How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom episode 23

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

To a certain extent, oversimplifying how characters deal with certain problems is a practical issue necessary for anime series (especially fantasy series which work on an epic scale) to function. They simply do not have time to deal with all the minutiae of how grand processes and big story movements work (excepting stories like Ascendance of a Bookworm, where the minutiae is the whole point); otherwise they just get bogged down in the little details and become boring. Because of this, Realist Hero has always gotten a certain amount of leeway from me on how it accomplishes some of its reforms. This episode, however, is where the series finally stretches practical credibility beyond the breaking point. That’s why I am rating this episode lower than most.

To be sure, the goal here was a noble and worthy one, especially after the Machiavellian tactics Kazuya had been recently resorting to on other fronts: clean up the slums and reform them so that the poor in general (and not just slaves) have more opportunity. And as the sojourn of Kazuya’s party into the slums shows, he has certainly accomplished that. Things have been cleaned up, decrepit buildings have been torn down and replaced with small but free housing, locals have been put in charge of keeping the slums clean, and programs have been instituted to promote healthy habits. In fact, the whole situation is practically an ideal. We are not given any sense of time frame here, but the implications is that all of this was accomplished within a relatively short period of time.

And that’s a big part of why none of this is even slightly credible. If cleaning up the slums was this easy or could be done this quickly, it would have been done by all rulers that care a bit about their populations. Also, where did the financing for this grand plan come from, especially in light of having to deal with absorbing Amidonia? Even if the benefit is ultimately a big one, it had to be a very expensive plan to institute. At least the story covers the “buy-in” part of it by used a three-eyed race who can see pathogens to convince people of the existence of germs and bacteria, but even that comes off as and all-too-convenient work-around. Yes, there is a refugee camp that is causing Kazuya some consternation, but even the problems there are coming from the outside.

In fact, the only part that was at all realistic was his progression on combat skills. Yes, he has been doing some training, but even if it’s for months, he could hardly be realistically expected to be competent at swordplay yet, especially since he cannot be spending so much time at it. Here he looks like the classic beginner, so proud of accomplishing one basic move that he is unprepared for follow-up attacks. At least this is the one thing whether others can put him in his place on (his scolding from Liscia was well-deserved), and that scene saved the episode from being a total letdown. Still, with the continued shakiness on its visual quality control, this series has some work to do to shine again.

86 episode 22

Rating: 5 (of 5)

86 is finally back for its final two episodes, after its nearly three-month hiatus. Perhaps partly as an apology for the wait, the series delivers the finest and most emotionally potent episode of its second half. And a lot of that has to do with Lena finally being back in the picture, to the extent that this episode shows why the series works best when both are involved.

The episode is titled “Shin,” which is fitting because it serves as the climax to Shin’s personal journey through the second half – and really, the series as a whole as well. While the other 86s seemed to adjust relatively well to life in the Giad Federacy (even if they did ultimately opt to return to the battlefield), Shin never did. The combination of his ability, experiences, and personality have left him haunted and directionless. He can try to deny that the dead have no place and no voice among the living, but he cannot move past them himself. When he tries, he see nothing ahead of him – no point or meaning to moving forward. He is the Undertaker, the one who made sure that those who had died were not forgotten, but even his fellow surviving 86s – even Frederika, who understands him better than anyone else in the Giad Federacy – could not ease that burden or give him purpose, and it weighs even more because, as far as he knows, the few who had stayed with him are now dead. How could he not mock himself?

But as the first half showed, and the second half occasionally reminded us, there was one person he seemingly made a deeper connection to, even if he didn’t acknowledge it: Lena. Unlike with the 86s, he inspired her not to be comfortable with dying, but to live, and that was something he never appreciated before. She also was someone who would remember him. Shin desperately needed to understand both, which is why the scenes where he first recognizes her voice and then gets a verbal confirmation directly from her about the impact he had on her carry such an emotional punch. Lena isn’t dead after all, but rather a much stronger person for her efforts to pursue the 86s formerly under her command and reach the place that they reached, even if she also believes them to be dead. That admission – that acknowledgement – is what he needed to hear, and who he needed to hear it from, to finally be able to move on, as symbolized by the fragment from his brother’s Legion falling out of sight as the music hits its crescendo.

As dramatic execution and symbolism goes, this scene was everything that I had hoped it could be. The two seemingly-permanently parted ways with Lena in the midst of blossoming red spider lillies, which can symbolize death and separation. However, they can also symbolize both rebirth and star-crossed lovers, and having their reunion (such as it is) in a field of such flowers packs both meanings here. Lena first speaking silently, with Shin getting only subtitles (presumably because of a bust external mic) was a neat touch, as it allowed her instantly-recognizable voice coming over the Para-RAID to have much more impact, and using the white filter bars at the top and bottom of the screen gave the scene a greater feeling of intimacy. The sun emerging from behind the corner of the Reginleif as the scene builds to a crescendo was also a fitting, subtle bit of symbolism.

