Metallic Rouge has some luster left in it yet. Last week’s place setting, while comparatively duller, teed up a collection of dominoes that have now toppled in intriguing directions. In letting these pieces fall, this episode also wields the show’s strengths more deftly; the entwined threads of aesthetics, action, conspiracy, and philosophy are more cohesive and meaningful. It’s not the mind-bending cyberpunk freak fest I’d like to see, but it’s pretty darn good nevertheless.
I still respect Metallic Rouge‘s confidence the most, as it continues to utilize visuals and subtext intelligently. The mysterious circus airship touches down this week yet receives no explanation or exposition beyond the clowns who crawl out of it. Based on its appearance/timing, I assume it has something to do with the Immortal Nine, but Metallic Rouge understands that the less we know about it right now, the more interesting it is. The image alone can sustain it for the time being. I also like Rion’s line about Juval using Rouge to kill fellow Neans. This is never directly refuted by another character, but as the audience, we’re given all the information we need to know that this was a lie told to him by Giallon. Even though we don’t see that manipulation directly, the show trusts us to read between the lines and infer it. That’s the smart way to conserve time/space with the limited minutes a TV anime is allotted.
Rouge and Naomi’s reconciliation feels less clumsy than their fight last week, but it’s more undercooked than I’d like. It does, however, tie into the episode’s larger theme of free will. Because if Rouge wants to assert that she has free will, then she has to accept the burden of responsibility for the Neans she’s killed so far. That guilt is her main source of conflict this week, as we see her struggle against these specters from her past. The mere presence of this struggle affirms that Rouge isn’t just a tool of Aletheia. She thinks. She questions. But she’s only going to make things more difficult for herself by weighing the morality of her actions.
Thus, Afdal/Phantom Verde cements himself as her ideological opponent. He asserts that nobody has free will. His belief in determinism is a reaction to his pessimism. He’s seen too much of the suffering endured by his fellow Neans. He even laments his own body, whose deadly design only reinforces the idea that his fate was sealed at the moment of his creation. In believing that humans, Nean, and the universe are fixed in place, he can rationalize all that cruelty. It’s out of his hands. That’s just how the world is.
Like all of us, Afdal is also a hypocrite. His fatalism clashes with his actions as a doctor, his proximity to Juval’s idealism, and his mentorship of Rion. He wouldn’t have integrated himself in there if he didn’t believe a better world was possible through his own hands. Afdal only sinks into complete despair because Giallon unravels all of these threads by manipulating people’s fears, frustrations, and prejudices. His fight with Rouge is a self-destructive acknowledgment that whatever he had been trying to do with the CFN has failed. He can’t stop the cosmic millstone from turning, so he lets himself be crushed by it. While Rouge’s victory is pyrrhic, it’s also a sign that she might have the strength to swallow the despair that choked Afdal.
I enjoy the understated tragedy of Afdal’s arc, and it helps offset the bluntness of seeing innocent Neans gunned down by a bunch of dudes in Nazi-adjacent uniforms. Bluntness is appropriate when dealing with fascist violence, but I appreciate when a little more artistry and subtlety are thrown into the mix. However, whether blunt or subtle, Metallic Rouge has yet to say anything profound about its politics. It’s coloring within the lines of its cyberpunk playbook. The drip-feed of information paints an ever-more complicated portrait of its world and factions—the Immortal Nine are highly fractured, Giallon sees something in Naomi that stops his blade short, Ochrona and Aletheia are at odds yet willing to work together, etc.—but the thematic strokes remain broad.
Other nagging qualities hold back my praise from becoming effusive. Scene to scene, I’m noticing more abrupt cuts that don’t provide any service or context besides interrupting the flow of the episode. If these are deliberate editing decisions, then they’re strange ones. I’d also like more visual creativity. Rouge’s nightmare/hallucination was a perfect opportunity to get weirder, and the show passed it up. Furthermore, I think this arc proved that Metallic Rouge‘s overall likability relies heavily on Naomi and Rouge’s chemistry. When they’re separated like this, the anime lacks the charm that the second episode was drowning in. I’m still engaged because I’m biased towards the whole nostalgic package Metallic Rouge is working with, but the casual audience is probably (and rightfully) frustrated when the show gives them little else to latch onto. The series isn’t experimental enough to string people along with sci-fi intrigue alone. It needs its leads to flirt with each other.
I’ve run out of room again, but one of these weeks, I promise I will set aside space to write about the soundtrack because Metallic Rouge‘s music is my favorite thing about it. When that chorus of “The moment has arrived for fighting!” hits, it hits hard as hell. Like something big and heavy. Something metallic.
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