Shisei tries to rally the townsfolk to fight back, but explosives beneath them are set off and queerats attack from underground. He holds them at bay, but when the fiend enters the town, his attention is divided. Saki and Satoru flee to the Temple of Purity, where a gift from Saki’s parents is waiting for her. But first, she and Satoru meet with Inui, whose unit was killed by the fiend, who was accompanied by queerats. Saki learns Yakomaru used Maria and Mamoru to conceive a fiend, the first in an army he will ultimately use to conquer the world.
Throughout the run of this excellent series, we have heard the narration of an old Saki, and what we are watching are her reminiscences The end has already been written, she just hasn’t shared it with us. But her presence above the story gets us thinking: what are her present circumstances? Is she on her deathbed, as we saw Tomiko last week? Is she in some kind of purgatory or afterlife, with ample time to tell the story of her life? Is she the last human alive who isn’t a fiend made by Yakomaru by foul craft? Part of us is immensely curious about her, because things are going so far downhill, she risks backing herself into an impossible corner.
It’s bad enough there’s a fiend on the loose, and it is somehow being controlled by the queerats as their secret weapon (akin to a nuke, really). But far more twisted is that this is unquestionably (judging by the hair and eyes) a child of Saki’s friends. We shudder to think whether they had a say in matters or not, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t. As for Yakomaru’s plan to steal infants and use them as material to breed domesticated fiends – well, it’s despicable beyond belief, but in his belief (and that of his loyal soldiers), it’s an eye for an eye.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
Saki and Satoru manage to evade the fiend, but the next morning while on a makeshift raft, another monster appears that secretes explosive fog. Saki flies (or is flown) into the air to avoid the explosion, and is separated from Satoru. After mistaking Saki for a queerat, a teenage boy halts his attack and they return to the village, which has been burnt out by the explosive monsters. Saki is brought before an injured Tomiko, who officially leaves the care of the 66th district in Saki’s hands. As a fiend approaches, she orders everyone to disperse, leaving her behind.
When this series started with us following a group of tweens, the adults seemed like the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful force that controlled society and the world. Now a staggeringly cunnning and bitter queerat has instigated a brutal guerrilla war, and the adults prove almost totally unprepared. Only the strongest – and luckiest – among them escape the long night of slaughter, and they’re left battered and physically and mentally fatigued, which is exactly how Yakomaru wants when he sends in the explosive manatee creatures to scorch the picturesque village. This guy knows what he’s doing. The fact we haven’t seen him in some time adds to his dead mystique.
Most of the episode Saki is simply running, slowly floating, even flying for her life. The scene when she’s flying through the air, out of control, with the sky and earth constantly shifting position nicely illustrates the chaos she finds herself in. Worse still, her brief but powerful vision during this flight contains instances of people she knows almost warning her about exactly what is happening. With a maimed Tomiko staying behind to face the coming fiend (or whatever it is), Saki has been left in charge of what’s left of the district. It is a burden she never asked for, but only she may have the strength to bear it.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
Satoru reports to the joint committee heads that the Giant Hornets were completely annihilated by the Robber Flys. In light of very strange evidence, Shisei forms the theory that a human with a cantus destroyed the army. Tomiko refutes it’s either Akizuki Maria or Itou Mamoru, as she confirmed they were dead. At the summer festival, the Robber Flys, condemned to destruction, launch a surprise attack on the village, but Shisei eliminates them, removing his mask in the process. Tomiko vows to give Yakomaru a slow death.
The point when they queerats turn on their own gods came much more rapidly than we expected, and Yakomaru is almost certainly behind it all. There was always something about that rat’s eyes and in his weaselly words that we found unsettling. While he most certainly knows the surprise attack will fail, it is nevertheless a complex multi-layered assault full of feints and gambits designed to create maximum anxiety in the people, who had been previously enjoying their summer festival. Queerat infiltrators even disguised themselves as “monsters” (part of the festival) and handed out samples of poisoned sake.
Their assault may have been thwarted – and then some – by the awesome destructive power of the four-irised(!) Shisei, but the villagers are afraid, and that’s just what Yakomaru wants. Two committee heads are also dead: the most bombastic and overconfident head (who was playing a drum with his cantus when he was taken out by a queerat sniper) and the one head who called for the postponement of the festival until the Robber Flys were dealt with. Turns out that was a good call. Meanwhile, on this night when the dead return from the underworld, Saki has visions of her friends, whom Tomiko is positive they’re dead. But are they really?
