Political minefields planted in the penultimate episode.
If you are the sort of person who enjoys reading my anime writeups, it might be fair to assume you also do not skip your anime intros and opening credits.
Clear your head. Sneak a last second look at your phone. Settle in with your coffee or some other drink. Winding the brain away from whatever you were doing and into “Anime Watching” mode.
In which case, you may have noticed something. The Girls’ Frontline anime intro has a rather sequential rundown of multiple Sangivs Ferri Ringleaders. After playing with Destroyer and Dreamer the last few episodes, who would be next? So… is this the time for Agent to make a return? Well, no.
Like in the game, Alchemist is all but stumbled into as part of the search to relocate the runaway ST AR-15. And she almost manages to infect some additional Griffin units in the process with the Parapluie virus. Who I will… get to in a moment.
Alchemist talks big. A vocabulary for making metaphors about the ripeness of fruit and an enthusiasm for wanting to wring necks. But for this part of the story she has little personal action to show for it. She has three scenes in total. Her boasting introduction. Some offhand comments to herself while observing the flow of battle. Then her final appearance in the episode. Where she smiles, turns, and walks away under the moonlight.
For an anime-only viewer, I feel this may be underwhelming or disappointing. As is stated several times throughout the episode: there are far, far more Sangvis units in the zone than Alchemist has the command authority level to handle. We have a resurgence of standard Vespid and Ripper trash mobs for a planetarium siege. Meanwhile the “surprise” Ringleader on the field with the most interesting potential is on stand-by.
This all still lines up with the source material though. Alchemist is characterized as someone who is ready to get to businesses mangling Griffin units, but she hangs back as things play out here. In contrast to Dreamer last episode, one thing she is not is a tactician or chessmaster. Flowery language indulgences aside. However, the trash mobs did come quite close to breaking through their siege assault. Some folks may find it odd Alchemist did not walk in to turn out the lights on Squad Negev herself.
She could have, by all counts. Yet she left.
As the humans and androids rack their brains about this situation in the story, I think a lot of new viewers would have wanted to see a rampage. She was indeed so very, very close. But as someone already familiar with the story? I came into this week expecting Alchemist to be on her best behavior.
Foreknowledge has its ups and downs. I know when not to expect the boss units to do too much.
Having prior knowledge of the Girls’ Frontline story also meant I was expecting a major decision the show would need to make this week.
The advance team on ST AR-15’s trail is Squad Negev. With every Griffin owned android unit in the game named after weapons, this group in particular is a collection of ones from Israel. They are also quite early designs as well. Negev, and Tar-21 to a lesser degree, is by all means the most KanColle or even Hetalia flavored national country of origin design in the game.
Negev’s default outfit has her dressed in the flag of the State of Israel, complete with hair clips and patches of the Star of David.
It is unavoidable. It is unquestionable.
It seems to have even been something of a problem to work around even from the start. The “damaged” art for Negev’s default outfit is perhaps the least changed in the entire game. Some scuffs and clothing tears, as well as a frowning carrot for a mouth. UMP45’s default outfit is close when it comes to minimal changes for her “damaged” state. But given her character, her art tilt and more pissed off expression still feels more significant in this situation. There seems to almost be a palpable lack of ideas or even fear of what to do with a “damaged” Negev design. Perhaps something of a sunk time/cost fallacy in the early days, when it comes to not outright scrapping the outfit design and developing something else. No other character ever went so far in this direction ever again, not in this particular way.
I have always felt it was noticeable how Negev’s premium skins have evolved over time. Her “Little Vagrant” costume changes the blue colorways on her jacket and dress to a reddish pink. Her popular and striking “Obsidian Princess” look gives her a gothic black suit of armor, surrounded by roses and flames. There is only the most minor hint of a star.
Squad Negev is the canonical group Alchemist pins down during the ST AR-15 search. So, there were three ways this could have played out. One choice would be to deploy the characters as they appear in the game during these story moments. Another would be to drop Squad Negev and replace some or all of them with an alternate team. A compromise route, to use Squad Negev here but to alter the character costumes, would be another way.
I never expected the first option. It would create a lot of business problems and unnecessary heat in the modern international streaming anime era. Many regions receive shows on their local platforms day and date with the television broadcast, give or take some hours. As for the second, this anime series has of course done character swaps before. But Squad Negev carries a lot of scenes and dialogue through this (and we can assume the next) episode. Such a choice would require more significant rewrites to the core plot and structure, as well as to the balance of personalities in play.
Negev and friends showing up, but scrubbed of the significant State of Israel colorways and accessories, was what I expected. Negev’s white costume base plays well with any color in the rainbow.
I suppose, thinking it over, an additional path would be to use alternate costumes. A lot of folks would love to see Negev’s “Obsidian Princess” look animated. Though this would also mean TAR-21 would be walking around like a casino bunny girl. Which might not even be “out of place” next to Micro Uzi’s clothing quirks of mini shorts, mini jacket, etc. But this has not been a series spending a lot of time on cheesecake shenanigans.
Regardless: I would not be surprised if the home video release presents Negev and TAR-21 in their original looks. Plenty of broadcast anime have made far more significant television edits than some basic costume color changes and swapping hairpins.
As for what the show does with Squad Negev, given the eggshell walking required to get them here, they did get a few highlight scenes across the episode.
