86 episode 18

Ernst, announcing the offensive against Morpho

Rating: 4.5

Throughout its run, 86 has occasionally stretched its narrative a bit to end episodes on certain dramatic beats. For the most part, the series has successfully pulled that off because of the skillful way that it has staged these scenes and the seamless addition of new content. In the case of this episode, however, the stretching is more obvious. Nothing new was added – in fact, this episode plays as purely to the source material as any part of the story has so far – but I cannot shake the impression that this all could have been handle a little more succinctly.

Even so, the content is still effective, and the star performer this time around may be President Ernst. He has sometimes given the impression of disguising some agenda behind his platitudes, light-spirited delivery, and minor bouts of goofiness, but he has also shown an earnestness in his dealings with the 86s which doesn’t seem in line with darker motives. This episode firms up the truth of the matter: there is actually nothing disingenuous about Ernst’s motives, just his intensity. When he drops his politician’s voice and smile (as he does at the 1:15 mark in the episode), the smoldering passion behind his convictions come through powerfully; kudos to voice actor Yuya Uchida (Henrickson in The Seven Deadly Sins titles) for this and other strong moments throughout the episode. Even those around him seem to forget that you don’t successfully lead a nation out of a revolution and through a major transformation of government – and remain popular in the process – without powerful convictions and a core of steel. He mentioned back in episode 12 that a nation which cannot take in a bunch of refugee children doesn’t deserve to exist, which makes his words in the later scene – where he states that he will destroy this country if the 86s must die to protect it – all the more impactful. He will lead a nation based on human decency, or there will be no nation at all. The motivational speech he gives to the troops on the verge of the offensive also speaks to his pride and convictions as well.

Grethe also gets some star points here. She may seem a bit too chipper for the role she plays, but maybe she’s just following Ernst’s leads. There’s a strength and conviction underlying her cheery exterior as well, and if her motives for doing so are not exactly pure, who cares? She certainly doesn’t think it matters. Fredericka also gets another pass, another opportunity to show off her intriguing mix of maturity and natural childishness, with her last impassioned attempt to dissuade Shin from going to battle. She certainly does not pull any punches in her desperate rant, and unlike with everyone else who tries to insist that the 86s shouldn’t fight, her comments bypass the pride of the 86s and strike home because she has seen first-hand what battling for little but your pride can lead to. With Grethe and Ernst, she rounds out the trio of Federacy representatives who all care about the 86s in part because of people that they have lost in the past, but their concern is no less real.

All of this, of course, is the prelude to the grand offensive to take out the existential threat of the Morpho. Once again the 86s are going on a mission from which they’re not expected to return, but this time circumstances are different. Their direct commander is the one personally taking them to their destination, the whole of the Federacy wants to see them come back, and both the Federacy and other countries are fighting alongside them. Some may see the 86s as monsters for how finely-attuned they are to combat, but they’re still recognized as part of the cooperative effort. All of those are things they didn’t have before. That and the support of the series’ strongest musical number make the launching of the offensive into an impressive affair.

As for technical aspects. I continue to like the small gestures by Shin – the twitch of an eye when one of Frederica’s rants hits home, for instance – which betray emotional reactions. The launch sequence also looked impressive. However, the character art once again seemed shaky at times, and that is an ongoing concern. Does it have anything to do with why the series is having its second off episode (this time a “Special Edition”) in just three weeks next week? Much of the rest of the series is going to be action-intensive, so hopefully that will be enough to keep the series up to its lofty standards.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut eps 1-7

For those who don’t already know, I am a high school teacher by trade. Though I have spent 90% of my teaching career in Math (my minor), my major is actually Social Studies, with a focus in history, and I’m still quite the history buff. Hence, I usually eat up series with deep historical roots, so this adaptation of the light novel series Tsuki to Laika to Nosferatu – with its heavy grounding in the history of the early Soviet space program – was practically guaranteed to appeal to me. Indeed, it was my most-anticipated non-sequel of the season. Little that has transpired in the first seven episodes has dissuaded me from continuing to consider it a favorite, though its long-term appeal to me has ended up being at least partly for reasons other than what I originally expected.

