I’ll get the gripes out of the way first, and I do have a couple. The first is fairly minor and amounts to a simple matter of style: I didn’t especially find the silliness of the scene with Yuki and Minene when he accidentally detonated her bomb effective. I should say, elements of it were terrific – namely Ninth’s dialogue – but the use of the light-hearted BGM track and the overplaying of the absurdity felt jarring in the middle of such a serious scene. That’s a fine line for the show at most times, because it’s a life-and-death drama that’s played out in absurdist style, and so far, they’ve gotten it mostly right. The second problem is potentially a much larger one, and that’s the use of the luminescent pink eyes for Yuno’s “crazy mode”. It’s no secret that Yuno’s erratic and subject to wild personality swings, but I don’t want to see the audience hit over the head with it every time it happens, and I also don’t think’s it’s a service to her character to imply that the crazy comes and goes like there’s an on-off switch.
That aside, I think most of the episode worked pretty well and there were a couple of very strong moments. Certain episodes are easier for me to talk about than others, but this is one of the ones that’s hard to discuss without saying stuff I shouldn’t. So I’ll stick to safe territory and say that a lot of questions were answered for the audience in a very straightforward way – by what happens in the episode, though you do have to do a little interpreting of what you saw. Mainly, this is when Fourth’s story finally begins to take shape, and we see why he made (and broke) his alliance with Yukiteru and why he made one with Ninth.
Fourth’s motivation becomes obvious when we see his son lying near death in the abandoned hospital, with his wife (Morinaka Aoi, in no less than her firth role in the series) at his bedside. As Fourth tells us this week, his goal isn’t necessarily to win, but to achieve the end he seeks – the salvation of his son. Fourth is a complex man and his thinking is complex, and the scene where he plays Russian roulette with Yuki is every bit as chilling as I’d hoped it’d be. Simply put, Fourth is playing this like a game of chess – thinking several moves ahead, willing to sacrifice pieces to achieve the ultimate result. When Yuki and Yuno are no longer the right pieces, he moves on to Ninth – but he still needs Yuki and Yuno out of the way, and as a policeman whose very diary is only effective as long as he’s in that professional role, he can’t do anything to jeopardize his position. But like any good chess player, he’s learned how his opponent thinks, and tries to use this to his advantage by provoking Yuno and turning the children into fugitives.
As for what Ninth is all about, you’re going to have to wait on that because the episode doesn’t answer anything definitively. Sufficient for our purposes is to say that she’s a great character, a necessary contrast to Yukiteru and Yuno with her fierce directness and cutting humor. Some of the scenes in the episode would have risked tipping too far into absurdity without her, but she’s an anchor- and she acts as a sort of audience proxy by calling BS when she sees it. Ninth realizes full well just how bizarre is this game she’s playing in – as does Yuki – but her approach to that absurdity is very different from his.
Not to be forgotten in all this is Yuki himself, and this is an important ep for him as well. He’s sliding deeper into the trap – in Yuno he sees someone who meets every definition of delusional paranoia, to a psychotic level. He still recoils when she goes off on what appears to be a rant and proposes something horrific – but what if she’s right? And the fact that she so often is makes it even worse. Every decent instinct he has tells him to resist her, and she is wrong some of the time – but what if she’s not? What you’re really seeing with Yuki is the building frustration at being a helpless bystander while the others in his life knock him around – he’s the pinball, and they’re the flippers. The irony is that this is exactly how he chose to live his life before all this started – as an observer, not a participant. And now he’s realizing that inside Deus’ game at least, that’s not a very pleasant way to live.