Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 10

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Ignacio Axis remembers being a useless burden to his mother after they were were evicted from the palace. This episode opens with the sad tale of his wretched childhood, not just to sympathize with the guy a little, but because it shows that he played the hand he was dealt. So he struggled and strove for years to become useful…and succeeded. Then we segue to Ignacio beating the stuffing out of Kal-el.

No doubt Ignacio has been motivated for years by hatred of the emperor and the price who had things so easy, but Ignacio disgusted with Kal-el’s attitude because it reminds him of the useless boy he was. Only Kal-el isn’t a boy, and under the circumstances has no right to give up and shut down, not even acknowledging what Ari’s going through. When Ignacio finally leaves him alone, Kal-el, thoroguhly tenderized, has scarcely a minute to think about the hand he’s dealt when the air raid sirens spool up.

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The trainee pilots are once again conscripted by Melze, who doesn’t really have any other choice, after squandering so much of his force in the last battle. An observation plane needs escorts, and the kids know how to fly, so in they go. Rodrigo and Sonia are having none of it; Rodrigo tires to physically force the planes from being prepped, and Sonia flat-out quits the military and gives the students not an order, but a request, that they evacuate with the other civilians. Many of the students go, and not for a second did we blame them.

We know everyone who stays, and they all have their reasons. Noriaki’s still sore about how his last words to Mitsuo were an insult; Benji wants to prove to Sharon, whom he loves, that he’s stronger than her (and can thus protect her, we imagine). Ari would go, but she’s injured. And then Kal shows up, and decides to stop being useless. Right on queue, Ignacio shows up to be his gunner. Due to the events of the last battle, we were inclined to believe no one, save Kal, was a sure thing to come back alive.

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While we’ll grant that all four of the guys have reasons to go, it’s disappointing none of the pilots going into battle are women. Ariel may be injured, but we thought for sure some combination of Sharon, Chiharu, and Nanako would man a third plane…and yet they stayed behind. It just seemed like an odd choice to have all the guys go and all the ladies stay. That being said, the gender sorting was followed by another thrilling white-knuckle battle, this time in the daylight.

We won’t critique the specific military tactics employed here; this show never let on it was a hard military procedural, but it’s fantastic at creating incredibly tense, visceral scenes up in the sky, like the sudden pan onto the Luna Barco with her barely-adequate flak cannons abaze. Part of that is the stark contrast between the trained, seasoned enemy pilots in their sleek, fierce planes and the trainees in their, er…less sleek training planes. Noriaki, Benji, and Kal are all scared, but they play the hand they’re dealt. Maybe they’ll get lucky.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 08

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As intense and harrowing as the last episode was, it was but the first taste of what was to come this week. We don’t know what’s gotten into this show, but we like it. It brings the hammer down hard on everyone this week, and a ton of characters get knocked off. Last week took a very telegraphed outcome and totally sold it with the execution; this week, the only thing we were relatively sure of is that our main couple would survive; for everyone else—Ariel and Ignacio included—all bets were off.

The sudden assault of Isla by air and land of the mysterious enemy forces with very modern and competitive weaponry causes different reactions in different trainees; some hunker down and rise to the occasion, Mitsuo and Chiharu. Others’ hands shake, or their resolve wavers, and who can blame them? By any measure, they’re not ready for full-on combat against an older, wiser foe. But for the likes of Ari and Kal would rather be unready than dead, and fight their goddamn hearts against dreadful odds.

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There’s only so much they can do in their training aircraft, and one by one they’re picked off, the show totally uninterested in pulling punches. Before we know it, Kal and Ari are the last ones in the air, surrounded by superior force. And then Ari takes a bullet to the shoulder, and all seems lost. In this moment, Kal starts to lose it, pleading for Ari to wake up, but he doesn’t stop piloting the plane, and doing an incredible job of it. Ultimately, he buys just enough time for a blue fighter to turn up and waste the last of the enemy before disappearing into the night. It may have been a bit of deus ex machina, but it’s a welcome ray of hope in a series that has washed much of its hope away, along with its innocence.

