Warning! This post contains a lot of spoilers. Please watch the episode first!
Warning: My description of the battle’s is a little long. I adored this episode, in part because I think it depicts the most realistic fight against a fire-breathing dragon that I’ve ever seen. With apologies to Smaug (a single arrow brought him down — really?), I’ve always thought that dragons were depicted as too weak. I’ve often wondered what modern weaponry would do against a dragon. Now, I think I know! I’ll mark the battle description so you can skip it if you like.
Yōji Itami wonders if he made the right decision forcing Tuka Luna Marceau not only to confront her father’s death, but to face off against the fire dragon in the last episode. Lelei La Lalena helps him think it through, and he comes to the decision that there’s no turning back. Lelei is unhappy her magic didn’t work; Rory Mercury is no less happy her halberd didn’t work.
Yao Ro Dushi brings her people to meet Itami. She brings eight other warriors along with the elders, who tell Itami he and his team will have to walk to the dragon’s lair.
Itami tries to train the nine dark elves how to use the rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). They seem eager to learn, but there’s no time (or material) to practice. Lelei said she had to sedate Tuka, so Itami carries her strapped to a chain on his back. They arrive at the volcano and stop at the entrance of a cave that leads to the shelf on which the dragon sleeps. Rory doesn’t want to go underground, so Itami gives her a radio headset and asks her to stay outside and stand watch. After a quick meal, they enter the cave.
The dragon’s not there, but they can clearly see where it sleeps. Itami’s concerned he seems eggshells, but Lelei says they’re old and the dark elves confirm they’ve only seen one dragon. The dark elves find dozens — maybe hundreds — of swords, all left from those who challenged the dragon through the ages and lost.
As the elves dig a hole, Itami prepares 74 kilos of C4 plastic explosives. Itami can’t reach Rory on the radio, and thinking that the radio waves might “interfere” with the C4, he shuts his headset off. He finishes wiring the C4 and covering the explosives with the old swords (to become shrapnel) just as the dragon comes home for the night.
Understandably, some of the elves panic. One first his RPG without checking the exit blast area, and the two elves behind him are severely injured. The dragon slaps him against the wall. Another fires without arming the grenade. Two more fall to the dragon’s claws and teeth. Itami tries to fire, but the dragon knocks Yao into him before he can pull the trigger. Another elf picks up Itami’s RPG and fires it without regard to Itami being right behind her. He falls and the grenade injures the dragon’s back leg.
Tuka, still within the cave, wakes up. The dragon sprays fire all around. She sees the dragon slaughter the elf whose RPG injured its leg. The death breaks her last mental facade, and she remembers her father dying to save her. She tries to blame herself, but Lelei redirects her anger in the right direction — at the dragon.
Yao finds that Itami is somehow still alive and relatively unhurt. He finds that the wire to the C4 is cut. As the next to last elf besides Yao falls to the dragon’s fire, Itami begins repairing the detonator.
Lelei, talking to Tuka, shares that she lost many of her friends and her home to the dragon. As she speaks, she begins to lose some of her cool detachment. She uses her magic to levitate all of the swords around her — dozens and dozens of them — and hurls them into the dragon.
Now in agony, the beast tries to take off but slams into the ground. Itami and Yao catch Lelei before she falls, her magic almost expended. The last elf besides Yao manages to pierce the dragon’s foot with his sword before he’s incinerated.
Tuka watches as Yao and Itami, carrying Lelei, run for the cave. The dragon behind them looks to her just like it did as it killed her father. She puts all of her agony into a magical strike that bathes the dragon in lightning. The electricity sets off the C4 and the dragon dies.
The Battle Ends
Yao, Lelei, Tuka, and Itami escape the cave as it collapses. Outside, they find Rory, her clothes disheveled, bleeding from dozens of wounds. Itami rushes to her and just as he kneels, Giselle, apostle of Hardy, arrives to bring Rory to Hardy, her god. Itami blames Giselle for Rory’s injury, but Hardy’s apostle calls him stupid for not knowing that Rory took Itami’s injuries on herself. The RPG blow-back, getting knocked around by the dragon — he only survived because Rory formed a pact with him. That was the contract: Rory takes his injuries and heals herself, and she gets his soul after he dies.
Giselle summons her two helpers — the fire dragon’s two babies that she raised from hatchlings. Giselle confesses that she awoke the fire dragon, 50 years early, so she could raise the hatchlings and defeat Rory. She tells the humans and elves to stay out of the apostles’ battle. That’s when Rory says that Itami destroyed the fire dragon. So, Giselle tells the hatchlings to avenge their mother’s death.
Itami, never one to fight an unnecessary — or un-winnable — battle, picks up Rory and runs. Yao, Tuka, and Lelei follow him.
That’s when we learn an important point: young dragons are not as strong as a full grown fire dragon. In fact, the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF)’s Phantom jets, arriving just at the right moment, were able to knock the dragons out of the sky with air to air missiles. After staffing the downed dragons didn’t kill them, the jets called in artillery support and air to surface missiles from the attack helicopters.
Rory, flanked by troop helicopters, calls for Giselle to come out and finish the fight. Giselle flees.
After the excitement, as Itami wonders why the JSDF was there, only he and Tuka still stand. The other three are too exhausted. Only then does Itami take a moment to realize that they had defeated the dragon. Tuka’s glad she took her revenge, but she says she’s so used to calling Itami “dad” that she might keep it up.
What I Liked
There’s a lot that I really, really liked in this episode!
The dark elves’ village looks like something out of Tolkien’s Lothlorien.
