After a Fall season that had a decidedly retro feel to it, we haven’t too much this season that evokes that old-school feel – it’s mostly been an unambitious sampler platter featuring the various flavors of the moment. But Toaru Hikuushi is a definite trip in the wayback machine (a reference which is in itself a trip in the wayback machine). I’ve mentioned the decidedly Gonzo feel already but it goes deeper than that – the best way I can put it is that the overall attitude of this show seems as if its from an earlier time. And I quite like that.
We continue to zip back and forth through time, learning more about the background of the story in the last two episodes than we did in the first two. Kal-el and Claire are still lost at sea, the search parties are out and about and the gang back at school is understandably worried. The most interesting thing that happens here is that Ignacio tries to jump into a plane and search himself, and has to be physically restrained (and punched) by Banderas. Just who was he so worried about that he was willing to fly into a storm in the darkness – Claire or Kal-el?
As far as Ariel is concerned, this turn in the story gives her a chance to share her memories of the time when Kal-el came to live with her family. She was the youngest of three sisters, and while the two onee-sans were thrilled to have a cute younger brother, Ariel went into a jealous snit. And we have our answer as to which one is older – it’s him, by a day, which no doubt fueled her impotent rage at his invasive presence even more. Later, via Kal-el’s memories as recounted to Claire, we get a wonderful reminiscence of the first time his adoptive father Michael took him up to fly. This might just have been my favorite moment in four episodes – and it could hardly have done a better job of re-creating that elemental thrill of flight that Last Exile communicated so brilliantly.
I won’t beat around the bush – I find Ariel tremendously annoying, and she’s the weak link in the series for me so far. I know she warmed up to Kal-el when she came to understand his suffering, and I’m not saying she’s a bad person or anything – she just irritates the hell out of me. Her tsundere step-sister persona (complete with the ridiculous crying/punching combo when Kal-el and Claire return home) really feels like the most cliche thing in the series for me. I imagine this is only going to get worse when it inevitably comes out that she’s in love with Kal-el. Michael, by contrast, has me hoping we see more of him somehow – he’s a great character, and so are the two older sisters (who crack me up). It’s been a good stretch for anime Dads lately (there haven’t been many good stretches for them) and Michael is another to add to the list – quietly heroic and boundlessly kind.
It’s really only Ariel that isn’t working for me right now, fortunately. The plot continues to gain traction and I still love the chemistry between Claire and Karl. Their relationship is undeniably old-fashioned, innocently, even hokey – a red-faced anime first love that feels fresh out of the 90’s – but it’s totally working for me (excellent voice work from Hanae and Yuuki here too). I won’t deny the cornball nature of their time stranded together, complete with falling into the water and having to strip to dry their clothes. But it still plays as genuine, and the series is doing an admirable job of setting us up for the moment when the truth of who Claire is becomes known to Karl.
It seems as if that’s going to be a one-way street, shock-wise – she’s already just about figured out who he is, but Kal-el has no idea that Claire is really Nina Viento (which is now confirmed, though I really think the show itself has already made it pretty obvious). Nina seems to have no grudge whatever against Karl or his family – she appears to have been strictly a tool for the revolution – but all of his rage is directed at Nina and what she represents. It’s going to be ugly, no doubt – but I’m also looking forward to learning more of the truth of this Wind Revolution. We’re seeing a Rashomon-style scenario where the memories don’t match up – either Karl’s parents were much more reprehensible heads-of-state than he remembers or the anger the people felt towards them was largely misdirected. I suspect it’s going to be a bit of both, and I think a large part of the story is going to be Karl being forced to confront both his own anger and the reality that the truth is somewhat different than he remembers it.