But the best part, unquestionably, was Shin’s changing expressions throughout the scene. He’s never been an emotive character, and while his stoicism has, at times, been a negative, it gives the flood of emotions he shows here all the more impact. The animation quality shown throughout demonstrates that the issues the series occasionally had back in November and December are now a thing of the past, too, and the musical choice for the crucial scene was outstanding. (And yes, the fact that Shin did not recognize Lena on sight is consistent. Just like Lena never actually saw his Undertaker logo, no one but Raiden among the 86s ever saw her face.)

The way the anime episode handled this content is a bit different in places than in the novel, and the first third or so of the episode was definitely padded out. However, nearly all of the choices here – including adding a scene from early in novel 4 as the credits scene here – were good ones. The only move I slightly disagree with is adding the last Legion that Lena (or, more likely Cyclops) blew away as it approached Shin’s damaged Reginleif. That felt like an unnecessary bit of extra drama. I did also like some of the little background touches, like the way Cyclops reacted when Lena handed over her gun to the Giad forces. The one other minor complaint on details is how Lena’s seemingly-smudged face seemed to clean up as the episode progressed. Whether Shin’s decision not to press the point on identifying himself to Lena was correct is more debatable, but in a storytelling sense his logic – that the proper reunion should happen when she’s reached their final destination, not on this battlefield – makes sense.

The stopping point of the episode is at the end of novel 3’s last chapter. All that is left is the epilogues to novels 1 and 3. The next episode’s title – “Handler One” – suggests that the finale will focus more on Lena’s viewpoint (i.e., novel 1’s take) on the common ending of both novels, but that’s perfectly fine, since it should also fill in some on what’s been happening in the Republic up to this point and what comes next for the Republic. That should make for a highly satisfying conclusion to this series, and I heartily look forward to it.

86 special: Episode 21.5

Frederika, observing Kiriya’s final moments

After more than two months off, 86 is finally returning this Saturday (March 12th) and next Saturday (March 19th) for its two-episode finale. So, naturally, that means yet another recap episode precedes it.

This time, though, I will begrudge the production team this recap. It does not provide any new content beyond somewhat in-character narration by Seiichiro Yamashita (the voice of Raiden), instead being just a collection of scenes from episodes 18-21, with the heaviest lean on episode 21. However, as recap episodes go, it’s done pretty well, concisely summarizing the moves and emotions which brought the series to its cliffhanger ending in episode 21. It provides a good primer to refresh your memory on important details before watching episode 22, should you not have time to go back and watch the individual episodes as a lead-in.

Naturally, I will be commenting on episode 22; it will, in fact, be my priority for the day, which may delay Realist Hero a bit more than normal in getting posted. Look forward to it!

Other Series I Am Following:

Have not done this commentary for a few weeks, so this short write-up seems like the ideal place to update on a few titles. They are in order by when they air during the week.

Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc – Damn, those were some impressive battle scenes. The overall story could be stronger, but at least Nezuko got some opportunities to shine. Now we get to take a breather for a year or two to wait for the next arc to get animated.

Attack on Titan Final Season – At this point the series is up through episode 84, and the last few episodes have been one hell of a ride. Aside from the occasional odd tonal blips (dammit, I liked the scene where Conny’s first reaction to seeing post-thaw Annie is to laugh at her stuffing her face), this has been heavy stuff thematically, but the series is better for it. Characters on both sides have committed atrocities (an all-too-common occurrence in warfare, unfortunately) and the series is neither trivializing it nor allowing easy justifications as ways out. The survivors of the original cadet corps (minus Eren, naturally), the Marleyans, and even some of the former Jaegerists all have to find a way to work together to stop Eren’s mass genocide, each for his own reasons, and that won’t come easily. The big revelation here was how Marco ended up getting eaten, and that was just the capstone of a beautifully tense episode. Really, unless this series miserably fails its finale, I don’t see how it cannot be the series to beat for 2022’s Series of the Year.

Princess Connect Re:Dive Not every light-hearted series can pull off the kind of serious turn that this one is trying to do in recent episodes, but I like the approach this one is taking. Finally the bigger story – i.e., multiple recyclings through similar settings and events, though to what ultimate end is still unclear – is starting to coalesce, and even Pecorine is mustering up the courage to be frank about her real identity. This series has always looked good, with some surprisingly fantastic action scenes in recent episodes, but now it’s becoming genuinely compelling, too.

Sabuki Bisco – On the other hand, this series is going in the opposite direction. Frankly, I have de-prioritized it so much that I have come close to dropping it. It’s not that the series is necessarily doing anything wrong, but nothing about its plot or characters is grabbing me. Unless it finds some kind of better spark, I will be coasting on it into the end of the season.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Rising a Nation Out of Debt – Still finding this one quite enjoyable, and seeing Falanya getting more actively involved in the most recent episode – to the point of becoming the focal point character – was a pleasant surprise. This one I can get enthusiastic about, although it’s still not the most fun series even on its release day.

Life With an Ordinary Guy Who Turned Into a Total Fantasy Knockout – Yeah, this one is still easily the most enjoyable series of this season. Every episode had been a lot of fun, and it’s still a priority view. The recent notion that Jinguji is Tachibana’s “special weapon” is terribly amusing, and that was far from the only bright point in the last couple of episodes.

