Release the Spyce
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Release the Spyce ?
Before I dive into episode 6 of Release the Spyce, I should note that I misinterpreted the final lines of last week's episode. Hatsume wasn't the one implied to be Tsukikage's traitor; she was simply pointed out by the traitor as a person of interest for Moryo to pursue, specifically because one of their agents, a bitter operative named Theresia Ray, was friends with Hatsume when they both were children. In “The Rewards of Friendship”, Theresia infiltrates Sorasaki High School to determine whether or not Hatsume belongs to the Tsukikage. Theresia is no mere agent for Moryo though; she's been aching to have her revenge on Theresia, the girl she believed abandoned her to slave traders so many years ago. This may sound like the recipe for more compelling character drama, like what we got back in “Never Say Never Together”, but unfortunately “The Rewards of Friendship” is more of a dud, the first episode in Release the Spyce's run that feels like empty clichés and aimless padding.
The source of this story's failures come from the weak writing and muted direction; more than anything else, this is an exceptionally boring episode of Release the Spyce. Hatsume herself is one of the least interesting members of the cast – she's the kind of girl whose main personality trait is that she's literally nice to everyone she meets, as if she's a parody of a Disney Princess and all the people around her are friendly forest critters. Hatsume has already taken on the role of doting caretaker to the increasingly restless Byakko, who's only mollified in her captivity by an endless parade of sweets, but the real test of her preternatural friendliness comes when Theresia arrives on the scene. To the girls' credit, none of the other Tsukikage members buy that Hatsume's childhood friend would just appear out of the blue as a transfer student, years after being kidnapped and sold into some unknown bondage. The only one who wants to give Theresia a chance is Hatsume, who spends the whole episode trying to make nice and atone for being forced to leave Theresia when she needed a friend most.
It's obvious that Hatsume is being willfully ignorant to Theresia's true nature on account of her own guilt, but it isn't as simple as checking a box on the Big List of Genre Clichés; even given the context of this familiar story beat, there's only so far Release the Spyce can go if the relationship being explored is so undercooked. Hatsume and Theresia meet on the streets of some ambiguously foreign country, where Hatsume is a little rich girl looking for a friend, and Theresia is the victim of poverty and abuse. Their friendship is established primarily through montage – Hatsume is The Nicest Girl, and she essentially pesters Theresia into submission by following her around everywhere until they agree to become friends, though this short-lived bond is immediately broken when the two are abducted and put up for ransom. Hatsume's wealthy family springs the cash for both of them, but Theresia is sold to Moryo before anything can be done, and she goes on believing that Hatsume just abandoned her from there.
In short, Theresia's entire motivation is defined by a contrived misunderstanding during an overwrought tragedy, and while I never expected “subtlety” to be Release the Spice's strength, I'm still sad to see this story told with so little nuance or imagination. The direction is also weak, which only compounds the story's issues; outside of the flashback stuff, the majority of this episode's scenes are simple shot-reverse-shot dialogue sequences. The framing of the characters is bland, the editing is too leisurely, and everything just feels off.
The exchange where Hatsume finally tries to explain the truth of their separation to Theresia is a perfect example of how sloppy “The Rewards of Friendship” ends up being; what should be a tense and emotional bit of catharsis just feels toothless, and that's before Momo's silly “empathic licking” power gets brought up again just so she can verbalize the obvious. ("Theresia may perform the role of the cold and angry lone wolf, but she really just wants her friend back!") Then, just a minute or two later, the episode just stops. Hatsume has hardly had time to reflect on anything, Theresia remains as thinly drawn as she was at the beginning of the episode, and Release the Spyce reaches its midpoint with the Moryo plotline still having gone mostly nowhere.
Just about the only part of “The Rewards of Friendship” that works to move Release the Spyce forward is the brief moment that Hatsume shares with Katrina, because this where the show gives us some major clues to the identity of the traitor (for real this time). Either Katrina is the one selling out Tsukikage or she's the prime red herring suspect, because she's just dripping with guilt in every frame of this scene. “Knowledge of personal information of those in Tsukikage should be limited to myself and current members,” she says at one point. Later, when Hatsume reaffirms that she'd never doubt Katrina, the elder spy responds with: “If that's the kind of conviction you have, I'm sure everything's fine.” Though Katrina is such a minor character that her betrayal would be little more than a twist for twist's sake, I'd be excited for her to end up being the turncoat, if only because it means that Release the Spyce would finally have to stop beating around the bush and get a move on with its plot already.
Release the Spyce is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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