The Price of Smiles
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
The Price of Smiles ?
Has The Price of Smiles finally worn itself out? I feel like I came away from this episode with some overly harsh impressions. The show opened with several episodes dedicated to demonstrating the harsh realities of war and the increased hardships that came from how both sides navigated those elements. The ‘war is bad’ point was sold well from the get-go, and the main storyline seemed to be kicking in more effectively over the past few episodes. So to pull back from that and go right back to mere heavy-handed platitudes feels like a step backward. The show's pacing has always felt admittedly protracted, but The Price of Smiles was really just killing time for most of this week's episode.
Even though we're back following the Grandiga gang, this episode runs into the issue that so much of their material feels like a retread. We get more of the team occupying themselves during downtime, reflecting on what their time in the army with their comrades means to them, and bonding over the subject of adorable children victimized by the conflict. Didn't we cover all these subjects the last time we focused on these characters? Even the last episode with Soleil was finally able to get past repeating Yuki learning about the serious nature of warfare to instead impart new and surprising world-building information. At this point, it just feels like stalling.
The script certainly likes to act like we're being given a deeper look into things we weren't privy to before. But unlike the environmental reveal involving nanomachines and space-EMPs last episode, we only get mere extensions of characterization that have been hammered in since the beginning. You remember Stella's hilariously tragic childhood? Yeah, turns out there's still more to that origin story, leading up to more detailed reasons she needs to sympathize with unfortunate warzone kids and showing how she was ultimately convinced to join Grandiga's army. Honestly, it feels messed up that a series that's comfortably coasted on ‘War is Bad’ as a foundation would even remotely romanticize military recruitment as a haven for a tragic lost soul like Stella.
But that's the biggest thematic development we get for the characters this week. Even if the circumstances aren't ideal, this is the closest to an affirming family situation Stella and her squadmates have experienced in their lives. That works with the whole banal tragedy of the situation, where young soldiers find meaning in a bleak situation. But again, it's nothing The Price of Smiles hasn't thematically deployed before, with so much merely recapping those feelings this week. It perhaps says a lot about how starved I was for actual plot development in this show that simply getting the goofy anime technobabble last week got me more invested than going back to this bunch running their same emotional laps again. Did I give The Price of Smiles too much leeway, leaving me realizing now that I'm simply not that invested in platitudes on the sad futility of wartime orphanage management?
Thankfully, it's not a total slog of a retread. The show actually busts out its best multiple-viewpoint gimmick for the end of this episode, repeating the fight where Harold sacrificed himself to reveal that Stella's squad were in fact the opponents in that fight, with Gale being the enemy mech who turned in his own sacrifice to take down Harold. Maybe that would have been better telegraphed had any of these mech designs been memorable enough to stand out, but it's still a neat trick nonetheless. It honestly makes me wish the show had leaned on this gimmick more often; it's a solid demonstration of the merciless nature of warfare, especially as the alternate take of last episode's fight eschews any cockpit shots of the Kingdom soldiers we know are participating. This includes Harold, and it was his big scene last time! Between that and the point afterwards that Harold is the one given a big public funeral in a show of propaganda by the Empire, you have a strong high-concept ending for the episode that finally got me to sit up and take notice.
Unfortunately, that's all in the last few minutes of the episode, leaving the rest feeling like filler. I was all for The Price of Smiles taking its time to extol its positions on warfare at first, but we're well past the time for that now. Instead it feels like heavy-handed time wasting with little focus on the nteresting plot developments from last week.
The Price of Smiles is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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