The country names may be different, and this may be set in a world where vampires exist as a persecuted minority in Russia, but this story is, at essence, an account of the Soviet Union’s space program as it preps to launch the first human into space. (In our timeline, this happened on April 21, 1961.) Indeed, many of the time frames and details mentioned throughout the first seven episodes are  based on actual history, with numerous additional references thrown in. (The facility for training cosmonauts is named Laika, after the first dog sent into space in our world, for instance.) The main departure from real history is that the not-Soviets sought to counter a plan by the not-U.S. to send a chimpanzee into space (which actually did occur in 1961) by sending their own near-but-not-human up first: a vampire. And because the test pilot is only a vampire, she is considered a fully expendable object – to the top brass and most of the true cosmonauts, anyway. But her trainer/watcher, the disgraced cosmonaut Lev, grows to see things differently.

For all of the historical context at work, and for all of the minutiae about the kinds of training that cosmonauts undergo and the stresses the program experiences from unreasonable officials, the relationship between reserve cosmonaut Lev and vampire N44 – aka Irina – ends up being the series’ strongest aspect. Lev is too fundamentally decent a person to safety fit in a Soviet-modeled country circa 1960, and that basic human decency in both word and action is what gradually gets through to Irina. She has plenty of good reasons to hate humans and not trust what Lev is doing, and fully realizes that she may not survive the program (or could easily be disposed of afterwards), but she puts up with it all because she has her own dreams about going to space and the Moon. In Lev she finds both a kindred soul and one of the few humans who would treat her as a human, despite everything that he’s told about regarding her as a mere test subject (sometimes even in her presence). Whether it’s using her name instead of designation (she noticeably reacts when he first does this), looking out for her safety, or exposing her to things beyond her training, Lev treats her like a valued comrade. In fact, it works so well that I must wonder if the base commander didn’t have this exact outcome in mind when he assigned Lev to the task, despite what he says. Whatever the truth of that matter, feelings between the two are clearly developing by the end of episode 7.

The actual production of the series a is a little more uneven. The character designs and animation certainly make Irina appealing and even a little sexy, but they also make her a little too cute; she is adorable in a very moe way, and that doesn’t quite fit the tone of the series. The vampire specialist girl even more glaringly doesn’t fit in the setting, and the music selections are, at times, more light-hearted than seems warranted by the content. The CG used in vehicle animation also sometimes came up short, though the production does better with the rocket animations. The pacing of the series was slow but comfortable through the first six episodes but rapidly sped up for episode 7; honestly, I was surprised to see the launch come not only this early in the series, but only halfway through the episode, with Irina being brought back to Earth before the episode ended. Presumably that means the rest of the series will be the What Happens After content? Certainly there’s still a lot of story to tell, since Irina’s now in an even more precarious position than she was before.

Seeing how the series handles that transition – from building up towards the launch and an actual relationship between Irina and Lev to playing out the consequences of all of that – is plenty enough to keep me watching. While I don’t agree with all of the directorial choices here, the story and characters are plenty endearing enough.

Some Other Series I Am Following:

Mushoku Tensei ep 18 – After two strong family-related episodes about Rudeus, we get one about Roxy going home, and it’s just as strong. I believe the series did mention something early on about Roxy not being telepathic like most of her kind are, but this episode brings the full implications of that to bear, and without using a bullying angle; the other demons of her type just don’t know what to make of her. Loved the way her inability to make the telepathic connection was portrayed, as it really brought home the full impact of Roxy’s comparative disability.

The Fruit of Evolution episode 7 – Yeah, the series is stupid as hell, and the addition of the donkey Lulune only adds a new layer of stupid onto it, but it’s stupid in a fun way. You could rip the series apart critically. The series isn’t far from descending into self-parody, and I am increasingly getting the impression that it’s intentional.

Takt op.Destiny  episode 7 – So the (a?) main villain appears. Rather disappointed in this, even as I appreciate more what’s being done with Destiny in a character sense.

The aquatope on white sand ep 20 – “Lost Plankton,” indeed. The end of this episode is something that has been coming all season, and this episode finally put the finishing touches on it. The warning signs were there, and at least some of the people around Kukuru caught enough of them to be concerned, but since no one was seeing the full picture (and Kukuru hardly articulated it herself), they couldn’t provide the support she needed. The production did an excellent job of setting this up; Kukuru’s expression when her boss first spoke to her about the wedding scenario sent a chill up my spine, and even he noticed something was off. The anticipation over seeing how this plays out provides the series a rare cliffhanger and easily its strongest episode of this season.

Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Great Mankai Chapter ep 8 – I have seen complaints elsewhere about the series descending into “tragedy porn,” and this episode only reinforces that impression. The series is definitely going overboard in that regard, though the developments towards the end about Yuna are interesting. I need to go back and rewatch the second half of the second season to see how this all fits.

