Rating: 5 (of 5)
Last season ended with Shin’s squadron in mortal peril. Killing them all off at the point and moving forward with a new group of 86s would have been a hard-hitting and interestingly daring movie, but even a series as bold in its themes as this one was not about to waste the time invested in establishing these characters and how they fit into the overall storyline. Hence, that all of them were rescued should come as no surprise.
I’m giving this episode a maximum grade because, honestly, I cannot imagine how adapting these parts of the second novel could have been done any better. And in some senses, the adaptation is even an improvement. The second novel features the early scene with Lena – now with a streak of red in her hair (which could represent both the blood of the 86s who are dying and her defiance of white purity) – dealing with the Lieutenant Colonel over her, but that’s basically all we hear about Lena for the rest of the novel. The adaptation has added some extra content here, suggesting that it intends to keep giving Lena at least partial screen time. I heartily approve of that decision.
The Lena we see here is one strengthened and sharpened by her experiences with Spearhead Squadron. She knows that her superior won’t dare do anything about her clear bending of the rules because she’s getting results that will help him get promoted, and she’s ruthlessly taking advantage of that. Meanwhile, she’s covertly planning for the massive Legion offensive that Shin suggested could be on the horizon (since she knows now that it’s pointless to bring this to the upper command), and she’s apparently got some other young, probably idealistic officers gathering around her cause. (This was not in the novel.) The look that her uncle gives her makes me wonder if he suspects that she’s up to something; if so, will he just let it slide because now she’s learned to play the game?
The Republic side of the story is also significant for introducing Cyclops, aka Shinden Iida. In the novels she is only a minor character at this point in the story, but she plays a bigger and more involved role later, so I am curious to see if this early introduction is a sign that she will have some added appearances here. Her bolder and more naturally expressive demeanor makes for a good contrast to Shin. That Lena was only demoted to Captain, rather than Lieutenant, is also an interesting change, as is her being called “Bloody Regina” instead of “Bloody Reina.” The latter is closer to her name, but given that Lena is also referred to as “the bloody Queen” in the novel, the former also makes sense. For symbolism in this part, the absence of flowers in the vase in her bedroom is an indicator that she’s keeping her current crew of 86s alive, but her unwillingness to be less than formal with them is also a telling sign. I also liked the pool ball symbolism: the white ball breaking up the formation of colored, then hanging on the edge of the pocket. Assuming Lena is the white ball and the 86s are the colored balls, it’s certainly not subtle in its meaning.
Of course, the more eagerly-anticipated half involves the fate of Shin and crew. They did make it to the realm of one of the other surviving countries after all, and every hint dropped in the episode suggests that the ghost of Rei took over a Dinosauria just long enough to transport them to where they could be found. This side finds a more ready mix of serious and lighter-hearted moments and introduces several important long-term characters, especially Ernst, the provisional president of the new Federacy of Giad. His character design was not what I expected, but the portrayal is nonetheless on the money; he clearly comes across as a man of high ideals, but nestled underneath his foppish behavior is a coldly pragmatic streak, too. He probably really does believe that killing off or otherwise doing anything but right by these “children” (note the teddy bear in the room where they are being collectively kept?) would be a sign that humanity has completely lost its way, but his actions are also calculated. The appearance of Shin’s squadron is a monumentally important event, as it is the first clear signal that another country still exists and they carry a revolutionary communications technology, but even beyond that, Ernst seems determined to use their treatment as an example of how humanity must be better, or else the struggle to survive is pointless. But how will he react if the 86s quite literally stick to their guns, as they have already indicated they want to do?
Some of the officers in the one meeting with Ernst will also become named characters going forward, but the other important introduction here is little Frederica. Her display of childish arrogance is both impressive and amusing, but not comically outlandish and perhaps not without legitimate origin. This is the same girl that Shin saw a brief flash of in episode 11, after all, the one who was shown wearing a royal-looking robe and being referred to as “princess.” That makes Ernst’s reference to her as “Empress” here a lot more suspicious, as it doesn’t at all come across as a pet name. Add to that Ernst’s comments about he’s taken her in – but not as a daughter! – due to “special circumstances” and everything points to her being a surviving member of the former Empire’s ruling family. She’s also clearly sharper than the norm for her age; the way she glances at Ernst when he calls her Empress was not the reaction of a child. She is featured prominently in advertising copy for the second season, so she will have a major role going forward, and I am curious to see how anime-only viewers react to the way she gets used.
On the technical front, the series remains well-animated and well-constructed, featuring plenty of superb musical support and symbolism beyond what I have mentioned so far. Impactful scenes on the Federacy side include the way the 86s’ reaction to what Ernst is doing shows in their body language in the screenshot at the top of this review and the way faces look through the hazmat suits. The closer (which will presumably be the regular new opener) was not as strong a song but featured some quite impactful visuals, especially the shot where the bodies are holding their severed heads while flowers sprout where the heads should be and another which cycles through all five pilots screaming in their cockpits.
All-in-all, this is an outstanding continuation.