How would you rate episode 8 of
MARS RED ?
Now that we have a better idea of who Misaki was and who Defrott is, MARS RED jumps back to the present and chooses Kurusu as the subject of this week’s character study. This is also the first episode set entirely in the ruins of post-quake Tokyo, and even within the context of the series’ usual dreariness, our tour through the rubble feels especially (and appropriately) drab. Plus, there are vampires. MARS RED compounds a real natural disaster with a fictional supernatural one, brazenly embracing camp alongside social commentary. It’s a weird vibe, to be sure, but the series’ confidence continues to carry its ambitions much farther than they might have traveled otherwise.
I thought we might see more of the earthquake itself, but MARS RED appears more interested in its aftermath. While that’s surely an economical choice, because I doubt the anime has the resources to do an action-packed disaster scene justice, it’s also one that’s dramatically consistent with the rest of the series. The show loves its slow, ponderous moments, and Kurusu’s melancholy wanderings through the ruins of Tokyo feels right at home. It does, however, make it a bit difficult to grasp the full magnitude of the earthquake’s toll, which leveled the city and killed over 100,000 people. By contrast, most of the cast is (presumably) alive, and few of them act like they’ve just been through the traumatic wringer. This isn’t bad or inaccurate, per se—the episode seems to take place about a week after the quake, with disaster relief already on the ground helping the survivors. Human resilience is a hell of a thing, and certainly also a thing MARS RED cares about. Tonally, though, the episode still feels a little weird.
Kurusu, however, keeps the mood balanced, as both the earthquake and its dramatic prelude with Maeda have changed the timbre of his character. He sulks through what remains of the streets, muttering Code Zero’s credo to himself, aware that it has little relevance in this new world. Vampires are no longer monsters lurking in the shadows, but a fact of life for the citizens of Tokyo. Special Forces Unit 16 patrol out in the open, and there’s even a vampire vaccine that everyone is talking about. On the other hand, this also means Kurusu has the freedom to go where he pleases, and he makes the most of this apocalyptic scenario by helping others and himself. He checks in on Shirase, content that she’s still okay enough to be yelling about vampires and flappers. He then visits Yamagami’s wife, which is my favorite scene of the episode. The two of them exchange their fond memories of Yamagami, and in doing so, provide each other with some closure and comfort. It’s doubly heartbreaking for Kurusu, because this is how he learns that his friend must have passed on. Yet he also learns that Maeda must still be out there, and that’s enough to keep him going.
Consequently, Kurusu is a much more compelling character now. He feels less like an archetypal rookie and more like a soldier meaningfully reexamining his allegiances in response to his own conscience. Nakajima’s vampire units unsettle him, and his priorities evolve this week, from taking vampires into protective custody, to simply protecting vampires. To that end, the mysterious and perspicacious Tenmanya reemerges as the strongest ally vampires have amongst this post-quake chaos, using his wealth of resources to set up an impromptu refugee camp for new vamps. I’d wager that this is the point where Kurusu realizes that Code Zero as it once was is well and truly over. Nakajima’s vision of an immortal police squad pretty much dissolves when confronted with the reality of children being turned into vampires through no fault of their own.
And if it weren’t already obvious that Nakajima had crossed the moral event horizon, its clarity is crystalline by now. Up to this point, there was at least some ambiguity about how much of the Ascra plot was Rufus and how much of it was Nakajima, but here Nakajima cops to everything besides the earthquake as being part of his machinations. He’s so scared of Japan being left behind that he’s mass-producing vampire juice to turn everybody into perfect soldiers—which of course exposes his professed noble intentions as completely hypocritical. And the vampire soldiers don’t even work properly! But while Nakajima seems cognizant of the gravity of his doomed plot, Rufus is having the time of his afterlife, humming “Danny Boy” while skipping through the subway. A quick read of the song’s lyrics also reveals the deliberate irony of the mournful tune contrasted against Rufus’ chipper demeanor.
Also, I know this is just unfortunate timing, but I have to comment on the dark chuckle I got out of the vampire vaccine that in actuality causes vampirism. There’s no way the showrunners could have known that this episode would drop in the middle of a global vaccination effort that has been beset with conspiracy theories. In that context, the content is more than a little yikes. In the context of the show, however, this demonstrates the extent of Nakajima’s villainy, honed to an especially fine point when we see one of the boys he saluted the other week grab a vial of Ascra for himself. In the context of world events, there is also, sadly, precedent for this. In 2011, the CIA used a fake vaccination effort to try to track Bin Laden, which not only failed, but has been disastrous for the public health of Pakistan in the decade since. It is infuriating to read about. While I can’t say this is the exact incident MARS RED has in mind, both examples share the deadly consequences of unchecked megalomania in seats of power, throwing away innocent lives for pointless endeavors.
Thankfully, Maeda seems to have made up his mind. Although we don’t see him at all this week, we do see his insignia laid carefully next to the flowers he left at Misaki’s resting place, implying that he’s abandoned any lingering duty he felt towards Nakajima. I imagine next week we’ll see the remnants of Code Zero reunite for a more noble purpose. I wonder, too, if MARS RED plans on evoking the horrible massacre of Koreans and other minority groups in the days following the earthquake. That would be sensitive subject matter to handle, but depending on MARS RED‘s violent trajectory, comparisons might become unavoidable. For now, though, Kurusu’s spiritual and physical journey gives us a slow and contemplative interlude to soak in while the threads of chaos spider outwards into Tokyo’s fractured façade.
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Steve is hungry for anime and on the prowl for Revenge this season. Learn about this and more (i.e. bad anime livetweets) by following him on Twitter.