The Faraway Paladin ep 6

NOTE: Apologies for this being late! I’ve had it done since Sunday, but just realized that I failed to post it. 😦

Rating: 4 (of 5)

With this episode the series takes on a new angle, expanding the setting as William leaves his undead family behind and explores the greater world. While I always found Will’s relationship with Mary, Blood, and Gus to be satisfying storytelling, this journey allows for a more action-oriented turn, which may quell some of the rumblings of discontent about the slow pacing.

Not that the story has suddenly gotten quicker, of course. It is still quite methodical about laying out its events, and that can be seen in nearly every scene which transpires, whether it’s the way Will uses the magic he’s been taught to protect his campsite at night or the beautifully-portrayed but also desolate environs he traverses through in the early part of his journey, prior to meeting Menel. The world-building which unfolds both in this time and as Will starts to encounter people is also very measured in its delivery and revelations; we can piece together that the population of the southern reaches of the continent was so devastated by the war 200 years ago that the region was never repopulated, to the point that Menel was not even aware that it was ever inhabited by humans. Will has to travel for what appear to be weeks (if not months!) just to get to the outermost fringes of human civilization, and those villages are populated only by the outcasts and rejects of human society. Further, attitudes shown in the Menel and the villagers’ dealings with Will suggest that the gods may not be a major part of human life anymore – or at least not for these people, anyway. They aren’t hostile to the gods; the people just seem disconnected from worship of the gods. I am curious to see if that holds true as Will progresses deeper into human civilization.

The other big feature of the episode is the introduction of a character who, based on the opener and closer, is going to be one of the long-term regulars in the party Will will eventually form: the half-elf archer/hunter Menel. He already shows signs of being a fantastic addition to the cast, as he provides a more blunt, cynical, and world-weary contrast to Will without being outlandish in behavior. In a tactical sense, he also gives Will a ranged specialist to back up Will’s role as the tank of the party and full knowledge of the woodlands; in other words, he’s the classic fantasy ranger, and rangers and paladins usually are quite complementary in their skill and combat sets. There’s a lot to like in Menel’s character design, too, as it captures the delicate, androgynous look commonly-associated with fantasy elves without feeling like a caricature. That he is a male character in a role that would commonly fall to a female character in anime and anime-related literature is also interesting and a welcome change of pace. (Really, think about how many other fantasy anime you’ve ever seen where a male elf or half-elf was a primary supporting character. I’m hard-pressed to think of one.)

The series still may not be terribly exciting, but the practical way the whole scene at the village played out, the way Will’s devotion to the gods fits smoothly into this, and the way the gods and magic continue to be portrayed all maintain a solid presentation to the series. The artistry in general is also quite pretty, though the limited ways that action scenes are portrayed concerns me a bit. We’ll see what things look like in what should be a more action-intensive episode next week.

86 Visual Commentary Special Episode

From what I understand, the production team for 86 originally planned to have a break week in December. November 13’s break wasn’t originally planned and is instead the result of production delays. This isn’t too surprising after last week’s episode; minor signs of that could be seen in episode 16, as a handful of close shots (especially of Shin) seemed less refined than normal. Hence we have a “Visual Commentary Special Episode.” So is it worth watching?

If you normally like commentary extras on DVD/Blu-Ray releases (which I expect this episode will eventually be) or want to see the seiyuu (Japanese voice actors) behind the voices, then yes. Otherwise, no.

The episode features Shoya Chiba, Misaki Kuno, and Seiichiro Yamashita, the voices for Shin, Frederica, and Raiden, respectively. They comment on clips selected from episodes 12-16 (though 16 wasn’t actually used) and provide some insight into how they played and perceived the characters. While some of it was interesting, nothing was eye-opening. They finish the episode by featuring the Reginleif models which are newly-available in Japan. The one takeaway from all of this is that, contrary to the character he plays, Chiba seems well-suited to being a talk/commentary show host.

So yeah, this is skippable.

Special: Banished From the Hero’s Party episodes 1-6

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Based on the stated premise for this straight fantasy series, I really wasn’t expecting much here. Part of that might have been because it sounded too much like the dreadfully dull Drug Store in Another World from the previous season (even though this is not an isekai series), but I also had serious concerns about whether the premise was sustainable. The first six episode have proved me wrong, instead providing a thoroughly enjoyable tale about a companion of the Hero who leaves the Hero’s party when he seems to not be needed anymore and winds up cohabitating with a female adventurer who specifically retires from her active life to join him. In fact, it has risen to become one of my most-anticipated titles of each week.

