I’m not going to sprain my shoulder patting myself on the back for getting the events of this episode exactly right last week – though I did, right down to the timing and the identity of the deceased. Fact is your elevator would pretty much not have to go to the top floor for you to miss this if you call yourself an anime fan. I don’t want to say it was telegraphed, but I checked the credits and last week’s episode was written by Samuel Morse.
Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s not exactly great writing when you craft something that such a slave to convention that it has absolutely no choice but to go exactly where it’s supposed to go. For all that, though, I have to give it up for Toaru Hikuushi because I actually really felt this episode even in spite of the predictability. It’s one thing to execute a plot development that’s completely formulaic, but it’s another to do it badly – and this was not done at all badly, even if last week’s setup was awkward. As for the tragic events themselves, I thought they were very well-played.
There was a truth uttered here – “there’s no such thing as a battle where people don’t die”. There’s not much more subtlety to the roles than there is to the foreshadowing – Melze is absolutely being set up as the heavy here, in every way. He’s the one who insisted in sending the students into supposedly safe (HA!) recon duty, and he’s the one who fell for the enemy’s rather obvious stunt of using a dummy fleet to lure the Isla Knights away, leaving it defenseless for the real fleet to attack. And he’s also the one who seems to have seriously underestimated the strength and technology of the enemy (which is also no doubt exactly as they wanted).
Yes, if you send students on missions in a war zone, some of them are going to die. And it was obvious one would be Mitty, with the only real question being whether Chiharu would also join the choir invisible. As cliched deaths go, Mitty got himself a pretty good one. He proved himself to be calm and resourceful under pressure, he followed procedures to the letter, and he managed to tip off the location of the enemy fleet – which was flying dark (as noted, an enormously confident thing to do) so as to avoid being targeted. A classic self-sacrifice on Mitsuo’s part, pretty much – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. I’m not quite sure why he couldn’t have ejected himself – perhaps he felt he could draw enemy fire away from Chiharu if he stayed on the plane, and/or that he was a goner from his wound anyway. But the fact is that an ejected pilot in the middle of an enemy fleet is pretty much a dead pilot, and Chiharu would have been had Banderas and Sonia not showed up at precisely the right moment.
While that drama was playing out, Kal-el and Claire were left behind – not at all surprisingly – along with Ignacio and Ariel, among others. Eventually Claire is collected by Ulshyrra (who calls Claire “the Governor” of Isla) and, interestingly, Ignacio is chosen to go with her as a bodyguard. But with more attacks coming and the entire fleet of actual pilots already in the air, you know it’s only a matter of time before the kids disregard orders and go join them. Fausto (I’m still wondering if he’ll be turned from the dark side) and his lackeys are the first to do so, and it’s upon seeing this that Karl announces that he’s going to take to the air as well. Ariel is predictably reluctant but eventually caves, and now we have the interesting development of seeing the step-siblings re-teamed for the first time since their arrival, and in the middle of a battle too.
I liked the way the episode handled the scenes with Mitty and Chiharu, alone behind enemy lines, and the way it manouvered between them and the other centers of action. It was also probably the most well-directed episode of the series – beautifully framed and drawn. Lipstick on a pig? Yeah, this was pure formula, but it really did work for me – mostly. Now comes the real test, though, when Toaru Hikuushi has to make sense of the somewhat messy tangle of plot threads it’s already woven, and craft them into a compelling final arc.