Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021


Well Lena, you’ve done it. You’ve learned the actual names of the 86 serving under you, and have taken one more step towards recognizing them as fully human. As nearly everyone has pointed out, this is mostly a symbolic gesture, and hasn’t really changed the fundamental nature of your relationship – but even symbolic gestures can be meaningful, and by starting with the things she can change, Lena is still pushing back against the forces that determined these class relations.

To 86’s immense credit, no one except for Lena thinks her efforts are either smart or meaningful. Both Lena’s own family and the 86 are clear in their belief that Lena is not cut out for this work – she is too sensitive and too idealistic, and will eventually either be run into the ground by disappointment, or officially sanctioned by her superiors. Fiction has a tendency to simplify structural conflicts and amplify the power of individual agency; after all, stories cannot compress the vastness of society’s functions into a clean narrative, and individual heroes are easy and satisfying to follow. But in truth, the ability of any one person like Lena to alter the course of her entire nation is limited, and if she starts to gain any actual traction, she might end up drawing more attention than she was ready for. In her heart of hearts, Lena still seems to believe that her nation’s crimes are unintentional oversights, not conscious choices. Before she can fight alongside the 86, she must recognize her country’s true face.

Episode 5

“April 13th, Stellar Year 2142.” We jump back to that crucial day, when Lena’s father died, and she was rescued by a patriotic 86. The day that set everything in motion, and set Lena apart from her society

As ever, the “action scenes” are grotesque, senseless, and difficult to follow. 86 consistently pushes back against the idea that war or violence could ever “glorious,” portraying them instead as a confusing whirlwind of violence where you’re mostly just praying to survive

Thematically, this choice is similar to how the show emphasizes that Lena’s kind words are ultimately meaningless. Neither surviving in war nor changing a fundamentally racist culture are the result of one or two individual choices – these are structural problems that require structural solutions, and we are limited in our ability to “rise above” the circumstances of our birth

These points might seem fatalistic, or intended to imply that individual good works are meaningless, but that’s not the case. The intent is more to force the audience to adjust their perspective – to understand the face of the enemy, and thus perhaps be better equipped to actually engage with it. The structural forces that bind us want us to believe we are entirely free agents, and that better individual choices could solve all of our problems, rather than admit that we are intentionally restrained by massive economic and political interests whose success depends on our suffering. Think of how often we are told to make better individual choices in terms of stuff like using paper straws, when in truth the climate crisis can only be mitigated by shutting down corporate polluters

Personally, I try not to let the structural futility of individual good acts undercut my sense of pride in practicing kindness. I certainly appreciate any random acts of kindness, so even if we can’t save the world through individual choices, I still try to make the most decent choices I can

Anyway, that’s probably enough philosophizing about the limits of individual morality in a fallen world. Back to the action!

This sequence actually does a solid job of compositing some very discordant elements, using the heat of the flames to mitigate the visual disconnect between Lena in the foreground and the CG mech approaching her

Presumably Shin’s brother was the 86 who saved Lena, creating a neat circle of debt between them

The 86 who saves her is at first presented without eyes, using the glare of his glasses to amplify the sense that he’s not human, thus visually echoing young Lena’s distrust

“Father said we were doing horrible things to the 86. Why did you help me?” And thus Shin’s brother launches into his patriotic speech

Shin’s brother still has a sense of genuine pride in citizenship. Considering how the concept has been poisoned by this republic, I’ll be interested to see if 86 ultimately sees any worth in nationalism in general. Maybe it’s because I live in a country that’s caught in the grips of an anti-intellectual death cult, but I’ve never put that much stock in nations myself

Smart cuts as always, as Lena’s question about seeing his brother prompts aggressive cuts to his expression and then the cracking chocolate, echoing his spike of frustration

He says his name is Shourei Nouzen, or “Rei”

Shin’s parents were immigrants from the Empire of Giad, the nation who made the legion forces

Jumping back to the present, we learn Shourei died five years ago

“I’ve been looking for him for the past five years.” “You mean his body?” “No.”