One key of the show’s success so far is the developing relationship between Red and Rit. While I could easily see them being too teenagerish in their interactions for some tastes (all the blushing does get to be a little much), the series earns major points for making one critical move early on: it clearly establishes a foundation for why Rit might fall for Gideon/Red. While he doubtless impressed her with his general competence in their early encounters (as told in flashbacks), the way he bolstered her resolve when she was at her lowest point – and facing her greatest crisis – and did so without any hint of manipulation or ulterior motive would be a potent attracting factor for anyone. Episode 5, in a strong move, then goes on to show how she was convinced by another woman who cared for Gideon to shed her pretensions and tsundere-like behavior and actively and unambiguously try to win him over when the opportunity later presented itself. That makes her behavior after meeting Gideon as Red feel more genuine and raises questions about how much of the sexy flashes Red occasionally gets from her are deliberate enticements. She’s certainly adorable whether being overtly sexy or not.

A second key aspect is that the Hero’s party isn’t being ignored. The ambitious Sage, Ares, convinced Gideon that, while he was crucial to the group’s success early on, everyone else has surpassed him and he’s now only holding them back. (Red accepted this readily because he already at least half-believed it himself, since his advancement had stalled compared to the others.) As flashes over to the Hero’s party show, though, the group is gradually falling apart without him. Two members have left – one thinking that Ares had eliminated Gideon, the other in search of Gideon – and one replacement, despite having a rare and potent Blessing, has yet to prove herself. The Hero (Gideon’s younger sister Ruti) is also clearly less stable without her brother around, to the point of nearly killing Ares when she believes that he did something to Gideon. There are definitely some glaring warning signs flashing here!

As the series has progressed, the unusual emphasis on the impact of the setting’s mechanics has become increasingly more intriguing as well. Everyone in the world having a granted Blessing (or something equivalent) is hardly unusual for a fantasy setting, but I cannot think of another case where the nature of that Blessing has a stronger impact on the behavior of the person, rather than just the person’s position in society. Blessings are portrayed here as being a kind of compulsion, one that can shape a person whether they like it or not. For instance, a Champion cannot help but be brash and aggressive, while a Brawler is naturally inclined to solve problems with violence and has a knack for skills towards that end, and a crafter will naturally find joy in building things. Individuals can, to some extent, choose how to use a Blessing; a Weapon Master might specialize in a bladed weapon with the aim of chopping down trees efficiently, for instance, and natural affinity with one’s Blessing can also be a factor.

Perhaps the most interesting implication of this so far is that the more exclusive and powerful the blessing is, the stronger the impact it has. Ruti, as a Hero, is incapable of deviating from the Hero’s path (even if she really wants to), and while her Blessing gives her benefits like immunity to temperature extremes or no need to sleep or eat, it also tends to deaden emotions that could get in the way and can urge her even to take contradictory actions, like fatally injuring a companion one moment only to turn around and heal him the next because that person is still important to the mission. This also leaves some interesting implications for Rit, whose Blessing of Spirit Scout makes her more inclined to exercising her freedom but also can drive her to abrupt violence in defense of that, to the point that she’s even had to learn how to disarm herself when killing isn’t her intent. Can she really settle down peacefully with Red like she wants to with a Blessing like that? That Blessings can only be leveled up through killing other creatures or people with Blessings is also an interesting and potentially volatile point, though the series has yet to come back to that after first bringing it up in episode 3.

The one consistent negative so far is that Red is a bit on the dull side. He is a level-headed, practical, and dependable guy, the kind who would be a stabilizing influence on any group he joins, but that also results in him usually reacting rather than acting. Nearly everyone around him – even minor characters – has a more clearly-defined personality. So far that’s not a major drag, as Rit’s sexy adorability easily compensates, but I would like to see him developed more. The technical merits can also sometimes be shaky, and action animation tends to be rather limited. The occasional fan service moments can be a plus or a minus, but they are not pervasive; aside from the flashback bathing scene where Rit and the elf girl talk about Rit winning over Gideon, it can mostly be overlooked.

On the whole, I don’t expect anything great from Banished From The Hero’s Party going forward, either, but it has nonetheless been quite enjoyable so far.

Other Series That I Am Following:

Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut – This series will be featured separately in an upcoming week.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – The last two episodes (16 and 17) have been two of the strongest yet for the series. The reunion of Rudeus with Paul was a rough one, but it played out quite credibly and satisfyingly in the end.

Restaurant to Another World 2 – It still is what it always has been: a fantasy foodie series. Nothing much else can be said about it.

Taisho Otome Fairy Tale – This series will be featured separately in an upcoming week.

