If four is the number of death, can SOPMOD II be the number of life?
The mission to recover the Anti-Rain Team continues. As the title preview suggested last week: the “Silence” chapter of the original game will take at least two episodes.
Due to how this story plays out, it also presents a conundrum the anime had yet to encounter. This episode comes without much of a Ringleader presence from Sangvis Ferri. We still have two combat encounters this week however: the SOPMOD II rescue mission and Gentiane’s forward operating base coming under attack. Which presents the perfect opportunity to go over something the previous episodes had a somewhat easier time papering over.
Gacha game trash mob fights fill the gameplay time between the more memorable moments players remember. It is rather rare for them to be engaging in their own right, unless you are shy of the right side of the power curve. Adapting some canon fodder enemy fights when transferring the story to a new medium is expected. But, some empty calories while the main cast tears through some rank and file folks is pretty standard stuff for a lot of action shows by any reasonable metric. It comes down to how it is handled.
The series has featured a lot of “safe” direction when it comes to the trash mob fight scenes.
A shot of Griffin characters firing off screen followed by a cut to Sangvis units receiving those shots, for instance. In isolation, a shot of a lone character shooting from behind cover or assuming a firing line with others is fine. Have the radio chatter to maintain dialogue. Pepper in some “gore” shots for visual flavor. It can at least fill some time.
When entire multi minute shootouts are drenched in this kind of composition though, things feel weightless and flat.
This is even more true when one deploys the decades old animation toolbox shot of panning across a static image while wiggling it around more than a few too many times. It becomes impossible to ignore. Toss in the classic Star Wars cultural meme of Stormtrooper shots firing from every direction. But nothing hitting much of anything, despite their supposed expert lethality.
Not wanting to use up better ideas on trash mob fights is one thing. However, if the fight scenes this week had been blocked out in different ways, some bullets could have been dodged. A riverside city and a base attack are both intimate combat spaces. So, large but sterile panning shots of Tons Of Enemies is less effective than just having them pop up around every corner.
Think about old video games. A town in a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo game may “just” be two or three shops. But you build the illusion of there being so much more. Or something like Resident Evil 2 or Parasite Eve. In terms of modeled space they are a series of hallways. But they need to convince the player there is a larger area you are existing within. There are only a few enemies on screen at any given time. Yet you believe them to be everywhere.
Seeing SOPMOD II become bored with the entire idea of holding a firing line, running off to shoot a grenade, and using a Sangvis corpse as a shield to advance is a swell idea.
It just feels so lost and under supported within the larger sameness of these battles. Plus, there was an unusual lack of “gore” shots of flying limbs or other android damage compared to prior episodes to cover for this.
It might be a cheap dopamine shot, but their lack of presence stood out all the more this week.
Looking over the rest of my notes, not everything is doom and gloom.
Kalina once again only has a little bit of screentime. But it is used for some good character effect. How convenient for her to stand around over M4A1 to let her know as soon as she woke up about the base communications line and then walking right out of the room. In the legal sense, she never saw anything. This drier and slyer Kalina has been a welcome sight whenever she pops in. This adaptation has been good to her.
Likewise, I feel a lot of shows would have taken advantage of a lead character being in hospital garb for some easy cheesecake fanservice shots. For this scene M4A1 is shot almost always from a wait-up position or higher with appropriate cover. No “Oh golly, all the scrubs in your size are in the wash, oops!” type shenanigans here. Again, considering the original game has some characters with quite suggestive art for when they have received excessive damage, this too has remained a consistent and mindful direction choice.
The deployment of unit Dummies has also improved somewhat. When M4A1 opens one of her cases, the Dummy inside already has the appropriate hair installed. This better conveys how it is indeed hers. They are not some generic all purpose frame with Science Fiction Nanotech Magic happening for a wig like in the second episode.
As a rule, if I was framestepping something I felt was a problem before, I do also want to note when I see the same situation delivered upon better.
Watching them rise out of the box fully clothed, when the Dummy frame did not have any on when the boxes were opened, is still odd. It does cut out a potential avenue for fanservice shot weirdness, I suppose, as the show always seems to be trying to keep this in check.
We do not need to see the girls getting dressed.
I would just try to avoid composing shots of them getting out of the box. Even if you can indeed line the infantry up with departing helicopters at sunset.
We also see more individual unit skills this week.
SOPMOD’s love of a big grenade counts in a broad technical sense. But we also see some flare shots during a night battle. Which is kind of neat in a “You would almost never ever do this in the game, because using night vision scopes and including any one Handgun in a formation would get better results” sort of way. So it is nice to see a lesser used ability get some screen time. Somewhat likewise with MP5 getting to use her Force Shield during the base assault. Shield SMG units in the game have their uses, but are niche.
During the base attack, SOPMOD noticing Ingram advancing with her because Ingram did not want to be left out of the fun is also handy. Ingram gets some additional establishment as a trigger happy destruction fiend. SOPMOD, having run off on her own because she felt out of place and bored, gets a moment to reconsider how maybe she does have a place with the others at Gentiane’s base. To then flip to incredible clinging exuberance for the new Commander she meets after the fight. From there, flipping again to frustration and anger for the lack of an immediate order to mount a rescue mission for ST AR-15.
Much of this is happening in the midst of otherwise rather blasé battles, I want to reiterate.
But I also want to make sure I am pointing out I have more of a problem with the battle direction than I do in the overall narrative plan. I do go back and reread what the game was doing at the same points the story covers each week. The small additional character splashes add up to help bolster this still quite early part of the story.
In the source material, it did take me quite a few chapters to warm up to SOPMOD II’s character and shenanigans. By which I mean, deep into the chapter 8 – 10.5 material.
If you know, you know.
The mobile game tells its story through static art portraits and occasional cinematic illustrations presented over text boxes. This format has some trouble doing appropriate visual justice to someone built to be the walking embodiment of pure id.
Here, she can stand out more. She can show when she does something unorthodox. She can make a funny face. She can be free.
Now she is back and, as a more stand out central character, she can be leveraged for the story we have ahead.
All it would take is the appropriate direction.