In the Land of Leadale – Recent efforts to introduce other former players and delve at least a little into the backstory of how Leadale came to be this way have piqued my enthusiasm for a series that I was only largely coasting through before. Hopefully this will be the start of a trend, but I can also easily see the series just reverting to Cayna’s OP antics.

Arifureta 2 – It is what it is. The MC still annoys me, but I am finding the series just entertaining enough to maintain interest. The prospect of a bigger plot playing out and Hajime finally running into a tough-looking foe have gotten me a bit enthusiastic, and the production effort is a distinct upgrade from the first season. Will almost certainly finish this one out.

World’s End Harem – Been a while since I’ve seen a series glory so much in being trashy as this one does. . . Oh, wait, I only have to go back to last winter’s Redo of Healer, don’t I? Frankly, the series is not worth watching censored, so this is the rare case where I recommend hunting down an uncensored version if you’re going to watch it. And damn, Doi has turned into quite the little monster, hasn’t he? The recent plot twist has gotten me a little more interested, and I am still curious to see what is really going on behind the scenes, but this is still trash. . . and I will continue to watch it nonetheless!

Yashahime – Too bad the weekly episode reviews on ANN ended, as I feel that this half of the current season has generally been stronger. Nothing glorious here, and Kirin turning into a quasi-villain is disappointing, but the cast is still plenty likable enough.

My Dress-Up Darling – This one came into the season with a lot of fanfare, but even so, how much I’m appreciating it is still the surprise of the season for me. Marin is adorable as she deals with the prospect of being in love with Wakana, and I am even appreciating the regular fan service moments, but the scene of deeper meaning and subtle commentary about cosplaying are appealing to me more and more. This is one of the season’s better-constructed series overall.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom episode 22

This series has always been deliberate and thorough at examining economic issues for its fantasy setting, so I suppose that it eventually getting around to dealing with a thornier issue like slavery shouldn’t be a surprise. What I did not expect was that the series would take a mostly bottom-up angle on the matter.

To be clear, I generally don’t have a problem with fantasy anime series using slavery, especially where contextually appropriate. Throughout the history of human civilization, slavery or its approximate equivalents (i.e., serfdom in some feudal settings, helots in ancient Sparta, and others) has been a widespread institution, with cultures across the globe using it to some degree or another; not until the 1800s did it fall out of favor world-wide. In most cases where it appeared, slavery had a substantial or even critical impact on both the economy and social structures, as well as providing a convenient way to deal with convicts and prisoners of war. Even more advanced civilizations (like the Roman Empire) used it widely and depended on it heavily, to the point that over a third of the population of Italy around the end of the first century BC was estimated to be slaves. (Also notably, early Christianity opposed the ill treatment of slaves, but not the institution itself.) Hence slavery not being present to some degree in this world’s setting would have been odd. I really only have a problem with slavery depictions in anime if they are being used in a fetishistic fashion outside of S&M scenarios.

Up to this point, though, the series has largely danced around the matter, aside from Carla being relegated to slave status as part of her punishment; I think it was mentioned once or twice in the first half, but the series has done little to actually depict it prior to this episode. Here the writing clarifies that slaves in Fredonia nominally have some rights and protections, though in practice they can still be mistreated quite a lot. (Even so, that’s still on the enlightened side as slavery goes throughout history.) Rather than focus on Kazuya’s efforts to reform the system, the story features a young man who has inherited a slave trading business but decides to shut it down in humane fashion since he doesn’t have the temperament to run it. He comes up with the idea of treating the slaves he inherited well and educating them, both to make them more attractive for purchase in general and to assure the likelihood that they will be picked up by more responsible new masters. The irony is that this coincidentally dovetails exactly into Kazuya’s efforts to reform promotions of knights and nobles by connecting it to governance, which hence requires more educated staff – which thus makes educated slaves much more valuable.

The story perhaps softens and oversimplifies the realities of the situation, but I did like how Ginger Camus’s actions were shown to start a trend, and how that brought him to Kazuya’s attention (through Roroa) as the kind of person he would want to have working for him. It almost turns the whole scenario into a moral lesson, but the series can be forgiven for that because sometimes actions like this are all it takes to start a trend of common decency. I can also appreciate Kazuya being cautious about how he goes about getting rid of slavery. He uses the example of the American Civil War to explain how directly abolishing an institution deeply-ingrained to local economics can have violent consequences (even if that may be the more moral thing to do), so he opts for a path towards gradually phasing it out instead.

There are a number of potential problems with this approach that Kazuya’s plan is still glossing over, however. Educating slaves so they can get proper jobs is all well and good, but the economics of paying for labor, rather than just purchasing it up front, also has to be worked out, as will situations like how San got sold into slavery (i.e., by being sold off by family to cover a debt – an altogether common occurrence in many societies which have used slavery in the past), and the economy will have to adapt. Also, can such resources be devoted to slaves if underlying problems like poverty are not dealt with first? (In other words, are the poor also going to get educated to this degree?) Finally, changing attitudes about slaves will not be so easy; granted, this is not a situation like the American South, where slaves were all the same race and thus visually distinct from the regular population, but even so, changing the attitudes of some towards slavery may take generations. But at least the series’ heart is in the right place.