The aquatope on white sand – Still humming along fine, though this season wants for the wondrous magical elements of last season and some underlying sense of tension; the closest this half comes to that is Kukuru’s struggles to fit in the role she’s been assigned.

The Fruit of Evolution – This series gets bad-mouthed a lot (some justly so), but I think some critics are losing sight of the fact that this is supposed to be a silly romp. It will never be a weekly highlight, but I have consistently found it to be at least mildly entertaining.

takt op.Destiny – I was not originally following this one, but I took time to get caught up on it recently, and now believe that it will just barely hang on as a regular view. While its “travel from battle to battle with a vague objective” plot feels generic, the series shines when it devotes itself to its musical elements, as it did with the most recent episode.

Yashahime: The Second Act – Generally, I have found this season to be a bit stronger than the previous one. It has shown a greater and steadier sense of overall plot movement and consequences. Still feel Moroha is being underused, but it’s doing enough to keep me watching.

Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter – After seeing six episodes, I have very mixed feelings about this one. It will probably get highlighted towards the end of the season, so I will hold off on discussing it further now.

There are a couple of others that I have fallen behind on but haven’t entirely given up on yet. They may get mentioned next time around.

The Faraway Paladin Episode 5

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

All things must come to an end, and in many senses that’s what episode 5 is all about. It marks the end of the series’ first story arc (and, I presume, its adaptation of the first novel?) and thus the end of its establishment stage. The longer main story will now start from here, with the title for episode 6 suggesting that one of the other characters shown prominently in the opener will be introduced. As much as the greater story is something to look forward to, that continuation will come with a certain amount of wistfulness for what has been built here.

The episode opens with the final stand against Stagnate, who has decided that Will is too much trouble and thus is going directly after Mary and Blood. While this is in some senses the standard scenario of a hero coming to the rescue at the last moment, the final confrontation raises its game by acknowledging that Will’s ability to strike down Stagnate was only made possible by the actions of others setting up that possibility. The series also continues to do a remarkable job in the way it handles its deities, with the brief appearance by the gentle Mater both staying Stagnate’s hand at a critical moment and providing proof that Mary had never been abandoned by her goddess.

The final disposition of the trio of undead which follows is just as important to the greater story as the defeat of Stagnate is. Mary and Blood both know that, now that they are no longer beholden to Stagnate, their time has come. To ask for more time now would only establish an addictive cycle, and that they will not have. Their departure is touching, but the more emotional element for me is what Gus did afterword: insist that Will take the combination of their names – Maryblood – as his surname. I cannot think of a finer way to honor the memory of two who were like parents to him.

That also makes the lengthy epilogue, which features Mary and Blood back during their adventuring days, all the more special. We finally get to see what they looked like in life, and more importantly, we find out that they were closer than they had ever let on. Being the parents of a boy with the carefully-chosen name William was their plan before they went on their final mission; it just took them 200 years to finally realize it, even down to where they would live. It is a fitting wrap to the first arc.

With 86 and Mushoku Tensei also knocking out stellar episodes this week, and Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut also delivering quality work, this once again makes for a strong weekend of anime.

86 episode 17

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Last episode was the action powerhouse that anime-only viewers were probably hoping for and novel readers were anticipating ever since this season began, but this episode may be even more loaded in thematic and storytelling senses. Hence it carries a power all its own and could be remembered for different reasons than last episode.

One of those reasons is the opening scene, which is partially anime-original; that something like this happened was implied by the novels but not described in detail. Its inclusion, however, is quite welcome, for it illustrates better than words could the crushing irony of the situation. The “86 go home” sign being plainly-displayed as Alba flee the attacks may have been a little heavy-handed, but that did not much distract from the visceral staging of the battle in the capital of the Republic, both in visual and musical senses. Words aren’t needed here to show how Lena’s gathering of the 86s and their Juggernauts forms the final defense line against the Legion, or how she’s staying true to word by fighting to the end. Normally that someone so young would be the one to rally the defense might bother me, but the story has clearly shown that she was the only person with a true understanding of both the threat of the Legion and the mentality of the 86s, and that she had both made careful preparations and won over allies for this. For all the dramatics, she displayed true leadership when it counted and people respond to that.

The scene added at the end showing the aftermath of that battle was also more implied than described in the novels, but I do like its inclusion as an episode epilogue as well. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to point out that the scene of Lena’s ruined bedroom should not be taken as a suggestion of her own death; if this series was not going to kill the 86s off at the end of the first half then it certainly isn’t going to kill Lena off at this point. Rather, it should be taken as symbolic of how completely she put everything on the line in the final defense.

