by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Shuichi and Chihiro's sexually charged scavenger hunt hits a snag when they run into the worst possible group of rival gatherers they could have found. While Clair is literally putting her neck on the line for information about her sister, Shuichi finds Elena without even trying. Gleipnir delights in its irony, and this episode further proves how much it enjoys making its audience uncomfortable. Obviously the grotesque body horror is to be expected at this point, but Gleipnir also utilizes subtler forms of discomfort when it contradicts previously held assumptions. There's a lot that Clair and Shuichi don't know about this monstrous collectathon, but more unsettling are the things they still don't know about each other, or about themselves.
Clair finishes up her meeting with Sayaka by lapping up the few morsels of information about Elena that she can provide. The most interesting tidbit is that Sayaka had a crush on her, and I can imagine that Clair probably doesn't feel like that was worth putting a magic bomb in her neck, but clearly the more useful thing to her is access to the group's alliance and resources. What's most interesting to us as an audience, however, is Sayaka's assessment that Elena was, by all accounts, super nice. She's more unhinged now—the scar on Shuichi's neck is more than enough evidence of that—but that suggests that something must have happened to make her snap. It also suggests that Clair is probably hiding some secrets of her own regarding Elena, both from Shuichi and from the audience. And I really like that angle to Clair; I believe she genuinely values her bond with Shuichi, but the likelihood of dark secrets or a hidden agenda makes her a more compelling protagonist in a more compelling narrative.
Gleipnir has been careful to tip its hand just a little bit at a time when it comes to divulging its own secrets, but there are some substantial landmines buried throughout this episode. Shuichi's persistent guilt over Hikawa's death isn't in itself surprising, but it is in a genre where death is dealt frequently and cheaply. The trauma of that experience shapes Shuichi's present actions, and it makes him feel like a rounded character on a high-stakes journey instead of a male protagonist cardboard cutout in a ridiculous free-for-all. Here, it spurs him to rush headfirst into danger, which is dumb, contradictory, and perfectly in character for him. He wants to be strong enough on his own to prevent that from happening again, but that wish in itself is not enough to make it true. Predictably, though, his attempt to play the hero all on his own goes about as well as expected, and the narrative rewards his rash action with a brutal bear hug from Subaru.
Subaru is pretty much here so Shuichi can fight someone adjacent to Elena without actually confronting her yet. As such, he's more of an obstacle than a fully fleshed-out character, but his transformation is loaded with enough subtext to make throw some guesses towards his backstory. That's one of the really cool consequences of the monsters in Gleipnir being a manifestation of their users' desires and psychologies instead of some randomly-assigned superpower. Even before Subaru refers to them as his mom and dad, the grotesque visage of a towering man and woman fused together is immediately evocative of parental love twisted to suit this weird battle royale. If I had to wager a guess, this plus Subaru's immaturity and attitude suggest that he was neglected by his parents and used his wish to manifest a version of them that would always be by his side.
Although I'm sure the anime had to tone down whatever was depicted in the manga, it holds very little back when showing Shuichi and Chihiro being mercilessly crushed by Subaru's “parents.” Shuichi is the protagonist, and he might have already had his head sewn back on, but in the moment I found it hard to imagine how he'd bounce back from the gory sight of his bloody, crumpled costume. At the very least, Chihiro seemed extremely dead. However, Gleipnir does not refrain from taking its themes to their extremes, and the notion of Shuichi's emptiness and incompleteness becomes compounded further as the sheer trauma forces a horrific fusion of him with Chihiro. It is now no longer a matter of one piloting the other; they are one and the same, and they are neither of them. They're something new, and they want to murder. Gleipnir this week, in one sense, turns into a very messed up episode of Steven Universe.
We already know by this point that Shuichi's transformation is a grotesque defamiliarization of sex. Intercourse is frequently described in literature (of all kinds) as uniting one's flesh with another, with the mutual ecstasy of the act also a kind of fusion of minds and spirits. This new Shuichi-Chihiro form (Shuihiro?) can thus be understood as a “more perfect” union even more intimate and invasive than crawling inside his slimy flesh costume. Consequently, it's stronger, but more wild and unpredictable, responding only to their combined rage towards the callous way Subaru nearly murdered them. In the heat of the moment, Shuichi comes close to pulling the trigger on his own, only to be stopped by Chihiro, which also ends their fusion. This is a touching and intriguing moment, because Chihiro manages to tap into some of Shuichi's repressed memories with Elena and draw out the feelings he apparently once had for her. It's also a sign that, despite this experiment, he and Chihiro aren't really cut out for a relationship together in the way he and Clair seem to be. Obviously, I'm now interested in what a Shuichi-Clair fusion would look and act like, but that too is likely something that won't work perfectly while they both hold these big secrets from one another. Their physical intimacy and compatibility are deeply tied to their feelings. Like Clair says, they're not simply in a relationship; they're one. That, however, isn't a bond that innately manifests itself. It requires work.
In the end, I'm very glad both Chihiro and Shuichi seem to be alive and well, and I'm very eager to see Clair get brought up to speed with what happened. Hopefully Chihiro survives that too. To take a step back from my thematic analyses, I'd also like to say that this episode had some fun action sequences—especially Shuihiro's acrobatics around the blows from Subaru's titanic parents. I was actually going to make a comment this week about the show's art direction compared to the manga (which I just managed to begin reading), but since I'm running out of words, I'll suffice with a nice comment about the turn towards more expressionistic body horror this week. Chihiro's fusion with Shuichi is a shocking moment, and the anime pairs it with some pretty unforgettable images. As long as Gleipnir keeps being this bold, I'm going to keep rewarding it.
I do wish we got a little bit more Clair content this week, but I can live with quality over quantity if it means we get to listen to her swear like a sailor.
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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