Listen, I’ll be honest here – this episode could be taken as a regression of sorts for Kakumeiki Valvrave. After it’s proved its chops as a more coherent and disciplined sci-fi epic over most of its second cour, this ep was something of a return to the unabashed bakayaroucity of the first. And there were definitely some cringe-worthy moments here – when I saw those spacesuits on Coffee and Sugar my first thought was, “Duck-u!”. But somehow – as it often does with Valvrave – everything ended up working pretty well for me by the end of the episode.
It’s something of the peculiar alchemy of this series, I think, that what we can’t ever be sure of what I would normally call “unintentionally funny” moments. With Valvrave you certainly get seemingly seriously-intended moments that are hilarious, but I always get the feeling the writers are winking at the audience, just a little. They know how silly it is, and they’re having fun too. Maybe that’s the naive romantic in me but when I enjoy those Valvrave signature moments as much as I do, I’m certainly more tolerant of the absurdities they present. I very much like the “grown-up” Valvrave we’ve seen for most of this season, but if I’m honest I kind of missed the goofy “throw the plot twists in a blender, add some cheesy dialogue and press the damn button already” approach, too.
As it often does lately, the series started us off with a pre-OP flash-forward, revealing splinters of what the eventual series end will look like. I don’t recall the chibi-L-Elf being called “Ouji” before (perhaps I’ve forgotten) but Saki’s reference to “our empire” certainly gives this future a little more definition. As does the appearance of a dilapidated Sakimori Academy, “a cradle of curse and blessing”. Is this the new world that Haruto And L-Elf (by the way, I can’t help now but think of Linda and her “Tada Banri” every time L-Elf says “Tokishima Haruto”) pledged to create on their private crater retreat?
By recent Valvrave standards this was an extremely simple episode structurally. There were really only two things going on – Shouko angsting over what she’d done to Haruto, and L-Elf and Haruto marooned after their abortive rescue that closed last week’s episode. I’m still of the opinion that Shouko was out-of-character in her actions last week, but I suppose once committed to that the writers had no choice but to follow through. I’m not a huge Yamada fan but I’m with him on this one – after having been set-up and knocked down for Shouko to still regard him and the other pilots with distrust is pretty galling. There’s an emotional component here – after all the sacrifices the Valvampires have made for their fellow students, to be treated as monsters is hard to swallow. But in Shouko’s defense (if there is one) she doesn’t know everything they’ve been through, and they did make the choice to keep her out of the loop.
She’s learning fast, though. Shouko’s punishment, I guess, it to see first-hand just what sacrifices Haruto in specific has made – and for whom. It was silly in the first place to think a 17 year-old high schooler was capable of being a “Prime Minister” so it’s hardly a surprise that Shouko hasn’t proved up to the job when the chips were down, but she remains a sort of anchor of normalcy and decency in this sea of madness. That’s why it was such a big moment for her to finally sit down in that cockpit and be faced with that welcome screen. “I’m hungry!” Pino whines, before showing Shouko the one thing that could hurt her the most. I’m still hoping Shouko doesn’t choose “Yes” because I think the show is better having her as she is, the one main cast member that’s unlike all the others. Yes, she screwed up – but she knows it, and she’s suffering for it. Let her remain a human and let’s move on.
The main event, of course, is the strange and gloriously entertaining bromance between Haruto and L-Elf. This whole sequence was definitely one of those that hovered on the blurry border of unintentional comedy, but then so many of their interactions are. I mean, come on – a fistfight in CGI space suits that look like they should squeak like bath toys? It had an air of satire to it – we’ve certainly seen this moment in anime many times, but to have L-Elf astride Haruto’s chest wailing on him in oversized space suits is deliciously surreal. This was the couples getaway these two were destined to have sooner or later, and it’s interesting to see L-Elf be the one in self-pitying shutdown mode while Haruto scrambles to stay alive. L-Elf is right, of course – Haruto will never be a match for him without his Valvrave – but somehow it’s always Haruto who provides the irritant that makes the oyster L-Elf produce his finest pearls. They truly are like coffee and sugar, these two – with a large plate of cheese on the side, of course.
All of that comes to naught, of course, if the right person doesn’t see that signal flare – and it’s a mild surprise to find out that person is Saki. Not at all surprising is that A-Drei is the one that freed her – that’s been telegraphed for a while. “First L-Elf, then H-Neun, now you.” X-Eins laments – but the trend here is obvious, and I suspect that rather than pull the trigger on that gun he’s pointing at the back of A-Drei’s head, X-Eins is going to be the next to turn his coat against the corrupt Dorssian puppet government. That will leave only Q-Vier behind, but I don’t hold out much hope for him. In effect we’ve pretty much known how this series was going to end for a while – the only real question was how it would get there. We’ve taken a few steps closer to our answer this week, and I think – like two construction teams boring a tunnel through a mountain – L-Elf and A-Drei are going to undercut the Dorssians and the Committee of 101 from opposite sides and meet in the middle.