Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova ep11 (sororicide)
I am consistently impressed by this show’s ability to make ship to ship combat engaging and emotional. I’m more impressed at this show’s ability to not waste emotion.
With the new freshly merged 401 out to sea, and back on track for its original mission of delivering the vibration warhead to America, you’d expect a breather. That’s not happening. Even as the ship surfaces, the full attention and force of the FOG is being forced upon it. Surrounded by FOG cruisers, Chihaya makes the gutsy and quick decision to to swing the new 401 around and deploy a sweeping attack that ends up being highly effective and eliminates all there surface enemies in one swoop. Unfortunately, the FOG is in no way a surface only fleet. Iona’s “sisters”, the 400 and 402 are closely stalking her from a distance and closing in progressively.
Faced with a clear stock of weaponry, the merged 401 new firepower and a clear plan to get to America, Chihaya decides not to try to rush the resupply trip to Hawaii. Instead, he opts to face the twin subs head on with a new strategy.
In the meantime, Kamikage is getting news of the 401’s actions, preparing accordingly. While he did give the Chihaya the vibration warhead, he was also in charge of the military deployment to kill Makie. His rivalry with the powerful Kita proving to be more and more heated. The show seems to be trying to point to Kamikage have ulterior motives.
Someone who doesn’t have any ulterior motives is Kongo, still trapped by the program known as Maya and the lockdown placed on her by the twin sisters, she appeals to Maya again and again to be released. It’s almost as if she doesn’t understand, or want to believe that her companion is just a mindless slave of programming. This ends up mattering little though, as Kongo is actually able to break free of her chains (literally), and regain control of her ship. She then grabs Maya, and fuses with her, creating only God knows what kind of monster in the process.
Back in the Pacific, Chihaya has already decided on his next course of action, and commanded the crew to prepare for combat. Right before that though, the sisters attempt to talk to Iona. They’re puzzled by the more human changes to the virtual reality room in which they speak. They’re puzzled by a lot of things about Iona, and reject her existence outright, telling her that she is not of the FOG. And while both sisters view Iona as dangerous and corruptive, 402 is so puzzled that she even tries to touch Iona, before being warned not to by her sister.
The battle quickly plays out, as Chihaya instead of taking a more elusive approach, opts to use the full force of the mental models on his ship to approach the sisters head on with a more illusionary tactic. The 401 deploys with two fully controlled decoys, handled by Hyuga and imbued with the coding of Haruto and Takao to help make them indistinguishable to the actual 401 on sensors. What plays out after that is a ballet of deception and torture. Iona watches as Gunzou and the others work towards killing her sisters, while the sisters, very much unaware of how doomed they are continue to engage in combat while still talking to her. One sister sacrifices herself for the other, but then the other is snagged in Chihaya’s trap and sunk as well. As Iona mourns the loss of her sisters, the remaining sister tells her that she only engaged two enemies in combat and sunk them. Soon after that, Iona is without siblings.
The battle is won, but the crew doesn’t have much time to celebrate, and Iona’s not given much time to mourn. As they come up from the surface, not only are they confronted by the FOG of the Americas, but the newly merged Kongo has caught up to them from behind in some new giant floating space ship!
This was an exciting and emotional episode, and it comes on the heels of an episode just as good. What we have hear is simultaneously a failure of communication, but also a failure to adjust and evolve. The FOG are struggling mightily to understand and crush a world that is changing around them. The ones that make the adjustment accept their newfound humanity and join and support Iona and Chihaya eventually. The ones that don’t end up changing anyway, but fighting the change and becoming stifled by it. The ironic thing is that Iona’s sisters didn’t even have much of a chance to do that. They die just as they’re discovering this humanity. And even then, I’m not sure that it kicks in well enough, and soon enough for them to even lament their deaths like it started to do for Haruna when she was defeated. We see the sisters die as FOG, as while Iona mourns them as a human. There’s a bittersweet beauty to the moment. The only problem I had with the scene was the music. I thought at some point, the music should have been less combat focused, and instead leaned more towards a somber air of inevitability.
This episode really did give me an “Episode 19” feel, something I hope to describe in more detail in a later blog post. In essence, it reminded me of those somber episodes in anime, where you had to kill someone you loved, or were very close to. If you want to understand what I mean, look at the nineteenth episodes of Evangelion and RahXephon. It’s a very similar set up, with similarly tragic results. And episodes like this are important, even crucial to a character’s development. Forcing a character into these situations forces them to reevaluate their goals and their place in life. I always looked down on the tired situation in media where you see a friend get turned into a zombie, or they get possessed by someone or something evil, and you have to kill them. Being forced to kill someone who is your enemy by choice is always more compelling and emotionally laborious. To face down someone you saw as a friend, and be forced to take them down only by mere responsibility and duty is even more tragic. That is the situation here. On both ends, the parties were only doing their jobs.
Moving on to the next episode, we see the old “rock and a hard place” conundrum. Though I have a strong feeling that Kongo has gone completely crazy, and is willing to kill her own FOG compatriots to get to Iona now. She has no reason to trust or abide by the Admiralty Code here, which makes her a complete rogue unit, with a hell of a lot of firepower and only one purpose – to be the only one who sinks the 401 and kills Chihaya Gunzou. I certainly hope my favorite character in the show hasn’t become some mindless killing machine. The part I loved most about her was her graceful, yet stern and cold demeanor. I don’t want my Kongo sans elegance. It just won’t feel right.