I would say this episode of Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii didn’t work quite as well as the previous three, though I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I think it’s pretty easy to say why, at least for my part. What I enjoy most about this series is the relationship between Livi and Nike – it’s the engine that drives everything else. The premise is very solid in a fairy tale sort of way, but premise and plot are not interchangeable terms, and when the show focuses heavily on plot as this episode did, something of a dilution of its charm seems to occur.
Hand-in-glove with that is the issue of pacing. It seems very likely that this is going to be a one-cour series, and while I haven’t read the source manga I know it has a lot more material than could reasonably be adapted in that time (and is ongoing). I heard complaints that earlier material felt rushed, but it didn’t play that way for me – this episode did. I think it’s easier to accelerate the pace in episodes where the key moments are all character-driven, but in one like this where a lot actually happens, the seeming attempt to rush through events is harder to disguise. Again, as always, YMMV.
Given all that , it’s no surprise I liked the first half of the episode a lot better than the second. There was some very nice character stuff, and the dilemma raised was quite realistic to medieval monarchical society – the tug-of-war between the King and the church manifesting itself in a challenge over his marriage plans. That was frequently the weapon state religions would use to strike out at the monarchy, and you have the added impulse here that Livi is a half-breed and a bit of a revolutionary. Marrying foreigners was indeed common in these European societies (upon which this mythology is transparently based) but it was a pretext the church could exploit when they so chose.
As indeed, they do here in the person of their leader Lani Aristes (the always compelling Namikawa Daisuke). He puts the kibosh on the wedding unless Nike is willing to undergo the dreaded “Illumination Ritual” where she retrieves a ring from the Sung God’s underground temple to exchange with Livi at their marriage ceremony. This is where things go a bit south for me. The ritual itself is pretty much a stock fantasy plot twist, and it feels a bit out of place. But it was also blazed through as whiplash-inducing speed, leading up to the predictable moment when it’s revealed that dangerous as this is, the church never intended to take the risk that the resourceful Nike might actually survive and win the challenge.
No, this was not a strong moment for Soredemo Sekai, but the scenes leading up to it were generally much better. I could have lived without the broadside of the Priest attempting to strike the humble peasant girl with his staff and the adorable orphan waif, but as usual the Nike-Livi dynamic was powerful. This is a relationship where the main driver of conflict is that both sides want to protect the other and not be a burden, and I find that incredibly refreshing. I like the way Nike is slowly learning about Livi (though almost never from his own lips) and discovering how different the true image is from the one he works so hard to project.
Nike is being true to herself throughout all this – somewhat foolhardy and headstrong in approaching the church herself, but determined not to be a burden. And Livi, recognizing the importance of this to her, ultimately relents without much of a fight and allows Nike to undertake the ritual (“Just don’t come back feral!”) despite the fact that it shows political weakness. This demonstrates two extremely important things – that he has faith in confidence in Nike, and that she’s become a top priority to him. Both in terms of the emotional and practical considerations this has become one of the more compelling relationships we’ve seen in anime for a long time, and the more that side of the series is in the spotlight the better show Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii is going to be.