t be overt anymore. Yes, this is harsh, but as Sylvester points out, it’s still a compromise to him having them eliminated, and they will still be able to connect through devices like Tuuli being Rozzmyne’s official clothier when she becomes a professional. (Also keep in mind season 1 references to a purge a few years back, and that means Sylvester would have been the one to carry it out, so despite his behavior in episodes 30-31, he is that ruthless.) Jenni’s fate looks grim for being an accomplice to the High Priest, but Delia – who really didn’t know what was going on – gets a mercy worthy of Main: she’s permanently consigned to the orphanage as its caretaker. This is a clever move on Main’s part, as it absolutely looks like a punishment from the outside, and once was what Delia most dreaded. Now, however, she is suited to this role, and it will allow her to stay with Dirk. Delia also seems to understand and appreciate all of that.

That leaves the last part of the episode for the formal good-byes between Main and her family, and that is a beautifully-executed, highly-emotional scene. The blessing and healing Main releases is one of the series’ most special scenes, and nowhere in the series are the musical selections more fitting than here. The only minor quibble I have is that it sure looked like Main’s mother was signing and sealing Tuuli’s name.

The story isn’t over, of course. There are still several more novels which could be animated, and the “to be continued. . .” before the end card suggests that more animation could come eventually. Sylvester apparently recognized, as Ferdinand did, that Main’s printing and paper industry would be invaluable to Ehrenfest, so her long-term task as Rozemyne will be to develop and promote those industries. This opens up a whole new stage to the story and I am curious to see where it goes next. Any continuation will be warmly welcomed!

Thoughts on Other Series I’m Following:

Since I was away for much of last week for a convention, I’m behind on several titles at the moment. Look for an update on this later this week or with next week’s Spy x Family review.

Spy x Family episode 10

Rating: 4 (of 5)

One of the running jokes of the series is that Yor, for all of her domestic incompetence, is superhumanly capable physically. That gets reinforced here. A second, more developing running joke is that Yor is probably the last person who should be teaching Anya anything beyond just basic physical fitness. The combination of the two lead to two of this episode’s three funniest scenes, which involve what Yor can do with a dodge ball. You do not want to ever play against Yor in dodge ball.

An epic dodge ball match, with the kids all believing that a Stella is at stake, is the subject matter of this heavily Anya-focused episode, though both Damien and the bearded teacher also get their chances to shine. The revelation that the former feels intense pressure for living under the shadow of a stellar older brother makes him a bit more sympathetic, while the latter is getting reminded the hard way that little about young children is truly elegant. They get into silly name-calling matches and over-dramatize even little things like a simple dodge ball match as a matter of course. That puts high stakes on something which should just be simple fun or, at most, light competition. (Although I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t remember childhood dodge ball fondly.) Naturally, that also means that the other side’s ringer is a hulking brute who looks and sounds almost like he could be a football pro lineman.

That sets up the episode’s other top joke and most inspired moment: the flashback scene where the overdeveloped kid meets with his father and we see that, for all of his size relative to the other 6-year-olds, he’s still 6-year-old-sized compared to his father. The episode uses other training sequence scenes to show Damien and his friends imagining various scenarios that are far less dramatic than what they appear to be, so perhaps the implication here is that a lot of what we’re seeing is colored by perspective? In any case, both Anya and Damien end up with chances to shine. Even though both ultimately fail, the one who comes out looking best is, somewhat surprisingly, Damien. He’s got a more gallant spirit than he understands or would care to admit.

With good support from the animation, this is a solid but not spectacular episode.

Ascendance of a Bookworm episode 35

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

This episode proved to be every bit as dramatic as the ending to last episode promised, just not entirely in the way that last episode suggested.

Rather than chasing down Main and Tuuli’s kidnappers being a major part of the episode, it turns out to only be a prelude to the episode’s even bigger confrontations. I was pleased to see Main’s father arrive on the scene and play a major role in disrupting the effort (though Damuel still had enough to do); Main also getting to weaponize her Crushing power in a more controlled manner was an additional treat. But that whole affair proves to be just the starter for one of the series’ most action-intensive episodes to date.

