I know it’s been a long wait for Renton to appear, but I’ll be honest – I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better introduction than that. The fact that it came as the cherry on top of an episode that was superb in every way, from script to animation to music to the performances of the cast, is just that much better. And maybe best of all, all the folks who’ve been complaining about the lack of Renton as if this show was supposed to be about him now have to wait until November to see the tail-end of this cliffhanger. It almost – not quite – makes the fact that the rest of us have to wait too worthwhile.
There was so much about this ep that was right on the money that it’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from. One thing that really jumps out, though, is just how great it was to see Ao and Naru together again. Even I was a little skeptical that would be the case after all this time and the changes we’ve seen in her character, and even I’m willing to admit that keeping the pair of them separated for so long was probably a mistake. Why? Because their chemistry was just as winning as it was in the first few episodes. I thought the entire awkward sequence with the two of them at the breakfast table was spot-on, right down to the Iwato locals eavesdropping. Ao proves himself utterly clueless about girls, of course, and asks the worst possible question – “Is that what Truth’s into?” But Naru’s surprise is genuine – it simply never occurs to her that Ao could doubt her loyalty to him.
So much has happened since that it’s easy to forget that the Ao-Naru bond was basically the heart and soul of the first arc of this series, but it all came rushing back seeing them together – and it really made me realize how much I missed that side of Astral Ocean. The mood of those first eps was recaptured in a way I didn’t think possible, especially when Naru casually ripped her ears (or wings, or whatever they were) off. Fact is, what Ao said was exactly what a lot of fans of the show who were ripping Naru said – that it seemed as if she’d chosen Truthie over Ao. But remember what Naru said to Ao way back in the epic episode 14 – “I wanted to fly with you, not just be embraced by you.” She just wants to fly with Ao, and grow old with him – and whatever makes that possible is worth pursuing. This all comes down to two things for me – first, Truth offered Naru “wings”, by helping her realize that her illness was actually a hidden power. And second, that Naru has always had an affinity for outcasts and outsiders – it’s evident in her devotion to Ao – and she was Truth not as evil, but as the ultimate outsider – someone who didn’t belong to the humans, or the scub, or the secrets. It doesn’t in any way justify what he’s done, but it does help explain why Naru sympathizes with him.
In a way, I think Truth as depicted in this episode is a sort of cancerous tumor – the body’s own cells (the white blood cell analogy I used back in episode 13 now formally canon) genetically altered and turned against it. The character has taken a lot of abuse from viewers – some of it justified, some not so much – but I think his context in the story is much clearer now. And the great Kazuhiko Inoue really brought his helpless rage to life in this episode (hard to believe this is Nyanko-sensei, but that’s how good Inoue-san is). Problem is, Truthie is also a mass murderer of incalculable scale, and has apparently decided that this world is so “afflicted” that only its destruction can be his goal. And he’s also generating so much trapar that the “coral carriers” afflicted with scub in their bodies will die if they come into close contact with him. So on that front, we’re left with a looming final battle with Truth – Team Harelquin having joined the cause (they were indeed playing at switching sides to allow Pied Piper to escape) and fighting alongside Pied Pier, with President Fleur “She’s not his girlfriend!” Blanc trading her power suit for a flight suit one more time. Despite being warned that he too might be vulnerable to trapar overload Ao joins the cause, with Naru flying with him at last – though the secrets say Nirvash can’t win because it doesn’t have a heart, and Naru says it’s because it doesn’t have an archetype.
What we’re also seeing is a looping in of the theme from E7, the tragedy of the scub coral. The Coralians seek coexistence with humanity, but that just never seems to end well. We see the growing movement around Naru, “carriers” who believe that the Coralians are a benevolent species and that communication and coexistence is the natural progression of humanity. But we also see infected humans dying (again). This cuts to the essence of Eureka’s existence, really – the bridge between species, the living embodiment of the idealistic hope that humans and Coralians can share the same universe and live peacefully together. And of course, through her union with Renton, Ao is the continuation of that hope – the true hybrid of human and Coralian.
On cue, jump forward a bit – to 12021 AD, in fact – and the long-awaited appearance of Renton Thurston. The calendar tells us that Renton is now 31 years old, and it appears as if his world – presumably the one from the original series – is basically dead, with the humans having been unable to stave off infection by Coralians. Renton has two-tone hair, shades, and the voice of Fujiwara Keiji. I loved Renton’s grand entrance – badass, dark, and best of all, totally on-point with AO’s plot. However, I’m not quite sure how I feel about him having the same seiyuu as Holland. I don’t know if BONES is trying to make a larger point here but it seems an odd choice to me – but be that as it may, Renton is part of the story now and in a big way, too. When an occurrence of the Seven Swell Effect takes place, he and “his” Nirvash head off to “Put an end to everything….get Eureka back… from that sky.”
And so, now, we wait – because in case you missed the news, it was announced this week that the final two eps of AO will be airing in November. I don’t necessarily consider that good news or bad – it sucks to wait, but the alternative could have been worse than a 4-6 week delay. And it certainly appears as if BONES is going to go for the epic in the conclusion – a conclusion which I still expect to come down to Ao’s decision about which world he chooses, or whether he chooses a third way. You may have also heard about a choice I made, to move to Japan – something I’ll be doing in October, so it’ll be from Tokyo that I blog the last two episodes of Astral Ocean. It’s going to be a crazy time in my life, but I’ll be here blogging Little Busters in the Fall, and gearing up for Taichi Tuesdays in January. And of course, cursing cliffhangers and counting the minutes until we finally see the conclusion of AO…