「ランカスター再び」 (Rankasuta Futatabi)
“Return to Lancaster”
The girls are back to the place that started it all, as we enter what seems to be AKB0048’s final arc. And what a dramatic way it is to enter this last arc in such a manner! This episode threw out the developments left and right as the show starts setting itself up for what seems to be a grand finale concert on Lancaster, also the Kenkyuusei’s very first official performance.
On the 00 front, the major events were undoubtedly in Nagisa getting a solo for the performance – which is, curiously enough, called Nagisa no Cherry (Seaside Cherry) – and the understudies getting their own song as well, Yume wa Nando Demo Umarekawaru (Dreams are Forever Reborn), which has been serving as the show’s ED.
The question here is of course on why Nagisa was chosen. No, I’m not discounting the artistic cues or meta-logic, but rather, it is a questioned posed within the context of the story. Having Nagisa perform the Center Nova promotion solo is a rather arbitrary decision when she has largely been one of the more average performers, especially when even the characters noted comparisons to standouts like Chieri or Kanata. No doubt the fact that Chieri’s Kirara glows in response to her has some measure of influence, but are the mysterious S-Quadruaple and succession Kiraras still pulling the strings, or is it Tsubasa’s own agenda at work here after she confirmed the Kirara’s reaction in the previous episode? In any case, the girl is now a shoo-in for the succession of the Maeda Atsuko role, something which people have been suspecting since the start of the show. But what exactly is it about Nagisa that relates her to this vague title? The anime has done little to give us a proper exposition on the Acchan character, and I still can’t quite connect this passive girl that wants everyone to get along to the person that basically amounts to the heart of AKB, both in the context of the anime and reality. (Or is that the connection right there? That Nagisa is suppose to be the core that connects AKB?)
Speculation aside, what I did like about this particular development was the way it is executed, and the consequences that resulted. The decision to give Nagisa the solo is met with appropriate cynicism not just from her peers but also from herself, as Nagisa struggles with the arbitrary expectations placed upon her and the knowledge that there were better choices than her for this role. Even Chieri, the one person who believes Nagisa to be the better idol, cannot seem to connect the disparate nature of Nagisa’s unconfident behaviour with her own ideals of an idol, and becomes extremely cynical about it. It’s easy to empathise with Chieri here because I myself am questioning if Nagisa truly deserves the role in the place of other characters that have been established with much stronger ambitions and motivations. For one of these characters, we see from Yuuko an open hostility quite unlike anything we’ve seen before in the show, as she is passed up not only for the Center Nova solo, but as a successor, also for 00’s newest song in years. Playing on the competitive nature we’ve seen from 00, these snippets lend considerable weight to the magnitude of this arbitrary decision and its cascading effects, the result being something truly engrossing to watch.
There was a clear focus on Nagisa this episode even as the setting changed over the Lancaster, as we’re given a look at how much the situation on the mining planet has changed since the girls left the planet. Disregarding the color swaps that mark a clear change in tone from episode 1, Lancaster is (and I find this as weird to say as it is) even bleaker than what it was before, with some major Big-Brother vibes going for it. The planet is largely under the control of DES, and what little resistance remaining appears to be in pockets of the administration and the hollowed out ruins of the Lancaster trio’s old school. For those of you (Okay, let’s face it. It was all of us.) who predicted that Mamoru, Yuuka’s “friend”, was going to reappearkas a DES soldier for some assured melodrama, surprise! AKB0048 pulled a fast one on all of us, and the guy is now a staunch wota and Suzuko fan. Cue jealousy hijinks!
The heart of the matter is of course squarely on Nagisa, who finds out that her father has been arrested because of her associations with 00, and that she is largely the reason for the presence of DES on her home planet. The girl is already in an emotional flux thanks to 00, and here we have news that throws her further into turmoil. AKB0048 just loves trolling with them girls, don’t they? With the next episode seemingly setting up a reunion between father and daughter, I’m interested to see where the show plans to take Nagisa emotionally, and if she can somehow prove herself to truly deserve the promotion song.