by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Charlotte (TV 2015) ?
We're eleven episodes in, and I'm happy to announce that Charlotte's title finally means something. The abilities are caused by debris from the comet Charlotte, which passes by the Earth every four hundred years. Shunsuke's organization has developed a vaccine (the abilities are a space virus, I guess) that'll prevent kids from developing abilities, but there's nothing he can do to help the millions of ability-using teens being oppressed outside of Japan. For that, Professor Shunsuke will need to take his X-Men global. But what if the outside world is already honing in on him?
At the beginning of this episode, I was afraid that the final conflict would stem from Shunsuke not wanting Yuu to leave the facility. That would prevent him from introducing Nao's brother to Sara Shane in order to cure his madness, thus grinding their burgeoning relationship to a halt. This would've created the necessary endgame tension to give Charlotte the emotional resonance it needs, but only for a dumb and arbitrary reason. Shunsuke's insistence on keeping Yu at the facility is incongruous with his behavior in the previous timeline, where he's totally cool with Yu doing whatever he wants. The only difference between then and now is that Yuu is aware of his plunder ability. Does that make him more vulnerable all by itself? It doesn't seem like it would.
Well, it doesn't end up mattering, since the enemy has the ability to perceive different timelines. There's been a mole in Shunsuke's group since the beginning, and they've finally decided to act. Shunsuke's chauffeur has been an informant for the enemy since before Hoshinoumi was established, meaning that it's impossible for our heroes to just go back and cut him out. First, they kidnap Kumagami and torture him for information on Hoshinoumi's most powerful ability user – meaning Yuu. Then they kidnap Nao to hold her for ransom alongside Kumagami. Yuu complies with their demands, making his way to the warehouse rendezvous with the intent of fighting off the assailants. (They don't address the possibility of time traveling to stop him from kidnapping Kumagami, but you have to just ignore some narrative possibilities when it comes to time travel stories.) He doesn't succeed though – the enemy's ability user lunges at Yuu and takes out his eye to prevent him from travelling back in time. Panicked, Yuu activates his collapse ability and destroys the warehouse. By the time Shunsuke's crew arrives at the scene, they find Yuu and the conspirators injured while Kumagami stands prone over Nao's body. With several steel bars penetrating his abdomen, it's clear that he's on the brink of death. He sacrificed himself to protect her, although it's hard to tell whether Nao herself survived or not. As a horrified Shunsuke cradles his body, Kumagami dies.
While a final shakeup like this had to happen, it's easy to imagine how it could've been executed better. For example, this foreign organization of ability users should've been foreshadowed more. There are a number of plot holes surrounding the chauffeur's betrayal that could've easily been dodged by tighter storytelling. If he was really loyal to Shunsuke, why didn't he tell him about this and work as a double agent? Also, truth serum exists? While it all ends up dramatically functional, this is baggier and clumsier storytelling than I've come to expect from Charlotte. It also would have been better for Nao to have a more active role in this climax. As it is now, it looks like the student council, who dominated the first half of this show, will have little to no role in its conclusion. I hope this isn't the case.
I just realized why Shunsuke calls Kumagami “Pooh.” His name is Kumagami, kuma means bear, and Winnie the Pooh is a famous cartoon bear. I'm embarrassed that it took me this long, seeing as this isn't my first time deciphering bear puns in anime. (Looking at you, Yuri Kuma Arashi.) While most of this episode was a letdown, the scene where Shunsuke discovers Kumagami's body was brilliantly executed. We don't spend a lot of time with these characters, but their interactions make it clear that they share a deep bond. I'm even tempted to read them as lovers, even if the show doesn't offer any explicit proof of this. (They're just really physically comfortable with each other. Shunsuke straight-up tackles Kumagami when they meet again after the initial disastrous timeline. They seem like more than just bros or platonic nakama.) Blind Shunsuke realizes that Kumagami is injured when his hand lands on a puddle of blood. At first, all we see is his hand smearing the blood, and only afterwards are we allowed to look at the body. The sequence is very suspenseful and draws me right into Shunsuke's emotional state. I may have some reservations about the narrative, but P.A. Works' production is still firing on all cylinders.
I'm not sure where this is going to go now that Yuu no longer has his time travel ability. I feel like he still might somehow regain it. There's also the mystery of how Yuu was able to recover his memories from a previous timeline. Charlotte has one final mystery in store, and I can't even begin to guess it at this point.
For the past three or four episodes, I haven't been able to tell what would happen next in Charlotte. This is disconcerting, because I feel like that means the narrative is going to become more haphazard than I would like. While Maeda has worked with time travel and alternate worlds in past work. the timing and execution on this time travel twist still feels transparently Madoka Magica inspired, and comparing itself to a show with stronger plotting only accentuates the ways in which Charlotte is lacking. Oh well. “Not Madoka” isn't exactly damning criticism, and Charlotte continues to be one of the season's strongest shows. With two episodes left, all that's left to do is see how it wraps up.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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