by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 9 of
There seems to be a golden rule in sci-fi anime that transcends nearly all borders. It doesn't matter if it's an original story or adaptation, a high-caliber production or a rush job held together with chewing gum, a newbie creation or the latest addition to a decades-old franchise. No matter what your sci-fi conflict is, if it's a show made after 1997, it's gotta have Instrumentality. Now personally I had hoped we'd all moved on from this weird singularity in high concept storytelling after Planet With put the entire concept to bed in like half an episode, but here comes Tommy Walker in 2020 with his big bad human-consciousness-combining plan to dig it up.
To be fair, that's not all Tommy is up to, it's just his end goal that he's willing to do anything to attain, including but not limited to: using Jimi's old Equipment to overwrite Mu's personality, use his army of brainwashed Player children to betray his former mentor Ace and then shoot the old man point blank, and spread a souped-up version of Teen Spirit called Purple Haze (get it?) over all of Londinum to turn the gathered Players into a horde of unstoppable music machines. The why, according to him at least, is that he's merely following the principles ingrained in him by Londinium's elite. They were willing to do anything to annihilate the Earless, but have skittered back from the brink of revolution after their failure, so it's his duty to make right what they couldn't, no matter the cost. What he doesn't say is how much he's riding high on becoming an ad-hoc messiah with Mu/Jimi as his figurehead, complete with T-posing to assert his holiness. The boy may not play pinball but he sure as heck has embraced his namesake's cult leader energy.
Nir, for her part, is having none of it. Despite Echo's pleading otherwise she's ready to storm the Watchtower, kick Tommy off his throne, and obliterate Mu for good measure. The revelation that Londinium hasn't just been using Teen Spirit, but producing it for the purpose of spreading addiction and dependency within Players helps retroactively make Nir's story a lot more significant. No longer is she a directionless loner, but one of countless disaffected victims created in the military elite's bid for power, and now she's completely fed up with being used. If getting revenge on them means justifying killing Mu by deciding she's definitely an Earless, and buying into the edict that Earless are inherently monsters, well so be it. Even if she wasn't herself, Mu's still responsible for destroying the closest thing Nir ever had to family, so to hell with Echo's appeals for mercy.
Speaking of Echo, he gets perhaps the roughest treatment this week, and that includes his friend who's getting her psyche twisted by the crazed remnants of her brother's spirit. He's been kicked out of the Watchtower now that he's no longer needed to keep Mu in line, disillusioned with the world of Players that's been his lifelong passion, and even betrayed by the one adult in the city he thought was at least decent. Then just as he tries his big hero moment to confess his feelings and bring Mu back to her senses, he gets tossed down a garbage chute to land in a pile of junk and scrap, right back where he started the series. Echo's always been a bit codependent, clinging to his worship of Players and later his gig as Mu's partner for his sense of worth, and it's heartbreaking to see him collapse when he loses both at once. Marshall makes a meager offer to let the boy come with him and get out of dodge, but even that seems like too big a dream to our broken gearhead.
“Freedom” is a classic low point for the main characters to build up the final climax, and works pretty well just for how earnest and desperate our scruffy hero is while trying to keep hell from breaking loose. I'm still not wild about the whole mind control subplot, but at least everyone's aware of what's going on so I don't have to sit around waiting for everyone to realize our generally kind heroine hasn't suddenly decided to be evil just for kicks. And as tired as I am of seeing Instrumentality plots, I'm still raring to see Listeners put its own rockin' spin on the idea.
Listeners is currently streaming on Funimation.
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