Before this episode I was perfectly willing to stick the show with an 8 or a 9 for an effective variation of comedy and combat that had a first gear that it wasn’t always in. Thankfully, this was one of those episodes that took the decision well and fully out of my hands. While the structure of the climax smacked very heavily of an anime-original story, the spectacle dial was cranked up to the highest level and we ended up with action scene after action scene that probably would have broken the show’s budget had it been a non-3D anime.*
It seems like a bit of a truism to say that SF has changed significantly since the beginning of the show. While it’s true that the show has upped the ante in a number of ways since the main duo defenestrated a gorilla, the change in the core of the show has been a little more delayed and tougher to identify. Before the obvious change, and even immediately after, the show was weird in a quirky kind of realistic downbeat humor. Then things got serious with King Torture, but now that that’s past, the show doesn’t seem to be going back to that kind of small-things approach. Instead, we got Red Axe in full costume and a helicopter tapping Masayoshi to lead a fight against alien spore warriors apparently created by a combination of alien spores and Sketch Turner.
I suppose I could wait until dishing on the episode itself to call this show a disappointment, but that is what it is. The shoddy serious plot handicapped a fun cast and a skilled director, and ultimately had no implications on how the story ended. There was a lot of pain and suffering to return to a status quo that would have totally still been maintained without said pain and suffering. Effectively, the whole of the nonsense that the people nominally trying to prevent a disaster caused resulted in the titular youmu being sealed (perfectly safely) right back inside of Akihito.And that wasn’t even the most bald-faced part of the script. The straight-up ass pull to revive Mirai at the end was considerably. In these past 3 episodes, she’s been dead, not really dead, dead again, and not really dead again. And that final example happened for no reason in the context of the story, beyond the meta one that the main heroine needs to be alive to bait people for a sequel hook.
If it hasn’t been abundantly clear, I love the way this show just faces 12 o’clock down a straight line and does what it wants with supreme gusto. Lining up 22 frickin’ battleships in a row and sweeping them like bowling pins with a combination of Space Battleship Yamato’s wave motion gun and Initial D’s inertial drift was an excellent way to start the episode off. And that testosterone-pumping curbstomp was followed by a hilarious exchange; the two-second fade to a sad ditty when Takao was mentioned only for her to show up and point out she wasn’t dead was a great way to get mileage out of last week’s overly melodramatic sacrifice scene.*
This show seems to be getting returns on everything. Way back in episode 4 when Mari was introduced, it seemed like her too-aggressive side was ultimately going to be used for comical purposes, and would ultimately end up being the umpteenth example of the stereotypical angry, overaggressive girl. That characterization choice, while irritating at the time, yielded huge dividends this week, as King Torture took only a few minutes to shred Mari’s heroic resolve to pieces.
It was a scene every bit as creepy as the picture implies
In an episode where Goto was driving a jeep off a cliff into a missile, KT was swapping his hand for a chainsaw, and Masayoshi humbled up a bit after understanding how much he needed people’s support (though that element could have been played for better development if they had really tried), what I really can’t get over is how much I like that scene with Moe and the pliers. Because of how deep-cutting KT’s words and actions were to Mari, and because of the quiet strength supposedly shallow Moe showed while her finger was getting the steam press. One of the nice things about scenes like this is that they can reveal hidden depths to characters you didn’t think had them. More so than any other part of the continuation (including Masayoshi’s unmasking), I want to hear the next conversation those two have.
From the beginning, Kyoukai no Kanata reminded me of a mid-major series; the type of show laced with explosive potential and nuclear flaws for which execution makes the difference between all-time and forgettable. There are many of these types of shows, though comparatively few that I’ve followed this season.* And while they might not always end up being entertaining to watch, they’re always very enlightening to discuss, because they’re the easiest case studies for the difference execution can make for the same core set of ideas. This show fits that paradigm to a T; it has a very definite set of strengths and weaknesses, and does not understand what they are. An episode that stuffed in some questionable presentation choices with very genuine moments from the main cast served to underscore that core issue.
