Final episode of my favorite show of the season. It’s had resoundingly mediocre art direction, fairly spotty humor, and dashes of incredibly misguided fanservice. It’s also by far the most ambitious show of the season, and at its best it grapples with themes of human nature, the course of human progress, and the indomitable spirit of enlightenment and self-improvement. It grapples with them and wrestles them to the fucking ground. Now let’s hope some fantasy bullshit ending doesn’t wipe all these ideas away.
Episode 12: Screw Magical Explosions, Gimme More of That Red-Hot Economics
5:12 – Man, I was really, really worried, based on the last episode, that the show would somehow forsake everything good about itself and end with some classic fantasy heroism nonsense. Don’t know why I bothered! This scene was perfect – it goes from exactly mirroring their first meeting and conversation (in the same location, no less), to driving in the themes of how change cannot be the work of one person, it must be the work of an enlightened populace striving for a better future together (oh hey, that kind of reminds you of the last shot of the OP, doesn’t it?), to even echoing the series’ clear high point, the episode nine speech, in his declaration that his body, his true self, cannot be taken from him, and is only his to give. And it’s well-paced and actually visually compelling and ends with a sweet, personal exchange, drawing all those ideas back into the specific grounding of these two characters. BAM!
6:15 – I don’t like Evil McEvilshire very much as a character, but that “Just a soldier” line is hot shit. Classy, badass, and again evocative of that “we’re all just pieces of that better future” theme.
9:21 – Why would he rip off his shirt to announce his trick? Frickin shonen etiquette.
11:38 – Okay, I can buy that kind of shit in JoJo, but reaaally? You can’t make an omelet without murdering a few minor characters, Maoyuu.
Then again, it’s not like it’s just the characters our emotional engagement here hinges on – it’s the conflict, it’s the ideas they’re representing and fighting for. So I guess it’s somewhat less important to maintain the individual stakes, and they can get away with “I escaped somehow” from time to time.
Also, I’m really liking the guerrilla warfare stuff, and I love when they use those minstrel ballad-y songs for the epic warfare stuff. They did that when she fought the big walrus dude as well, and it’s been very effective both times.
14:10 – Bleh. Not only is the evil church organ music pretty fuckin over-the-top, it’s just not that interesting to characterize the church as… entirely… self-interested…
Well, actually, I guess that’s better than lying. Still, these “shadow cabal gatherings” are pretty played out, even if religion is in fact the process by which shadowy cabals convince people to surrender their agency or act against their own self-interest.
17:00 – ermahgerd yes. Never before has a plasma annihilator been used for such an adorable gag.
19:26 – I really do like the Southern King as a character. He’s always been an honorable guy, but it’s been great seeing his character be strengthened by circumstance, and watching a good man who’s still a product of his age force himself to abandon the old ways of thinking, one compromise at a time. It’s perhaps a little too easy of a source of gratification for the audience (will he agree? Yeah, of course he’ll fucking agree), but I think they pull it off pretty well.
22:40 – It’s nice that they straight-up admit this entire series is essentially liberal propaganda. Oh no, a show that actively promotes tolerance, equality, scientific research, and the belief that we can rise above our base nature! Scandalous!
23:40 – And there’s another big admission – this story is not about the love between two characters, but about a deep, abiding love of humanity, a belief that we can one day rise above our petty cycles, grievances, and prejudices.
Well, it wasn’t a clean ending – in fact, it left so much open that it seems like they’re pretty much expecting a season 2. Although that isn’t necessarily true – I mean, everything this show has done so far does somehow reflect some element of the progress we’ve actually made, but actually arriving there would be unprecedented entirely. Plus it really is more about the journey towards enlightenment than the result, and that’s where both the show and our world find themselves – somewhere on the journey, far from perfect and far from free, each doing what we can to arrive at the other side of the hill.
It’s weird for me to think so highly of a show that does so many things I normally take issue with. Like, nearly the last shot of this show was the Hero’s face pressed between two sets of boobs – and I certainly roll my eyes, but I don’t lose my faith in the material. Plus the pacing was very often either too rushed or too drawn out (I think this, far more than the unique take on a fantasy world/lack of actual action, is what caused a lot of people to drop the show). Plus the art design is middling, the animation constantly has to cut corners, the humor is hit or miss (though I got a fairly absurd amount of amusement out of Maoyuu with the teacup on her head), and some of the villains are one-note absurdities (I don’t even like the word “villain” – virtually no character should just exist to be an antagonist, they should simply have believable goals that are at odds with those of our protagonists). Additionally, it juggles so many characters and plots that it sometimes loses urgency, and the “big picture” of all the various motivations and schemes can become muddled in the details.
It goes so far. First, there are definitely some really strong strict aesthetic elements to this show – I think the characterization is all very well-paced and well-plotted, I think the dialogue is more sharp and understated than the vast majority of shows (and brevity is a necessity here, since they’re covering so much material), and I think the show has a keen understanding of how to make a conflict, be it verbal or physical, completely clear, understandable, and engaging to the audience. That is all really good stuff.
But mainly, yeah. It’s the conceit. The base idea of “A show that uses a standard fantasy universe to reflect the actual circumstances of history, human nature, human development, and the pursuit of an enlightened future” is an incredible one, and this show succeeds in following through on that promise in all the important ways. The characters are fairly believable as both single characters and representatives of human nature, the themes dip into actual specifics of history and then back out into reflections on humanity as a whole, and the various pieces all weave together into an actual plot that makes sense as the story of this particular world. The argument this show makes about the value of education and self-worth… hell, if any show set up and executed that episode 9 speech, that alone would garner high praise from me – as is, most elements of this show are solid, and the elements that are actually transcendent easily counter out the moderate aesthetic and minor narrative weaknesses.
Final Rating: 9/10 (Exemplary – This show is either a flawless execution of its genre, or it does something utterly unique and inspiring.)
You can guess where I fall on this one. Very far from flawless, but inspiring and unique? Fuck yeah.