In the beginning of the episode, Tuka’s asleep with her head on Itami’s lap. One of the things I’ve liked about this series from its first episode is its relatively mature treatment of relationships. Other anime I’ve seen would have had the male all embarrassed or uncomfortable; here, Itami is worried about Tuka and wants to protect her. He’s not blushing and his nose isn’t bleeding. That’s refreshing to me!
Rory’s upset that her halberd didn’t work against the dragon because she’ll have to punch it instead. “But punching something to death isn’t my style, you know.”
Itami asks why the dragon kills so indiscriminately; won’t it run out of food? Lelei explains that the dragon hibernates for many years, awakens, feeds, lays eggs, raises the children, and hibernates again. While it’s hibernating, its prey regenerates. I’m glad Gate added this level of realism. I was beginning to wonder this myself, since I’m a science fiction fan who loves world building. Food chains are important to make the world seem as authentic as possible.
I also liked, in a grim way, how Yao Ro Dushi didn’t like thinking of her people as “prey” as Lelei explained the cycle to Itami.
Rory’s terrified (again!) to go underground because she’s still afraid of Hardy. It’s so strange — and endearing! — to see Rory unsettled.
Itami introduced the dark elves to Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). The ability of the MREs to heat themselves by just adding water seemed to intrigue them. Again, little details add to the realism!
Itami was very, very careful with the C4 explosives. Not a surprise when compared to the stories of handling the explosive from military personnel I’ve talked to in real life, but so many movies show the actors just tossing it around. According to How Stuff Works, half a kilogram (which, according to Convert, is the same as a kilogram*) could destroy a truck; about 4 kilograms would destroy an 8 inch steel beam. I think 74 kilos is more than enough to kill a dragon.
Rory tries to warn Itami that the dragon’s coming. She calls him by his first name. I love how direct she is.
Lelei, ever the scientist, experiments with single swords to find the right angle and velocity to piece the dragon’s skin. Then, she unleashes an attack worthy of Fate Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works. “This is our vengeance,” she says. “Die, you reptilian piece of shit!” I enjoyed seeing her cut loose. I don’t think it’s healthy to keep those feelings bottled up!
When they’re making sure they’re okay after the battle, Lelei, says, “I haven’t suffered much damage.” Looks like her calm exterior’s back in place!
Yao demands to know why Giselle awoke the dragon early — thus killing almost all of her people. Rory explained that the apostles don’t pay much attention to humanity or elves or anyone else. I found this chillingly realistic — and for me, it makes Rory’s interest in Itami all the more mysterious.
When Giselle demanded to know what human killed a fire dragon, everyone just points to Itami — even Rory. I have to admit that I laughed out loud.
* Yeah, I know. I’m not the brightest having to look up whether or not a kilo and a kilogram is the same thing. I can only say that I’ve an American, and reasonable systems of measurement like the metric system are hard for me.
What I Liked Less
For a series with so much military realism, I thought everyone walking to the volcano were too bunched up. I thought it might have been better if they spread out a little. Though to be fair, this is an insignificant nit-pick!
This is one of my favorite episodes, of any series (anime or otherwise), ever. Only time will tell if it maintains that status, but I have good reasons for making this statement. The individual moments of humor, like everyone pointing at Itami or Rory balking at going underground, made the heavy drama more accessible. The dragon battle scene took my breath away with its brutal realism and high emotional stakes as the backdrop of Tuka facing her trauma. Itami trying to train the dark elves to use the RPGs added both anticipation and dread — anyone who’s tried to use technology for the first time knows how hard it can be, but what else could they have done? They were out of time.
Even with all of these traits, this episode would have fallen flat without two major pillars: world and character. Gate has built a believable, dynamic, intriguing, and dangerous world. By this point in the series, my imagination has accepted it at face value, and as long as they don’t do anything to pierce my suspension of disbelief, I’ll acknowledge this as a “real” world.
More importantly, I care about these characters. I identify with Itami; his life could be mine (if I had more skill, drive, and ability — details!). Rory is amazing. I would never have believed I could see demi-goddess as a sympathetic character, and yet Rory continues to capture my attention! I think the voice actor Taneda Risa has done an astonishing job making the character real. I felt Yao Ro Dushi’s desperation and pain as she made decisions against her beliefs to help her people. Though Lelei’s been aloof, I’ve identified with her pursuit of scientific progress and dedication to her mission. Seeing her cut loose this episode felt cathartic!
I walk away from this episode with an actual sense of relief because Tuka seems to be on the road to recovery! She faced the dragon and did her part to bring it down. Her father’s still dead, but she can begin to move on. I think she feels comforted that her friends helped her. In particular, it was Itami’s decision to take on the dragon.
Believing in the world and caring about the characters are critical to any literature. I have a degree in English, and I’ve studied the classics across the ages. Good anime like Gate shares many of the same traits as the works of Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I honestly think anime like Gate (or Elfen Lied or others) should enjoy some of the same prestige and acknowledgement because of that. To me, the story telling and everything that goes with it feels equivalent. So, that’s why I’ve said what I’ve said about this episode. For me, it rises to the level of literature.
That’s my story. I’m sticking to it!
Reviews of Other Season 2 Episodes
- Episode 13: The Banquet Begins
- Episode 14: The Imperial Capital Quake
- Episode 15: Tuka Luna Marceau
- Episode 16: The Dragon, Once More
- Episode 18: The Magic City of Rondel
- Episode 19: Dangerous Sisters
- Episode 20: Lover
- Episode 21: Deadline
- Episode 22: The Empress in Slave’s Clothing
- Episode 23: Paradrop
- Episode 24: Thus They Fought