To Aru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 10

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I don’t mean to turn this into a full-on “gender roles in anime” post, but – wow.  Just wow.

More and more it seems that Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta is turning into one of those shows I like in spite of itself – or in spite of myself, depending on how you look at it.  I can sit back and pick this series apart pretty mercilessly, and there seem to be not a few moments in every episode that introduce the head to the desk with extreme prejudice.  Yet more often that not I’m caught up in what’s happening anyway, which is a testament to the execution of the dramatic side of things.

I’ll get to the those head-desk moments soon enough, but there were some nice things happening here early on, starting with the long overdue reveal about Igancio’s past.  There are no huge surprises here – a bastard son of a concubine and probably Karl’s half-brother isn’t far off from what I and I suspect most of you would have guessed.  But as usual the execution sells the moment, and the timing and circumstances (beating the crap out of Karl while knee-deep in a pond) of Ignacio’s coming out party (even if it was via narration) were pretty effective.

There’s a tendency with this series not to tell the audience much.  That’s fine to a point, but we’re only two episodes from the end now and we’re only just finding out who Ignacio is.  We still don’t really know why Isla is where it is doing what it’s doing, and why the Waterfall at the End of the Universe is so damn important, or who the Sky Clan are.  We can infer certain things based on the scraps of information we get, and sometimes be on the mark – but I think Toaru Hikuushi would have been better served to lay out the stakes in plainer terms earlier in the story.  It’s executed the “what” part pretty well, but struggled with the “why”.

I continue to be amazed at the sheer incompetence of Isla’s military leadership, and I’m glad to see that finally having a real impact on the minds of the characters.  When Melze demands that the students go out on a suicide mission to escort their observation plane during the next Sky Clan attack, Bandareas and Palez both snap – in quite different ways.  Sonia, in fact, quits the military on the spot rather than carry out the order – and she appeals to the surviving students to evacuate with the civilians rather than follow it themselves.  That’s the sort of thing that can get you a date with a firing squad during wartime, and it took considerable guts for her to do so – but not all of the students are of a similar mind.

Here’s where the episode totally lost me, though.  I hated pretty much every moment of the next few minutes – the leaden, hackneyed speeches by the boys, the simpering of the girls, and most of all the incredibly sexist way it all played out.  When Mitsuo died and Chiharu survived I had the same thought briefly, but that was one time – this is now a pattern.  The girls all tearfully stay behind while the brave boys go off to give their lives, ordering them to come back safe from their suicide mission – I mean, seriously?  I’m of the view that none of the students should have gone, personally, given that the entire scenario was set up by the incompetence of their leaders and they didn’t stand to be of much use anyway – but even if you buy Noriaki (who seems to be acting mostly out of guilt about Mitty’s death) and Karl’s reasoning here, to have it play out like something from the 30’s left a very bad taste in my mouth.  I’m surprised the girls didn’t promise to have a nice hot meal waiting when the boys came back from the fight.

Well, that is what it is, and there’s nothing to be done about it.  And the rest of the ep was fine – as usual, the combat scenes were quite good.  I was especially pleased to see Ignacio actually fighting with a proper weapon, though his ridiculous skill with it might test realism somewhat.  My greatest hope at this point is that the last couple of episodes give some meaning to all this carnage.  I’d like to see this series placed in context with the larger mythology, and the reasons why the story has played out as it has fleshed out in considerably more detail.  More realistically, though, if we have a definitive conclusion for Karl and Claire I’d consider that coming out ahead of the game.

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  1. K

    What is not said but implied is that Ignacio's mom is a prostitute – even worst, she might not be a willing participant…

  2. R

    well, that was a waste.

    really, i don't get why they have to throw in ignacio's backstory this late. doesn't really build up his character the way it should. and i find it odd how speaks about kal "stealing claire's dream of flying" when he himself wasn't shown to care about that earlier.

    and while i am a fan of building up side characters, i don't like it being done this late in the series. Benji' and noriaki seem to have been built up here purely to create drama (or melodrama) as the next ones to go. heck all of the side characters seem to be built up only for them to die the next scene.

    and what of claire? this episode could have been dedicated to exploring her feelings further after she made that decision to reveal her identity to kal, but no, she showed up in only two or three scenes. there isn't even a full exploration of why she wanted to attend flight school in the first place.

    i think this could have been handled a lot better if it were given two cours instead of one.

  3. S

    I already gave up taking this series seriously after this "Ari-Men" stuff and the ridiculous dogfight scenes. All I hope is that the story comes to an interesting conclusion.

    In "The princess and the pilot", which takes place in the same universe, the concept about war and injustice is for my taste portrayed in a much more refined way.

  4. B

    Yeah the whole "you go watch the kitchen" thing got on my nerves too, i wonder if i'll see the day when anime grows out of its childish sexism.
    On another note when Noriaki had the vision of Mitsuo i just had to scream "Mufasa!"

  5. R

    more like "Yoda" to me 🙂

  6. H

    I also got kinda grumpy the way the characters ended up evenly spilt on gender lines at the end, while I do feel like the story has built up good reasons for why the girls stayed behind (on an individual level, we know Chiharu and Ari aren't up for fighting and it's no surprise that Sharon and the last girl are terrified) it just rubbed me the wrong way, especially since the black haired guy was clearly supposed to be having a moment where he's terrified but does the right thing for his country anyway and yet, we just don't /know/ him well enough for it to have any kind of emotional resonance. Just so so frustrated with the way the show ended up using it's early episodes for silly little stories that didn't really flesh out the characters after all, this is going to be a really disappointing ending at this rate.

  7. w

    I know I shouldn't have laughed, but there was something about the way Noriaki saw Mitty's face in the clouds that I found just hilarious. Also, it felt to me that during the battle Nori was acting like he was the main character of this series. In a way I feel like that's how all characters in any series should act, but it comes off as a little strange.

    Why bother having the Cadets be 50/50 male to female if you're just going to shove all the girls into a kitchen? Completely undermines the way the series has presented women to us thus far..

  8. m

    Haha you're spot on with the assessment of the sexism in this show (and anime in general). It's so prevalent, in fact, that since I've never been to Japan (but have heard they're more old fashioned in the gender roles department than we are) it makes me wonder many times just how bad it is for women over there. Whenever a character is referred to as wife material in an anime she usually is soft spoken and subservient, and more often than not really annoying as a character. Is this really what it's like in Japan, or is this just an anime trope? It's to the point where I see this and other negative women characters and think "are all anime created by stereotypes of otakus who've never met or dated a girl before?" It has the feeling of being written by someone who was slighted by a woman and now is just making characters that he would like to date: subservient, good cook, listens to men, needs protection, and other ridiculous qualities.

    Also what's with that ridiculous reaction from Ignacio of "Dad liked your mom more so I'm going to make you suffer" with no outward expression of anger at his Father? You can MAYBE play that off as him being a jealous kid who just went through some really awful experiences, (how did he know his mom was a prostitute when he was too young to understand what sex is?) but to become a young adult and still blame someone who was a child and didn't have anything at all to do with it is dumb. It has that forced feel of a Disney movie wicked stepmother/stepsister. He even got his revenge, in every single way he was imagining, and still was angry at oblivious Kal.

    And yet just as you said I still keep watching this show and remain entertained. Though it has slowly been losing me since the arimen episode.

  9. Well, in the rankings that just came out Japan was 127th in the percentage of women in politics – behind the likes of North Korea. So yes, there's some work to do in that department. It's not as bad in RL as it is in anime, but there's no denying that Japan as a whole still takes a far more "traditional" view of gender roles.

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