Alderamin on the Sky
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Alderamin on the Sky ?
As expected, the first half of this episode involves Ikta kicking major tactical butt by essentially putting Torway's elder brother at his mercy despite Yatori's insightful efforts to thwart this. Much less expected was the twist in the second half of the episode, though it wasn't too surprising given what the story has set up so far. What really makes this episode shine is not how that twist is dealt with, but its aftermath. If you want to see how an anime can beautifully handle a very ugly scene, look at the last four minutes of this episode.
Getting up to that point is fun too. Tactics isn't necessarily just outsmarting your opponent or using his personality to your advantage. It can also be using your opponent's knowledge to your advantage. Ikta uses all three types of tactics to gain a huge advantage in the mock battle and achieve an impressive victory, while at the same time making an unspoken point to Torway's eldest brother about the merits of an expert sniper and their ability to single-handedly change the course of a battle. His defining battle philosophy may not be a glorious one, but it's sensible and effective: wherever possible, don't make a move unless you have a clear advantage, and retreat once you don't. This minimizes needless casualties and keeps you in control of the situation. To that end, I quite liked seeing him chide soldiers under his command who didn't follow his orders to not rush ahead of the group when charge. “Don't put yourself in a one-on-three situation; make it a three-on-one instead” he tells them, and if you're more concerned about survivability than glory or pride, then that's sound advice that anime characters all-too-rarely follow.
More amusing is the way he explains this philosophy to his troops. According to him, the goal of life is to be able to be lazy, and the desire to be in that position has actually motivated mankind to achievements over the centuries. I don't entirely buy that, but it's an interesting way to look at things. Given his surprised reaction to his troops' enthusiasm for his words, I have to assume that he at least partly meant the whole thing as a joke.
What follows is not a joke at all, however. Treachery is afoot amongst the princess's escort (unsurprisingly related to the virtual sacrifice of General Rikan in the previous episode), and Ikta senses that something is wrong just based on where her party seems to be headed. His ability to clue Yatori in to this potential trouble with a simple message about the princess's movement is another great sign of how well these two understand each other. Yatori's rescue mission impresses on multiple fronts. She can be devastating in close quarters, but she's also not infallible in the face of tough veteran soldiers, and even someone like her may need timely back-up to reach her full potential. Her action scene is a wonderful depiction of a bloody frenzy of activity, skillfully conveying the brutality of the action without being needlessly graphic and taking full advantage of the red-haired beauty at the center of events. I was particularly impressed by how the action part of the scene portrayed her as a warrior who also happened to be pretty rather than as a pretty young woman who also happens to be a warrior, which is a subtle but important difference. Great musical support here too.
But for as cool as that action scene is, the best part is its aftermath. The director used hazy focus and slightly distorted audio to give the impression of Yatori trying to come down out of a rage, and the gentle way that Ikta brings her out of it with words and a touch is moving. This is the crowning achievement for all the absolute trust and understanding that we've seen between this pair so far. I reiterate my previous comments that we badly need a flashback episode at some point showing how this relationship developed.
There's an implicit message to the way the blood was used in those final scenes: while the mock battle may be good training, actual battle is a far messier and more deeply impacting affair. The whole matter with General Rikan's followers seeking revenge, Ikta's strategies in this episode, and certain scenes from episode 2 combine to suggest that the series' underlying message is that real life-and-death battle isn't fun and games; it can have grim consequences. I suspect that we will see a lot more of that before the series is done.
Alderamin on the Sky is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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