「大断層」 (Dai Dansou)
“The Great Fault”
Ah, the third stratum. Mostly just a gaping hole in the ground ringed by sheer cliffs, and if one only cared to reach the bottom I can see an obvious, if unwise, shortcut. Regardless, Riko and Reg manage to breeze through the level quite quickly in a single episode. The minutiae of the journey, though, does not seem to be this week’s main point. The highlight is that this is the episode where Riko is forced to fly solo.
So far, Riko’s quest for the bottom of the Abyss has gone uncommonly well. This is a place where seemingly everything can kill you, even the fluffy ones if they’re determined enough. When we first began, Riko was just a common Red Whistle, and 12 years old to boot. She owes a large part of her success, no doubt, to the aid of her humanoid superweapon. It’s strong, virtually indestructible, and has a get-out-of-gaol-free card that only requires a two-hour recharge. As far as team dynamics go, he sure does seem to pack a lot more oomph. One has to wonder, sometimes, whether he will actually do better if he didn’t have to play bodyguard for the impulsive Riko. So an episode like this is a good chance for Riko to demonstrate what she brings to the team.
Riko obviously has some knowledge of the Abyss and its fauna and flora, at least more than the amnesiac Reg. And while she has an uncanny ability to find trouble, at least we know that she’s not incapable of getting out of it herself. While she does show that she’s not completely physically inept, though, she still can’t really vie for an equal role to Reg in the partnership, and for the most part, doesn’t. Their relationship is framed more as a harmonious balance, with Reg being a ball of doubt despite his immense power, and Riko being the confident will that drives their expedition despite being completely lacking in power. And thus her main obstacle of the episode, the Curse, while physically debilitating is largely a mental challenge.
Many stories have a chapter like this, in which our protagonist is confronted with with some temptation or deception that threatens to lead them astray. It is an essential part of the archetypal Hero’s Journey, where our hero (well, heroine, to be gender specific in this case) is confronted with an internal struggle between their quest and baser desires. The Curse is handy for this purpose, since it’s largely some magical thing that can inflict whatever supernatural affliction upon our protagonist as necessary. It is no simple hallucination. You’d think that whatever brain fever that would have cooked up this illusory happy ending for Riko would have included Reg just as easily, and if this was all a figment of Riko’s mind I would expect him to be there. But he isn’t. So more than simple delirium, this is a trial, where Riko is tempted with friends, comfort, and success. And she almost succumbs. Perhaps this is the kind of mental strain that makes the White Whistles so broken, having the Curse constantly offer them their greatest desires and always having to throw them away.
But with some empathy and the power of friendship (or the power of furious shipping), she passes and is, in a way, ‘allowed’ to enter the fourth stratum. It’s a great achievement, but we’re still not even half-way there. And the Curse only gets nastier as we go. This is not the last we’ve seen of its antics, I’m sure.