86 episode 4

Lena awaiting the 86s’ names

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Before seeing this episode, I had wondered how the adaptation could conceivably stretch the first three novels out to cover a whole two-cour season. Episode 4 starts to bring that “how” into focus. In the course of its 20½ minutes of story time, it covers just a dozen or so pages of the source novel, in large part by padding it out with some original scenes. However, not a single second of what was added felt extraneous; if anything, every bit of what was added in only enhances the impact of the points that the series is trying to drive home. This is a terrific adaptation of the first turning point in the original story, so much so that multiple viewings might be required to catch every little detail. Honestly, this series has to be considered among the qualitative front-runners of the season (on more than just a technical basis) after this episode.

The episode begins with viewers seeing the 86’s viewpoint on the ripping condemnation that Theo leveled at Lena to end last episode. Seeing Theo’s emotions on display (with the wonderful piano backing again) made the emotions all the more visceral, and Theo’s lost button makes a great visual allegory for his mindset both then and throughout the rest of the episode. Just as important is his reaction at the end and in later scenes. Even if he meant every word he said, he realizes to some extent that he should not have conveyed his sentiment that way and that much of what he said should have been targeted at the Alba as a whole and not Lena specifically. Most of the rest of the 86s seem to be of a similar sentiment, and he’s probably right that Kaie – the one who was at least attempting to make an outreach to Lena – wouldn’t have approved.

One of the two other interesting aspects of the 86 side scenes is the mention of Fox Commander, an Alba who previously chose to fight with the 86s and died protecting them, because he did not feel it was right that all the burden of fighting the Legion should be laid on them. The episode does not go into quite as much detail about this as the novel does, but it still gets across the point that this was a person that both Theo and others among the 86s who knew him had very mixed feelings about and thus cannot forget. The other aspect is how back to normal the 86s’ behavior seems despite having just freshly lost a comrade. (Some of this can also be seen in episode 2.) This isn’t necessarily a writing flaw; when you’ve seen hundreds of people die, and Processors have a life expectancy of a year or less on active duty, you have to adjust quickly just to appreciate being alive. The only one who seems to truly carry the burden is Shin, who affirms earlier suspicions about why he is called Undertaker.

Much of what transpires on Lena’s side is anime-original. Henrietta and Lena’s uncle both take different tacks on essentially the same point: the treatment of the 86s may not be right, but it is much too big and ingrained a thing at this point for one person to tackle without getting swallowed up by it. The implication here is that Lena’s father may have met his fate under those circumstances, and more clearly that was the case with Fox Commander. Ironically, they are pitching the same point that Shin and other 86s are, though for different reasons: Lena is not cut out to be a Handler because she’s trapped between being sympathetic enough to want to do something and not having the means to do so. Both sides see her as foolish for even trying.

But therein lies the point of this episode, and what its title alludes to: short of wiping everything out and starting from scratch, things will not change unless someone takes the first step. One way to do that (at least as Lena sees it) is acknowledging the humanity of the Other through an exchange of names. If the person’s name is known then it can be remembered and memorialized, which is why Lena having that conversation with Shin and the others – as well as the conversation about how Shin memorializes the names of fallen 86s – while in front of a war memorial carved with the names of Alba war casualties (including, in one shot, her father’s name) is such a fantastic addition in the anime versioin. I’m betting that wasn’t coincidence on Lena’s part, either. As soft and naively high-minded as Lena has seemed until this point, this is where her true strength starts to show, where she gives more than just lip service to her ideals. Being their savior is beyond her, but she can, at least, be their connection. It’s an effort that the 86s are at least willing to acknowledge, even if they still don’t feel that there can ever be true camaraderie.

The episode’s final scene is also a loaded one: when Shin finally reveals his last name to Lena, she not only recognizes it but also knows the name of Shin’s elder brother. Almost certainly this has something to do with the plane that she was flying in with her father crashing, but presumably more details on that are coming at the beginning of next episode. The more interesting parts are the flashes Shin has of his brother. The ones where his brother’s eyes are scribbled out are the easiest to spot and doubtlessly loaded with meaning, but one shot shows a book titled “The Skull Knight,” which seems suspiciously close to the code names used by both he and his brother, and another shows someone choking a child – his brother choking him, perhaps? That’s a lot of implied meaning to unload, but just as important is how both the visuals and the musical cues are handled. Again, the direction and editing of this series impresses mightily.

When all the little details are factored in, this may be the best episode of any series that I have seen so far this season.

SOME OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:

Higehiro episode 4 – Man, there’s so much to unpack in these episodes that I am half-considering starting episode reviews for this one, too. This episode brings up two major threads: Sayu getting a job (and with it a new friend at work) and Yoshida once again having a “date” with Gotou. In the former case, the scenario seems a bit truncated, but Sayu definitely needs someone her own age who’s looking out for her and this girl seems plenty wise enough to fit the role. On the other front, I have to wonder where Gotou’s motives really lie. Is what she said this time – that she was interested in Yoshida but just not ready – the truth, or is this a case where she’s becoming interested because Yoshida is showing the effects of another woman supporting him? She seems to be aware that Yoshida is focused on her breasts and is deliberately enticing him, but she also seems uncertain how far to take things. My guess is that she is fumbling through this process because she has no experience and isn’t sure what she wants, which makes the contrast with Sayu rather ironic. We’re also finally starting to see hints of Sayu’s deeper issues, trauma deep enough that just eating alone can induce nausea. That should make next episode, when Gotou may meet Sayu, interesting indeed.

Moriarty the Patriot episode 15 – I wasn’t sure about the James Bonde thing at first, but Irene seems to be settling in well. And now, Jack the Ripper, because of course.

Vivy – Flourite’s Eye Song ep 6 –  Interesting twist in the second half of this arc, but it worked, and what a sad (but not unexpected) ending. Vey much like how the series continues to deal head-on with the consequences of what has come before.

Zombie Land Saga Revenge – That climactic concert was certainly an exercise in absurdity. Nonetheless, it fit the series well.

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