The content in between those two scenes is all about what’s transpiring in the Federacy at the same time. Strike-back damage done to the Kiriya-possessed railgun (hereafter called “Morpho”) has given the Federacy a brief reprieve to deal with their immense troop and material losses, but they are also in a difficult position. The only way to take out the wounded Morpho is with a ground assault, and that is basically a suicide mission. Storytelling meta dictates that the 86s (or, more specifically, the squadron that they are in) will be the ones to undertake this mission, but the practical and emotional reasons have lined up as well: Shin’s ability would be key to locating the Morpho, none of them have families, the Reginleifs have the superior mobility needed for such a mission, and even though the Federacy does not have the racism of the Republic, the 86s are still different. They have been looked at as monsters before this (and after seeing Shin in action last episode, it’s not hard to understand why), and that they chose to go to battle despite not having any attachment to the Federacy understandably would raise suspicions in anyone who did not know their story and thought processes. (Conspicuously left out here are some comments about Shin’s parentage, but I won’t say more about that on the chance that it might be brought up later.)

Not everyone sees the 86s that way, of course. Some – like Colonel Wenzel – genuinely do have compassion for the 86s, but that also leads to one of the underlying themes of this half: that there’s a fine line between sympathy and pity, and even the well-intentioned can easily stray from the first to the second. Pity many not be inherently prejudicial, but it can certainly be taken in a deprecating way when it strikes against the honor or character of the pitied party, and that is exactly the reaction that Shin has to all of the well-meaning efforts to get the 86s to distance themselves from the battlefield. It is what they know, what they’re good at, and ironically, where they are most comfortable, so who else has the right to tell them that they shouldn’t fight, shouldn’t put their lives on the line? Shin’s response to Wenzel about that is about the only time I can remember him getting truly angry at another person.

Then there’s also what Eugene’s little sister is doing. Her brother never came back from the battlefield (or, as the novel clarifies, didn’t come back except as ashes), and she has come to blame Shin for that. Nothing is fair about her laying the blame at Shin’s feet, but she is still a child. Even so, it hits harder because of Shin’s own survivor’s guilt and his role as the Undertaker. Shin’s reaction to that – a disturbing smile suggesting that he finds the whole business ironic – speaks to his uncomfortable mental space, as does the great scene of all of the dead 86s speaking to him. And the one constant which can draw him back from the edge? Lena. Really, if these two ever meet again, no one should begrudge them hooking up.

Overall, this was another exceptionally well-done episode. Sadly, next week is going to be a “Special Visual Commentary Episode,” which probably means a recap. Something like this happening at some point this season was to be expected (especially since this second cour started early in the season and is only supposed to run 11 episodes), and narratively speaking, this is the best place to do it. Expect a brief post on whether any of its content is worth checking out, so the next full write-up won’t be until episode 18 airs in two weeks.

The Faraway Paladin ep 4

Rating: 4.5

In most class-based RPGs (whether tabletop or VG), the process of choosing a class is not organic. In the early days, which stats one got the best die rolls in determined class; in more recent years, party needs (if the character is developed as part of a party) and character concepts have tended to be the dominant drivers. Exactly how a character ends up with the class he or she has is rarely detailed and often irrelevant. Because of my long experience with this, I found this episode to be an especially refreshing view. This will now be my go-to example on how a person truly becomes an RPG-styled paladin.

While Gus, Blood, and Mary gently pushed Will in this direction all throughout his youth and training, Will certainly earned the right to represent the Goddess Gracefeel on his own merits in the end. Gracefeel (which, for the record, is an awesome name choice for a deity) is the goddess of flame and eternal flux, the one seemingly responsible for leading the migration of souls between worlds. Since William is one of those souls, bears the Stigma of holy flames, and is very much in a state of flux as he seeks to reform himself from his previous life, that makes Gracefeel both the ideal and logical choice for his patron. Everything about the sentiment Will expresses in asking to represent her feels genuine as well, as both the earlier parts of the episode and what he has experienced in the previous three episodes – as well as what Blood, Mary, and Gus have explained about their own stories – have led him to understand the importance of living a life. How ironic it is that he had to learn lessons about living from a bunch of undead!

But that is, of course, what the story was aiming for all along in its attempt to redeem a former hikkikimori. Will defining existing as an undead as just returning to what he was as a hikkikimori is an interesting but effective choice, but what else would a god named Stagnate pursue? Stagnate basically regards entropy as the ultimate peace and seeks worthy heroes to be his chief minions in pursuing it, hence the reason he is so firmly set on claiming both Will and his guardians, but he has the misfortune to be the antithesis of Will’s existence. He seems to realize that, hence his move to go after the other three instead of trying to defeat Will directly at the end.