There are allies out here, not just foes. The dogfighting throughout is really riveting, occasionally lyrical stuff (setting aside the fact the enemies don’t have the best aim). Clearly the show had been holding back with its budget for these past two episodes. But most satisfying is that when the spotlight turned back onto Kal, Ari, Claire and Ignacio, they didn’t disappoint in their scenes. Kal and Ari’s sibling interactions during and after the battle were a highlight. Barely surviving a hellish battle in which many of their friends died tends to bring people closer together.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 07

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It may not have the best production budget, but damn, this show knows what it’s doing, delivering a fiercely emotional, thrilling, heartbreaking outing; the best of its run so far and definitely one of the top ten episodes of the season. Even more impressive is that its quartet of main characters—Kal-el, Ariel, Claire, and Ignacio—were literally on the sidelines the entire time, eager to do their part but barred by orders from ever doing so.

It’s amazing what one episode can do for your opinion of two people, but last week, we really connected with Mitsuo and Chiharu. Of course, we also knew that the fact they were laying the happiness between them on so thick was essentially setting one or both of them up for death. The episode makes no secret of the fact these young lovers could well be doomed. Hell, the title is “A Glorious Death.” Whether it’s Mitsuo or Chiharu or both, someone’s dying. We know, and the show knows we know.

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But here’s the thing: even with all the telegraphing and death flags, when it actually goes down, it still hits us like a ton of bricks. The show seems to know it was going to do so, and that’s why it was never coy. It did a hell of a job quickly establishing a romance and then snuffing it out in the cruelest way possible. And let’s not beat around the bush: their military superiors fuck up royally. Had Leopold Melze been less of a short-sighted, arrogant fool, Mitty would still be alive. Not to mention de Alarcon and Cervantes don’t even try to tell him how to do his job, even though they both smell an ambush.

The ineptitude of the brass matters not to Mitsuo and Chiharu. When something doesn’t feel right, Mitty tells Chiharu to climb higher. The tiny glimmer in the clouds he spots turns out to be a huge, advanced enemy fleet. Though they’re only trainees, they both realize they have to fire flares at the enemy in order to give their bombers light. They know it could mean their death, but they do their duty anyway. That makes them both heroes, but Mitsuo is simply a little less lucky than the girl he loves, convincing her to eject when he takes a couple bullets.

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After their plane blows up, Chiharu’s spotted by enemy fighters, and while she hangs there helplessly as they mercilessly bear down on her, our hearts sank as it looked for a moment like the show was going to take her too. She’s only saved because Banderas and Sonia disobeyed orders. She lands softly in the cockpit and collapses into Banderas’ arms, her love gone forever in the blink of an eye. It’s sudden, brutal, and unfair. It’s war.

We can’t overstate how riveting and moving this episode was, highlighting unbridled incompetence at the top of the military ladder, but uncommon greatness at the very bottom. The meekest of the trainees was the one who didn’t waver when it mattered, saving everyone. What’s more distressing is that he only saved them for a time; a massive enemy force is nearing Isla, compelling Kal-El, Ariel, Noriaki and Wolfgang to take off and enter the fray. They have a tough act to follow.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 06

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A cold open entices us with the grandeur and awe of finally arriving at the Holy Spring, which moves Claire to tears and Makes Kal wish his folks were alive to see the sight. But from there the episode ratchets down the adventure and returns us to Isla, where the students run a restaurant, of all things, capitalizing on Ariel’s superior culinary skills.

While we were a little annoyed at the exploration of the Holy Spring—and the clashes with the Sky Clan that are sure to accompany it—we eventually settled in to the slice-of-life that may comprise some of the last happy times everyone has together as a group before…things go down. The apprehension of those who’ve heard rumors spreads, but everyone works so hard, they forget about those coming troubles.

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It was also an opportunity to take stock in the various relationships that are forming: the quiet bond between Ariel and Ignacio; more of the usual Kal and Claire flirting; and the romance between Chiharu and Mitty, who have a sweet little scene. Anything to make these pilots more likable was fine with us, as the aforementioned conflict to follow will carry more weight the more characters we care about.

We also get some time at the “adults table”, learning Luis and Juan go way back, and that the instructors are understandably not happy that their students will be used for recon missions when the sky clan is sure to attack. They may have inferior planes and armaments, but they’re still a foe resolved to stop what they must see as an Incursion by Isla. And the kids are still kids.


Rating: 6 (Good)