In a surprising move (from the viewpoint of a novel reader), the series’ penultimate episode spends nearly its entire run focusing on the confrontation between Shun’s group and Hugo’s forces – and really, mostly Sophia, since Hugo does not last terribly long before Sophia must step in once again. This is definitely an important battle, but does it warrant this much time when there is important content on the spider side yet to be covered to achieve the ideal stopping point?
Since the battle gets all the emphasis, it highlights two things:
1) The 2D/3D animation mix is, at best, barely passable.
2) Shun is so hung up on his role as Hero that he lacks common sense.
Sadly, point #1 is fully expected at this stage. The production team just does not have the time or talent (or both!) to manage anything better. This episode feels like at least some effort was made this time to liven things up, as it has at least some sense of battle choreography. However, movements are still too stiff and generally artificial-feeling and cuts get used extensively to minimize full animation.
Technical aspects aside, the progression of the battles is standard for one of those situations that heroes run into where the sub-boss foe is still out of their league, even if their flunkies can be beaten. Sophia is just too much of a powerhouse for even slick combo tactics to work, and she clearly has a much higher level of combat experience than Shun; that raises questions about what happened to her between baby form and this one. The arrival of the clearly-also-powerful Kyoya/Wrath just makes the battle even more impossible and more than offsets the arrival of the elves to help. This is also where point #2 comes into play, as Shun is doggedly determined to continue the hopeless battle when both Katia and Fei realize that they can’t win this and Sophia has made it clear that this is not a life-or-death matter for them from her viewpoint, just the elves. (The emphasis placed on Anna here about whether she counts as an elf for extermination purposes or not is curious, given how much she’s been ignored in the past.) Besides, is Shun’s party actually fighting for the right side?
That is one of the two most interesting questions that this episode raises. Oka has pitched the line that the demon army and its allies are tools of the Administrators, and she seems to genuinely believe that. However, her elves have been looking more and more crooked for a while now, and the revelation that they have high-tech equipment which does not otherwise seem to be present in this world only further casts doubt on them. Also, Sophia and Kyoya certainly seem convinced that Shun and crew are either ignorant or duped (or both) to side with the elves that they find so despicable. Some of the tactics that they have already been shown using to get to this point keep them in a moral gray area, though, so what do they know that Shun and crew don’t that they are basing this belief of the elves on? Is it just the kidnappings or something more that the anime has not revealed yet?
The other interesting question is, of course, about the sudden revelation that the elves have high enough technology to field what look like autonomous weapon systems. How does that fit into the Big Picture, especially since even the flashes from the past do not reveal that level of technology? Sadly, anime-only viewers should not expect an answer to that this season unless the final episode dramatically deviates from the fifth novel. Such a deviation is not out of the question, though, because having the Glorias pop up in the presence of Shun’s party is already a big deviation; in the novel, they didn’t appear here, though they did before Ariel (as shown in the epilogue scene.)
With White seemingly headed that way, the stage is set for the series finale on the human side. But where does that leave the spider side? It has more story to tell even within the scope of novel 5, and I don’t see how that can be covered in one episode without it seeming rushed. I have a suspicion on how they might handle the ending, but we’ll have to wait until next week to see for certain. Definitely don’t expect everything (or, really, anything) to be resolved at the season end, though!