Let’s return to the fantastical Simoun! With the first three episodes in the bag, we’ve established a solid dramatic platform for the show to come. Neviril’s misgivings about her role as a priestess were given plenty of room to breathe in the show’s compelling second episode, while the somewhat more straightforward third episode gave us a clearer picture of the overall team. Some initial character conflicts are clear enough already, and there’s a well-founded divide between the new cadets, who all seem eager to prove themselves, and the old guard, who are still dumbstruck by the idea that their guardianship is no longer just ceremonial.
On top of the overt narrative, we’ve also got the show’s intriguing mix of gender and overall societal critique, a far-reaching metaphor that, in spite of its fanciful details and general creative ambition, ultimately helps ground the show in some universal thematic conflicts. I’m very intrigued by this show’s world, but for all that stuff to land, we’ll first have to be sold on its central cast. So let’s jump right in, and see if this ragtag bunch can come together into a real team!
It’s been a while! I forgot how simplistic the CG for these ships was, as well as how effectively their rounded designs and subdued, complementary colors work to counterbalance that
Looks like we’re back hanging out with the Holy Land’s invaders, which sounds great to me. The show opening with us in this side’s perspective really helped set a tone of mistrusting the Holy Land’s assumptions, and I’d love to see what about life outside the Holy Land makes these people so desperate to reach it
I also like how these ships and even this country’s skies have their own coherent design senses and color schemes. You can really see how their utilitarian mechanical principles differs from the Holy Land, who based all their vehicles and architecture on the design sensibilities of their holy artifacts
A series of cryptic images. We see a factory skyline, then a pair of grim-looking middle-aged men in clothes that look more like our own impression of military attire than the Holy Land’s outfits. One of the men stares at a strange black spot on his hand. The overall impression emphasizes traditional military force and also pollution
“Nearby War.” So will our heroes finally get close enough to see their attackers as fellow humans? It feels like we might be a bit early to hit that point
The holy land’s adult males appear far more androgynous than the outsider men we just saw
Aaeru’s doing more test flying with the final new recruit, Morinas
Trying to convey these two losing control of their ship really hammers in the awkwardness of this CG. When the ships are just doing slow, majestic landings or straight flights through the air, it’s still not great, but the grace of the movement mitigates the issue. Having this ship spin this way and that really hammers in how out of place it seems. More recent shows like Knights of Sidonia have learned how to use the inherent camera flexibility of “filming” CG objects to make ships in motion feel dynamic, but this show is sticking to more traditional storyboards, with still shots of moving ships layered over traditionally painted backgrounds. Without skillful traditional animators bringing this ship’s wild movements to life, the photography falls flat
The show seems to understand its own visual limitations in a general sense, but its conservative articulation of this near-crash makes it impossible to follow the tension
Alright, here’s a better shot: Neviril sulking in her bedroom. The show’s direction continues to be far less impressive than its background art, but scenes like this allow the show to set up simple, appealing symmetrical compositions
Aaeru is clearly in the “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” camp, though she doesn’t even really care about forgiveness
“Why were you offering prayers without permission?” “Those weren’t prayers. We were training for battle.” Aaeru continues to poke holes in their rhetoric
Neviril is the choir’s “regina,” presumably its leader
Aaeru only seems legitimately sorry that she might have gotten Wapourif in trouble. Makes sense that the first person she’d grow sympathetic towards is the blunt mechanic over all these self-important priestesses
Morinas just seems horny as heck
The “you shouldn’t do that, Aaeru” girl has such a perfect design for being that timid, cautious member of the group who feels worried about everything. Mundane brown hair, a conservative haircut combining flat bowl-style bangs and a double braid, hands pressed together in defensive prayer posture
Other members of Tempus seem to have already given up, and are only thinking about their visits to the shrine
“I’m telling you this, Aaeru. You and I will never be a pair”
This ship’s circular windows facilitate a lot of very nice shots
Vyura from Chor Rubor is now rooming with Aaeru
Aaeru and the tiny recruit, the only other one who actually seems interested in fighting, head out
I appreciate the weird space kisses occupy in this show. They’re simultaneously a mechanical requirement of flying these things and also a quasi-sacred ritual, while also still possessing some of the personal, emotional intimacy we perceive them as reflecting. It’s an odd balance that fits this society’s intentionally contradictory conception of praying versus fighting
Aaeru actually wants to go looking for an enemy to fight
And then they find a downed Simoun in the forest
Looks like this is an isolated survivor from an old attack setting up a trap. Perhaps even the character we focused on in the first episode?
Ah, Limone is the little girl’s name
They get taken in by a fake Simoun
“The pollution is eating at our bodies. We need new technology from the Holy Land.” Well, that’s extremely straightforward and informative
“If we can get the Simoun technology, we can say goodbye to this pollution that poisons our skies.” So the outsiders are battling for the sake of acquiring clean energy, which the Holy Land refuses to share because they see their technology as sacred. If the show wants the Holy Land to come off as total assholes, it’s certainly succeeding
The Archipelago castaway is another middle-aged man
Aaeru reveals that all her friends from her village have already gone to the spring, but she’s not sure what she wants to become. As long as she becomes a great sybill, she won’t have to go
That does give her a tangible reason to want to battle, outside of defending her country. It’s basically “military service earns you citizenship,” except curved to apply to this society’s spring-based culture
I really appreciate us bouncing back and forth between the two sides of this conversation, even though those sides can’t actually understand each other. I’d figured this was too early for the show to have the sybills themselves learn to sympathize with the Archipelago, but us in the audience still get to appreciate this humanization
“Hormones and surgery made me male right after I was born. That’s how it’s always done in the Archipelago.” So it seems like this world really does demand its all-women populations change themselves into men
The islander asks what it’s like to be able to choose your gender, undercutting Aaeru’s anxieties about not feeling able to decide
“I’m sorry, ladies. I can’t give this back. If I get this home, it will mean the dawn of a new age for my country.” Yeah, the Archipelago is achingly sympathetic, while the Holy Land are just a bunch of self-important jerks
The pilot dies draped over the controls, and rigor mortis sets in while he’s holding them
Aaeru seems close to tears. Nice to see vulnerability from her
Yeah, you can really see her panic here. And with the added knowledge that she wants to become a pilot largely because she’s frightened of going to the spring, forcing her to actually cut off this dead man’s hands feels that much more horrifying
That said, the music feels totally unfitting. Why do we have this perky accordion melody playing against Aaeru sobbing as she mutilates this body?
Literal blood on their hands. While previous episodes contrasted their florid rituals against violence elsewhere, this one brings the violent nature of their work home
That episode was… very interesting. I liked a whole lot of what this episode’s Aaeru-Limone outing did in a conceptual sense, from its further humanization of the Archipelago to how it instilled Aaeru with some more necessary complexity and vulnerability. However, I felt the execution of the major sequences was a little off – not only was the music an absurd choice, but the pacing of Aaeru’s big moment didn’t really give the horror of her mutilating that body enough time to sink in. It also didn’t feel like Aaeru was necessarily the character who needed to experience such a traumatic battlefield experience – something underlined by the fact that afterwards, she seemed pretty much the same as ever. Still, I liked pretty much everything this episode did in a narrative sense, and an event like that will hopefully be followed by repercussions in the ensuing episodes. Simoun’s direction continues to be its greatest weakness, but its narrative fundamentals are as strong as ever.
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