Rating: 5 (of 5)
One sign of a great episode is when you can watch it twice in the same afternoon and it loses none of its impact on a second viewing. That was my reaction to episode 9, which mostly completes the adaptation of the first novel. It brings the series’ first story arc to a resounding – if also very melancholy – conclusion, in part by bringing both of its protagonists to tears.
For the five 86s who have survived to this point, this is the battle that they must survive to achieve their true freedom. For Shin, it is also the battle that he must win to move on in a figurative sense, as he must put his brother’s ghost (brain?) to rest. Rei – now as a Shepherd – also has some very complicated feelings, and the Shepherd is unable to fully process them. The result is a crazed Shepherd, one which will not let even its own units harm Shin but is still determined to bring Shin into the fold as a Legion, so they can be together. Young Lena become his inner voice of conflict as he ponders killing Shin in his grief over the loss of their parents (her slapping Rei coinciding with the shell landing was a nice touch), and the way he reached out to Shin in his final moment alive now manifests in nanomachine arms which reach out for Shin in his new form. That sets up one part of one of the series’ more spectacular and well-realized action scenes to date.
The other part of that sequence is the horde of lesser Legion that the rest must contend with – and that, not surprisingly, ultimately includes Lena. As soft as she seems because of how emotional she gets, I have long insisted that there is a strength in her that everyone is not giving full credit, and that shows beautifully here. Even with depleted officer ranks, Lena did not get to be the youngest Major ever by passively accepting the circumstances before her, and in the scene where she emotionally manipulates Annette to help her rig the Para-RAID and mortar controls (leaving Annette a complete wreck afterwards), she shows just how gloriously ruthless she can be. I love that scene both visually and contextually, especially the symbolic meaning where Lena stepped back from the cover of the porch awning and into the rain, hence drawing Annette into the rain as well, or how her eyes were concealed by her hat at first. That scene is loaded visually, but just as importantly, it shows why she was able to use the spectacle of the mortars to cover Spearhead Squadron. The message it sends is also as important: if the rules are wrong then they should be broken.
All of this ultimately brings the matter with Shin’s brother to a satisfying conclusion and leaves Shin in tears for the first time, but that is merely the action climax. The dramatic climax follows, as Lena starts to realize that Spearhead Squadron is fully intent on pushing forward anyway. The anime version is stretching this scene out – Lena running down the street in a desperate effort to keep in contact as long as possible and the contiguous commentary among the 86s is anime-original – but it works so well that I cannot fault the adaptation for it. With the great musical backing, it sells the power of the scene. Lena has finally made the connection she sought, saved them (at least for now), and earned the respect of the remaining 86s, but that does not change the fact that they are still leaving her behind. Lena being brought to tears at the end of this is heartbreaking but feels well-earned. All of this happening in front of a field of blooming spider lilies, which Asian legends claim bloom when two people part ways forever,
is a fitting choice, as is the five birds shown flying away as Spearhead Squadron exits Republic territory.
Again, there are just too many neat little touches here to account for all of them without making this review ridiculously long. Even if the nanomachine arms are a little wonky, those are still straight out of the novel, so I cannot imagine how the adaptation of the first novel’s final full chapter could have been done any better. This is one of the highlight episodes of the whole Spring 2020 season, not just this series.
All that is left of the first novel at this point are two epilogues. Based on the title for episode 10, it will likely start by adapting the first epilogue, while the second will probably not get adapted until the end of the series. (For anime-only viewers, it involves a big time skip, and most of the second and third novels happen during that time skip.) Thus, this is the conclusion of the opening act, but definitely not the story as a whole.
OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:
Fruits Basket the Final ep 9 – As much as I dislike the previous episode, this one worked for me. Tohru really needs someone like Kyo to look out for her, as she seems to lack a self-preservation instinct. Even though she ends up hospitalized, she shows that, in the end, not even a desperate Akito can beat her on the emotional front. And of course we can’t forget the key moment that everyone had been anticipating for ages: love’s first kiss. This was a powerful and effective episode despite the cheap gimmick, and easily the best the series has delivered this season.
Higehiro ep 9 – Quite the surprise here: Sayu’s elder brother is actually quite reasonable and genuinely protective/supportive of Sayu, even if his methods (leaving Sayu unsupervised in circumstances like this?) leave something to be desired. Sayu’s motivation to run is also laid bare by the flashbacks, and it is pretty awful; her friend’s suicide over being bullied because of her association with Sayu was bad enough, but man, her mother is a class act. No matter how much you are inconvenienced, there are some things you just don’t ever say to your kids. Also kudos to Asami for once again coming through as the caring friend.
The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent episode 9 – Seeing the matter involving Prince Kyle and Aira resolved to a certain degree is very satisfying, even if it supposedly makes the prince come off looking better than the source material does. (And Kyle shouldn’t ever underestimate his future bride Elizabeth, as she seems able to see through him.) Feel like that whole situation could have been build up more for dramatic effect, but it’s still nice to see Aira no longer being an afterthought character.
Vivy -Flourite Eye’s Song episode 11 – The revelation of the final boss’s identity – and thus the reason why the AI insurrection happened despite the Singularity Project’s efforts – is an interesting choice, but ultimately the only logical candidate. The irony that Vivy’s success at achieving what no other AI has probably ultimately spurred the uprising in this timeline (I’m guessing it showed the “boss” that humans are no longer needed?) is also implicit. That was also a neat sort-of reappearance from a much earlier character.
Zombie Land Saga Revenge episode 9 – For me, this was maybe the most satisfying episode of the whole series, as it lays out why Yugiri was likely chosen for this project despite being from such an earlier era than the rest; she was a pivotal player in why Saga exists as a prefecture to this day. This also explains why she has settled into this new era without complaint: she gets to see what became of her efforts way back then. The performance at the end of the episode was killer, too; it’s probably my favorite of the series to date. Also, a lot has been discussed in other forums about the picture of Tae in the photographer’s window back in the past, but I’m not sure how much can be made of that since the other girls also appeared in the past in some form or another.