by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
MARS RED ?
MARS RED began as an anime about a vampire trapped in a tragic psychological loop of melodramatic Oscar Wilde recitations, and now it's an anime about another vampire donning mechanical bat wings and flying in broad daylight like an ensanguined superhero. And I still think that kinda owns. The show has become a lot messier in its second half, full of inconsistencies in its pacing and tone that hold it back from its artsier ambitions. At the same time, though, I still find myself in its weird trance. It might frequently refrain from spectacle, but MARS RED also has yet to bore me. It's confident in its own flawed bizarreness, and I think that indefatigable (if arguably misguided) spirit keeps me loyal to its shenanigans.
Maeda's return is an appropriate example of MARS RED's strangeness and sloppiness. This was last week's big cliffhanger, but our former protagonist exits the stage almost as soon as he enters it, with no appreciable development to speak of. His fight with Defrott makes for one of the series' scant few action scenes, and I still like the disorienting way the direction renders these supernatural clashes. However, once Shirase shields Defrott, Maeda runs off horrified. He still calls her Misaki, so we have to presume he's still in some kind of forlorn post-vampiric daze ironically similar to that of his fiancée. As much as I enjoy his new huge Dracula cape, though, I need a little bit more from him than low-pitched growls about Misaki and vampires. He wasn't that compelling a character to begin with, but now he's an action figure with a set number of pre-recorded voice lines.
Shirase and Defrott, thankfully, bring some humanity to the drama. Shirase takes the news about vampires in stride—she did call it, after all—and I especially enjoy that it doesn't affect her rapport with her friend. Even after his long-winded soliloquy about the slings and arrows that vampires suffer thanks to their curse, she still has the panache to call him a child. And correctly so! For all the wisdom that is supposed to come with age, Defrott is still too content to selfishly cling, and too quick to wallow in despair when he repeats the same mistakes. His attempts to save both Misaki and Maeda backfired tragically, and now he's ready to give up. Shirase, however, manages to break through his thick skull, and when it comes time to save her life, Defrott finally decides to rely on someone else. That's progress! No matter how powerful a vampire he may be, he can't fix everything on his own.
Defrott's conflict, at its core, is a very human one, and that's definitely been one of the core thematic thrusts of MARS RED as a whole. Although Suwa tries to differentiate between the two, both vampires and humans alike can grow tired of being alive. And both can find reasons to live as well. Art in particular, as highlighted by both Suwa and Defrott, provides vampires a way to keep in touch with their humanity. The same, however, applies to ordinary people. We all grow calloused with age and experience, but art is there to dig under our skin and remind us of our vulnerabilities. This, too, is surely why MARS RED references and venerates the arts so much throughout its narrative.
This continuity between humans and vampires is also emphasized in Tenmanya's backstory, although its brevity makes it feel clumsier than the other examples. There are only so many times I can watch a vampire heroically sacrifice themselves for someone they love before even I have to roll my eyes. This is, however, notable for MARS RED being as blatant as possible in connecting vampires to persecuted minorities—in this case, foreigners in Japan. There are, of course, always complicating factors when it comes to using a fantasy analogue to comment on real injustices, but I think this approach, utilizing reality and fantasy in tandem, allows for more potential nuance. This isn't to say that MARS RED has had anything particularly poignant to say about bigotry with its runtime, because I don't believe it has yet. That's been one of the show's biggest missed opportunities, especially considering the ethnic cleansing, encouraged by authorities, that followed the actual 1923 earthquake.
Nevertheless, I can't be too harsh on this episode when it features Kurusu turning into Taisho Batman. That's the kind of ridiculous deus ex machina I can get behind. I'm less enthused about Shirase being damseled, but Defrott himself comments on the fairy tale nature of the scene, unfolding in defiance of his prior pessimism. It's a cliché in service of inspiring hope. Although Defrott ruminates on the suicide of the woman who turned him, Shirase and Kurusu show him another kind of story—one that spurs him into action. It's dumb, and it's good.
Rufus' sudden yet inevitable betrayal of Nakajima deserves almost no comment outside of the hilariously macabre way he decides to inform his former business partner. His motivations haven't become any more scrutable, but at least he's still having fun. And that's more or less how I feel about MARS RED as it saunters towards its conclusion. There's little sense of urgency, and it's lost sight of some of the creative vision that defined its earlier standout moments, but I'm still having a good time with it. While it's not as far removed from typical bloodsucker fare as it would like to imagine, it's a pleasantly idiosyncratic version of the cape-swooshing vampiric melodrama I thirst for.
MARS RED is currently streaming on Funimation.
Steve is hungry for anime and on the prowl for Revenge this season. Learn about this and more (i.e. bad anime livetweets) by following him on Twitter.
discuss this in the forum (23 posts) |