Of course, this isn’t all about Will. Gus gets to show off his might in the beginning, and Blood and Mary, after their initial struggle to resist Stagnate early on, are back to assure Will that being unable to stand up to Stagnate initially isn’t Will’s failing; it’s something that they believe Will should never have to confront to begin with. But they, too, with their unchanging natures, represent what Will cannot let himself be. They are his family, but also who he must rise above to make his own way in the world. With this episode, Will finally seems firmly on the path to doing so.

While this episode was not quite on the level of 86’s masterpiece for the weekend, it was nonetheless a strong and impactful entry. I look forward to seeing what this series can continue to do.

86 episode 16

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Ever since midway through last season, the series has been foreshadowing the coming of a large-scale offensive. Shin warned Lena about it, and in the year or so since the 86 left the Republic, Lena has been preparing for it. The Federacy also knew it was coming, but not how big. In a meta sense, the series has also seemed to be conserving on its animation the last couple of episodes. If that was, indeed, being done deliberately, then episode 16 – where the offensive finally happens – is what the staff was conserving for. The payoff is every bit the spectacle that novel readers had been anticipating, making this episode easily the strongest of this half – if not one of the strongest of the whole Fall 2021 season – to date.

A big part of that spectacle is, of course, the formal debut of the Reigenleifs in battle against the Legion. (I consider the one brief previous scene to be just a teaser.) I have said before that the staging and animation of the battles in this series may be the best ever for an anime title, and the first 60% of the episode powerfully reinforces that claim. Though Shin gets the feature moves, all of the 86s get to show off to some degree, and the result is glorious. Every battle scene – whether it was Anju’s missile batteries unloading, Kurena’s artillery, Theo scaling the building, or even Raiden just mowing down small fry – dazzled, and Shin’s scenes in particular gave ample backing to the impression that he was losing himself to a kind of combat madness. What would the commanders, who called the 86s “monsters” based just on the blips as they pushed back the Legion, have thought if they could have seen Shin’s actions in person? Did Colonel Wenzel have some apprehension about just what she had unleashed?

The parts involving Frederica were also handled even better than I had hoped. She has mentioned before that she sees a bit of her former knight, Kiriya, in Shin, but never before now has that parallel been laid so bare to her. She’s scared for Shin, and she should be; even the other 86s notice that something is off with him. Frederica is the “mascot” of the squadron by assigned role, but here her role as Shin’s emotional anchor starts to come into play as well. (And speaking of the quality animation in this episode, the scene of Shin getting cut by the glass shard was phenomenal, as was his body language as he finally shakes out of his berserker madness.)

The latter third of the episode also gives Lena an extended scene for the first time since episode 12. The large-scale offensive also struck the Republic, with the railgun’s fire piercing the Grand Mur, the wall which had protected them, and Lena was among the few at HQ who immediately understood what that warning siren and image meant. Things are about to get very, very bad for the Republic, and Lena is really the only hope the Republic has; thanks to the groundwork she’s laid over the past year, she is the one person who can rally a real defense, who can convince the 86s to unite and fight because the alternative is even worse and because honor demands fighting to the bitter end. The fact that she’s committed to doing so herself may be the most important point of all and what most sets her apart from other Alba.

That sets up her final meeting with her uncle. This is an anime-original scene, but it fits so well that I have to wonder if original writer Asato Asato requested its inclusion. It’s certainly a necessary scene, as it fills in the most notable gap in the original novel and continues the theme of her uncle’s fatalistic attitude about his own people. He has implied before that he fully understands that the persecution of the 86s is not right, and that doing anything about it is beyond him because of the inexorable forces within the government and military. He has tried to discourage Lena from getting trapped like her did by this ugly machine, and he is so disgusted by what has been wrought that he feels the Alba deserve to get wiped out. I can’t shake the impression that this confrontation was his final test to see if she was just playing around or truly had the resolve and understanding to dig in and fight, both for the nation as a physical entity and for its very soul. But unlike the Lena he tried to talk down back in episode 8, this Lena is no longer a naive idealist. He was likely going to go out fighting anyway, but Lena’s determination gives him the chance to utter maybe the series’ best lines so far: “It’s a child’s right to dream. . . and until that child wakes up from her dream and is crushed against the rocks of a merciless reality, it’s an adult’s job to protect her.” Cool way to go out, General Karlstahl.

