「ワールド・トゥ・ワールド/rising sun」 (Wārudo Tu Wārudo)
“World 2 World”
If I really thought this was the penultimate episode of Astral Ocean, I’d be very worried. As long as that’s not the case I think it served its purpose quite admirably.
AO has followed what’s actually a pretty common pattern for sci-fi anime, despite all the criticism it’s received. It story started small, then got very big – and if it follows the pattern to the end, it should get small again. And I hope it does, because in order for the ending to work all of the incredibly complex threads that Aikawa Shou has sewn over the first 21 episodes have to be tied together by Ao. The story needs to focus on he, Fleur, Elena – Naru is still an open question – and their personal situations, not just the geopolitics of the story. I can think of very few shows that have depicted global politics and diplomacy in such Byzantine detail as this one, but the power of the ending is going to have to come from the core characters. We saw evidence this week that things are headed in that direction, and if there really are three eps to go that should be enough time to bring things full circle, and tie Eureka and Renton into the picture as well.
There’s certainly plenty of politics in this episode, but more than in any other recent effort it’s seen mostly in terms of how it impacts the young characters at the heart of the show. Pied Piper is fully broken – as Fleur dons a suit and tries to play the part of teen CEO (and looks extremely uncomfortable in both) Ao is also somewhat adrift in his new role as a pilot in the Japanese Air Force, alongside fighter jets instead of LFOs. He’s taken under the “wing” of pilot Soga (Miyauchi Atsushi), who was the fellow we saw in the preview last week. His late wife was Okinawan and was killed along with their children by the great scub burst during her visit to her homeland, and he seems a kindly sort – he’s invited Ao into his home and showed him the wonders of Izakaya fare.
More than anything the episode focused on Elena, and seemed to more or less bring her arc to it’s logical conclusion – although there are bits and pieces that still don’t fit together yet. Of course she’s defected to the Allied side, and there seems to be no indication that she did so as a strategic move to help Pied Piper. She’s become completely obsessed with getting back to “her world”, and appears willing to do anything to make that happen. A visit from Astral Eureka seems to put aside any notion that she’s Ao’s sister, or even from Ao’s world – no, Astral Eureka tells her that she’s in the right world already – just the wrong time, as she’s from the past. It would be an understatement to say this displeases her – rather than gratitude to Eureka form saving her from a scub burst she’s fully entranced by the notion of that special world with the heart in the moon, and horrified at the notion of being “ordinary”.
That was a twist I hadn’t necessarily expected, and it casts her relationship with Ao in a new light – not just that she isn’t his sister or even from his timeline, but that she was likely jealous of his “specialness” and connection to Eureka all along. It seems likely now that she suspected the truth and had been denying it to herself, and once she’s spent her helpless rage against Eureka she turns it on Ao, who she encounters when both the JAF and Allies converge on a scub burst in Indonesia. What she’s really trying to do here it get Ao to use his big gun on her, despite the knowledge of what Eureka has told her – and poor helpless Ao only wants to know why she isn’t his friend anymore. As Nirvash acts under it’s own will to target Elena with the quartz gun, Maggie Kawn intervenes and buys time for Ao to win over Elena’s heart with the power of his still rather innocent affection – though whether she’ll be able to truly forgive him for being Eureka’s son and more special than she is remains to be seen. In any case I would assume that Tanaka and the Allies have let yet another Pied Piper cub slip away from their grasp.
A couple of other developments in the Allied camp seem flush with significance as well. First, Maggie seems to have retained some memories of the other universe – images of Team Goldilocks flash through her mind when she sees Elena in Kirie. And the existence of “Coral Carriers” is revealed – adults who are able to pilot IFOs because they’re infected with scub coral – something Stanley calls the “product of Big Blue World’s fruitful research”. This is also at the heart of Naru’s storyline, which gets a reboot as we see her at home for the first time in a while. Naru has emerged as a kind of activist in favor of co-existence with the Scub, and a sort of beacon for the infected “coral carriers” of the world – which has brought Naru to the attention of Mama Hannah, who’s trying to dig closer to the truth of the scub, and what Big Blue World was up to all along.
We certainly have larger issues still to settle, with the Secrets holding to their contract with Japan and attacking their brethren when they appear at scub bursts, and a worldwide growing movement seeming to rebel against the notion that the scub are enemies. So not only does Ao need to decide where he stands on that issue – with Naru or against her – but ultimately, perhaps, he’ll need to choose between his own world and this one, and in doing so between the mother he’s been chasing after and the friendship he declared to Elena was all-important to him (the 2nd ED certainly hints at this). Ao’s name is no coincidence, with “Generation Bleu” and “Big Blue World” references everywhere – it’s almost as if this world was created for his benefit. I’ve long believed that the finale would come down to Ao having to make a choice, and probably in doing so to find a third option when the two presented to him are unacceptable. Ao’s role is likely going to be to find the larger truth beyond choosing his parents or his friends, and beyond the Scub and the Secrets.
On the question of just when we’ll see all that happen, there was some good news this week in that Animax Asia for the first time showed scheduled airings of episodes 23 and 24 – let’s hope that means MBX has found a way to air them outside their normal timeslot and they’ll make their way into the world on schedule. As of now, we have no confirmation on MBX’ schedule, so I still treat this as circumstantial evidence, though it’s certainly more hopeful than what we’ve been dealing with up to now.