Rating: 5 (of 5)
Episodes 22 and 23 may be delayed until March, but that still leaves one more episode to deliver within the confines of the Fall 2021 season, and it’s one hell of an episode to watch play out. By the cliffhanger ending, nearly every major character’s fate is in question, leaving an agonizing wait of 11 weeks for those who are anime-only viewers.
What’s not in question is the fate of Kiriya and the Morpho. I knew how this was going to play out according to the novels, but the head-to-head battle between Shin and Kiriya was still a thrilling affair nonetheless, and one which I felt had even more impact because we could see Frederica in this version. That she would somehow be involved in this final conflict was a narrative given, as in many ways she is much more the key to Kiriya’s defeat than Shin is. As the presence that Kiriya cannot ignore or deny, she is the ultimate distraction, and the one who can pinpoint the exact location of Kiriya’s brain. That she had enough savvy and determination to use what she could do to the ultimate extent – even if it meant turning a gun on herself (which was easily one of the series’ most chilling scenes) – just impresses all the more.
Of course, Shin had other help, too. The other four 86s all took “I’ll take care of this, you move on” roles to set the stage, and Raiden even managed to get back in the action to be a distraction again at a key point. Then there’s the mysterious, mostly-muddled voice which came over the Para-RAID and seemed to be heralding the arrival of the artillery fire and flammables, which were also key to limiting the Morpho long enough to Shin to get his shot. Given the way the camera briefly focused on where Shin used to wear the Republic’s Para-RAID on his ear during one of those call-outs, there’s only one realistic possibility for who that could be. The Republic may not be as dead and defeated as everyone had feared. . .
While the fantastic battle sequence is certainly the featured content here, the episode adds in so many other neat little touches, too. Anju silently mouthing something as she went into action is a clear callback to the way her would-be paramour Daiya did the same thing right before his death, and guessing what she was saying does not require any great feat of mental gymnastics. The field of grounded blue flyers around the Morpho made for a pretty visual, but they may also have been the key to the mysterious support artillery being able to target the Morpho, since those blue fliers were what would normally provide a defense against radar. The scene where Frederica witnesses Shin, Kiriya, and Rei all together in a classic “what might have been” moment was a worthy addition, and this also marks the second time that a Shepherd has been undone in part by the memory of a little girl. (For Rei it was a young Lena, if you recall.)
But as much as the storytelling did well here, this was the technical side’s time to shine. This episode absolutely shows where all that extra production effort was going, and the musical support was phenomenal, too. Those efforts contribute towards yet another impressive episode for this series.