We jump ahead eight days, to June 24th

Apparently, the “Revolution Festival” is approaching. I like how they integrate this event naturally into their conversation – Henrietta brings it up after first asking if she wants to go dress shopping for it, thereby alleviating any sense of “as we both know” exposition

Henrietta asks why Lena’s been so busy lately, and Lena deftly twists the conversation towards Henrietta’s potential suitors. Very natural dialogue here

“I told you that sharing sensory data puts stress on the brain.” Interesting

And then we jump six days later, to the 30th, using a playful match cut of Lena’s shifting expressions. She now talks casually with Shin even during the day, as they discuss the upcoming party

“Too much time focusing on the battlefield, and you’ll end up like me.” Did Shin just make a joke? They really have gotten a lot closer!

Also a credit to this show’s characterization that we can so easily detect changes in their relationships, since their initial relations are so firmly established

Shin vaguely remembers that he used to live in District 1

The fact that they’re basically flirting becomes brilliantly clear to Lena when she sees another couple on the stairs, and gets incredibly flustered. You’d think a veteran soldier would be past these romantic jitters, but this is Lena we’re talking about

Lena wonders how Shin gets such fast, accurate information about the Legion. He may have a contact on the other side, but this may also be our route into discovering that this whole battle is artificial – that the Republic is maintaining fascism by terrifying its own populace with robots, or has at least reached some mutually beneficial forever-war agreement with its enemies

As Shin charges towards the enemy, Lena hears a hundred overlapping, terrified voices, ending with Kaie’s “I don’t want to die”

Ooh, fantastic sequence of Lena experiencing a flashback here, as her reaching towards the headset brings the memories rushing back. Overt tricks like flipping the camera’s orientation and the red background glare create a strong sense of disorientation, but they’re backed up by equally crucial smaller things, like these quick cuts to sharp points around her room, conveying the sense of her being dragged onto the battlefield. And very detailed character acting, as well

And then this final cut from outside the window, with the silence making it seem like she’s choking on the pain. Just a really effective scene all around

“That’s Kaie.” “Didn’t you torch her with her juggernaut?” “Shit, they took her.” So the enemy mechs all contain the last remnants of dying soldiers?

“I’m aware of every Legion past the former borders of the Republic.” Alright, what? He claims he can hear the voices of dead soldiers because he died himself – but the team collectively heard Kaie, and collaborated to destroy her mech. I suppose they could just be hearing the mental feedback from his shared feed, but I’m still not sure to what extent this is a real, metaphorical, or supernatural phenomenon

Ah, so it is real. The Legion forces are using the brains of dead soldiers to replace their aging central processing unit, potentially prolonging the war indefinitely

This is what denotes a unit as a “Black Sheep” – a second-generation unit using a copy of a human brain

“Major, you’re going to lose this war”

Apparently there are also mechs with fully working brains, called “Shepherds,” who lead the others

“There’s one at the rear of District 1.” It’s gotta be his brother, right? That’s the thing he “has to do” – put his brother to rest

The light of the moon captures Shin’s expressions, as we see him twist between fatalism and sympathy, caught between his chosen last mission and Lena’s optimism

And Done

Well isn’t that a boatload of game-changing information! Apparently, in spite of their efforts to keep their hands clean, the Alba are all ultimately doomed anyway. Their utter lack of concern for the fate of the 86s has actually given their opponents a path to victory, by scrounging the fading scraps of their enemies into fresh new AI. Ultimately, this reveal should actually solidify the bond between Lena and her soldiers, given that defeat means they’ll all share the same fate in the end. But as for right now, I’m still grinning about this episode’s marvelous transitions – a signature strength of this show, here executed better than ever. It’s easy to invest in Lena’s trauma when it’s conveyed with this much thought and grace!

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By admin