「ガーディアンズ・ハンマー/next phase」 (Gādianzu Hanmā)
If I could have picked any series to go on a two-week hiatus, AO definitely wouldn’t have been it. But it’s surprising how quickly everything came flooding back once the episode started. I still have no idea what’s happening, but at least I know what I have no idea about.
To thine own BONES be true, I guess. It seems in many ways that Astral Ocean is the series where they’ve found their identity again – this is the first show in a few years that’s really felt like a BONES show to me. That means it’s confusing yes, sometimes maddeningly so. But it also means it’s full of the kind of adventure and energy that used to fuel a lot of classic anime (and there may be no better example than E7 itself), along with an intellectual streak that drives the show to ask a lot of questions it may not always be ready to answer. If it bites off more than it can chew occasionally, that’s classic BONES too – and the difference between AO and the original E7 in that respect is one of coherence. Both series had me scratching my head at this point, but here I believe I’m supposed to be – with E7 I often felt as if it was simply a matter of needing an editor to weed out a lot of irrelevant chaff that was confusing the issue. Soon AO is going to have to start providing answers – but I think it’s done a better job setting up a scenario for the pieces to fit together in a logical way when it does.
Of course, this being BONES, they could just leave us with an ending that basically answers nothing and leaves us hanging – but I don’t expect that to happen. We’ll see if my faith will be rewarded, but an episode like this gives me a lot of hope. Setting aside the larger questions, on its own terms the episode was superb – perfectly paced, with a gradual build of tension and an internally logical story that was perfectly easy to follow, even if we don’t know yet how it fits the bigger picture. #16 was the natural apex of the political threads that have been brewing for the entire series (it did have a “final episode” feel, as Elena says). We have GenBleu and the Americans lining up as one axis, with Japan on the other – with the issue of the Secrets the center of the conflict. It’s two competing philosophies at war – with the one side proclaiming Secrets as the greatest threat to mankind and needing to be eliminated, the other that they’re our saviors, our universe’s “immune system”. The opposing viewpoints couldn’t be more irreconcilable, or the stakes more clear.
Except for this: we have no idea which side is right, and not only that, we have no idea whether either (or both, or neither) believes they’re right, or is merely doing what they are for ulterior political motives. And internally, we have the issue of the power poles in GenBlue, with Stanley working behind Christophe’s back – what does he mean when he says GenBleu was a company “created for the quartz”, and what is the interest of “Big Blue World” (GenBleu’s financial backers) that Blanc “should have notified” before he launched Operation Polaris? As for the operation itself, here again is an example of excellent storytelling in AO that achieves a clarity E7 sometimes lacked – we know exactly what the plan is and how it’s the be carried out. Simply put, use the mass of quartz gathered on the satellite to lure the Secret to the North Pole using a descending orbit, with the IFO teams to provide support – then blow ‘em up good. Except the Japanese aren’t keen to let this happen, and either the Soviets (Soviets? In 2025? Yet more proof this isn’t our world) double-crossed the Allied forces or their missile defense systems were hacked by the Secret and their Japanese allies.
Against this backdrop we also have Ao continuing to suffer through an identity crisis of his own. Simply put, he’s a bright but naïve kid who’s seen his belief system cut out from under him. He thought he was fighting the good fight but now isn’t sure, and can’t even be sure of his own identity. Without an anchor he continues to be sleepless, relying on Gazelle’s pills – which seem to be giving him blackouts and strange dreams to boot. A secret comes to him in a dream, apparently communicating Eureka’s message that they aren’t his enemies. His mother comes to him, telling him that she – and he – were born of the scub, before transforming into Naru. She tells him she’s becoming one with it, and to “protect the scub”, before stealing his first kiss. And then, when Ao wakes, he’s expected to go and destroy the Secret. It’s no wonder Ao has trouble sleeping.
Speaking of Naru, when she isn’t rounding first base in Ao’s dreams she’s now in a Nirvash of her own, doing battle with the Secrets (all of which are taking humanoid form by now, by the way) above Iwato Island. The trump card for the episode, though, comes at the very end, after Ao jumps in to complete the Polaris operation when the Soviet missiles send the quartz capsule off course – now likely to impact in Scandinavia, where the explosions is likely to wipe out much of the population in addition to the Secrets – and Elena and Fleur have done all they can. Ao makes the decision to believe in the mission and help destroy the Secret, but as he’s carrying the satellite towards the North Pole the quartz transforms into some sort of weapon – a weapon which Nirvash (seemingly more or less autonomously, though with the boy’s blessing) uses to destroy the pursuing Secrets. All is seemingly well, assuming you believe that was the right thing to do – except that after the explosion, no one has heard of Team Goldilocks and Ao is told that no one has lived in Vester, Norway (Chloe’s home town) for centuries.
I wish I could tell you I knew what to make of that, but it was a twist that caught me by surprise. It certainly supports the theory that there are alternate universes at work here and not just time travel, and what’s interesting is that as far as we can see, nothing else has changed (though that could be disproved next week). Everyone knows who Ao is, and no one else seems to have disappeared. Everyone remembers the mission, and GenBleu is still in Switzerland. Were Goldilocks and the Norwegians somehow sent by Nirvash’s quartz weapon to an alternate timeline, or universe? Being as how the weapon seems to be made of quartz that certainly seems possible, given what we know of its properties. If the AO universe is false, as Truth attests, perhaps the weapon sent Goldilocks (and maybe all of Norway) into a “real” universe – the E7 universe? Remember that Ao was close to the Vester coral plant when he used the weapon – perhaps the weapon has a some of near-field effect of neutralizing the illusion that holds this AO universe in place. Or maybe the weapon simply prevented a scub burst from ever having happened at Vester, and therefore the Goldilocks girls never became pilots at all because they weren’t “infected” by growing up near trapar. Remember Gazelle only says there’s no record of them as GenBleu employees – not that they don’t exist at all. And Chloe does show up in the preview.
One last thought on the mysteries – it’s not impossible for Truth and the Japanese to both be right. Perhaps the Secret really are antibodies protecting the AO universe against foreign agents – but as a false universe, they’re merely protecting a false reality and suppressing the truth. In which case, which POV has the moral high ground? In any event I think this was a splendid episode on dramatic terms and beautifully animated, and it was full of nice little touches like Christophe’s slam on American coffee. Or, even better, Elena’s tribute to the original E7 when she told Ao that Fleur “drew on his willy” while he was asleep (embarrassing for both even if not true, especially given what was happening in Ao’s dream just before he woke up). I’m perfectly content not to have all the answers yet both because I find AO fabulously entertaining, and because I have no sense that’s it’s screwing me around for the sake of doing so – I still sense that all the pieces are going to link up, and everything that’s happening is part of a master storytelling plan. I may be going to Hell in a bucket, but at least I’m enjoying the ride.