The one production criticism here is that the series is, once again, seriously skimping on animation. Quality control is rough in numerous scenes, and the episode uses just about every animation shortcut imaginable without being too obvious about it. In general, though, the episode handles the whole matter about as well as possible, and I do hope that Ginger and San are shown together in future content.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom episode 21

Rating: 3.5

Last week I made a number of suppositions about why Roroa appeared before Kazuya and offered to become his wife and why he would probably accept the offer. This episode proved virtually all of those suppositions to be correct, even the ones about how Roroa still planned to continue her mercantile practices as a (sub-)Queen, just behind the scenes. Even though I have not read the novels or seen spoilers concerning Roroa, though, I cannot take any credit for prescience here. This series has always unfolded in a very methodical way, so none of those reasoning by Roroa were hard to predict.

If there’s even a slight surprise to Roroa’s actions, it’s that she seems more enthusiastically lovely-dovey with Kazuya than expected. This is the one place where the scenario feels like a pure nod to standard harem anime tropes: she is the Aggressive Newcomer, the one who shakes up the staid status quo of the existing love interests by coming on hard rather than just passively waiting for the protagonist. No, she has no chance of supplanting Liscia as #1, and she is clear that she is not interested in that, but that gives a prod to Liscia in particular to get more motivated about actually pushing Kazuya to fulfill the part of his kingly duties that he has been neglecting so far. (Apparently they did not ultimately have sex in the previous bed scene.) I also do find it slightly amusing that the one place where Kazuya defers to anyone else on decision-making – on choosing whether or not to take on additional wives – is the one place where he probably shouldn’t. Sure, it could be called considerate to Liscia, but it also forces Liscia into the role of Harem Manager. (Actually, the first wife managing the others isn’t at all an uncommon arrangement in polygamist households in other cultures.) Kazuya is just lucky that Liscia is so practical-minded about it.

The conversation with Roroa goes on too long, but that’s par for the course for this series. The extra length does at least bring up a future potential problem spot: the Orthodox Papal State. This group has been mentioned before, and the discussion about how they would take advantage of the collapse of Amidonia – and how they could continue to be a thorn in Kazuya’s side even with the annexation of Amidonia being recognized – is interesting. That almost offsets how awkward the static positioning of Liscia is throughout that whole scene.

Most of the rest of the episode is more talking, this time the long-awaited magical Zoom call between Kazuya and Empress Maria (via Gemstone broadcast). The annexation of Amidonia into Elfrieden to create a new state – the Kingdom of Friedonia – certainly necessitated this, since it does, on the surface, seem to fly in the face of both the treaty and all of the earlier diplomatic efforts by Jeanne. However, Kazuya correctly points out the flaw in the treaty: a situation like this, where the people push for a new political situation despite the treaty. Kazuya is clearly using the Cold War between the capitalist Western countries and the communist Eastern countries during the mid-to-late 1900s to illustrate his point, and I believe he may be referring to Yugoslavia, and how it fell apart in the 1990s, as the problem case which illustrates his point about Amidonia exercising self-determinism.

Sadly, the episode falls back on more typical harem hijinks at the end; the series seems unable or unwilling to fully step away from this, even though the story does not need it. Stunts like this are the main reason why I am not giving this series higher grades, even though I like what it is doing otherwise. (Well, that, and the shaky artistic quality control in several scenes.) And yeah, Kazuya, best not keep Liscia at arm’s reach for too long, even though your reasons for doing so are somewhat understandable. If you’re accepting the role fully now, every part of the role needs to be accepted.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom episode 20

Rating: 3.5

Last episode, I surmised that bringing up the pilfered dragon bones was going to set up an arc where the dragon shown in the opener comes into play. The issuance of a diplomatic message to the Star Dragon Mountain Range about the bones (apparently originally unearthed during a construction project) still suggests that this is going to happen eventually, but a more immediate matter arises: predictably, things are not going well in Amidonia.

Granted, Kazuya did warn Julius, but he and Hakuya clearly expected (as the audience did) that Julius wasn’t going to listen. Not only that, but Julius fell for every trap that Kazuya left behind: namely, pissing off the populace by destroying works projects and ending freedoms that the populace had begun to appreciate, all for thin reasons. That leads the people to rebel. The whole things comes across as playing out a little too fast and perfectly, however, something which both Kazuya and Hakuya also notice. In a meta sense, the former could be explained by a condensed timeline; there’s a sense that events in this episode are playing out over the course of several months. However, I am also expecting a revelation next episode that Roroa had a hand in helping things along. She previously mentioned making a big gamble, and taking advantage of Julius’s ill-thought-out actions – with the ultimate goal of getting him deposed – certainly seems to be part of it.

