by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Sayaka opens this week's episode with a clear articulation of one of Gleipnir's running themes: the thin line between humanity and monstrosity. The whole conceit of the show balances on this fulcrum, as we see heroes and villains alike wield unique monstrous powers that nonetheless manifest from their own familiar human desires. Since Sayaka and her team are obviously the good guys, she extolls their superior humanity while denigrating the base and murderous actions of their rival collectors. A sideways glance from Clair, however, tells us that she knows what the audience already does—it is only through exploiting their own various monstrosities that this team has been able to survive so far.
There's no doubt a significant difference between them and the lecherous murder centipede they encounter later in the episode, but it's not as stark a contrast as Sayaka would like to proclaim. The show's main antagonist so far, Elena, is prone to violent emotional outbursts, but for the most part we've seen her act calm, articulate, and confident that her course of action is the righteous one. She believes she alone knows how to best deal with the power that 100 coins would grant. How is that much different from how Clair has acted, or even from how Sayaka herself used intimidation to lasso Clair. And how much does proclaimed moral superiority matter if another team has already collected enough coins to have their way with the world, as Chihiro already suspects? Gleipnir is not interested in Sayaka's hollow platitudes, and it's instead very interested in the fuzzy border that outlines our conception of “humanity.”
It's very fitting, then, that the new antagonist introduced this week transforms into a giant gorilla, a close evolutionary relative that exists on one of these borders between mankind and the animal kingdom. In one sense, his colossal size and violence conform to Sayaka's beliefs about her enemies, but Gleipnir gives us a much fuller and more complex portrait. His underlings are all selfish pieces of garbage—a fact he is quick to affirm—but he himself does not get whipped up into a Darwinian frenzy about culling their weakest members. He expresses and demonstrates solidarity with his followers, and does so to the point of hurting himself to satiate their bloodthirst. Even if he's not a “good” guy, he's intelligent, charismatic, and calculating in a manner that refutes Sayaka's earlier sense of moral and intellectual superiority. He's a really interesting figure, and I'm eager to see what Gleipnir does with him.
On the lighter side of things, this episode provides a nice opportunity for both the protagonists and the audience to get to know the members of Sayaka's crew little better. Before the centipede attack, their excursion proceeds like a surprisingly normal hike through the mountains, with everyone chatting, sharing food, and battling fatigue. It's just plain adorable to see gentle giant Isao use his powers to grow some fresh watermelons for everyone to enjoy. If anything, these guys are too relaxed about walking through enemy territory, and it's the least surprising thing when Clair finally deduces that they fell for a laughably obvious trap. Still, as Shuichi tells Clair while they're munching on some melon, downtime like this is important. Gestures like this also certainly help my argument that Gleipnir is more than just the edgy death game anime du jour.
On the subject of edginess, however, I do have to talk about the attack of Morita the manipede. Earlier in the episode, I literally made a note to myself to talk about how ridiculous Sayaka's outfit looks compared to everyone else's situation—and that includes Clair walking around in her school swimsuit. There's no good reason for it to be so revealing, but there is a bad reason, and that reason is to ramp up the lasciviousness of Sayaka's molestation in the many hands of Morita. If you've stuck with Gleipnir this long, then you're probably not surprised by the unapologetic onslaught of porn-adjacent trashiness. There's a fair bit of difference, however, between the gratuitously leery camera angles we've gotten used to, and this act of sexing up an assault. Narratively, the intent here is to establish Morita as a real piece of shit, but that intent hits a brick wall when the scene simultaneously tries to titillate the audience. Even at its most eyebrow-raising, I had appreciated up to this point that Gleipnir wielded its sexuality in deliberately provocative and frequently subversive ways. This is the first misfire to feel like gross fanservice and nothing more.
Thankfully, Yota is here to save the day. While the combined powers of Clair and Shuichi do much better than Shuichi's previous solo attempt at pugilism, they still get their two matryoshka'd asses kicked. Gleipnir, meanwhile, proves that it can still do black comedy like few others, with a giant centipede man nonchalantly tossing a plastic bag with a severed head for the group to look at. Gleipnir quickly and cheekily addressed my immediate inquiry of “Why the hell was he just carrying around a plastic bag with a severed head?”, and that's how I know it's on the same depraved page I am. The cherry on top is Yota mournfully flirting with the dead girl's decapitated noggin as a sign of respect. I also like that, after all the buildup, Yota's power is simply that he gets very strong. No weird mutations or psychosexual metamorphoses. And it makes sense: his strength and anger were issues he was consciously dealing with prior to finding a coin, so there shouldn't be much difference between his normal and “monstrous” forms. More so than a lot of characters we've encountered, he makes a concerted effort to be aware of and control his baser desires, and that makes him a much more fascinating character than he initially let on.
One flagrant misstep aside, this was a neat episode with some thematic heft to counterbalance its focus on plot and action. I'm still most closely drawn to Gleipnir's high octane character drama, but overall I continue to have a good time with this highly ridiculous anime. And while its presentation and animation quality have sagged in the way I'd expect from most shows entering their final month of production (especially during a pandemic), Gleipnir still manages to craft some great-looking highlights. This week, that distinction belongs to the Gorilla's intimidating introduction, thanks in part to animator Vincent Chansard, who shared some of his very cool key animation on Twitter. There's sure to be plenty of monkey business next week too, but under Clair's direction, hopefully Shuichi will be able to avoid getting crushed to death. Again.
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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