Rating: 5 (of 5)
Last episode was the action powerhouse that anime-only viewers were probably hoping for and novel readers were anticipating ever since this season began, but this episode may be even more loaded in thematic and storytelling senses. Hence it carries a power all its own and could be remembered for different reasons than last episode.
One of those reasons is the opening scene, which is partially anime-original; that something like this happened was implied by the novels but not described in detail. Its inclusion, however, is quite welcome, for it illustrates better than words could the crushing irony of the situation. The “86 go home” sign being plainly-displayed as Alba flee the attacks may have been a little heavy-handed, but that did not much distract from the visceral staging of the battle in the capital of the Republic, both in visual and musical senses. Words aren’t needed here to show how Lena’s gathering of the 86s and their Juggernauts forms the final defense line against the Legion, or how she’s staying true to word by fighting to the end. Normally that someone so young would be the one to rally the defense might bother me, but the story has clearly shown that she was the only person with a true understanding of both the threat of the Legion and the mentality of the 86s, and that she had both made careful preparations and won over allies for this. For all the dramatics, she displayed true leadership when it counted and people respond to that.
The scene added at the end showing the aftermath of that battle was also more implied than described in the novels, but I do like its inclusion as an episode epilogue as well. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to point out that the scene of Lena’s ruined bedroom should not be taken as a suggestion of her own death; if this series was not going to kill the 86s off at the end of the first half then it certainly isn’t going to kill Lena off at this point. Rather, it should be taken as symbolic of how completely she put everything on the line in the final defense.
The content in between those two scenes is all about what’s transpiring in the Federacy at the same time. Strike-back damage done to the Kiriya-possessed railgun (hereafter called “Morpho”) has given the Federacy a brief reprieve to deal with their immense troop and material losses, but they are also in a difficult position. The only way to take out the wounded Morpho is with a ground assault, and that is basically a suicide mission. Storytelling meta dictates that the 86s (or, more specifically, the squadron that they are in) will be the ones to undertake this mission, but the practical and emotional reasons have lined up as well: Shin’s ability would be key to locating the Morpho, none of them have families, the Reginleifs have the superior mobility needed for such a mission, and even though the Federacy does not have the racism of the Republic, the 86s are still different. They have been looked at as monsters before this (and after seeing Shin in action last episode, it’s not hard to understand why), and that they chose to go to battle despite not having any attachment to the Federacy understandably would raise suspicions in anyone who did not know their story and thought processes. (Conspicuously left out here are some comments about Shin’s parentage, but I won’t say more about that on the chance that it might be brought up later.)
Not everyone sees the 86s that way, of course. Some – like Colonel Wenzel – genuinely do have compassion for the 86s, but that also leads to one of the underlying themes of this half: that there’s a fine line between sympathy and pity, and even the well-intentioned can easily stray from the first to the second. Pity many not be inherently prejudicial, but it can certainly be taken in a deprecating way when it strikes against the honor or character of the pitied party, and that is exactly the reaction that Shin has to all of the well-meaning efforts to get the 86s to distance themselves from the battlefield. It is what they know, what they’re good at, and ironically, where they are most comfortable, so who else has the right to tell them that they shouldn’t fight, shouldn’t put their lives on the line? Shin’s response to Wenzel about that is about the only time I can remember him getting truly angry at another person.
Then there’s also what Eugene’s little sister is doing. Her brother never came back from the battlefield (or, as the novel clarifies, didn’t come back except as ashes), and she has come to blame Shin for that. Nothing is fair about her laying the blame at Shin’s feet, but she is still a child. Even so, it hits harder because of Shin’s own survivor’s guilt and his role as the Undertaker. Shin’s reaction to that – a disturbing smile suggesting that he finds the whole business ironic – speaks to his uncomfortable mental space, as does the great scene of all of the dead 86s speaking to him. And the one constant which can draw him back from the edge? Lena. Really, if these two ever meet again, no one should begrudge them hooking up.
Overall, this was another exceptionally well-done episode. Sadly, next week is going to be a “Special Visual Commentary Episode,” which probably means a recap. Something like this happening at some point this season was to be expected (especially since this second cour started early in the season and is only supposed to run 11 episodes), and narratively speaking, this is the best place to do it. Expect a brief post on whether any of its content is worth checking out, so the next full write-up won’t be until episode 18 airs in two weeks.