For the second week in a row Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta presents us with an episode that far exceeds in execution what it offers in conception. The head-heart divide is very much in play with this series, because the more I think about what’s going on the more exasperated I get – but in the moment, as it’s happening, I find it rather involving. Even emotional and upsetting at times. Is that better or worse than a brilliant concept with the ball is dropped in execution? Who knows – but it makes one appreciate those rare times when we actually get both.
One thing’s for sure – the plot armor may be intact (and rather thick) at the core of the cast for now, but it sure doesn’t match in breadth what it offers in depth. Last week’s demise of Mitty (one of the most flagged in recent anime history) was just the starter – this week was the main course. Cadets were being killed left and right – Wolfgang, Macro (presumably) and Fausto (who did make the turn from the dark side, but didn’t get much of a chance to be a good guy) just for starters. Most of the cast of cadets wasn’t exactly well-established as characters, but it’s still affecting to see them shot out of the sky right in front of you, victims of the stupidity of their adult leaders.
It almost feels unsporting to bring up all the head-desk parts of the way this battle played out. Gunners using bolt-action rifles going up against very modern-looking fighters with what look very much like heavy machine guns – and piercing their hulls with their bullets? Ariel being shot by one of those machine guns and surviving, seemingly not even losing the arm that was hit? No explanation of the insignia that popped up at various points during the episode – obviously significant, but meaningless unless you’ve seen Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku (and remember it)? Honestly, narratively speaking this episode was a real mess.
For all that though, like #7, it was for me at least highly involving because of the way it was presented. There was real sadness here, and shock and awe as well. What really struck me is what a complete mismatch this conflict seems to be – not only because we had cadets going up against professional pilots, but the impression was that there was a 20-year technology gap between the Sky Clan’s aircraft and Isla’s. For a bunch of “savages” they certainly seem well-equipped – just who are these people and why have the powers that be in Isla been so easily fooled into believing they were pushovers? Not only do they have better weaponry and equipment, but they’ve wiped the floor with Isla strategically, luring the entire professional fleet away on a wild goose chase and leaving Isla defenseless apart from a bunch of kids.
As for those kids, it would be cruel to point out how outclassed they were here – the strategy seemingly having been to take off, fly into the midst of the enemy as an easily-targetable cluster and hope for the best. It does give us an opportunity for some bonding between Karl and Ariel, which we really haven’t seen much of since very early in the series. As for Claire, seeing how desperate things have gotten she flees her mansion (and Ulshyrra lets her go, trusting Ignacio to bring her back). Ignacio ends up proving useful with a rifle himself, helping the students who’ve stayed behind hold off the Sky Clan paratroopers who’ve parachuted onto Isla. The fleet manages to return just in time to prevent the worst from happening, apparently, but the entire affair has to go down as a sorry FUBAR of the highest order. Everyone in charge of the place should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
There is one more wrinkle here, and it’s a big one. After Ariel has been wounded and Karl finds himself about to be shot down, a mysterious blue one-seater fighter with a seagull insignia shows up and saves the two of them, shooting down five Sky Clan fighters in seconds. The pilot leaves behind a message of solidarity as fellow “children of Aldista”- and the signature should be familiar to any fan of The Princess and the Pilot. It’s that of “Fana Lavamme” of the Levamme Empire and is certainly that of the heroine of that film. Presumably her seal doesn’t indicate the presence of Fana herself, but one might speculate that it could be Charles Karino (the other half of that title) piloting that blue plane. Even if it isn’t, the two stories are apparently about to come together in a big way.