Rating: 8 (Great)
In Saki’s 26th year, she is now a bureaucrat at what amounts to the Department of Queerat Control. Satoru, with whom she’d had a falling out not long ago, reports an unauthorized attack of one queerat colony by another. Saki gives a report to the village brass, and they call in the leaders of the two most powerful alliances: Kiroumaru and Yakomaru. They make no progress. Later, Saki and her colleague Inui are on hand to approve a battle between the Giant Hornets and the Robber Fly colony’s allies. That particular battle is won, but by day’s end the Giant Hornets are wiped out.
We’ve now seen Saki and Satoru grow from little kids playing with pottery in classrooms to responsible adults who now have active roles in the protection of mankind. That one more day the two had to save Maria and Mamoru evidently wasn’t enough, and at the moment, Satoru and Saki aren’t talking after a petty argument. It’s interesting that this chapter of Saki’s 26th year begins with the two on bad terms; we wouldn’t be surprised if Saki ultimately found Satoru unable to fill the void left by Maria (Saki seems to be reminded of her in a scene where only a single flower is colored), but nor is she above maintaining their friendship, and this new queerat incident is the perfect opening for that. But that’s not the focus of this episode.
Bottom line: the queerats (sorry, “exospecies”) are slowly but surely falling out of human control, and fast. You can’t help but fear that one day they’ll progress so far they will develop a means to counter the human cantus. Every word a queerat says – be it Yakomaru or Kiroumaru – contains a resentful undertone. Genetic predisposition towards loyalty is fading as their populations surge; and while humans have a nuclear option – annihilating any colony that opposes them – one wonders how such a violent and destructive action will affect them. Saki calls herself a “pencil pusher” but the queerats call her a shinigami (death god). Being a god ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Humans are, in many ways, gods. One wonders if there was a lesser species of sentient animal living among us (like queerats), that species would view us as such for all of the amazing things we can do that they can’t…even if we don’t have the power of telekinesis (some monks in Tibet may, we don’t know). In the New World, everyone has a cantus, which makes everyone a potential threat to everyone else. One person can become a district-swallowing fiend. Japan is a land of 60,000 potential nuclear bombs – weapons of almost limitless energy.
Mamoru and Maria are no different from anyone else. They want to live alone in the wilderness to be safe from harm, but if they were to become fiends, they would be the ones doing the harm, and they wouldn’t have a say in the matter. As such, both the Board of Education and Ethics Committee are treating them like missing WMDs. Chairman Tomiko has big plans and faith in Saki – indeed in all of Group One, originally – so she gives her a chance to bring the wayward friends back her own way.
This week, the total scale of Tomiko’s influence comes to light, when she tells Saki how old she is: 267 years, 170 of them as the Ethics Chief. Her longevity, and the resulting knowledge amassed in her head, are the source of her power. Because of the threat humans pose to one another, only the bare minimum are entrusted with knowledge. There must be people who are aware and free-thinking enough to make the tough choices and do the dirty work and protect the others. Tomiko has been that, and she intends for Saki to replace her.
Tomiko also easily sways the Board and its much younger leadership because she points out that they totally screwed up the whole “disposing of Mamoru” thing. That’s a factor of their impatience and inexperience, which is why they defer to her. Their reverence for her is palpable. Tomiko then vouches for Mamoru and Maria’s safety if they’re brought back. We don’t know how she can make that guarantee if Mamoru is truly headed to fiendsville, but in any case, the two aren’t where Saki and Satoru left them. They have three days.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Saki, Maria and Satoru set out to find Mamoru, who has a three hour head start on them. They follow sled tracks across the Holy Barrier, and find queerat tracks alongside it, possibly indicating a chase. The tracks end on the edge of a cliff, and they find the sled buried suspiciously deeply and neatly. They eventually come across a queerat hut, and Mamoru is inside, saved by Squonk, who they helped years ago. He said he had to run from the village because he was being hunted by tainted cats.
Poor Mamoru. Among those still alive in Team 1, he has the weakest Cantus, the weakest talents, and the weakest will. When Maria calls him “quiet and cooperative”, it sounds like a back-handed compliment. It also makes us think of the fiends Tomiko mentioned – how they were always suspected of harboring evil thoughts and such. Mamoru isn’t like them. No, he seems to be next in line for disposal because of what he knows. Information can be a sickness, and if he’s infected enough, he may snap just like a fiend, in spite of his natural disposition. It doesn’t help that his friends are all far superior to him in every way that matters (Cantus skiing and bunny hopping FTW!!), and are keeping secrets from him.
