by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
MARS RED ?
Kurusu and Yamagami spend their walk back home fumbling around in the dark, worrying about going around in circles. Here at the midpoint of the season, MARS RED feels similarly cyclical, not merely recapitulating the events of past episodes, but weaving its various plot threads into in an ever widening gyre, portending its disastrous deus ex machina. The threat of apocalypse looms heavy from the very first scene, only to compound further upon itself as the characters and audience come to realize that these events were spiraling out of control long before the series' introduction. It's a dense episode, a strange episode, and a good episode.
While I've previously praised MARS RED for its ominously laconic pacing, this episode is a nightmarish acceleration towards disaster. It's a much different vibe, and it works, given the context. Even if you don't know anything about the Great Kanto Earthquake, things just feel wrong from the moment Shirase notices the red sky and sees the vampires combust right in front of her. Apocalyptic imagery haunts the rest of the episode as well, from herds of rats, to dead cicadas, to allusions from the Book of Revelations. The editing also feels jumpy, as we quickly hop across Tokyo to check in on the entire cast, punctuated by shots of the clock advancing unperturbed towards noon. You could argue that this episode moves too quickly for its gravity to adequately sink in, but I think the unsettling and almost campy tempo works really well in conjunction with its events. After all, this isn't reality; it's theater.
The episode's sense of escalation is also tempered by its lack of new information—or rather, this is an episode about teaching its characters, as opposed to teaching the audience. Some of these revelations may still blindside viewers who haven't been paying close attention (or haven't been reading my reviews), but there's almost nothing here that hasn't been hinted at or disclosed already by MARS RED. Nakajima's alliance with Rufus, the effects of Ascra, the true nature of the vampire unit, Maeda's prosthetic arm, Misaki's relationship with her father—there's nothing shocking here, but there's still value in laying it all out before the big shake-up. I want to call special attention to Maeda's prosthetic, which I don't believe I've mentioned yet. While this is the first time we see it sans glove, there are actually enough context clues to notice it as early as episode one (consider, for instance, his shaky handwriting). MARS RED definitely rewards the observant, but an episode like this also gives everyone a chance to catch up.
Considering that this episode is one big ticking clock, the timing of Maeda's prosthetic reveal is also important. He's at a crossroads, torn between his love for Misaki and his loyalty to Nakajima. And since we don't get a look inside of his consistently stoic head, it's difficult to tell what angle he's playing and when. Is he trying to deceive Nakajima by putting on a show, fighting his subordinates? Is he tired and depressed enough to actually want the Ascra? Does he feel that his duty to his country takes precedence over his ethics? I'd wager that all of these conflicts are swirling around in there to some degree. His prosthetic arm, therefore, could symbolize a number of things: the debt he owes Nakajima in conflict with the rest of his mind, the temptation of inhumanity, or even his resistance to the allure of vampirism. I dislike the equivalence to inhumanity the most out of all of those, both because of the unfortunate ableist implications, and because it doesn't hold true to the rest of MARS RED. The vampires we've seen—especially those in Code Zero—are still undoubtedly human, and MARS RED has frequently emphasized their flawed and tragic natures. This conflict, therefore, is less about Maeda's temptation to embrace vampirism, and more about his relationship with Nakajima.
Nakajima emerges as the episode's most interesting character. He's my favorite kind of villain: he has complete faith in his own moral calculus, and certain parts of his moral calculus are very difficult to argue with. Fundamentally, he argues that he doesn't want to see any more young men die due to the greed and aspirations of the rich and powerful both within Japan and across the globe. I can't really object to anything there! War is a hugely profitable industry with horrific human costs, and if we can't abolish profit seeking (and we should, don't get me wrong), then it at least makes sense to temper the costs. There is, of course, the hypocrisy of Nakajima damning his entire unit to fight forever for this profit, robbing them of their lives and agency, but that's a hypocrisy he's accepted as a “sacrifice” for the sake of the greater good. He's willing to be the villain to see his ideals come true. He'll be the snake peddling the fruit of wisdom. However, Nakajima's motivations aren't completely noble; his humanitarian concerns are dulled by his nationalism. He wants Japan to have a seat at the table of world politics, and while that's not a terrible motivation in itself, he prioritizes the fate of his country over the fate of his subordinates. It's lofty, backwards thinking, but it fits his character. He's not a revolutionary. He's a lieutenant general, and he wants to win by any means necessary.
The earthquake, then, is Nature's ironic rebuttal to Nakajima's arguments and ideals. No single person can prevent the senseless loss of human life en masse, no matter how Faustian of a bargain they strike. Wars will be waged. Disasters will strike. Nakajima salutes those children with the confidence that his actions would ensure their bright and happy future, and the earthquake tears that illusion of control away from him. There's no guarantee those children survived another ten minutes after their meeting, let alone a full and fulfilling life. We the audience know that the Great Kanto Earthquake was always going to happen on September 1, 1923. It was a horrible inevitability. In the context of the episode, however, full of apocalyptic portends, I imagine it'll be hard for some of these characters to see it as anything but punishment.
I had speculated that the earthquake was going to the entire series' big climax, so now that it's already happened at the halfway point, I have no idea where MARS RED is going to go next. I think that's pretty exciting! Whatever happens next will be without Yamagami, though, and that's a huge loss. His final scene with Maeda is one of the most touching moments of the show so far, mostly because it's one of the few times we see Maeda completely unfiltered. He only acts that way because he's confident he's going to die, but Yamagami selflessly and cruelly denies him any easy release. While I'm usually skeptical of character deaths wantonly slung around for the shock factor, I think Yamagami's ending here is subdued enough to not feel like a melodramatic crutch. That said, it's still melodramatic, but in a way that feels true to the tragic, gothic theatricality of MARS RED. Yamagami was my favorite character precisely because he didn't quite fit into its mold. He himself seemed to notice as much, exiting early with the dignity of a true friend. In contrast with Nakajima's blowhard speeches, his is the actual sacrifice. I don't know what the future holds for Maeda and the rest of Code Zero, but Yamagami's big wife-loving heart is sure to guide them.
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.
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