I have to admit, I was expecting a lot more of this episode to focus on the rest of the cast’s effort to rescue the now-submerged Iona and Gunzou. I wasn’t expecting, or even really hoping for, a focus on those two. But that’s the direction the show decided to go in, and it produced an outstanding piece of work as a result. There were a few moments where they went a little overboard with the drama (Takao’s sacrifice laid it on pretty thick), but the majority of this episode was quietly stuffed with character detail for Iona and Gunzou.
King Torture’s organization is a really big enigma at this point. It’s got the Sunred comically incompetent villains, but it’s also got a definite second gear that puts it on a creepily effective streak, and that was full-up on display this episode.
According to the man at the top, that was all part of a deliberate ploy. I’d like it less if this were all part of some elaborate plan and not changing gears to fit the situation at hand, but if it is a 100% intentional strategy, then it’s a surprisingly astute one. There’s been plenty of good exploration in other works of what happens when the heroes (or really anyone) win repeatedly and overwhelmingly over a long period of time.*
Whether the initial winning streak was a deliberate one, it was really interesting to see the protagonists react. Mari got a weird combination of angry and bored, tempting fate with an in-your-face challenge to K.T., an acto fo poking the iron maiden that probably made her kidnap target alpha. Masayoshi lost a lot of his initial “I don’t care if it’s just one kid” determination and let his small-time celebrity go to his head. I like him quite a bit less now because of what I saw this week, but I kinda think I’m supposed to. Time will tell whether that move was a good idea or not; it’s harder to stay engaged with a story this sidewindery without a likeable cast of characters. Gotou does kind of take care of that, since he’s still the level-headed smart guy he’s always been. By all accounts, he and the professor were the only ones who saw that the big twist might happen, and I totally emphasize with him flaming Masayoshi’s video streams at this point.
At this point, just the fact that the heroes are in the state they’re in proves K.T. had a point in his monologues. We always knew Mari wasn’t in it purely for the people, but the extent to which Masayoshi soured up, even over an extended period of time, shows that it’s difficult to have motivated heroes without credible villains. And since their battles are looking increasingly like ones that’ll start posting body counts again, the show may start to really deconstruct the hero fantasy in an entirely different way from how I initially expected.
*Including a certain Brandon Sanderson novel that should have been on shelves a month ago. One of the big things I like about A-list manga and anime (as opposed to A-list novels and games) is that they do a great job of keeping their releases to a regular schedule. Granted, from a creative perspective, you do trade away some valuable fine-tuning that way and raise the risk of burnout. But I find that a lot of that is often offset in the quality of the finished product by the increased focus a hard deadline brings. This is one of those issues where each side brings pluses and minuses, and it kinda comes down to what flavor of creation you’d rather have.
This is honestly a hard episode to comment on. Five minutes in, I was all ready to put on my hype hat and just shower it with praise for sidestepping the colossal, ill-conceived excess drama that pervaded the second half, opting instead for a three-episode aftermath, like a more extreme version of the twelfth episode of Ookamikakushi cross-bred with the final exam from Hunter x Hunter. Unfortunately, that decision wasn’t the one the writer actually made.
Instead, we got an an episode that was, among other things, a poorly placed and overly long downswing in pacing. I get that they were going for added drama by having Mirai turn out to be an assassin all along, but do they really need to show each meeting she had with the Nase family about that job? Every bit of information I needed on that I got through the initial reveal. With much more pressing questions (Mirai’s apparent death being one of them) on the table, the entire second half of the episode felt like a colossal waste of time.
If I had to list of things I really like about the show at this point, after putting down the whole “you can’t stop the future” attitude behind its production, the next thing immediately on the list would be that awesome battle soundtrack. It’s nice to feel like every part of the show is bringing the big-drama gear to the table, and nothing says unshakeable like the way the music maxed out and the camera zoomed around when Hyuga opened off the combative festivities.