Micro Uzi running out of ammo and asking her Dummies if they had more, only for a sad shake of their heads, is one of the better uses of Dummies. They can be more than just additional cannon fodder for causality shots. Galil, despite being a two star common unit in the game, gets a full arc of reactions across the episode as she tries to help the AR Team rescue her own squad. Her story role is the same in the game, but it is always nice when the common units are treated well in game adaptions.
The conversation Negev and TAR-21 have about why they are doing a search and rescue operation for ST AR-15 was effective. With a protracted siege allowing them to post up by the planetarium windows, nobody was going anywhere for a while. So, a scene focused on firing offscreen while discussing something with more weight allows the series to leverage Hideyuki Kurata’s strengths. At at same time, the positioning allows the production to sidestep showing as much of the Sangvis Ferri trash mobs. TAR-21 trying to question the motivations involved. Negev’s poignant considerations regarding the AR Team being at risk of “real” death as well as business thoughts about Griffin trying to make sure 16Lab does not look bad. It works well against the sunset. Part of the sequence even cuts back to Persica perched in her lab, drinking coffee, immersed in her monitoring screens. We have seen less of her in this series than I thought we would.
Also, Negev did have a key moment of being surprised by a Vespid climbing through the window, and needing to slam them back with her weapon.
The show could have used so many more small moments like this over the course of the season. Times where a lone standard enemy still presented an immediate threat. Large panning shots may show raw numbers, but have been poor at selling impact or danger.
Because we are late enough in the season to say so: There are other basic rank and file humanoid androids in the Sangvis Ferri arsenal than the Vespid (assault rifle), Ripper (twin sub-machine gun), and Jaeger (sniper rifle) classes we have seen so much. The standard Guard unit, with a large shield to advance down the field and buy time while squishier back-line units get into position, would not be out of place in a siege environment. Even if they just held the field to box the perimeter, their presence could help set the scene of how trapped Squad Negev finds themselves.
This episode featured multiple changes in the time of day, to showcase how long the siege was going. Which meant at least for a short while at the start of the episode, we have blue skies and clear morning or mid-day weather. Which has been a real rarity in the season. So much has occurred either during stark night, or under overcast desaturated conditions.
Mood lighting is important, as well as having consistent art direction. But a little bit of sunlight was nice.
If you read these posts without watching the actual episodes, you may be wondering about the AR Team at this point.
They are the protagonist squad we spent so much time reuniting over the course of the story, after all.
Well, most of their efforts in this part of the story involves linking up with Squad Negev by way of Galil. They are trying to get to where the action is happening, while the narrative keeps most of its direct focus on Squad Negev’s situation.
M16A1 does peel off to inform the Commander and in the process identifies a small Sangvis base. She considers it may be supplementing the command of their forces in the region. Alchemist herself does not have a command level high enough for everything going on, after all.
This part of the story flows better in the game. As an interactive format, the player themselves handles the attack on this additional base. Here, Gentiane gives the order for her rebuilt primary squad to take care of this. But the entire assault happens and resolves off screen.
I find it hard to disagree with this choice.
All of the significant story material is occurring over where Squad Negev is pinned down. The side base is something of a misdirection in the source material. As M16A1 and friends learn by the end of episode, taking it out does not do anything to diminish the command of Sangvis Ferri forces in the area. There are only more flooding in from all directions.
We have only this and one more episode left to go in the season. Spending precious dwindling screen real estate on M16A1’s successful but also futile base attack would be a poor use of resources.
So I understand why it was glossed over. Heck, given how the show has often not done well with trash mob combat, I support keeping our eyes on the more important events. While still taking a moment for something like Negev smacking a Vespid in the face.
But still, for the anime-only viewers? I imagine this side base being brought up and resolved off screen in this manner may leave an odd aftertaste.
While adapting this small story point may be a bit of a speed bump, the anime edition does a much better job on the most important AR Team material this week. The flashbacks regarding ST AR-15 and M4A1, in particular the memory of the former waking up the latter.
ST AR-15 has on the broad level been defined as the most “distant” or “serious” of the group. This chapter begins to peel away at the layers behind this. To start digging and suggesting at more of her nuances beyond her mere character archetype role. The television adaptation gives a variety of alternating camera angles to the wake up scene, which plays well with the several emotions ST AR-15 is cycling through. The routine assignment doldrums. The surprise at the notion M4A1 might know her. The disappointment over the reason why M4A1 knows what to call her, by recognizing the weapon. The sinking into open contempt and disdain for everything about the entire situation.
Her first orders were to be M4A1’s friend. Even for those without outsider knowledge of the rest of the story, it is clear to say: this is not an auspicious meeting. It is not a happy memory.
The anime version of events executes well on the little screenwriting bit of having ST AR-15’s calm “Wake Up” dialogue to M4A1 in the past fade into the more frantic “Wake Up!” lines by M16A1 to SOPMOD II in the present.
As things stand, it is the dead of night. Both ST AR-15 and M4A1 are now missing. SOPMOD II was knocked out, recovered, and is scared and ready to cry. Sangvis Ferri forces are pouring into the zone to such a degree the order has come in from Helian to abandon the entire area.
Baring an extreme and legendary departure from the known story events, the season should end in the only way it can. The way I expected. The credits will be on the other side of the Comet chapter.
We have one episode remaining. All which remains up to chance is the execution.