Valvrave is certainly the most kitchen-sink ready of all the series this season – maybe of any season for a long time – but it still manages to surprise me once in a while by just how willing it is to throw any and every plot twist it can into the mix. Most of them are of course taken from their own catalog – in a sense it’s self-plagiarism on the level of Adachi Mitsuru – but the hook with Valvrave is that it doesn’t just pick and choose among these disparate elements. No, it seems determined to use them all – and boy, did it raise the ante this week.
Obviously there’s an elephant in the room here, so there really isn’t much point in ignoring it. Rape is not a new plot device for Sunrise mecha, so in that sene the episode finale isn’t much of a shock – apart from the fact that rape in any context is always intended to be shocking. No, the real difficulty here comes in the manner in which it was depicted. I’ve spent a bit of time considering just how the final scene of the episode made me feel, and I can only conclude that I hated it. As a general rule I’m not crazy about the use of rape as a plot device in anime, though it’s not automatically off-limits by any means – it’s just that too often, it’s used as a cheap ploy by a lazy writer to provoke a reaction from the audience that they’re not good enough to provoke through other means.
I don’t think that’s the case here – in context, it was actually a fairly powerful moment. Given what we’ve seen already, with the foreshadowing of recent weeks, it isn’t impossible to believe something like this could happen. The problem is, we’re on a very slippery slope both with Saki as the victim and Saki’s reaction in the moment (a Google search on Clayton “Claytie” Williams might provide interesting reading material here). There’s likely to be a certain “she had it coming” segment of the viewer base, based on the fact that Saki was clearly living her life recklessly and getting a thrill out of playing footsie with danger. And the scene as written will surely prompt some to use the word “consensual” – and there’s no such thing as consensual rape. This is perilous, dodgy territory Valvrave is venturing into here, practically begging for an ugly side of the fanbase to show through. The fact is, rape isn’t a sexual act, it’s an act of violence – and depictions that blur that distinction are doing no favors to anyone in doing so. I’m not a politically correct person by any means, and as I said I don’t think this is a development that should be unequivocally out of bounds for anime. But I’m not at all comfortable with what we saw on our screens today.
It seems almost crass to discuss the implications of the rape to the overall plot, never mind other developments in the episode – but there were plenty of both. Does this constitute some kind of attempt by the Valvrave 01 OS to reproduce itself, or even take over Saki’s body using Haruto as a carrier? I suppose if nothing else, Saki’s “It’s a curse” reflects that she now realizes just what a foolish child she’s been – this is no game she’s playing, and Haruto is indeed carrying a monster around inside him. As the rape was playing out, we were seeing a typically absurdly comic Valvrave moment as Shouko addressed the students with a speech making her case as to why she should be elected “Prime Minister” – a classic Shouko “Ganbare!” rant where she promised everything but the moon (oh wait, she did promise that) and did everything but break into song (wait – she already did that).
The contrast set up between the two girls is obviously not coincidental, and it makes Shouko’s promise to confess to Haruto once they’ve arrived on the moon al the more tragicomic. Shouko wins the election, of course – she promised the students the biggest party in the solar system and urged them to be greedy in true Gordon Gecko fashion. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the students are still playing dress-up, especially given the news that Shouko’s father has possibly been assassinated. If it weren’t for L-Elf (this series is definitely better when he’s more prominent in an episode than less) in fact, the students would all be Dorssian prisoners at best or dead at worst, several times over.
There’s also some mumbo-jumbo from “I’m a physics teacher” Kibukawa about “runes” and how the Valvrave works because everyone is made of particles, along with confirmation from him that it was indeed developed by JIOR as a secret weapon to help them maintain their independence (serious wish-fulfilment aspect of the plot at play here). And two hilariously bakayarou Valvrave lines of dialogue: Kyuuma using the “Together Each Achieves More” acronym with Haruto (stupid and great on so many levels) and Saki telling Haruto to abandon dreams of pairing with Shouko because “It’ll never work out – she’s a human and you’re a holy spirit.” In the end, though, this episode was really only about one thing and I suspect that’s all that will be remembered about it. Sunrise has opened this can of worms, so now it’s just a matter of waiting to see how they handle the aftermath. Everyone will react to it in their own way and with more time to reflect, perhaps my own views on it will evolve.