All of that builds to a fantastic final Republic-side scene were Lena formally calls out all of the Processors and those in HQ who support her. I loved the reuse of the closing theme from episode 9 here, as it marks the point where Lena truly starts following in the path the 86s left down, and hey, we get another gratuitous shot of garters, right? Other little details about here, such as how the confrontation scene makes a point of showing that Lena is able to look her uncle in the eyes because she’s standing up one step (a scene which packs some interesting symbolic meaning).

And going back to the beginning episode, we finally have the introduction of No-Face, too; it first popped up in the first novel, but I believe that No-Face’s scenes in that were skipped. Perhaps that was because the trick the production team is playing here would have been too obvious then? Even now, the implication is pretty heady, as it’s something that has not been revealed through volume 8 in the novels. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, consider how familiar No-Face’s voice should sound. I’m certain it has to be the same seiyuu. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as actors get reused for bit parts all the time, but this seems too significant to ignore.)

The dramatic epilogue scene brings to an end the series’ adaptation of the second novel; only one brief scene, which will probably be in the next episode, remains. The adaptation effort here is exceptional once again, with the only minor change (aside from Karlstahl’s addition) being that the scene where Shin pulls the gun on the alert center people being shown in context rather than referred back to later.

Overall, the episode succeeds on every possible front. It exemplifies why this is my favorite series of the year.

The Faraway Paladin episodes 1-3

NOTE: I have not read the source novels for this series, so these reviews will be based on anime content only.

In most isekai reincarnation stories, childhood is rarely given more than a full episode (if that), as the goal is to get the character into adventure mode (or to whatever their destined occupation is to be) as soon as feasible. Ascendance of a Bookworm somewhat subverted this by having the main character’s occupation be part of her childhood, but even there the series did not spend more than an episode getting Main to the start of her defining journey. That’s why the start of this series is so unusual: though the opener and closer both make it clear that an adventure aspect is coming eventually, the series has spent three whole episodes getting protagonist Will to the age and point where he will set out adventuring. Given the way things have developed so far, this was the right call, both for original creator Kanata Yanagino and the adaptation team headed by director Yuu Nobuta (High School Fleet, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear).

Some viewers will undoubtedly will find this approach too slow, especially for the first episode. However, almost nothing which transpires in the first three episodes feels stretched or wasted. This is attributable partly to the sense of makeshift family which satisfyingly develops between Will and his three undead guardians (to the point that Will eventually calls Gus “Grandpa” and refers to Mary and Blood as Mother and Father, respectively) and partly to the compelling mysteries lying at the core of the story. Why are these three undead, especially considering that becoming so makes Mary anathema to the goddess she worships? Why are they living in a long-ruined city crawling with undead? And how did Will end up in their care as a baby?

Somewhat surprisingly, the series does not keep viewers wondering about these mysteries for long. By halfway through episode 3 Will has reached age 15 (adulthood by this world’s standards), so he finally gets to learn The Whole Truth. While this is effectively an infodump, the series could not have waited any longer to reveal this information because the interrelated answers to all three questions set the stage for Will to move on to the next act in his life – assuming he isn’t killed by the Echo (read: avatar) of a god first, of course.

And it is a meaty set of truths we get as well. All three of the current undead were involved in the final battle of a campaign against a horrific Demon King, one who had taken over the nearby ruined city as his base, and ultimately couldn’t defeat him but managed to seal him. As part of an agreement with a god of death, they became undead charged with guarding the seal. After 200 years of that, Will came to them as a baby as an intended sacrifice towards breaking the seal. The latter in particular is heavy stuff, and the trio holding both that truth and the truth about the sealed Demon King until Will was old enough to handle it was warranted. While all of this sounds like typical isekai high-fantasy fare, the description of the Demon King and how he became such a menace is both a bit different and unusually effective, and now Will’s going to be carrying around the Demon King’s sword, Overeater, which was the key to the Demon King’s resilience? That’s a heady responsibility. And then the Echo of a god shows up for a true cliffhanger ending.

The remarkable degree of world-building so far also speaks in the series’ favor. Though the locales are initially limited, the storytelling makes up for that by carefully defining a pantheon of gods and establishing a clear magic system. I also loved the added detail in episode 3 about how the undead had no idea that anyone in the rest of the world even survived until Will showed up, which is both realistic under the circumstances and promotes a sense of urgency beyond just “finding your own kind” towards Will leaving them.

Overall, the first three episodes have lain a firm foundation for the adventure story to come. I look forward to seeing what the series can accomplish.