The other part of the gamble, as I somewhat suspected, was seeking to become Kazuya’s wife. Though obviously a play to the growing harem nature of the series, it also makes sense for her in a lot of ways. She has been impressed by Kazuya’s sensibility and the way he improved life in Van during the previous occupation, and so probably trusts Kazuya more than her brother to look after the people of Amidonia at this point. Elfrieden policies also doubtlessly look more favorable to her mercantile interests, too, and she may not have much interest in running the country herself anyway; she strikes me more as the kind of person content to do her own thing within a stable environment rather than rule. She is probably also gambling that becoming one of Kazuya’s wives would be a boon for him as well; since some of the nobles in Amidonia are loyal to her, marrying Kazuya would firm up his support during annexation. In other words, conceit about her own beauty aside, she has thought this out, and in a meta sense, the story has done a fair job of justifying her move towards being a harem member.

(As a side note, Kazuya sniffing out her trick with hiding in the bolts of wool is a reference to a stunt pulled by Cleopatra to enable her to meet and seduce Julius Caesar during his visit to Egypt in 48 A.D. The amusing irony here is that Roroa is unwittingly fully playing into that storyline, sans the nudity of the original.)

On other fronts, I am glad to see the Amidonian finance guy get acknowledged for his talents, since he seems like the most upstanding of the Amidonian officials. Carla ending up as a chambermaid is no surprise, and is the sadistic head maid becoming a trope? Or has it always been one and I just haven’t noticed? Her matter-of-fact diatribe about cleaning up after Kazuya and Liscia having sex did provide the episode’s best comedy moment. I rather doubt that we’ve seen the last of Genia’s dragon mock-up, either. Overall, the story feels like it’s moving along a little too smoothly at this point, which kinda leave me hoping for some future bumps in the road. This is almost becoming an unconventional type of power fantasy.

Special: So I’m a Spider, So What? and Its Continuation in the Novels

Note: This commentary, which was inspired by the recent release of novel 13 in English, is designed to be accessible to those who have seen the entirety of the anime series and/or read the first five novels but are not familiar with the novel content beyond that. It deals with the structure of the story beyond that point but will not contain spoilers on specific details or revelations.

The So I’m a Spider, So What? franchise is one of the most unusual light novel franchises out there in terms of its overall structure. Splitting roughly evenly between two primary viewpoints for the entirety of its first five novels/24 anime episodes is hardly unusual for a title which uses dual protagonists, but having those two viewpoints set at substantially different points in the timeline – and then actively obfuscating that fact by preying on reader expectations for how these stories normally play out – is. (Yes, one major-name anime movie from the past few years does use this as a pivotal plot twist, but it is still rarely-used in anime.) This results in the story seeming to approach an endgame climax at the end of the fifth novel/end of the anime, but because of the skewed time frames, readers/viewers only really see one viewpoint on how the human (aka Shun) side of the story got there. That leaves a huge time gap during which Kumoko (aka the spider) has apparently been working with Demon Lord Ariel to set up the very showdown at the elf village that Shun and crew find themselves embroiled in at the end of the anime series. We know from the last chapters of the novel/last episode of the anime that Kumoko took Ariel’s offer in part out of self-preservation, but there had to be more to it than that for her to end up as Ariel’s right-hand woman, right? And how did the Arachne Kumoko become the future White?

Novels 6-12 cover this in what could be considered the longest flashback you’ll ever see. The breakdown is roughly as follows:

  • Novels 6-8: A couple of years pass as Ariel’s party (including Kumoko, Sophia, and Merazophis) travel towards the demon realm, where Ariel will take up her new position. Along the way they encounter Kyouya (aka the oni Wrath) and other key players in the world (i.e., Potimas and the pontiff of the Word of God religion) and Kumoko’s transformation into the form that White has in the human timeline takes place. Ms. Oka also appears in Kumoko’s timeline for the first time during this run.
  • Novel 9: Ariel’s party finally gets to the demon realm and takes over. The recruitment of Wrath also gets wrapped up and White discovers the true identity of D, which turns out to be a story foundation-shattering twist.
  • Novel 10: While Ariel gets the demon realm moving towards an eventual war with humans and cleans out rebellious elements, White establishes her ultimate purpose. Future adventurers Asaka and Kunihiko (the duo who joined the elf village shortly before the arrival of Shun’s team) make their first appearance, the source of the Word of God is finally revealed, and the reason why Ms. Oka is literally the last person in the world White would seek to harm comes out. By the end of this novel, roughly five years have now passed since the spider side of novel 5.
  • Novel 11: This novel shifts the focus to Julius (aka Shun’s older brother) and shows how he grew into the role of Hero. It is also used to bridge the remaining time gap between novel 10 and the events of the human side in the first two novels, up to the point where the Human-Demon War starts, and is interspersed with shenanigans that Sophia gets into at school.
  • Novel 12: This describes the human-demon war in detail (including greater descriptions of how each venue played out), climaxing with a detailed description of how Julius and most of his party meet their ends. It offers the least in terms of new revelations.

