We’re in the title’s home stretch as there’s only one more volume to go. With the final conflicts looming, mangaka Mohiro Kitoh takes a break from the mecha battles and focuses almost exclusively on the personal journey the two remaining pilots, Jun and Yoko, take to give closure to the families of the children who have piloted Zearth. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this particular storyline, yet it ultimately wound up working a lot better than I was expecting. At least, it does until a couple last-minute twists wind up sabotaging the book’s momentum as it prepares to wrap things up.
The volume picks up with the confirmation of Yoko’s contract as a pilot of Zearth and the funeral is held for Jun’s sister Kana. During the funeral, Yoko proposes to Jun that they go on a trip to the families of the other children who served as pilots for Zearth with the plan of letting them know the whole story of their ordeal. Though Jun is clearly not enthused about the idea, this was one case where I actually sympathized with him. With the end so close the idea of digressing from the main narrative like this felt like an unnecessary diversion when the two started on their journey.
As things went on, I began to see what Kitoh was trying to do here. Meeting up with the families proves to be an illuminating experience for not only the insight it provides into the characters who have passed away, but the lasting effects of their passing as well. Seeing how the parents and other family members have coped with their losses offers its own sense of closure to the reader. Yes, we got to see how they met their fates. The thing is that what they left behind hasn’t really been addressed until now. This part of the story has the feel of closing accounts and paring things away so that the only thing left to focus on will be final battle for the fate of this Earth. In setting that up, it’s very effective.
Or at least, it is until they go to visit the final pilot’s family. During Jun and Yoko’s visit there, something happens that has a dramatic effect on the former’s role in this drama. It’s meant to come off as a complete shock, but Kitoh tips his hand and most readers will be able to figure out what’s going to happen before it happens. That it does when the two are being accompanied by security only makes it more frustrating. The end result is that the event feels like it happens because the mangaka wanted it to happen rather than the cruel twist of fate that he obviously meant it to come off as.
It’s a shame too because seeing Jun and Yoko interact on their trip was a pleasure in and of itself. Jun has easily been the most unlikeable of the pilots and Kitoh’s herculean efforts to get the reader to sympathize with him in the previous volume didn’t move me. Here, though, he gets much better results by pairing the sullen teen with someone who is capable of getting under his skin. Seeing Yoko chide him for putting too much sugar in his coffee, calling a parent’s father “sir,” or referring to a baby as an “it” does more to make Jun likeable than the death of his sister and mother did. Against my expectations, the two make a cute couple. Which is likely why what happens to them had to play out like this.
Then there’s Koyemishi, who IS the most unlikeable character in the series. The sadistic, razor-grinning representative of the forces behind the battle of worlds has seemed to be untouchable in his smug arrogance about the fate of everyone involved in this conflict. That is, until his sister Yoko signed up to be a pilot. I won’t lie. Seeing his reaction to her action here was immensely satisfying. As for what he goes through later in the volume? Considerably less satisfying, but it actually affords him a measure of respect in my book.
Except in that last scene which has the potential to undo the theme of sacrifice that the book is built on. What happens in that scene seems like a gigantic cheat considering what has happened to the character on the receiving end of this treatment. Though it’s indicated that Koyemishi is responsible for it, there’s no explanation as to how he managed to pull it off. Maybe there’s an explanation forthcoming in the final volume. I hope we get that and not the worst-case scenario it represents which would undermine the series and earn it a spot on my “worst of” list for the year.
Of course, Kitoh has shown that he doesn’t believe in taking the easy way out in these stories so I’m hoping that the worst-case scenario is just that. The problem is that for the majority of its length, this volume does such a great job of setting things up for the end. Then it goes and screws things up, leaving me at least feeling a little uneasy and conflicted about what to expect for that final volume. Yes, I am filled with a sense of anticipation for the final volume, but it’s the kind where you fear that things might fall apart at any moment. That’s not the kind of feeling you want to have when facing the conclusion of a series that you’ve been reading for years. Still, I’ve come this far so I’ll see it through to the end when the final volume ships in September.