I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives.
Episode 23

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 23 of
I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives (TV 2) ?

Alright, after weeks of uncertainty about this arc of I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives, I think I'm finally properly back on board with it. Much of that feeling is down to the show finally putting some of its dang cards on the table, cutting out some of the excessive tragedy and instead propelling us forward to where they're actually going with this. I got into Million Lives most when its ideas were presented in a way that was acutely tangible, so playing too coy with that didn't really suit the show. But it could also be argued that some of the delay in getting to the point after all this time is worth it, as it means that several of the revelatory twists of this episode lands exceptionally strongly after all that time waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Of course it can't be an immediate upswing, and we still need to grapple with some of that saddening setup at the start here coming off the last episode. Thing is, as much as Iris's wireworm infection and subsequent death feels like the cruel punchline to weeks of bumming the audience's trip, I think the actual moment itself totally lands. By stepping away from Yuusuke's prescribed role as 'the sociopathic one' and putting the act in Torii's hands, the show plays off Torii's care for children and the specific bond he'd forged with Iris, adding the weight to the proceedings the show has otherwise insisted these dire straits have had all along. It effectively feeds back into my own wish that the show focused more on some of its neglected prior party members. I wanted more development for Torii? Whelp, the murderous monkey's paw provides.

Once that tragic opening beat is resolved, things for this storyline start moving in an appreciably progressive direction. Perhaps unexpectedly, it's a slew of returning elements from the show's past that spur things into action. The specter of the Dragon Bishop revealed as the mastermind behind the last arc's plot is raised as a threat again here, and Cantil from that same storyline returns to explain what the actual broader implications of that element are. This is a welcome decision, since the Dragon Bishop plot point felt like a somewhat needless open-ended complication back in the Jiffon arc. Re-deployed as it is here, it not only provides an easy access point to finally explain what the endgame with the Zagroth villagers might be, but also satisfyingly weave the setup into even earlier storylines.

I appreciate the way so much of the plot laid down in this episode effectively trusts the audience members to get their mental gears turning in time with the show's revelations and realizations. If the Dragon Bishops have the end-goal of reviving a dragon, that ties into the one we saw menacing Tokyo in the vision of the future, which Yuusuke handily recalls. If the group of sorcerers which Cantil belongs to are the ones specifically opposing them, that provides an angle of protecting the world when the Heroes aren't in play, and assisting them as we saw with Yuka at the end of the first season. "Saving the village of Zagroth" then becomes specifically about preventing the Dragon Bishops from getting enough magic juice to pull off their dragon revival, finally codifying some more clear win and loss conditions for this quest. After slogging through a series of unfortunate events for so long, wondering where the story was even going with this, it's extremely refreshing to be taken on this mental journey where we get to feel like it really is all coming together.

It's almost as if this episode is overstuffed with elements that might've done better if they were introduced more gradually in previous episodes. Cantil just dropping in and explaining Dragon Bishops, monster-powering meteorites, and magical beanstalk seeds comes off like the writing suddenly remembered all the important elements they needed to dump in to make the mechanical parts of this plot work. I almost feel like explaining the next tangible step of the Heroes' ultimate goal of preventing the dragon from destroying Tokyo would have been enough just in communicating the promise of an upswinging endpoint to all of this. But this is an episode review, and thus comparison with what came before is required, and so I must admit that having all this 'stuff' in this one is vastly preferable to the struggling pace of the earlier parts of the arc. They even pack in some combat which, the show's well-known visual limitations aside, play off the characterizations and concepts they've developed. Torii and Iu start bonding in the wake of him having to put Iris down, and that informs his efforts in fighting a troll when she gets eaten by it. Similarly, Yuusuke specifically going to rescue his comrades from that fate gets remarked on as another sign of him starting to buck his pouty brand of pragmatism. It even feeds into fun continuity references; I was amused by Iu complaining about how she'd managed to get vored a second time.

All that primed me to be at least receptive to the wonderfully bonkers plot twist the show drops at the end of this episode. Jezby as a traumatized tragic figure the heroes had to protect as a symbol of what they were fighting to save in the first place? Generic, tiring, played-out. Jezby revealed as the Dragon Bishop masterminding this whole thing with some kind of spooky magic powers? Outlandish, brilliant, love the way it turns everything on its head. For the first time in weeks with this show, it left me excited to see what would come next, instead of simply trepidatiously waiting to see where it was going. It all serves as a reminder of how remarkable storytelling like this can work in a show like Million Lives when they just keep us in the loop and let us follow along with what's going on, rather than jerking us around for the sake of building up pathos.

Rating:

I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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