“The lady doth protest too much, Methinks.”
It took a little while for this adaptation of Jormungand to hit its stride, but it’s now right there with the best series of the season. It’s hard to say just why that is, given just how note-faithful this cover version of the manga is, but perhaps it’s because the last few eps – especially this “Dragon Shooter” arc – are the most “telegenic” of the series so far. All of the obfuscation and surrealism are part and parcel of why Jormungand is a great manga (and I have no hesitation in using that rarefied term) but there’s a clarity to “Dragon Shooter” that makes it somewhat more gripping as a visual experience. There’s no mistaking who the players and what’s happening – it’s stark, violent and brutal. And like every story in this series, it tells us something important about the members of Team Koko.
This also happens to be an arc that doesn’t try very hard to hide its connections to the real world. There’s no effort to hide where this is talking place, and just who Dragan Nicolaevich (Matsumoto Dai) really is (Zeljiko “Arkan” Raznjatovic) or that “Outspoken Doctors for Human Rights” is really Doctors Without Borders. The players are all easily identified, and the white hats and black hats are pretty clear cut. But watching the Balkan Dragon’s men methodically cut down by Koko’s is still brutal – it’s a harsh slap in the face to the viewer and a reminder that these are cold, dangerous and ruthless people doing an insanely dangerous job.
That’s the ultimate paradox of Koko and what she does, a theme we see repeated over and over throughout the series. Marguerite Messner (Takahashi Ao) is certainly aware of it – she can see it in the fact that Jonah, the very embodiment of the atrocities her group purports to try and purge from the world, is an integral part of the group transporting them into Republic T to try and purge them. Koko is a duplicitous person of the first order – she tells Jonah that she doesn’t want him to “dirty his hands” by killing The Dragon, and that “A Knight’s blade remembers those it cuts.” Yes she’s also the one who put the blade into those small hands and turned him loose on the battlefield. If Koko is contradictory as regards Jonah, it’s no more than she is regarding herself – but I’ll get to that.
Another virtue (there are many) of the “Dragon Shooter” arc is who simply and artfully the plot is constructed. Koko is, as we know, always thinking a step or two ahead of most of her fellows. She lets Nicolaevich escape, knowing his value as a bargaining chip – and knowing she’s going to need to cash in every trump card she has to escape the country. She’s not the best on her team at any one specific area of combat, but she is the best at doing what any good leader does – understanding the strengths of her team and listening to her subordinates when they know more than she does. It’s Mao whose expertise comes into play when the question of how the team will escape the country must be answered, and it’s his plan to “borrow” a 122mm cannons and load it onto the C-130, there to use it to rain iron flechettes upon her enemies. There’s also a clever tactic of using flares to disrupt the missiles Nicolaevich’s men fire at the fleeing plane.
The task of escaping by air complete, there’s still the matter of Dr. Rivière (Horiuchi Kenyuu), who Koko refuses to leave behind although Maggie offers to bay HCLI’s full freight anyway. This is a simple two-pronged strategy of sending Lehm – with Wiley and Mao – to stalk The Dragon, while selling his scalp to Scarecrow (by doing an end-run around him to Schokolade) for the full $5 million reward, in exchange for letting him have the glory of capturing the wanted warlord (who Lehm trusses up like a Thanksgiving turkey). All this is almost routine after everything else that’s happened, but it’s still interesting – Lehm reveals that his trio has “been responsible for cleaning up messes since the old days”. And Koko reveals that she’s figured out that it was her father Floyd who set up the whole operation, to score points with ODH.
The key dialogue in this case comes from Koko’s exchange with Maggie, and her later follow-up with Jonah. It’s that duplicity again – Koko says that “People who kill too much turn into dragons” and that we “cannot let dragons fly free in the world, though they spring forth from ourselves.” Maggie as the outsider asks the perfectly logical question – “Aren’t you a dragon yourself?” Koko’s reaction – twitching, then bursting into laughter – says all that need be said. In case you haven’t figured it out, the bigger Koko smiles and the more she laughs, the more she’s hiding what’s going on inside. This is her mask, and she wears it well – especially with Jonah, whom she asks “What sound do dragons make?”. I’m glad they kept his answer exactly as it was in the manga, and as the C-130 flies off into the night with Koko roaring “Gwaaan!” it’s worth remembering the title of the series and thinking about those conversations in that context.
We had a real rarity in this episode – a manga commercial. In this case, for Adachi Mitsuru’s Mix (first impressions here) which is clearly one of the biggest happenings in the manga market in years.