The confrontation with the High Priest and the foreign noble at the cathedral was inevitable, given how the story set things up to this point, but it did feel slightly rushed; I have to wonder if the adaptation is taking some shortcuts here. Still, the scene is a welcome one for being the first to show what a fight looks like in this world when both sides have magic-enabled individuals. Men that I’m assuming are Devouring soldiers can use their magic to bulk themselves up, though apparently they have not been trained enough in fighting to take advantage of it against individuals like Damuel and Gunther who have been formally trained; the only one of Main’s defenders who struggles against them is poor Fran.

The High Priest and especially the foreign noble are another story. This scene seems to reinforce an impression made by episode 13: that the High Priest is not at all a trained combatant, since he relies both on dirk and the black orb rather than fighting Main directly. Too bad for him that, even after experiencing Main’s “Crushing” directly, he’s underestimating how much mana she has. The foreign noble, for all his bloated look, is vastly more of a threat. He knows how to fight and has the mana to go toe-to-toe even with Main’s power when not caught off-guard. And they have some unexpected help, too, although Jenni’s predisposition to act this way was at least hinted at a couple of episode ago. Her words here seem to indicate that she’s still being taken advantage of like Wilma was, so it’s quite understandable why she’s bitter. (This also explains her apparent attitude towards Delia.) Meanwhile, Delia’s been hung out to dry here, and is perhaps finally understanding that she’s been playing for the wrong team. The irony here is that the High Priest also suffers for not heeding Delia’s efforts more.

That the epilogue explains why Ferdinand was not present until the last minute is a welcome touch, as without that, his arrival at just the right moment smacked too much of dramatic convenience. The bigger issue here, though, is that we finally get at least some hint about what the black protective charm – which Sylvester gave her and which the episode is named after – is actually supposed to do. Granted, nothing is explicitly explained here, but Ferdinand’s reaction to it, his past behavior towards Sylvester, and what he tells Main about how she can keep herself, attendants, and family out of deadly trouble by agreeing to an immediate adoption, points to just one reasonable conclusion: Sylvester is the Lord of Ehrenfest. By giving her that “charm,” he showed a willingness to adopt her directly if the situation warrants it, and presumably Main putting her blood on the stone is the effective equivalent of signing a contract. By accepting the adoption, she immediately falls under the lord’s direct protection, thus giving Ferdinand all the reason he needs to deal with the intruding noble (which he clearly was eager to do anyway) by acting on her behalf.

Wow. Assuming I’m right on this, that’s a heady development, but it also makes complete sense. Nothing has indicated that the lord couldn’t be a younger guy or a complete rascal, and it completely explains why Ferdinand – whom the knights recognize as being of high status – couldn’t control Sylvester, why Karstedt was along when he joined Main and Ferdinand on the Spring Prayers round (and initially didn’t try to interfere when he was teasing Main), and perhaps even why Benno was so flummoxed about whatever offer Sylvester made him back in episode 31. (Looking back, this presumably involved Sylvester becoming the restaurant’s patron.) He faked being a blue-robed priest so he could see for himself who Main is, what she’s capable of, and what she could mean for Ehrenfest, and saw enough to give her a charm that would protect her in a status sense rather than a magical sense. He recognizes, as Ferdinand does, her value, and power implied to be on a level with a high-ranked noble implies a need for commensurate protection.

I also found interesting Ferdinand’s comment about how The High Priest wouldn’t know about the change in rules because it happened at a “gathering of nobles” and what that implies about the High Priest’s actual status. Hopefully that gets clarified eventually, but next episode looks like it could be as loaded as this one was. Whether my claims about Sylvester are true or not, Main’s transition to being a noble is going to happen more suddenly than originally planned, and there will be consequences for that.

Spy x Family episode 9

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Of the episodes of this wonderful show which have aired so far, this is, by far, my least favorite one, and the one that comes closest to completely stumbling. Yes, the series gets some leeway because what transpired was still fully in character for the participants, but that doesn’t make it feel any less ugly.

The part I’m specifically referring to is the stunt that Twilight and his compatriot pull on Yor to test whether she can be trusted or not, given that Twilight is certain that her younger brother is Secret Police. (And he’s not wrong on that.) Being the consummate spy, Twilight cannot fully trust anyone, and the Secret Police connection understandably raises suspicions, even if neither Yor nor Yuri are acting one bit like Yor knows anything about it. Still, cornering her as fake but fully convincing Secret Police officers and threatening her with detainment over a trumped-up espionage charge seems a little much. The scene plays out much too seriously, lacking even a hint of the more light-hearted spirit which has characterized the series (and, indeed, even the first part of this episode) so far. Even the supreme irony that Yor really is guilty of a lot of crimes – just not espionage! – doesn’t detract from that. I do have to give Yor credit for standing her ground even in the face of Secret Police intimidation, and hopefully this will lessen the trust issues for now, because I’d rather not see this level of darkness in the series again.

