I’m wrong plenty of the time, so it’s OK to feel good about being right, especially when so many other people were wrong. Those of us that saw something in Valvrave the Liberator have been proved right pretty conclusively at this point – even if the series were to tank the last seven episodes (which I don’t expect to happen) it’s still delivered a pretty fair quantity of entertainment already. A lot of abuse was dished out by a lot of self-important critics in those early days when Valvrave was being defended, but if they bailed that’s their loss and no one else’s.
That being said, it’s fair to say Valvrave has exceeded my expectations (in truth I didn’t do much more than say it wasn’t terrible, as so many others were calling it) by proving it can be highly successful as a straight-up, plot and character driven sci-fi series and not just an unholy whirlpool of mismatched plot elements and orgiastically cheesy dialogue. For all that it seems to have tried to include every cliche and trope ever used in mecha and sci-fi, the plot is coming together splendidly and the cast is finding traction in places where one might have expected it. Making supporting characters interesting has always been a strength of Valvrave, and the quality goes far deeper into the cast than most of its competitors.
We have a lot going on simultaneously on several fronts (this is still Valvrave after all) but it’s surprisingly coherent and well thought-out. One aspect of this season I really like is the way Yama Arashi has been growing steadily more human and multi-faceted, even as the heroes side has been growing more and more dysfunctional and angry. Leading the charge for me has been H-Neun, and the little snapshots we’ve been getting of him have revealed a pretty interesting guy. There are certainly suggestions this week that his ultimate loyalty is not to the idol group but perhaps to some kind of intelligence agency – or perhaps simply to himself, as he might be gathering all the information he has in order to try and protect himself in what’s obviously a very dangerous line of work.
Sadly, just as H-Neun was really blooming as a character he may have fatally erred in following X-Eins (to whom it must be said H-Neun is also loyal) to Grunau, a castle where he’s been invited by Cain. This is the castle from which “no one ever returns” and indeed that seemed to be X’s fate, as he was destined to be one of the Magius’ new body. We don’t know exactly what the “ceremony” being conducted at Grunau was, but it required the harvesting of a tremendous amount of runes (more on that shortly) and after being caught by Cain, it seems that H-Neun’s luck may have run out. I hope not, as he was quickly becoming one of the most interesting characters in the entire cast.
Those runes, as it happens, are being harvested from a huge number of Dorssian victims (all of whom seemed to be female unless my eyes deceived me) on board the Phantom, a secret submarine the Dorssian royalists contract L-Elf to destroy in exchange for providing logistical support. This is the truth Maria’s fate revealed, and she seems even more likely than H-Neun to be demised – when the memories run out, the life itself is consumed. And Haruto is next in-line for this fate, having done the most piloting himself. Haruto has been set up as the self-sacrifice figure for a while, but it’s even more clear-cut now – no matter his anger at seeing the Dorssian victims, he can’t do anything to help them without defeating Dorssia itself. “You can run as much as you want, the world won’t stop turning.” L-Elf scolds him – and then, after Haruto comes to terms with sacrificing himself by continuing to fight, “I’ll use you until you’re worn out!” Seriously, this guy needs his own little red book.
The really interesting element here that it casts JIOR as unmitigated villains in all this. They set up Sashinami Academy as a food source for Valvraves, effectively, and knowing full-well what the fate of the pilots would be. In essence, it seemed the strategy was to create as many modified pilots as possible so that they could be rotated, increasing the total number of hours the Valvraves could be used before their pilots were dead. Of course L-Elf is planning to use the same strategy now, but he can at least argue it’s out of necessity – and he’s nothing if not the ultimate practicalist anyway. Dorssia is evil too of course, though it’s hard to tell the players without a scorecard there – to what extent the entire country is a puppet of the Magius at this point and what factions pursue which goals – but we know that Cain is taking an even more direct approach to sucking the life force out of his victims to harvest their runes. The only ones not using runes, it seems, are ARUS – and it may be that we simply haven’t seen the evidence yet that they are.
In short, good guys are in short supply here, and the Sashinami gang can count on no one in this universe. They’re on their own, following a borderline-psychotic genius traitor who’s ultimately using them for his own ends, and will find them useful only for as long as their goals overlap with his. Haruto is undeniably a good person, trying to throw away his life for a noble purpose (and the flash-forwards suggest he may succeed) but this is a world full of users and abusers, and the only force anyone can truly rely on is themselves. That casts the actions of someone like A-Drei (who was revealed as “former royalty”, interestingly), who saves shota-Saki’s life in the cave-in, in a somewhat different light – any selfless act is a rare thing in this world, and he may not ultimately be the enemy it was so easy to assume he was.