Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
Episode 2 devoted close to half its running time to setting up and executing an action spectacle. Episode 3, by comparison, has no visual action, even though the 86s do eventually go into combat and one of them – a named character with a major speaking part in this episode, even – dies. However, the episode does not feel lacking for that because the real action this time is in one incredibly harsh dialog exchange at the end, in the immediate aftermath of that death. That exchange is, perhaps, the defining moment in the series so far because it speaks more bluntly than ever before to the core themes of the series.
The death of the petite, dark-haired Kaie is revealed in the episode’s opening moments, so nearly the whole episode is about the downtime events which precede that happening. On the 86 side, the episode features light-hearted content as three of the guys execute this series’ version of “peeking on the girls while they’re bathing” – except that the girls are not stripped down for what would normally be an obligatory fan service scene. The result is an amusing riff on the normal fan service and a sequence of banter (including how Kureha is in love with Shin) which could be found in just about any other series. One earlier scene of the cat reacting in fear to the dead boar that got carted in is also priceless.
The peacefulness of the episode ends – and the awkwardness begins – when Lena has one of her nightly check-ins with the 86s. Though the tone remains light on the surface, it carries a tension among the 86s that Lena is oblivious to, something which becomes all the more apparent with the truncated replay of the scene from Lena’s point of view later in the episode. This quite effectively conveys that she is missing more in these exchanges than she realizes. Even though she seems to be making a breakthrough with Kaie, and she acknowledges that the 86s have reason to hate her kind, she does not at all comprehend what that really means or how hollow her efforts to reach out to the 86s sound, to the point that Kaie’s very polite warning to keep her distance catches her off guard. Her belief that the way the 86s are treated is inequitable comes from a legitimate place – she reveals that her life was once saved by a high-minded Processor (though how that could have happened is a story for probably next episode) – but she does not understand the horrors that 86s like Kureha have been through because of the Alba, or that pretty words and well-meaning intentions are not enough. That disconnect leads to the savage blow-up from Theo at the end of the episode.
Though Kaie’s death isn’t shown, it carries no less impact for only being depicted through blips on a computer screen; this was a wise direction choice. Lena’s mistake here isn’t that she did not notice that Kaie was moving into a marsh in time, or that she expressed grief over Kaie’s loss; it’s that she unwittingly made the expression of grief about herself, which I could easily see coming across through the Para-RAID as fishing for sympathy. That not provoking a harsh reaction from an 86 no longer willing to humor her would have been more surprising.
Did Lena ultimately deserve what Theo unloaded on her? Partly yes and partly no. Some of Theo’s words certainly are not fair to Lena, as she has made a legitimate outreach effort, is legitimately trying to connect with them as fellow humans, and much of what Theo is blaming her for is beyond her ability to control. However, by being their Handler and trying to interact with the 86s beyond what is strictly necessary, she is the representative of the Alba to them, both for better and for worse. Lena also did need to understand the depth of the hatred that the 86s have for her kind, and Theo’s final admonition – about how she’s never even asked for their names – is a fair one. (This is a point whose full impact may not be apparent to anime-only viewers, as the novel makes a big deal of how the 86s specifically don’t have “official” names in order to further dehumanize them.) That the 86s are equally guilty of never asking about Lena’s name is the irony in that situation.
I also deeply respect the direction choices here. In the end scene, unrelentingly keeping the camera focused on Lena, to show how she emotionally breaks down as Theo’s invective gets thrown at her, was absolutely the right call, and the piano backing that scene perfectly complemented the wild tension of the scene. Earlier, cutting Lena’s point of view on the barracks conversation into chunks with abrupt jumps also heightened the sense of disconnect. This may not be one of the auteur titles that reviews love to rave about, but the directorial effort in this series so far is shining brightly. That leaves me expectant about things to come.
SOME OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:
Not as many other series made a strong impression on me in the past week:
Higehiro episode 3 – Still like the way this one is going a lot, and especially Yoshida’s admission that Sayu can turn him on in a purely physical sense. But he’s a man who seems to connect love and sex, and in the former sense, she’s still too young and immature. Her dead eyes during the flashback sex scene at the beginning also spoke volumes about how she feels about all of what she’s been through, as well as her desperation to do anything to avoid being cast aside again. Some have criticized how much the camera is still sexualizing Sayu, but I felt those shots served their purpose by clarifying what, exactly, Yoshida was getting tempted by despite his claims not to be interested in Sayu that way.
Moriarty the Patriod episode 14 – James Bonde? Really? Oh, and that new opener is a major-league downgrade from the previous one.