by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
If we consider Gleipnir to have turned a corner last week, then this week's episode is a glimpse of the big fuzzy monster hiding behind that corner. In a genre where death is frequent and cheap, it's refreshing to see all of these characters stop and wrestle with the magnitude of the attack that just saved their lives at the expense of their enemies. A schlockier show would've quickly elbowed its way past these quibbles and moved onto the next bloody spectacle, so decisions like these continue to endear me to Gleipnir as a character drama at its heart. And boy howdy, do these characters have to deal with some drama now after torching and poisoning their captors.
Sayaka's ragtag group find themselves in a strange and morally exhausting position. While they didn't directly kill anybody, they're only alive now because of what Clair and Shuichi did (minus Ikeuchi, but that's on him). Isao, the gentlest soul in the group, heartbreakingly takes it worst of all as the most direct accessory to the oleander poisoning. It's nice to see Yota stay by his side and offer him a shoulder to lean on, but it's hard not to be worried about how Isao is going to cope (or not cope) with what he did. Sayaka, meanwhile, has to contend with the fact that she's only alive because Clair was willing to stoop to such monstrous methods. The philosophical underpinning of her group—that they can triumph as righteous humans and put an end to evildoers who seek the alien's power—is now irrevocably tainted. Madoka was far from the simple and megalomaniacal villain she envisioned, and now she's the leader of a team that committed mass murder.
Clair and Shuichi's mutual downward spiral takes center stage, of course. While Shuichi's character development here is more significant, I also found myself moved by the shades of subtlety in Clair's reaction to what she did and how Shuichi handles it. One insidious and tricky thing about depression is that it refuses to allow ourselves the same sympathy we extend towards others. Along those lines, Clair takes advantage of her self-hatred and utilizes that numbness to do stuff like commit to using poison and burning down a forest. But when Shuichi shares the responsibility of those same things, it hurts her to see him do that to himself. She no doubt appreciates him lightening her burden, and that probably made her hate herself more too. Clair still puts on a strong face and even tries to play it cool with her usual flirtations, but she's betrayed by her fleeting expressions of grief and horror.
Shuichi already accepted early on that he's not the main character of Gleipnir. However, with this most recent episode, he finally commits to being an actual fully-realized character. I've always loved his tempestuous and toxic relationship with Clair, but on his own, Shuichi has always been a little too bland and passive. While I think a lot of that was a necessary contrast to Clair's own flamboyance, it's much more interesting to see him evolve than watch him be nothing but a meat puppet for Clair to crawl into (although, admittedly, I'd be pretty okay with both outcomes here). This feels like a natural evolution too; in a way, he's not committing to anything different, but merely voicing and acting upon that commitment. He wants to end this game and he's going to do anything he needs to do to stop it. He tells the Alien as much, mirroring Elena's decidedly unfriendly chat earlier, and then he proves so by shooting the remaining survivor of Madoka's group square in the back. This also mirrors the first time Clair used his gun to kill Hikawa, but now, empty inside, Shuichi embraces his complicity and responsibility. Abukawa wasn't his first victim, and he won't be the last.
I can't say I'm too surprised by this turn of events, because I couldn't imagine things getting better as a result of last week's conclusion. I was, however, a bit taken aback by how much this episode focuses on the character of the Alien and how starkly it colors the metaphor of the coin hunt. Most of the main characters—even main villain Elena—have voiced that the structure of the game itself is the real problem that needs to be removed. It's an exploitative zero-sum game about collecting more shiny objects than anyone else, overseen by a sociopathic spectator who doesn't need to play by the game's rules because he already holds all the power. This should remind you something in particular (spoiler: it's capitalism), and I'm always a big fan of narratives that focus on systemic evils in opposition to individual evils. The former is more invisible and ultimately much more harmful. It remains to be seen how far Gleipnir will go in pursuit of this commentary, but it's something to look out for while the Alien keeps idly lounging by his magic vending machine.
It's weird to say this 11 episodes into a series that may only ever get 12 or 13 episodes, but it feels like Gleipnir is only just getting started. Shuichi's finally getting some meaty character development while his former classmates walk onto the stage as the presumptive next adversaries. Clair and he continue to be a compellingly twisted force together, supporting each other's ambitions while simultaneously pulling each other deeper into the abyss. They're also dragging Sayaka and her friends down with them, smudging the heroic valor of their naiveté with their messy struggle for survival. There's a veritable mountain of powder kegs waiting to go off, and it's a shame we might not have a chance to watch Gleipnir juggle all of them in this adaptation. On the other hand, I already bought all currently-available volumes of the manga in response to how much I've enjoyed watching and writing about this series, so in that regard, the Gleipnir anime may have already accomplished its mission. But I still can't wait to see what blows up next week.
Gleipnir is currently streaming on Funimation.
The state of the world has left Steve in despair! But never fear, he's still on Twitter too much.
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