Rating: 5 (of 5)
From the beginning of the series until episode 5, one of the unspoken truths about Spearhead Squadron was Shin’s ability to hear the voices of the Legion. However, another unspoken truth has lingered just as long. At first, the 86s didn’t inform Lena because it didn’t seem important, but as they began to accept her as a person (and not just another white pig), they seemed reluctant to tell her because they started to care how it would affect her. This episode, further losses of minor characters among the 86s – and the lack of any good explanation to Lena about why Spearhead Squadron isn’t getting reinforcements (despite getting new Juggernauts at the beginning of the episode) – brings the matter to a breaking point. It’s finally time for the 86s to admit that they’ve known all along that they have no end game. Spearhead Squadron is, literally, where they were sent to die.
When the Nazis first started forcing Jews (and others) into death camps, one of the first groups of people they killed off were those whose roles in society made them potential leaders; this was done explicitly to minimize chances for rebellion. Among 86s, those individuals would be the Name Bearers, those who have survived long enough to build up both combat experience and a reputation and nickname among the other 86s. Spearhead Squadron – which sits on the most active and dangerous front – serves the dual purpose of eliminating them while still getting use out of them. Thus, they will never get reinforcements, only replacements – the next group up for the execution ground! – when they are all gone.
This is the grim and devastating truth that everyone around Lena has been trying to warn her about. In retrospect, it is why Kaie told her in episode 3 that she shouldn’t be associated with them, and why Shin and others later repeated that warning. Lena’s uncle clearly knew about it, bur the fact that he gave her every opportunity to step away without directly mentioning it suggests that the policy is not supposed to be common knowledge; presumably that’s to keep potential bleeding hearts on the Alba side from interfering. Annette also probably has at least an inkling about this, though her warnings to Lena may come from a different angle. (Next episode should have a scene which delves into that further.) To some degree they’re all trying to protect the emotional and kind-hearted Lena, but the 86s, at least, are forgetting that this is the same girl who weathered Theo’s wrath and hearing the voices of the Legion and still came back. This is also the girl with the temerity to wear a black dress to a gala, which both makes a pointed statement (even if the only attendee there who would understand it is Annette) and discourages attention of a type that she doesn’t want right now.
The mere fact of the 86s’ fate is not the whole point in that pre-closer scene, either. Lena brings up the matter that many viewers have surely been wondering about: why fight at all, if they know that they are not being given a chance to survive? The answer offered by Raiden and others is multifaceted. Some of it comes down to pride; if all they can be is warriors, then they will go down fighting, and thus have at least some say in the manner of their effective executions. But they also acknowledge that not all 86s are complete scum. Exceptions like Lena are rare, but she and Fox Commander are not the only ones, as both Shin and Raiden benefited from sympathetic Alba. They also bring up the interesting point that not all 86s are noble in their suffering, either, as several of them have been subject to prejudice from other 86s. The implication here is that they don’t feel that they can claim moral high ground when some of their peers are just as bad, and even besides that, and they don’t feel right punishing the few good Alba because of the attitudes of the majority.
That the 86s are not of a common attitude – and thus can be cruel to each other – also comes up in the shower scene, where we learn that Anju has grown her hair out impractically long (and pointedly not showered with other girls!) because that long hair is hiding something on her back. The anime version does not fully reveal the phrase, but it spells out “whore’s daughter,” and the later scene suggests that it was fellow 86s who hated her for her mixed blood (the novel clarifies that she’s mostly but not totally Alba) who did it. Revealing that is necessary to drive home the later point about how the Alba are not the only ones who can be cruel, so I do not consider that to be a true fan service scene even though the camera gives good glimpses of both girls’ curves. There’s nothing gratuitous about it.
That is hardly all that happens in this heavily-packed episode, either. A new and devastating artillery weapon is the cause of the 86 casualties, and every suggestion points toward Shin’s brother (or, rather, his brain) being behind it. Further, a velocity of 4 km/s and a range of 120 km firmly points towards an advanced railgun. In other words, it’s a weapon capable of making all of the Republic’s defenses irrelevant. This episode does not have time to delve into that matter further, but it absolutely sets up the series’ first boss enemy and speaks of a major threat going forward. Kurena’s descriptions of suffering on the battlefield, and how they can tolerate the voices Shin hears because they are mild by comparison, also plays out in sharp contrast to the scenes of peaceful life and festival events seen by Lena. And of course they have to work in one scene of Lena being adorable, so they have her tripping over herself and utterly failing to act cool when offering a bribe to ensure no questions are asked about the “special ammunition” shipment to Spearhead.
That leaves one other significant scene: the fireworks, which are the truth behind the “special ammunition.” These are loaded with multiple levels of meaning. In simplest form they are Lena’s attempt to give Spearhead something nice, but they also serve as a memorial for those who have died recently; seeing Anju finally tear up over Daiya is especially impactful. They are also used as a framing device through the rest of the episode, clearly meant to be symbolic of the 86s in multiple ways: they burn bright before their lives fizzle out, the expended nature of used fireworks is equated to the expended lives of the 86s, and so forth. Again, each shot carries so many extra interpretations that a full essay could be written just about them.
Put altogether, the episode packs emotion and weight at least on par to episode 4. It is another shining example of what this series can accomplish.
OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:
Because this post ran so long, I am passing on the “other series” part for now. I may post that individually in a couple of days.