「絶対魔獣戦線メソポタミア II」 (Zettai Majuu Sensen Mesopotamia II)
“Absolute Demonic Front Mesopotamia II”
Even the most adroitly written fiction is but a series of well-told lies. It is a a consensual deception, but a deception nonetheless, and almost all writing techniques boil down to ways to build and maintain a delicate illusion. This is especially true for fantasy, where any grounding in reality is voluntary and often an entire world has to be constructed from the ground up.
One trick to doing this well is to lay down a whole lot of rules. Turns out, our human psychology values consistency much more than reality. Let’s face it, we don’t really have an innate concept of what ‘is true’, just what ‘makes sense’. Not to get too political on your local anime blog, but our current media landscape quite aptly demonstrates that what is believable and what is factual are distant cousins at best, and are content to each go their own merry way. This is to the advantage of fantasy authors, though, who know that a firebreathing lizard bigger than a house yet still able to fly is entirely impossible in reality, but call it a dragon and everybody is cool with it in a fantasy setting, because we all know that the rule about dragons is that they fly, breathe fire, and kidnap maidens.
The key is to establish all the rules in advance, so the audience is never surprised by them. Established rules are precedent. New rules out of left field are inconsistencies. If you tell the audience in advance that dragons can only be slain by, say, silver swords, then they internalise that as part of your dragons ruleset. But, if later on your hero is forced to face a dragon without any silver, but manages to slay the dragon with, say, the power of song, then your audience is going to notice that a rule was broken. You could try to explain all you like after the fact that dragons also happen to be allergic to C sharp but the impression that the author contradicted themselves. It’s never good to have the audience feel like you’re just making stuff up. I mean, you are just making stuff up, but the illusion is that you’re not inventing the fantasy world, you’re revealing it, and the audience is happy to play along. When you break the rules of the game, it feels unsporting.
‘Unsporting’ is actually a decent way to think about it, because it really is like sports. That is, it’s all about following arbitrary rules. We’ve all agreed that we’re only going to kick the ball with our feet, and if somebody suddenly picks it up with their hands they’re cheating. However, it’s these arbitrary rules that makes sports compelling, both for players and for watchers. Knowing what the rules are also means we know what the win condition is and what the players need to do to achieve it, so their actions make sense and their displayed abilities seem suitably impressive.
My problem with the fight against Tiamat, then, is that at some point I lost track of what the rules were. Visually, I couldn’t really grok the fight at all. It’s a problem unique to fighting abstract monstrosities. I couldn’t really tell if there was any point to characters taking turns throwing attacks at Tiamat. I couldn’t really tell what affected her and to what degree. I wasn’t sure how our heroes intended to win other than stall until yet another deus ex machina was delivered. The fights against the lahmu were better, since they were still conventionally killable (as conventional as purple magic gets, anyway), but it was still often one set of vaguely defined powers vs another set of vaguely defined powers. And they were essentially infinitely spawning adds anyway, so one does get the impression that the characters of Babylonia were just filling in time until the plot told them they were allowed to win.
It’s not that the episode was without cool and enjoyable moments. But there were others that felt like they only happened because Nasu said so, rather than feeling like they were the logical conclusions of character actions. Ereshkigal’s was a touching scene, but it felt like somebody only remembering to mention, ‘Actually, the goalie can use their hands!’ an hour into the game. It really should have felt more like a wilful sacrifice rather than, ‘Welp, I’ve got to die in an obligatory fashion now’. Similarly, I must not have been the only person to have noticed how far backwards they bent to make Ritsuka useful. Obviously they were well aware of the Nega-whatever, never bothered to prepare a contingency for it, but somehow its very specific mechanics allowed for a window of victory anyway. If you were able to suspend your disbelief, then it was perhaps our hero’s moment of glory. If you couldn’t, it was a contrivance to engineer an action shot for our protagonist.
They didn’t need to do all that. All they needed to do was reveal that Tiamat was just a sad waifu deep down. Then it’ll only be natural that our resident harem protagonist is super effective against her.