Like everything that happens in this series, something is fishy about the picture that is pieced together by Saki, Maria and Satoru with the tracks and clues they have. It would seem tainted cats were sent to Mamoru (must be fun having a teacher who is plotting to have you killed), causing him to flee in terror. But Saki remembers that queerats are one of the tools in the Ethics Committee’s arsenal. While Squonk is simply repaying kindness (and as he said, saving a god is in their nature), one can’t help but wonder if the Mamoru was simply supposed to quietly vanish, only he didn’t, because the Scooby Gang wouldn’t let him. He may be useless, but he’s still their friend, if anything were to happen to him, Maria may be next, as guilt over what she could’ve done to save him could consume her.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Saki is brought before Asahina Tomiko, head of the Ethics Committee,but she isn’t in trouble; on the contrary, Tomiko intends for Saki to one day succeed her. She overruled the Board of Educations plans to dispose of her for learning the truth, because her personality indexes indicate a high degree of mental stability required of a leader. Tomiko tells her the story of K, a boy who became a fiend twenty years ago, and Izumi, a girl who became a karma demon. As her eventual replacement, Saki will be responsible for dealing with future fiends or karma demons before they fully develop and consume what’s left of mankind. Mamoru goes missing, and Saki, Maria and Satoru go looking for him.
Despite having retained all of the knowledge and history relayed to her by the false minoshiro, the truths that Tomiko relays to Saki this week are still a lot to take in and endure. Essentially, humanity is on the edge of a precipice, and it is its own worst enemy. Fiends voluntarily use their Canti to kill indiscriminately, like a fox in a henhouse. Karma demons’ Canti leak and subconsciously pollute everything around them, even DNA. If either of these are allowed to crop up unchecked, they could easily push the rest humanity off that ledge. K, one of thirty documented fiends (all but two of them boys) killed 1,000 people in one day – no longer a drop in a bucket. Both Izumi and Shun destroyed entire villages, when only a handful remain. One day they were ordinary humans, the next, existential threats.
Saki, who’s seen and heard a lot and maintained her poise and sanity, is next in line for a very solemn but essential position in society: one who identifies those weak links that may flare up into fiends or karma demons, and stamp them out. However cruel it may seem to preemptively eliminate fellow human beings (through the use of tainted cats), considering the threats that will sprout up if they don’t, Tomiko would seem to have little choice. Watching her in the flashbacks as a nurse overcome by fear and dread and seeing her serene presence in the present, we see someone who has come to terms with that, and does not simply rule out of a desire for power and control, but to keep the human race, flawed as it may be (looking at you, Mamoru) alive. She does what must be done. And one day, she hopes so will Saki.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
The time comes for the school groups to pair off into boy-girl pairs for school duties, ceremonial preparation, and eventually, procreation. A handsome guy named Ryou tells Saki he’ll choose her, but she’s not so sure who he is. Ryou seems to have replaced Shun in everyone’s minds, but Saki and Satoru still remember him. Saki also finds a mirror with her sister’s name etched in, as well as the girl who was in their group years ago. Itou freaks out, and Maria tells Saki to drop it. She can’t give up, but she won’t bring it up again. Two officials from the Ethics Committee appear before them, and the three are brought to the committee’s head, Asahina Tomiko, starting with Saki.
Whatever methods the powers that be employ – be they the Ethics Committee or their bosses – to ensure the people remain blissfully ignorant and only believe and remember what they’re told, they simply haven’t worked on Saki. Aonuma Shun’s growing power, whether from ‘illness’ or ‘ascendance’ was an immediate existential threat to the almighty status quo, and it was dealt with by allowing him to self-destruct in isolation, then swept under the rug. But Saki’s power – that of intense, piercing curiosity and doubt – is far more insidious. One by one, it spreads to her three remaining friends, though they exhibit varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Saki gets things started. Satoru is willing to hear anything out. Maria is unnerved. Mamoru is terrified. This may also be the order from worst to best sense of self-preservation, because not long after the matter between the friends is more or less resolved, a couple of kind, friendly-looking adults shows up, essentially arresting Maria, Satoru, and Saki. Has the Ethics Committee finally had enough of Wantanabe Saki and her incessant digging? They may well wish to ‘purge’ or ‘dispose of’ her, but with all the nice manners, smiles, and insistence that ‘there’s no reason to be nervous’, they may have another use for her altogether – one even she can’t fathom.
Rating: 8 (Great)