Previously, Shaman King concluded the very first fight of the shaman tournament. Overall, I felt that the execution of the fight and storytelling of Chocolove's past was done very well. There were a few issues I had, like the plot hole regarding how Chocolove's gang made a total 180, but they were pretty minor.
Episode 21 appears to raise the stakes as the X-Laws will fight in the second battle and they have been established to be very merciless. How will the fight unravel?
The episode adapts Chapters 120 through 125 from the manga. Outside of some small exposition, much of it covers the X-Law's battle.
Before the OP, BoZ visits Yoh and his friends to thank them for giving them a second chance. The monk brothers shared how they met Hao and regretted how they left their ambitions to a total stranger. They thanked Yoh and his friends again before they head off as a reformed duo.
A younger BoZ meets Hao.
After the OP, the episode jumps to the actual fight. The X-Laws (Lyserg, Marco, and Jeanne specifically) face against an Egyptian team called the Niles. The latter team thinks lowly of the X-Laws, considering them to be a low threat. Though when the leader, Anatel, prattles on about their power, Marco is rather disinterested and finds them annoying. Jeanne reprimands Marco for looking down on the Niles and has Lyserg take their opponent on solo.
And the battle was not even a contest. Lyserg and Morphin overpowered the entire team with ease and mortally wounding Anatel in the process. Lyserg tries to talk the Niles into forfeiting so he doesn't have to kill them. He warns them that if they do not, he will not hesitate to commit murder. Meanwhile, Yoh and his friends spectate the fight from afar with most of them shocked at Lyserg's transformation. However, Yoh still trusts him and respects his autonomy. Ren retorts that he's being too naive as he has killed people in the past himself.
The result of Lyserg's training with the X-Laws.
While Khafre and Nakht, the other Niles members, are open to forfeiting, Anatel's pride compels him to keep fighting. He attempts to kill Lyserg with his Wings of Death curse, based on the mysterious deaths of the excavators who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb. Even so, Lyserg easily outspeeds Anatel and was about to kill him point blank until Morphin stopped the pendulum.
Lyserg almost kills Anatel, but Morphin stops the pendulum at the last moment.
Jeanne expresses her disappointment at Lyserg's hesitation as she sees Morphin's hesitation as an indicator of Lyserg's weak heart. Marco (hilariously) tosses the iron maiden (with Jeanne inside) at Lyserg, knocking him aside. Jeanne emerges from the iron maiden, covered in wounds to the shock of everyone. She explains why she confines herself to such torture, to bear everyone's sins and gain the power to "save the world" (basically, she's a Jesus Christ figure).
Anatel thinks she's full of drivel, but Jeanne instantly makes him realize how overmatched he is and with her god-class spirit, Shamash, she executes Anatel. Jeanne offers Khafre and Nakht an opportunity of redemption. However, angered over Anatel's merciless execution, they retaliate. Of course, Jeanne easily overpowers, tortures, and finally execute them, too.
Jeanne and Shamash about to execute Anatel.
Jeanne outside of the iron maiden.
Jeanne torturing Khafre and Nakht before she executes them, too.
The match ends and Yoh's group is intimidated at Jeanne's sheer power. Unhappy with how the fight ended with bloody murder, Yoh declares that he will become shaman king.
Yoh realizing the high stakes of the shaman tournament.
The episode was okay, though it was not up to the standards of the previous episodes. While the animations were not bad, per se, they were rather pedestrian, so it was a tad disappointing to see them take a step back.
When it comes to the stills, however, they still look very high quality. I particularly liked how the artists showed Lyserg's green furyoku emanating from his pendulum wire. On top of that, it provided a very nice contrast with Anatel's orange aura when he was about to execute his Wings of Death curse. The artists also did a fantastic job making Shamash very terrifying with his sheer size and purple aura.
In terms of the depiction of violence, I felt the episode did a decent job even though the "camera" was turned away during the actual murdering. I have criticized the anime in the past for taking out some of the more gruesome elements like Faust ripping out his femur during his match against Yoh because by doing so, the creators effectively make certain characters less threatening. Fortunately, this was not the case with Jeanne as the episode did not hesitate to portray the amount of blood spilt to show that Jeanne is for real.
Another strength of this episode was the dynamics between Yoh and his friends. It was really badass seeing Yoh exuding a lot of leadership aura while the rest (outside of Ren) were freaking out over Lyserg potentially becoming a killer. Ren and his background provided a lot of nuance to the conversation, and I was happy that the series has not forgotten about his past before he met Yoh.
Lastly, I want to compliment Jeanne's VA, Yui Horie, for her performance. I felt that she did a really good job balancing between innocence and brutality. On the surface level, her voice sounds gentle, but her straight-faced delivery of her more violent lines effectively depicts Jeanne as a terrifying adversary.
And there we have it. The Shaman King anime has officially reached the halfway point. While it ran into some bumps at the beginning, the overall execution and animation quality have significantly improved. Fingers crossed that Bridge can pull off a more impressive second half.