That brings the story to novel 13, which details the spider-side version of events that take place during the human side of novels 3, 4, and the first part of 5 (roughly the end of episode 9 through episode 20 in the anime). If the previous couple of novels were relatively short on major revelations, this one is packed with them. Included amongst them are the truth behind why Hugo was assisted in forcing Shun’s kingdom into revolt, which characters involved in that were and were not acting of their own free will, and how the whole plan orchestrated by Ariel’s team almost got disrupted by the unexpected actions of some participants in the events. The truth behind how the Hero’s ability works within the system – and why that’s such a potential problem even beyond getting in the Demon Lord’s way – also finally gets explained. The big bombshell is the real identity of one of the prominent human-side characters, and how that revelation shakes up even further the understanding of what was happening on the human side. The novel also clarifies a horde of other small details, too, including Shun’s encounter with the Nightmare Vestiges and how that was even odder from the spider perspective than it seemed from the human perspective.

In other words, this novel thoroughly reinforces that writer Okina Baba probably had the whole story planned out from the beginning. Nearly every little thing which may have seemed odd or inconsistent about the story early on was actually a clue to the truths behind the events, and the machinations at work ran far deeper than could have been imagined without the context provided by novels 8-10 and 13. In the process, the story also finishes laying out the particulars of how and why the game mechanics system in this setting works; parts of this have been touched upon in previous novels, but this one essentially summarizes all of that.

The novel also delves more into the questionable morality of both the system as a whole and what everyone is doing, though less in the sense of characters deeply contemplating morality and more in the sense of characters taking actions that they think are right and necessary and leaving it to the readers to determine if the actions are morally justified or not. Granted, that the greater plots at work here do not fall under conventional moral standards has been a matter in play for some time now, as some actions which seem reprehensible nonetheless have greater purpose. However, not all that transpires is so ambiguous in its evilness, and the way that White sometimes deflects on this shows that she is at least partly aware of that. She is, in a very real sense, as much the villain of the story as its heroine by this point.

Of course, White being White, not everything goes perfectly according to plan, and the 13th volume, like the others, is often funniest when something deviates. She may be a pretty ruthless person by this point, but she has lost absolutely none of the character which made her such an enjoyable character early on.

Novel 13 ends with the implication that the spider-side timeline will finally converge with the human side of the last few chapters of novel 5 (i.e., the last few anime episodes) at some point during the next novel. While all of this backfill has had its moments, and certainly has been enlightening, I am eager to see where the story goes next.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom episode 19

Rating: 3

I had wondered where the series would go next after wrapping things up so neatly last episode, and the answer was not what I expected: introduce a “mad scientist” character who looks like a little girl walking around in an adult-sized lab coat. (You never actually see her hands because they’re always far up in her sleeves.) While I understand where the series is going with this, this new development is not one of the series’ finer moments.

I say that partly because it feels like this trope of a highly-advanced technological remnant being the basis of a dungeon has been used too much lately; we saw something very similar in last season’s Banished From the Hero’s Party, for instance. Of course, this is also a common fantasy trope which goes back decades (and not just in anime), but this application of it is one of the least interesting I have seen. And is it even necessary for what the story is doing at this point? Nearly everything which transpires here could be explained without resorting to ancient high-tech, so this seems pointless and needless unless this has some connection to the Big Picture of the setting.

That griping aside, the storytelling does at least set some other threads in motion. It establishes that the kingdom of Elfrieden may have an utterly invaluable power source in vast quantities beneath its surface, one which is currently poorly-regarded because only its negative aspect is considered and its potential as a power source is not understood. It does, in fact, have so much potential in Kazuya’s eyes that it could make his kingdom a target if it were to be widely-known-about. It also makes its discoverer, Genia Maxwell, an utterly invaluable person in Kazuya’s eyes, on a level of importance with Tomoe, so he wastes no time in using Liscia’s advice to secure her loyalty by arranging for her to marry Ludwin (hence the title of the episode – “Strike While the Iron is Hot”). Yes, Kazuya’s motives are absolutely manipulative and underhanded, but things like this have been common practice for leaders throughout time, so there’s nothing out of line by it. And at least consulting with Liscia on it gave her something to to this episode rather than just stand around. (Really, I’m trying to remember the last time in an anime that a character was so omnipresent while doing so little as she has.)

And at least all of this scheming does at least lead to what may be the overall point of the episode: providing a hook to bring dragons into the picture. The second season opener prominently shows Kazuya and Liscia riding around on a flying dragon, so the latter coming into the picture at some point was a given. Bringing Genia in also allows an avenue to introduce other science-themed characters shown in the opener, but leave me wondering where the Native American-themed characters are going to fit in. Guess we’ll see about the dragon part, at least, over the next few episodes.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom episode 18

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

With this episode, the series ties up the final bit of loose ends from the Elfreiden revolt, while also making official that Kazuya has a harem.

But before we get to the latter, let’s look at the final clean-up effort, as that had some minor surprises of its own. Last episode ended with the implication that there were still discontent elements among the nobles of Elfreiden who were still plotting against Kazuya. Not a problem; Kazuya and Hakuya seemed to be well aware of them, which spurred Kazuya to classic Machiavellian tactics. While the episode tried to class this part up by couching Kazuya’s approach here with direct quotes from The Prince as framing devices, the resolution of killing off the other nobles comes off as a bit to simple, sudden, and perhaps even bloodthirsty, though Kazuya did make clear last episode that even purges of nobles was considered necessary even if it wasn’t desirable. Even so, using the trial of Duke Vargas and his daughter to draw them out was a slick move, and yeah, who really thought Duke Carmine was actually dead? (Okay, I’ll admit, for a bit there between episodes I thought the series might actually have the balls to do it.) In retrospect, having him officially dead but serving as the king’s secret enforcer does seem like a fitting resolution.

