by Theron Martin,


novel 3

86 novel 3
The devastating impact of the Legion's new railgun – dubbed Morpho – sends shock waves through all of the surviving human territories, for it has the range to devastate all the human capitals. While Lena does what she can to muster the Eighty-Six for a final defense in the Republic, the Federacy and their recently-contacted allies, the Alliance and Kingdom, try to formulate a plan to deal with Morpho. A cruise missile strike on Morpho damaged it enough to buy them some time, but given the resources available, the only option is an all-out assault to create a distraction while an elite unit infiltrates deep into Legion territory to go after Morpho. Despite the Federacy predilection not to have to rely on them, none are better-suited to the task than Shin and his fellow Eighty-Six. For Frederica, the task is more personal: Morpho has the brain of Kiriya, her former knight.

Possibly the most surprising thing about the contents of this volume is a point that author Asato Asato raises in the Afterword: that this part of the story was originally intended to be much lighter-hearted fare. Seeing a more detailed interview with her about how exactly it morphed from that into the end result might be interesting, as the resultant product has barely the slightest whiff of light-heartededness to it. It is every bit as desperate and grimly fatalistic as the previous two volumes, with the only real difference being that this time around others have Shin's squad's backs throughout. This time the stakes are, in some senses, also higher: it's not just the survival of Shin and his compatriots at stake, but the survival of everyone because of the threat that Morpho poses.

Despite that, a “fate of the world is on your shoulders” sentiment is not at all what this story is about, even if it is present. For all of the grand military endeavor which takes up most of this volume, and for all of the extensive action sequences which dominate the novel's second half, the focus is primarily kept at a much more personal level, and the story benefits for that. Yes, humanity as a whole may be endangered, but that's too big a concept for most to fully appreciate while in the midst of it. Emphasize how it affects the characters, rather than the whole world, and you achieve greater personal and emotional impact.

At times Asato's writing threatens to get mired down in what's going on in (primarily) Shin's head space, but thankfully It never goes too far on this point. The real focus of the volume is Shin trying to sort out what comes next. What are he and his fellow Eighty-Sixes fighting for at this point? Though the Federacy has fully accepted them, they do not yet owe them any loyalty, and their time in the Federacy has not fully divested them of a fatalistic mindset; in fact, they are stuck with a future they never anticipated. They still fight more because they feel more at home – and perhaps alive – on the battlefield than for any other reason. Shin in particular is also being struck by an even stronger case of survivor's guilt. Hence much of the story, even during action sequences, is essentially about him trying to discover something to be happy about, as even the whole-hearted support of their nominal guardian Ernst isn't anywhere near sufficient. Ultimately the payoff of Shin finally coming to terms with everything, and also accepting that Lena's final words to him had more of an impact on him than he cared to admit, trumps the completion of the critical military objective on being fully satisfying.

That is meant as a compliment rather than criticism, as Asato still does a very good job of describing thrilling combat sequences. The two-stage fight against the Kiriya-infused Morpho, a fight which packs multiple surprise twists, is unquestionably the centerpiece, but all of the battlefield descriptions are crisp and impactful. A slightly greater emphasis on the Legion's perspective and organization also helps flesh out the situation and further emphasize the cost of the Republic leaving dead Eighty-Sixes on the battlefield. The downside is that anyone else's spotlight time is limited; the other four Eighty-Sixes in Shin's squad get only sparse attention, and Lena only appears at the beginning and in some scenes towards the end. (This does, however, reveal that Lena was a bit more involved in the Republic's ultimate rescue than what the first novel suggested.) Frederica pops up about as often as in the second volume, and Ernst and a couple of other figures in the command structure of the Federacy get a handful of scenes, but that's it. This part of the story is wholly Shin's.

With this volume Asato reinforces that her writing caliber is a decided step above that of the typical light novel writer; it feels much more refined and is definitely more evocatively descriptive, with a tone that does not make concessions to anime/manga/light novel norms. The volume's 235 pages have a typical array of black-and-white illustrations accompanying the glossy color ones at the beginning, and as in previous volumes, their quality is also a grade above light novel norms; the spread picture of Shin and Lena sitting back-to-back is particularly impressive. Also included is a character breakdown and a map showing how the human states and Legion area are positioned.

Though we knew what end this volume would come to from the way volume one ended, the finale here is not the slightest bit less satisfying for it; if anything, the additional fleshing out of that scene added here makes it all the more appreciable. Though the Legion is far from destroyed at the end, the story could have ended there and felt complete. In fact, volumes 1-3 taken together are about precisely the right length for a (hopefully eventual) adaptation into a 12-13 episode season. At the time of this writing four more volumes have already been released in Japan, so the exploits of Shin, Lena, and the rest of Spearhead Squadron will continue.

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+

+ Strong technical writing, highly satisfying ending and development of Shin
Many important characters get limited attention

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Story: Asato Asato

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