by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Janelle Monáe sings “everything is sex, except sex, which is power” on her 2017 hit “Screwed,” and that's an adage that proves universally true, but especially so in a series like Gleipnir. Following up their lead from last week, Clair and Shuichi track down a group of similarly-minded gatherers trying to stop the coins from falling into the wrong hands. However, their inaugural meeting throws both Clair and Shuichi into uncomfortable situations that test both the degree of their resolve and the strength of their current bond. As a result, Gleipnir continues to assert itself as the must-watch and (quite literally) messy relationship drama of the season.
Before they meet up with the gatherer alliance, however, I want to take a moment to highlight how good of a protagonist Clair has been. I'm not just talking about her competence and proactive inclinations; those certainly are a factor, but more so than that, I'm impressed by the fascinating and distinctive line that Gleipnir walks with her character. So far, she's proven to be a great anti-hero who has few qualms when it comes to getting her hands dirty if it means furthering her agenda. However, she's also a high school student who's prone to getting into situations over her head and forming unhealthy fixations on other people. She's both flawed and flamboyant, and Gleipnir thus infuses her with an authentic sense of humanity that often escapes characters in these seedy genre-heavy anime. Not only is it good storytelling, but it also ups the tension in her scenes since we can never be entirely certain how she's going to act (or pretend to act).
That's not to say her scenes with Sayaka this week would otherwise be wanting for tension. The ease with which Clair manipulates the nerdy Ikeuchi leaves her unprepared for how cautious and potentially dangerous his group's leader is. To her credit, though, Clair adjusts to the situation accordingly and decides her best course of action is to confront Sayaka alone. Like many things Clair does, this serves a twofold purpose: protecting Shuichi because he's important to her, and protecting Shuichi because he's her ace in the hole. These aren't mutually exclusive because their relationship is layered and interesting like that! And it's a good thing Clair can think on her feet, because Sayaka proves to be a strong adversary in terms of both cunning and brazenness.
Sayaka is actually reminiscent on Clair on several levels. They both lost people dear to them, and they're both able, on occasion, to channel that tragedy into deliberate thoughts and actions. Sayaka proves that the Alien's gifts can be formed by a person's conscious will, not just their unconscious desires, although I would argue that Sayaka's pretty out-there superpower still shows that some degree of subversion is important, if not necessary. While her backstory is messy in a way that feels congruous with the rest of Gleipnir, I'm a little more hesitant about Gleipnir incorporating queerness into its social commentary, only because it's trickier turf to navigate. On the other hand, Gleipnir's lack of pretension and already-established willingness to subvert gender norms could ironically mean it's better-equipped to handle “deviant” identities. There's already some evidence of that here, since Sayaka's obsession with secrets is not merely the result of her trust being betrayed, but more specifically the result of her and her teacher being outed against their will. That's a uniquely loaded and deeply personal kind of betrayal, and Gleipnir treats it as such. However, even though the narrative empathizes with her motivations, the non-consensual vibes of her coming onto Clair fail into “predatory lesbian” stereotypes that falsely reinforce bigoted perspectives. The line between exploitation and compassion can be a surprisingly fine one, but Gleipnir seems fearless about navigating it. For better or worse.
Sayaka's interactions with Clair are uncomfortable precisely because of the Janelle Monáe quotation I began this review with. Gleipnir's absurd core conceit is a hilariously on-the-nose metaphor for sex, and there have been more double-entendres in the dialogue than I could possibly hope to summarize. However, Sayaka stripping down and later looming over Clair on the bed is the first time that actual sex rears its ugly head, and it's entirely a power play. Gleipnir's ubiquitous fanservice drowns out the subtleties of this scene, unfortunately—that's one of the big downsides of being nonstop horny—but Sayaka essentially uses her experience and adulthood to assert her dominance as the leader of the group. Clair's smart enough to recognize this and project a cool demeanor, even though she's clearly rattled by the situation. Sayaka, thankfully, relents once Clair rejects her advances, but her point is also sufficiently proven by then: Clair has no choice but to submit to Sayaka's demands if she wants to join their group and track down her sister. That's a bargain Clair is willing to make, but I certainly won't be surprised if she reveals some contingency plans of her own in the future.
Meanwhile, Shuichi has his own much lighter sexual misadventures. Another one of Sayaka's underlings, the animal-loving Chihiro, finds herself enamored with Shuichi's furry form and decides to take a dip inside. Unlike the intentional discomfort of Clair's scenes, Chihiro's clumsy advances are more in line with Gleipnir's cheeky penchant for a veneer of metaphor so thin it may as well dissolve in Shuichi's suit juices. Shuichi, essentially, is nice and accommodating enough that despite his relationship with Clair, he has no defenses against a cute girl who sincerely wants nothing more than to climb inside his zipper. Gleipnir spices up this NTR bit by also splicing in shots of the timid yet voyeuristic Ikeuchi watching everything unfold in abject horror. Once again, Gleipnir manifests comedy by virtue of its commitment to its absurd conceit, but this also proves to be a sincere way of Shuichi affirming the bond he possesses with Clair. He comments, for example, that Chihiro's presence feels different from Clair's, which can be taken both at face value and on an emotional level. And while Chihiro lacks the immediate physical compatibility that he and Clair had their first time, the kind-hearted Shuichi applies his experience and takes the lead so Chihiro isn't left flailing. He's still an awkward kid with a slimy and unwieldly body, but he's grown up a bit.
I had a good time with their weird fight against Sanbe last week, but I'm glad Gleipnir leans back into its irreverent and messy relationship drama with this episode. Separating Clair and Shuichi lets us watch them develop independently, in potentially incompatible ways, and Gleipnir continues to be surprisingly insightful when it comes to the complexities of its characters' interiorities. Gleipnir is also an anime that lets me string together the words “catgirl pegging netorare” in a way that accurately reflects the narrative. It is truly a gift.
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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