Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
With this episode, the interlude from the battle scenarios ends, but that shouldn’t be any surprise; even if it wasn’t written into the characters, the story was not going to stray away from one of its core elements for long. At least nothing felt forced about the return of the 86s to the battlefield; they have almost literally grown up on the battlefields, so it is what they know and what they are comfortable with. Most of them also do not have any conception of what life after the war might be, which is what Ernst was almost desperately trying to instill in them over the past two episodes. (This is the very long game in the novels, though, so any sense of resolution on this point should not be expected by the end of the season.) So a return to the battlefield is the only logical path for the story.
One of the interesting aspects of this is how the 86s still face some prejudice, but for utterly different reasons than before. This time around they are not regarded dubiously because of race, but rather because their experience and attitude make them different. Despite their youth, they are hardened veterans around new trainees, ones capable of feats that seem almost unearthly, and Shin’s normal disposition certainly does not help. Other recruits not wanting to keep their distance would have been more unnatural, which is why Eugene making at least somewhat of a connection to Shin is so important. He is the bridge to normal relationships for Shin in the absence of Lena. . . which is, of course, why he has to die.
Eugene’s death is important to the story, since it signals Shin’s return to his old role as mercy-killer and Undertaker but also is the first death not of his own cadre or family to shake him up. It is also the most harrowing and graphic scene in the series to date, and fully retains that despite being toned down from the original novel. (In the novel, it was the lower part of his body that got blown off rather than one of his hands.) Although statements had been made before in the episode about the losses that the Federation was taking, and how the battle overall was not going well despite the Federation having gained back some territory since the 86s’ arrival, that scene drives home the severity of the situation. The blood from Shin’s mercy-killing splattering specifically onto a daisy is also an interesting symbolic choice; since the white daisy typically represents innocence and purity, the blood staining can be taken to mean the brutal shattering of that innocence. Shin stepping into shadows as the red-haired soldier complained about Shin not saving Eugene packs some obvious specific symbolism as well.
Though much of the episode sets up for Eugene’s death and the fallout from it, the episode has other important things going on as well. What Frederica’s role is going to be is firmly-established: she is literally her unit’s “mascot,” which in Giad is a long-established position firmly entrenched in psychological manipulation. A young girl is assigned to live with a unit with the intent of fostering a familial connection. Soldiers who feel they have a younger sister or daughter immediately at hand to protect are going to be more likely to fight to protect her and less likely to desert. In other words, Frederica is gaming the system by taking advantage of an odious custom to be out near the battlefield, and thus furthering her quest for her previous knight. It is a slick storytelling gimmick for keeping her involved, but an effective one.
Frederica is also, in some respects, filling the role of the absent Lena. Nearly all of what little humor the first half had was associated with Lena’s reactions to eating things, and now we have Frederica’s comical struggle with eating mushrooms. Fido got most of the rest of the levity, and now he’s back in a new body to resume that role. Combined with the memorial made to the fallen Juggernauts, the chest of name plates, and Shin’s handgun being returned to him, it makes for both a touching sequence and a further acknowledgement by the Federation of the importance of what the 86s accomplished. (Interesting, though, that the 86s react more strongly to Fido and Shin getting his gun back than the memorial, isn’t it?) Sadly, that gun being returned to Shin was also one of Eugene’s earlier death flags.
The other important thing which happens in this busy, packed episode is the formal introduction of Lt. Colonel Grethe Wenzel, who looks exactly like she was described in the novel. She has made some cameos over the previous couple of episode but will now be the 86s’ direct commander for the rest of this season, so expect to see a lot more of her if you’re an anime-only viewer. This episode also features the formal debut of the Reginleifs, the upgraded replacements for the Juggernauts the 86s used to use, and the return of the slick CG-animated battle scenes.
In terms of the adaptation, this episode is jumping all around in the second novel, but that’s not a problem because the second novel was not linearly ordered in the first place. Several small details are being skipped over, but the adaptation is, on the whole, still doing an excellent job, in this case covering a lot of ground while still mostly maintaining its quality standards. Given current pacing, I suspect that the adaptation of the relatively short second novel may conclude with next episode.
Other Series That I Am Following:
Thanks to a trip followed immediately by multiple visitors at home, I am somewhat behind on recent episodes. Hence I will save commenting on other recent episodes until I get caught up.
I am also taking suggestions for which title to make my second to cover for the season. The most likely candidates are Mushoku Tensei, Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut, the new Yuki Yuna installment, or The Faraway Paladin. If you have a preference for what you’d like to see from among these, respond to this post within the next couple of days, as I will make my choice before the end of the week.