The rest of the episode does better. Yuri’s siscon nature amusingly leads him to misinterpreting what’s going on in the opening scene, and that slo-mo slap and Yuri’s ensuing tumble were a nicely-animated sequence. Anya also gets a couple of neat moments, especially as she tries to process what “Secret Police” as applies to her “unkie” means and bluntly points out how not-so-tasty Yor’s cooking looked. The irony with Anya in this episode is that Loid is right about how kids can be surprisingly perceptive at times, even without telepathy. On the more serious side, both Yuri and Yor get practical advice a from a coworker and Loid, respectively, and both those scenes work well because they also drip with irony. Seeing the Forger family more settled at the end was a rewarding finish.

Next episode looks like the focus will shift back to Anya, and it’s about time; she’s had too little of a role in these last two episodes.

A Few Thoughts About Other Series

Date a Live IV episode 9 – This is a series that I have mostly been following for completion’s sake, but the movement to a new arc featuring fan-favorite character Kurumi makes the series a more enticing view than it’s been at any point this season. I’m actually looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Love After World Domination episode 9 – This series, OTOH, continues to chug along merrily without the faintest hint of a slip. I may have to give this one a full review at season’s end, as even Spy x Family does not top its delightfully fun spirit or how utterly adorable Desumi and Fudo are as a couple. (Really, if someone makes a Desumi figma, it’ll sell. I’d absolutely order it.)

I’m Quitting Heroing episode 9 – This series didn’t seem like it was going to amount to much at first, but a surprising focus on character development and some unexpected twists have turned into a mild sleeper series. Might be worth checking out if it can finish out properly.

Demon Girl Next Door episode 8 – This series impresses more than any other when it comes to slyly working in world-building elements, and it does this while building solid relationships and an all-around fun story. It hasn’t lost any of what made the first series so great.

Ascendance of a Bookworm episode 34

Rating: 4 (of 5)

One of the truest axioms of security is that even the most robust security plans are still only as good as the people carrying them out. Get careless and the enemy will take advantage of the holes. Normally protagonists are the ones who benefit from this in anime series, but this time around a simple matter of instructions not getting properly passed on to a gatekeeper shift results in calamity for Main.

At least for the moment, anyway. The black stone necklace Sylvester gave Main back in episode 31 was pretty blatant foreshadowing of the very event on which this episode ends, and this is exactly the kind of circumstance that it was intended for. The Next Episode title also supports that we will see what, exactly, it does next episode and exactly how Sylvester can come to the rescue.

But while the cliffhanger on which the episode ends is certainly the episode’s feature scene, it is hardly the only thing going on in the episode. I continue to love how rich the world-building is here, as the content incorporates ideas brought up in numerous previous episodes and shows how they get applied. The signal that Ferdinand used back in episode 25 is shown here to be a standard procedure for summoning knights, including for nobles causing trouble at the city gates. (That raises the question, though, of how the gate guards make that summons if they, as commoners, cannot use magic themselves. They have a magic item for it, presumably?) That the High Priest would know what Dirk’s symptoms indicate is no surprise since the Head Priest also recognized them; presumably such a thing is common knowledge among nobles, since their own children doubtless experience the same. The tau fruit coming up again was also a nice touch, though I had to wonder if Main considered how much of a disaster it would be if the fruit overcharged and turned into a trombe in her quarters. Contrarily, the scene with Heidi seemed an unnecessary reinforcement of the previous commentary on how secretive painters are.

Other little details get thrown around, too, since as the stabilized colors being made reality by the fixing agent suggestion, Heidi earning what essentially amounts to a research grant, and the toy bell Main had made for her baby brother. Delia’s situation merits more attention; sadly, she has no idea how much of a naive tool she is or how disposable she is if the High Priest ever decides he has no more use for her. And now that her role as a spy is done, I have to wonder how far off that time is; I can easily see her becoming a tragic character.

But for now, Main and Tuuli’s safety are the more immediate concerns. That was a gutsy move, grabbing both of them so near to two armed and fit-looking individuals. I am curious to see what their escape plan is.