This series is one that seems to run on momentum more than most: not just the narrative drive that makes the best episodes really hum, but for 2-3 episode stretches – almost as if the story is written in blocks of that length. It’s never been able to sustain it but this season is off to a very good start, offering some of the best material yet. This ep is another example of the series transcending the campy “so bad it’s good” limitations and being just plain good. Damn good.
There’s a lot to like here, but one thing that strikes me is the impression that somebody on the staff is paid exclusively to come up with gloriously hokey one-liners. Seriously, “Shut up and enjoy the scenery” – how great is that? Like “Moses”, “Coffee and Sugar” and all the others what makes these sound bytes so great is that they’re all perfectly in the moment. Every time L-Elf does something truly psychotic – and now we know he indeed thought he was shooting Maria in the head for the crime of distracting Haruto – he comes up with a nugget of pure gold to remind us why he’s one of the best characters of the year.
There’s lots of classic Valvrave angst happening all over the place, and the situation is a real mess. Just look at poor Saki – not only has she been raped by berserker Haruto and forced by bad writing to act like she was enjoying it, but now she’s been shotacon kissed by A-Drei. Not many girls can say that? And she’s stuck behind enemy lines to boot. Dog and Thunder very nearly got themselves toasted by the Dorssians’ new “Kirschbaum” demi-Valvrave hybrids. It’s a mess, but nothing compares to what poor Maria had to deal with.
I never paid too much attention to Maria to begin with, but you learn after watching this show far a while that one of the things it’s really good at is finding ways for everyone who shows up to be important to the plot without it ever seeming forced. The explanation for Maria’s surviving L-Elf’s assassination attempt is the Occam’s Razor one – she was Unit One’s original pilot, the “test pilot” as Pino calls her. The problem? Her “limiter is broken” – which seems to mean that as she pilots the Valvrave and it feeds on her “runes”, she loses her memories, oldest first. That’s why she was taken out of the program in the first place, though just how she got to Sakimori afterwards (she doesn’t remember, naturally) is an interesting question.
It’s impossible – if you feel anything positive for this series at all – not to feel sympathy for the plight Maria was put in this week. Dog and Thunder were down, the muggles were in custody, and Haruto was trapped by the massive explosion caused by L-Elf’s booby trap and Dorssian rockets and unable to reach the Valvrave. Her choice was to let her friends die or to pilot Unit One herself, knowing she’d lose memories for every second she did so – and she did what you knew she would, despite Pino’s pleas not to (of course L-Elf was urging her forward). And what a job she did – it’s clear Maria was synced to the unit in a way none of the other pilots have been, because she brought out its full potential and pretty much paid waste to the entire Dorssian fleet. But it came at a terrible cost – seemingly even higher than the terrible one Maria was willing to pay.
Is she really dead this time? Pino’s “Sayonara” would seem to indicate so – you’d think she’d know – and if so, it’s one of the sadder and more heroic anime deaths in ages, and out of nowhere too. Her sacrifice certainly improved the situation, allowing L-Elf’s plan for Akira to hijack the transport to work, but as mentioned Saki is still behind enemy lines in her borrowed body, alongside A-Drei. The wrinkle is “The Royalists”, who played a role in the episode in several ways. It was the murder of a Royalist squad-mate that caused L-Elf to scribble his message on the cave wall, and as the transport is escaping it receives a message purporting to be from Dorssian Royalists offering their support. The internal politics of Dorssia always seemed likely to play a large role before the series was through, and we seem to have reached that point now.