The night is set ablaze by the flashes of cannon fire as a heated battle rages on in the wasteland of mankind’s once great cities. Terrified, Felicia nonetheless performs her duties as a gun loader, guided by the voice of her captain as their lone tank advances on enemy lines.
Having destroyed an enemy unit, the captain orders their trumpeter Anna to signal the rear, covered by Felicia. Spotting an enemy approaching on their flank, Felicia’s warning cry is in vain for they are soon hit.
Thrown clear out of the open hatch, the horrible sight of her platoon’s tank ablaze is burned into Felicia’s retina. As her fellow soldiers desperately try to crawl out of the burning hulk, it explodes with a thunderous roar.
Trying to regain her composure, Felicia’s already scarred mind receives a fatal blow when she sees Anna’s bugle in the distance, with the lieutenant’s torn off arm still firmly gripping the instrument.
Plagued by mirages of these ghostly memories under the scorching summer sun’s incessant heat, Felicia comes to. Hearing a traveling merchant approach, Felicia heads out to buy supplies and soon runs into Rio.
Stuck with laundry duty, Kureha and Noel take a breather in the kitchen where they spot Kanata making a horse and cow with a cucumber and eggplant for the Obon festival. As Kureha inquires about their use, it seems the town Kanata heirs from they celebrate it as Obon while Noel explains in this region it is know as ‘Fiesta des lumières’.
Having bought wood and paper, Felicia returns with Rio and soon has everyone working on their own lantern for the festival. Visibly distracted by the weight of her dark memories, Felicia is startled when Rio calls out to her and accidentally slashes her hand, the sight of blood streaming from the wound takes her right back to that horrid battle.
Bandaging Felicia’s hand, Kanata’s worry over her captain’s well-being doesn’t subside when the bespectacled officer makes a weak excuse and heads off to go rest. Trying to go after Felicia, Kanata is stopped short by Rio, who exclaims even their captain has things she rather not have out in the open.
Hearing Rio has read the reports of what happened that day, Noel surprises everyone by revealing she knows from having experienced it herself. Heading after Felicia, Noel finds her in the hangar, brooding next to Takemikazuchi.
Remembering the days in her first tank platoon, being taught how to shoot by her captain, sharing laughs with her fellow soldiers and pondering the meaning of life in their desolate world, Felicia’s memories soon turn to that fateful battle.
Having barely survived the explosion of their tank, Felicia drags herself through the burning ruins of the battlefield, weakened from several wounds her eyes scream terror when an enemy unit rains down a hail of fire on her, causing the ruins beneath her feet to collapse and drop her into the darkness below.
Waking up in the abandoned ruins of a building from the old era, with only the faint light of a match to light her way, Felicia spots the decayed remains of a soldier that bygone age. Under the dim flame, the trauma and blood loss soon cause Felicia to hallucinate, imagining the soldier’s corpse talk to her, apologizing for not being able to defend the world.
Revealing the world has ended, the corpse’s solemn voice declares the last remnants of mankind have yet to realize the pointlessness of their existence for they have no future.
Desperately clinging to the belief their life having a meaning, Felicia comes to her senses upon hearing a lone trumpet’s melancholic chant of ‘Amazing Grace’. Shouting for help, Felicia soon gazes in awe when she realizes the person coming to her rescue is none other than princess Iliya.
Back in the present, the girls of the 1121st platoon enjoy the cool evening breeze. While Kanata, Kureha and Noel play with fireworks, Rio struggles over her own words, trying to express her concern to Felicia.
Knowing her dear friend means well, Felicia teases Rio by claiming she was only distraught from having put on weight, so she bought watermelons for she heard those helped to slim down.
Spotting the faint glow of the hundreds of lit lanterns heading from the town down to the river, the girls of the 1121st platoon soon join in to set their own lanterns on the water.
Asking Felicia about the names inscribed on her lantern, Kanata soon fight backs tears, sobbing how she is worried about Felicia because she cares about her. Replying she too cares about Kanata, Felicia holds the girl close, whispering for her to always remain as she is now and soon encloses Kureha and Noel in her embrace too.
Watching the many lanterns float down the river, Felicia tells Rio how she wondered about the meaning of life in this world after surviving that battle, before long she concluded there was no meaning in it. With a smile, Felicia affirms she thinks that’s wonderful because it means everyone can find their own meaning in life.
This week’s “So-Ra-No-Wo-To” really surprised me!
Not simply because they focused on developing Felicia’s character by showing us her past, but by the radical switch into solid, gripping drama with heartfelt raw emotions we discover Felicia’s past to be made of.
Also how it both explicitly and implicitly elaborates on the horrid war she fought in, as well as the disaster that befell earth and how their current society is a remnant of humanity thrown back into the past in terms of technology and society.
Although this darker atmosphere, this change of pace is near instant, it doesn’t feel rushed since much of what is shown was already hinted at in previous episodes. There was always this lingering feeling beneath everything lay serious dramatic events that saw many of the characters torn.
The way they affirmed this by an episode centered the different girls in the 1121st platoon living through what for their society is akin to the Japanese お盆 (Obon) festival, and how Kanata, Kureha, Noel and Rio experience Felicia’s uncharacteristic depressed mood when she recalls the horrors of the war, was very well executed.
Some may raise a brow at the scene where the wounded Felicia seems to be spoken to by the corpse of a long dead soldier, but I thought it very fitting she would experience such a hallucination.
Not merely convenient to explain part of that plot, but in a state of shock, Felicia’s mind plays tricks on her and affirms the grim vision of the past and look on life that plagued her own mind. That moment and her subsequent rescue by Iliya actually shapes Felicia into someone who believes people give true meaning to their own lives in a world that has no meaning to begin with but is a blank canvas.
Animation and attention to detail in “So-Ra-No-Wo-To” remains well cared for, the way they animated the cut on Felicia’s hand, especially how it bled, was quite realistic.
The inscriptions on some of the Obon lanterns were interesting, most had names, but Felicia’s included ‘quelque chose comme Dupont’ (something like Dupont, for the deceased soldier). Liked the little touch of Kanata’s having a crude, even childish writing, showing her lower level of education and different background compared to the other girls.
Also learned plenty of other interesting facts in this episode, such as Noel may have participated in the same battle Felicia fought in, and the graceful blonde from Kanata and Rio’s memories is princess Iliya, Rio’s sister.
With “So-Ra-No-Wo-To” now having raised the curtain on its dramatic plot angle, they’ve switched up gears, wonder how they will rhyme it the slice-of-life elements, hope it stays well balanced.
Starting to suspect mankind may have been near annihilated by some kind of alien or other threat seeing the advanced technology tanks were blown to bits together with the entire city by some sort of energy beam weapon. Quite curious to see what will be revealed to be the cause or culprit, a human faction or perhaps another foe?