I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives.
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 16 of
I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives (TV 2) ?
A major question at every step of I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives is what are the Game Master's true intentions with these quests? On the broadest scale is the effort to make sure the Heroes are properly prepared for the disaster befalling Tokyo in the future, and that they grasp the value of life to want to prevent it. But each quest they tackle in the fantasy world also seems to end up, coincidentally or not, having ramifications on the status quo of that world. As their latest mission has been nominally centered around the traditions of the nation of Jiffon, there's already been an undercurrent of restoring the place's values apart from just making sure its people aren't eaten by orcs anymore. But the climactic events of this episode make clear how that element may have even been more central to the task than we previously thought.
The first half of the episode effectively continues this story arc as it's been so far. The main escalation seems to be Iu and Cantil directly challenging the Orc Queen, and with everything surrounding it you'd be forgiven for feeling like things seemed a bit repetitive at this point. The all-or-nothing rumble with the Queen plays out a lot like the other fights with Orcs, which the show has been pretty effective at showing are incredibly hard to kill. There's even another depressing death of one of the named mercenaries occurring just off-camera. Pour one out for Lolle, now poor Katz is missing half of his name pun. It's not as affecting as Ryce's death was last week, since there's so much less build-up for it, but given the events of the latter half of this episode, perhaps it's best they don't bum our trips too bad at first.
The episode also spends an odd amount of time reiterating the game-style mechanics in ways that don't necessarily matter through it. Sure it's useful to clarify that the Heroes can't load bolts for the crossbow themselves, necessitating civilian volunteers from the village to help in the fighting. But that moment of some rando realizing he needs to put himself on the line doesn't actually end up panning out. Other bits fall more in line with the constructive creativity Million Lives usually operates on, like Iu finding use for her minimal wind magic simply as a distraction against the Orc Queen. Conversely, it seems notable that the Orc Queen turns out to be aware of how to permanently neutralize heroes, killing Iu then throwing her body into the sea so she can't revive. These are all interesting elements, only for them and other parts of the previous episodes to feel a little moot by the time we get to this one's explosive climax.
Yes the main event, foreshadowed by the early detail that this island has a volcano on it, is that volcano erupting! And setting off a tsunami as well! Did Cantil and the Orc Queen get swept up by the ominously-described 'White Wall'? We don't know, and who cares, because there's a few minutes where they make us think Aoiu got crushed! That, and Yana's devastated reaction, end up fueling the far more affecting aspects I think this episode is going for. The escalation of this calamitous tragedy comes very quickly, necessitating reflections by those from the island on what it means to live in an environment prone to these kinds of natural disasters. There's a question of if beating the Orcs even matters anymore if the people have already forgotten how to handle their own home, baked into the culture that the Vaikedaam were to pass down and preserve within the rituals the Heroes are here to assist in. It's all expressed with a surprisingly moving sad reprise of the fourteenth episode's idol-performance song by Yana, demonstrating her personal loneliness at seemingly losing Aoiu, and lamenting what they've all lost as their carelessly-placed homes are swept away by the devastation. It's an impressively-staged section of the episode, actually overcoming the consistently-flat presentation of the show to still successfully communicate the feelings of the scene.
Outside that moment, there are issues I could take with the construction of this conceptual conundrum. The lamentations of Yana suggest that it was the islanders' hubris that led them to build their homes and farmland on the unsafe lower shoreline, except we know they were, at least partially, driven there by the occupation of the Orcs. It's down to the same odd attempt at ambiguity that Million Lives fronted last week, repeated here with the Orc Queen's accusations of the humans as 'barbaric and cruel' even though she's the one that, you know, eats people. With the eruption of the volcano and the demonstration of everything the islanders could actually lose, the show seems to be attempting to articulate that the loss of Jiffon's culture and the restoration of it and its reasons are the true goal of this quest. The problem is that, as presented, that was all at the behest of the arrival of the orcs that the heroes need to drive out before the humans' living conditions can be restored anyway, so it comes off as a conflation that isn't as much of a plot-twist as the show seems to think it is.
That doesn't make this episode bad so much as it just undercuts it a bit. The emotional elements are still there, which is impressive for a series that otherwise spends a lot of time riding the cold pragmatism of Yuusuke's motivations. His reiteration of his way of thinking is probably the least interesting philosophical side of this episode. It's especially so as he's delivering it to a thankfully-alive Aoiu while we're also getting a heartening demonstration of how united her thoughts of the island are with Yana even as they're apart for the time. Million Lives has always been a more conceptually-complex show than it let on, especially as its second season has gotten underway, but all these overlapping ideas being presented do threaten to crowd one another out if they keep piling them on; The clashing orc extermination/island culture revitalization story is a good example of the challenge of that balancing act. And it's further thrown into flux as the writing hurls another complication into the works, with a whole-ass dragon rising out of the volcano! I like this show, and I'm interested to see where it goes, but I do worry it may be piling just a bit too much onto its plate this time.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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