There have certainly been flashier episodes of AO – episode 2 (for the sheer “wow” factor) and 14 (the brilliant re-introduction of Eureka and the exploration of her relationship with Ao) come to mind. But I’m not sure there have been more successful ones, and by that I mean this was an ep that seemed to accomplish a great deal both in terms of story and character, and did so in a way that was perfectly under control. Music placement and animation were flawless, characters were on-model, and the pacing was steady without being exhausting. This feels very much like the episode that’s going to provide the framework for the rest of the series.
I have no issue with the sheer amount of plot and intrigue that AO has thrown at us, but at some point the series was going to have to focus on a couple of major threads and build the conclusion around them. The reason I’ve been fine with it is because I have a great deal of faith in Shou Aikawa and figured he had plenty of time to do just that, and we’re seeing the process on display here. When this series started it was very much a character study of Ao, and while he’s always been central to events as the scope of the show has widened, it’s become somewhat less personal. This episode zeroed in directly on Ao once more, and I think it framed all of the colossal events playing out in terms of one very elemental quest – a lonely boy’s desire to find his mother. For all the talk of timelines and world lines and the Byzantine geopolitical intrigue there was a need to make all that about something manageable and human, and that’s it.
That’s not to say there weren’t massive amounts of information downloaded too, but plot-wise it now seems to be towards a larger purpose. And there was definitely a shift there too, finally answering some questions without raising more than were answered. It’s Stanley who dubs Nirvash’s new weapon the “quartz gun”, and it’s
Nitorin Rajkumar who first gives voice to what it did – “damage the past”. I’d argue that damage might be a subjective term, but the point is that Ao firing of the weapon appears to have eliminated the scub burst from the past in Norway, and in the process altered the memories of everyone about the past. Except Ao, that is – is it because he’s, as Truthie puts it, a “child of the scub coral”? Mind you, I’m highly suspicious of Stanley here – I always have been but now so more than ever. I found his “This is a discussion for adults” jab at Ao both insulting and highly suspect, as was his reluctance not to dig too deeply into the medical issues suddenly facing GenBlue staffers (scub coral growing in the lungs). Stanley is a bad man, and he knows much more than he’s letting on.
The “damage” is done, in that Ao has definitely heard Rajkumar’s hypothesis and believes it, and it leads him to explore Goldilocks’ fate (garnering a somewhat sympathetic ear from Team Gazelle). His quest leads him to Ireland, where he finds Chloe and Naeve happily living and working at the family bakery. While Ao loses his nerve at the last moment and doesn’t announce his presence, it’s clear he’s both relieved that the girls are alive and horrified that his weapon has the power to alter reality. It’s also well-worth noting that during this expedition Georg continues to alternate between personalities (as he does later in the episode) and that the mysterious Elena tells Ao “I’m the only one who understands you.” I find her comments especially interesting in light of the revelation that she’s writing the manga that chronicles the adventures of Team Pied Piper (the anime adaptation of which is struggling in the ratings as some condemn it as a “terrorist propaganda anime” after GenBleu’s secret hoarding of quartz is outed).
There’s also a good deal of headway made on the question of alternate realities, and Johanson’s role in it. In his book (in Han’s possession, courtesy of Nakamura) he states that his adopted son told him of a reality where there were 7 billion people (Ao’s world has 3.5) and power is derived from nuclear fission, and where there was no massive burst after World War II that wiped out Tokyo. But it’s not “our” world, seemingly – there were “massive scub bursts in 1907 in Siberia” that dramatically impacted the Soviet Union (which didn’t exist then in our timeline) and China, and “all religions are obsolete”. Johanason states the both the Scub Coral and Secrets are manipulating human history, and dreams of a world where humans exist free of both of them.
This would seem to be the world that Truth is seeking to return to – or perhaps, the reality that he’s trying to restore. And the quartz gun would seem to be the key to all this – indeed, perhaps the key to everything. It launches itself under its own power and combines with Nirvash, and “eats” the quartz from a scub burst Pied Piper and the Coalition forces are squabbling over. But Truth steals it from Ao, and submerges Ao in the ocean – where he meets again with Eureka. This time, though, it’s clear that this Eureka is Ao’s mother – she recognizes him instantly, and tells him that she’s only able to intersect with his timeline for a few moments. She also tells him that although ten years have passed since she extracted the giant quartz and was sent to an alternate timeline (she notes how much Ao has grown) that only a few days have passed for her. Especially conspicuous in this exchange is her remark that “To the quartz, time and space are the same.” I don’t understand the full implications of that, but I believe it’s going to be central to unraveling all the mysteries at the heart of AO.
In that short and poignant scene in Nirvash with Ao interacting with the astral Eureka, everything that’s important in the series is captured in its essence. I think BONES has done a superb job with Eureka in her brief appearances, showing her as heartbreakingly beautiful and kind – an idealized boy’s vision of his most mother, yes, but one that surely resonates with someone who loved the original E7. Ao has committed himself now to bringing Eureka home to him by whatever means possible, and the quartz gun is seemingly the key – but the gun is “incomplete” according to his mother, and Renton has been searching for it himself. And when the moment comes, Ao can’t bring himself to fire it at Truthie, even as the latter encourages him to do so – Truth wants Ao to fire the gun because it will alter this world he loathes as false, but Ao fears to do so knowing that it might have great consequences for the only people he knows as “real”.
Clearly then, we’ve entered a new (and probably final) major phase of the story. Goldilocks are gone from the OP, and their role in the series is likely done. Ao at long last has his goal firmly in mind, even if he doesn’t know yet how he’ll achieve it. Is completing the gun simply a matter of consuming enough quartz, or is there more to it than that? Of greater import is the role the still-unseen Renton will play in the final resolution, and I think it’s safe to say that Ao is going to be faced with a very difficult choice – just what consequences is he willing to shoulder the responsibility for, if it means getting his mother back? I don’t expect any of this to be easy for him – it certainly hasn’t been so far – but in the end AO always had to find its resolution in Ao’s personal journey, and this week it took a big step towards that resolution.