I think the seeds of Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen’s commercial failure were sewn right from the beginning, and right up to the final whistle this was a series that never really had a chance. This was the only sort of finale the show could have staged and still been consistent with the show it’d been all along, yet it’s emblematic of why Argevollen never had a prayer with most fans. It’s just not the kind of series that goes for the flash and gratification, because if it did that would be a betrayal of its core message.
Historically speaking, this is how most wars end – not with a bang, but a whimper. They aren’t won in a flash of heroics, but rather tend to sort of peter out slowly, with isolated skirmishes and backroom deals between weary bureaucrats against a backdrop of a populace sick of shortages and air raids. In short, the climax is generally pretty anti-climactic – and since Argevollen has been striving from the beginning (I would argue mostly with success) to offer a realistic take on warfare that just happened to have mecha, it figures that its conflict would end the same way. The problem, of course, is that it’s not an overly dramatic way to close a series.
In practical terms, I was pretty satisfied with the way things ended up because what seemed quite confusing actually ended up sort of making sense. In effect it seems everything playing out was a plot by Samonji and Izumi (with considerable help from Quasimodo, as expected) to double-cross Cayenne, wiping out his army and allowing Samonji the martyr’s death he so obviously craved. The only part of it that was foiled, really, was Samonji’s suicide attempt, thanks to the Eighth. But he almost got his wish anyway, because Cayenne seemed about ready to pull the trigger when he confronted Samonji after the battle.
If there was a standout moment in this episode, it was when Suzushiro popped a cap on Cayenne’s ass. And not so much because Cayenne was a true SOB and he got the ending he deserved, but for the dynamic between Samonji and Suzushiro – for the look she gave him, and the astonished one he returned. It said everything that needed to be said without anyone saying a word – Suzushiro’s condemnation of Samonji’s self-loathing and attachment to the past. Her heartbreak and disgust that he’d throw away a chance at happiness to try and kill himself to pay a debt to a dead woman. And her resolve that no matter how foolish and selfish he’d been, she was still going to save him from himself – because her love was far more selfless and clear-headed than his. Suzushiro was hardly a standout character over the course of two cours, but she had the best final act.
As for the other major couple of the series (and I’m not talking about Lorenzo and Akane – “Pasta!”), things are pretty open-ended. But I’d argue there’s hope for Tokimune and Jamie, especially given that it was her he saw when he rebooted Argevollen. She’s out of a job but in possession of a huge severance package – “three zeroes” too big according to Suguru, whose most decent act in the series was his last – and no longer a part of Unit Eight. But it seems implicit that she and Tokimune are closer than ever now, and I think there’s a lot of reason to think they’ll get closer still. And was Reika really a ghost in the machine all along, Ikari Yui fashion? That, too, is left open-ended – and given the generally realistic tone of the series, probably wisely so.
Why is Jamie out of a job? Because with Samonji’s Fascinator Brigade destroyed, peace has broken out and Kybernes has gone bankrupt. And Suguru himself has gone bankrupt, thanks to a surprise present presumably from Quasimodo. Again, couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, but for now at least Vitriveld lives on, and will presumably be looking for ways to undercut the fragile peace and get the war re-started. Lorenzo has evaded death flags so obvious they were even acknowledged in the narrative. And Samonji is the first Arandas officer to go to Ingelmia as part of an intelligence exchange – which leads us to an event which always seemed momentous and inevitable, the meeting between he and Holmes. The two smartest guys in the room don’t hook up until the final shot of the series – which somehow also seems classically Argevollen.
If Argevollen had been a sandwich, there’s no doubt the filling would have been tastier than the bread. I saw potential in this series from the beginning, but it was in the middle-third where Argevollen really hit its stride. There was a run of episodes that peaked right around the start of the second cour that was truly excellent, but even if the ones before and after weren’t on that level, I still rank it as a pretty successful series in artistic terms. The start and finish were inconsistent, but the show never sold out – it never took the cheap and easy route, and I respect it for that.
In the final analysis I view Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen as a series that tried to re-cast the mecha anime as a much more direct allegory for real-world warfare. As I mentioned earlier in the run the narrative style of the show was closer to an HBO mini-series than an episodic anime. And the minutiae of war – the boredom, the logistical challenges, the economic root causes, the strain on relationships – was more important than the mecha battles and the grand military strategizing. War, most of the time, is a preventable result of greedy and short-sighted actions by fools and profiteers. And Argevollen took it upon itself to tell us that without a whole lot of sizzle and embellishment. Looked at that way, I think making the series Xebec made here took a lot of guts, and while it may have flopped commercially by refusing to pander to mainstream anime tastes, there was a lot that was worthwhile here for those with the patience and perspective to stay with it.