I am also glad that a way was found to salvage a role (if a greatly diminished one) for Duke Vargas, since even though he was fully guilty of participating in the revolt, he was suckered into it. That Carla was going to be spared was expected. Within the context of the setting, her being stripped of status and becoming a slave to the Royal Family (and thus under the direct authority of Kazuya and Liscia, who wouldn’t mistreat her) may have been the best possible scenario. Since Kazuya wants to keep her close for the special task he’s assigned her (and he’s right that neither Liscia nor Aisha could probably strike him down if needed), and to keep her accessible to Liscia, she’ll probably be impressed into service as a maid.

Finally, there’s the harem part. Something like this was going to be coming at some point, and Kazuya could not remain standoffish about this forever. In Liscia’s case, the series has done enough to establish that she has genuinely grown to feel that way about Kazuya, and while it may be stretching a little more in the case of Aisha, it’s not out of character for her, either. While the way it plays out still carries a whiff of standard harem hijinks, the motivations of Liscia and Aisha for doing it at this particular moment also seem sincere, and that prevents the bed scene from being eye-rollingly tawdry. This has never been a series prone to fan service, so the scene remains visually tame for what’s going on. This isn’t at all a surprise, and fits with the tenor of the series so far, but is still slightly disappointing.

So what plot threads are left to work with here? I am a bit curious about what scheme Roroa has in mind here, but otherwise the series is at a transition point. What direction will it go in next?

Other Series:

While I probably won’t make this a regular feature with this series’ reviews, I thought I’d add in a few observations since this is getting posted so late.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – This one makes a nice complement to Realist Hero rather than competition, as it approaches the “reform the kingdom from the top down” attitude from an entirely different, non-isekai angle. Wein is a delight and his relationship with Ninym is special.

Life With an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated Into a Total Fantasy Knockout – Speaking of series that are lots of fun, this one has proven to be a blast so far, even though it’s far from being one of the season’s top series on technical merits. In fact, it’s probably my most-anticipated non-Sunday title each week. Yes, a lot of it may be stupid, but the production shows a keen sense of comic timing and the writing is adept at milking meta humor. I recommend checking this one out if the name chased you off at first.

In the Land of Leadale – It’s a straight-up power fantasy with just enough of a humor aspect to it not to feel entirely stale. I am concerned that it’s missing opportunities to explore the circumstances of its setting more.

Attack on Titan – It’s not often that I can say that watching each episode of a series is an experience. 86 came pretty close to that during its run last year, but the recent episodes of Attack on Titan have achieved that at least as well as any other series I can think of. James Beckett’s review of episode 20 is one of his best, and I don’t feel that I can add any more insight to what transpires than he does. This is potent stuff.

Demon Slayer – Entertainment District Arc episode 10: The first 10 minutes or so may have been a bit slow, but after that – hot damn. This is an episode that people will point back to for years to come for both its visuals and action content. Can’t wait to see how things play out in next week’s double-length finale.

These are not the only series I’m following this season, so more thoughts next week.

Review: Interspecies Reviewers steelbox BD

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Note: To see episode-by-episode commentary that I did as the series was airing, go here. This review offers more of an overview instead.

Any adult who has ever played tabletop and/or electronic fantasy RPGs has probably wondered at some point where the sex is in the setting. After all, a diverse array of sentient races also makes for a diverse array of sexual possibilities! This Winter 2020 series, which adapts a manga, goes all-out to answer that question. The result is a light-hearted, surprisingly entertaining series so notorious for its explicit content that Funimation dropped the stream of it after only three episodes. (Only Australian streaming service Anime Lab continued with it, albeit in censored form.) Now it is finally available in the U.S. in fully-uncensored form, and it is an absolute delight to revisit.

The premise used here assumes that a fantasy world with numerous different sentient species peacefully intermingling would also have a vibrant and diverse legal prostitution scene, especially when the government’s ruling party (currently composed of orcs) includes fornication as a right in its platform. The series then further postulates that this reality, combined with the presence of magic, would result both in racially-themed brothels and some other creative takes on the concept, such as a golem brothel where you can essentially custom-design your own girl or even a temporary-sex-change brothel. Since succubi are a real thing in this setting, all prostitutes are generically known as “succu-girls” (under the idea that most sentients in the setting have at least traces of succubus blood in their ancestry if one goes back far enough), and of course magic helps prevent diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

The story – such as it is – follows human adventurer Stunk and his elf partner Zel, who are frequently joined by the angel Crim (who is stuck in the mortal realm for a while due to a damaged halo) and a fourth member who rotates primarily among a halfling, a beastman, and a lamia. Stunk and Zel get into an argument one night about which type of succu-girl is best and why (Stunk tends to favor appearances, while Zel favors mana quality), so they decided to start writing reviews of the brothels they had visited to formally compare opinions. When they discover that they can make extra money that way, Stunk and Zel make a goal of going around sampling all the different brothel possibilities and writing about their experiences, much to the dismay of Meidri, the bird maiden waitress at their local watering hole, who worries that they are corrupting Crim (who is earning his keep by also waiting tables there).

