by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
After articulating its major themes so well last episode, this penultimate outing for Granbelm opens with what it knows we want next by revealing everything about Suishou. There's an artfully cryptic cold-open teasing her past, and then it's off to the races with pretty much everything in this episode being steered by her personality and philosophy. That isn't to say she's entirely in control of the final battle this episode forms the first half of, as Shingetsu and Mangetsu have their own plans they're acting on in accordance with their own understandings last episode. But Suishou asserts the points and actions that the others (particularly Mangetsu) have to be the ones to react to.
As was more strongly hinted at in recent episodes, Suishou turns out to be a magical construct in direct service to Magiaconatus itself since the beginning this damned tournament. The big twist we learn about the system this episode is that it turns out Magiaconatus really is kind of full of itself and wanted to continuously prove that no human, no matter how many advantages they were given, would be worthy of wielding the massive magical power it contained. Hence, Suishou's own utterly broken magic mecha-battle abilities. Unfortunately, it turns out that after a thousand years of doing her job too well, Suishou became convinced she deserved better things and wanted to obtain the Princeps power for herself, only to get no reward no matter how many ambitious magical girls she cut down. It's the absolute nadir of dead-end jobs, and it explains a lot about how strong she's gotten to come this far and the effect that has had on her worldview.
Suishou's situation ties in neatly with the developing background theme of Granbelm of rebelling against systems that conspire to keep you down by telling you you're never good enough, making you prove yourself with success after success with no real reward in sight. This was touched on last episode as even the supposedly blessed-by-Magiaconatus Shingetsu beat herself up over not being strong enough to avoid the hardships her and all her loved ones had encountered. But the divide in succeeding at an unwinnable game versus simply trying as hard as you can was already touched on in that episode, and it comes back around as Suishou seemingly successfully kills Shingetsu in battle.
After so many fake-outs with Mangetsu last week, I wasn't ready to believe that Granbelm would actually off its other main character, but the action is mainly here to narrow Suishou against Mangetsu alone in one of the densest philosophical shouting battles I've seen in a mecha anime (which happens more often than you might think if you're unfamiliar with the genre). It's here where Granbelm's conceptual focus really focuses for thorough exploration, and it's great. The argument that what really matters in making us who we are being our connections with others was another key point brought up last episode, and it was done effectively enough that you can see it as a counterpoint when Suishou argues that humans are ‘selfish’ for only wanting to protect their loved ones rather than shouldering the world itself. Those people in our lives are what make our world, as Manngetsu explains, and all we want are connections with others.
There's an obvious irony to Suishou's endless taunting of Mangetsu as a ‘doll’ when she herself is a mere magical construct, but that irony runs even deeper, poisoning her worldview to be countered by everything else that has led us to this. Suishou finds herself unable to move forward because she's still stuck on the same desire she's had for over a thousand years. She can win the Granbelm every time, but because she's focused on getting that same desirable outcome, she can't actually get what she wants. As Mangetsu articulates, accepting negative results and the feelings that come with them is part of the human experience of moving forward to a result we'll actually be satisfied with. Suishou reveled in revealing herself as above her previous master, Anna, but ironically finds herself hampered by the same issue she had: If she could just settle and accept that things can't work out sometimes, she might have been able to find peace and move onto something that would actually make her happy.
Mangetsu, for her part, is here to embody her and Shingetsu's point that humanity as a whole seems to have done that. After a thousand years, they've actually learned to get along pretty well without magic, so destroying Magiaconatus and pursuing our own path is a natural next step. What sells it best is that this is all tied up in Mangetsu's own personal self-actualization, as she directly rejects her original role of being simply part of the ‘test’ for Shingetsu and pursues their shared goal with her own plan, out of her own agency. She's a directly stated rejection of the ‘selfishness’ I can't believe I labeled her with earlier in the series, lashing out at Suishou declaring ‘I am not a doll’ like a good-ending Rei Ayanami.
Of course, there's still a beautifully composed giant robot fight happening amongst all this philosophical debate madness, and it's every bit as entertaining as that idea-driven duel. The plans the girls have against each other see them clashing with reactive counters and counter-counters. Suishou keeps delivering outlandish fake-outs in line with her varied performance over the course of the series, but also shows her pragmatism in killing Shingetsu immediately when she has the chance (or so she thinks) and filling her enemies' airspace with enough laser-lances for a bullet-hell shooter. This battle goes on the whole episode, making deft use of tricks Granbelm has run on since the beginning like well-directed character cut-in panels and gorgeous neon-lit backdrops.
The visuals and ideas come together to finish this episode off as yet another of Granbelm's best yet, one I'm reduced to just gushing about. Yes, Shingetsu was alive, borrowing Nene's invisibility power in another pitch-perfect demonstration of the power of our treasured connections with others. The battle races to new heights as Mangetsu screams towards Magiaconatus, delivering the raw line “Something that everyone in the world wants shouldn't exist!”. And she finally dies for real this time in doing so, going out in pretty spectacularly-designed fashion that seems pretty definite. Though I wouldn't put it past Granbelm to pull one more surprise out for us for the last episode. Either way, I'm glad this turned out to not be the end for this series, as if this is just the first half of that last battle, we're still in for one hell of a show.
Granbelm is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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