Each of the twelve episodes features the group’s experiences visiting either one or two brothels. The episodes are not entirely standalone, as characters and circumstances in earlier episodes can pop up in later ones; a brothel recommendation pass that the guys get in episode 2 does not end up getting used until episode 12, for instance. However, any sense of overarching plot is incidental. In fact, the lack of a plot even becomes a gag at one point, as an off-handed reference is made about how Stunk and Zel just happen to save the world from destruction while out recouping their funds from a drinking binge at a brothel which features alcohol fairies. This is not a story with any antagonist, either; a vampire lord that the group encounters (naturally!) winds up going to an undead brothel with the gang, and the Demon Lord – who looks like a 13-year-old girl but is around 10 feet tall – is just campaigning in an election and trying to raise the image of demons, who are notoriously regarded as one of the least-marriageable races. (Exactly what the problem is here is revealed in the last episode, and the reasons behind it are rather amusing.)

Nope, this series is all about the sex, and it is very up-front about it; hell, the first line of the opener song is “I love being a horny bastard!” Expect plenty of nudity, orgasmic moaning, intense sexual situations, and all manner of fetishes, including some you’re probably best off not thinking about much; arguably the most outrageous episode features sexualized egg-laying, including commentary on which races really get into it (including buying the unfertilized eggs at auction), though the scene where one character tries to figure out how to fuck a literal animated skeleton is also an eyebrow-raiser. On a couple of occasions, the series even self-censors, but even then. the production team makes jokes out of it; maybe the single funniest moment in the entire series is a sexual sequence where a mayonnaise jar represents the experiences of one of the characters, and it is arguably far more lewd that way. (I believe someone has made a T-shirt of “Angel Mayo,” and I really, really want it.  

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of all of this is that the content is vastly less seedy than it sounds like it is. That is attributable to two key characteristics, one of which is how enormously creative the series is. This is an extremely well-thought-out concept, one which even considers factors like how patrons at the gender-swap establishment are restricted to the premises until the gender-swap wears off (there’s just too much opportunity for mischief), or how a sexy archmage is using duplicates of herself to surreptitiously collect semen samples for her research while using the payments provided by customers to fund that research. Want to combine a nyotaimori establishment (where food is served on a woman’s body) with sexy fun in a fantasy setting? Have the food cooked on the naked body of a fire salamander succu-girl! The degree to which the series makes female characters who might not normally be considered sexy seem quite sexy is also quite remarkable.

The other key characteristic is how shockingly sex-positive the series is. Yes, many of the characters in the series are prostitutes, but nothing is exploitative about it. The succu-girls never give any indication that any of them are doing this unwillingly, and they are universally shown enjoying the experience. Even one brothel where the characters seem to be taking advantage of imprisoned girls is revealed to actually be a role-play-focused brothel, with the staff shown collectively deciding on what theme to use next in an after-hours scene. In fact, the only ones ever shown having unpleasant experiences are the guys, when they either get in over their heads or get in situations which do not align with their tastes. The closest the series gets to unpleasant sexual content is that the guys do harass Meidri a bit, but they always violently pay for it, too. While doing the episode reviews of the series for ANN, I head from numerous people who said that they didn’t normally like fan service series but liked this one because of that sex-positive aspect, and I understand that it was fairly popular with couples viewing for that same reason. Sure, an argument could be made that this is all glossing over the unfortunately-very-real problems with sex trafficking which still exist in the world, but this is a comedy at heart so it’s not striving for any deep social commentary.

The production effort by studio Passione offers a vividly colorful presentation, one where brothel and character designs get equally creative. One of the most frequently-recurring succu-girls is a 50-something human who may look baggy but has lost none of her verve (and occasionally hosts epilogue pieces ), while others are part-octopus, part-hyena, demonic lust machines, or any number of other wonderfully-conceived designs. The underlying attitude presented here is that the world of sex has something for everyone, no matter your kink or taste in women. One episode even has an incubus come on the scene to stir up trouble. Strong animation and music support also goes a long way towards make numerous scenes remarkably erotic, and the opener (which I think sounds like a Village People rip-off) are both fun and memorable as well.

The steelbox release is, I believe, being offered exclusively by Right Stuf under their adult Critical Mass label, and has warning notices similar to those seen on hentai titles. It is subtitled-only and includes typical on-disk extras like commercials, promos, and separated Next Episode bits, but it does also have a separate disk with the OST and a bundled artbook, which includes storyboards for the opener, episode 1, and episode 12, and a beautiful collection of background art. The most fun extra feature is a trio of short bonus manga, the most interesting of which explains why elves become succu-girls. (The logic is more sensible than you might imagine.) The one about elves could safely be read after the first episode, while the others are best read after completing most of the series.

Ultimately, this series is strictly for adults, but if you are an adult who can appreciate a healthy dose of sex in your anime content, then I highly recommend checking this title out.