After a somewhat faulty departure for its penultimate showing, I was a little worried that Gleipnir would fizzle instead of fly its freak flag for the finale. Thankfully, this is very much not the case. With one final narrative sprint, Gleipnir racks its focus inwards on its messy main couple while simultaneously delivering a bonkers concatenation of backstabs, plot twists, and psychologically-charged confrontations. In essence, it’s pretty much everything I want out of this anime crammed into twenty minutes, and it adds up to about as good a sendoff as I could have asked for.
Clair and Shuichi’s relationship begins this episode in the most fraught place it’s been since those early halcyon days when she was kicking him off a roof and using his gun to murder people. As they’ve grown closer, Clair’s become more aware of the distance between her and Shuichi—an extension of the internal distance between Shuichi and his past self. While their bond is subtextually romantic and even more heavily subtextually sexual, they haven’t defined their relationship outside of their promise that the two of them are one. There’s a freedom that comes with working outside the linguistic walls of words like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” but it requires traversal of fuzzy and sometimes labyrinthine spaces. As such, Clair’s half-hearted threat to declare the end of their “summer fling” has its potency halved further by that nebulousness. Shuichi nevertheless relents, and the two wrap themselves once more in their mutual promise, even though Clair rebukes and reflects upon the worrying machismo he seems to be shielding himself with.
We’ve known for a while that the inside of Shuichi’s mind is a Swiss-cheese-like disaster zone of missing memories and buried trauma, but we’ve never had the chance to appreciate just how bad it is until now. Clair’s trip to his house unfolds in slow, uncanny, and almost Lynchian domestic horror. In a show that has never shied away from gratuitous gore or body horror, it’s neat to witness one of its most disquieting scenes arise from environmental detail and atmosphere. We don’t need to see the bodies of his parents to understand that Shuichi has been living alone for a long time, uncomfortably unaware of the piling dust and rotten food even as Clair can’t help but recoil at the sight (and, I imagine, the smell).
This leads into the revelation that Elena erased his memories, including those of his parents getting zapped out of existence, in order to protect him from the existence-zapping powers of Honoka. But Gleipnir’s history with depression means we can also read Shuichi’s state as a dissociative response to his trauma, further emphasized by his violent conflation of Clair with her sister. Although he once again stops himself short of assaulting her, it’s now obvious that his relationship with Clair—both the good and the bad—is a consequence of his jumbled-up brain mixing her and Elena together. That’s something both of them are going to have to address if they’re ever going to hope for a somewhat healthy relationship. For now, though, it’s yet another facet that makes them so fascinating and problematic together.
Sayaka, meanwhile, dissolves their professional relationship, heralded bizarrely and wonderfully out of nowhere by her hair-chokers phasing out of their necks. In one of the rare actually-intelligent moves by a character in this show, she decides that her group is not cut out for this cutthroat coin hunt and, at Chihiro’s bequest, bequeaths their coins to Elena. This kinda comes out of nowhere and smacks of the finale trying to cram in a plot point that really needed more development, but it contributes to the fun, breakneck pacing of the finale. Similarly, there’s a scene that only seems to be there so Clair can look smug and the Invisible Girl can call her a “fucking slut,” yet again affirming that this episode aspires to be as Gleipnir as possible. To be fair, however, I did feel a pang of legitimate sadness at the sight of a tear-stricken Isao unloading his grief and guilt onto Shuichi. These guys got in over their heads, and it doesn’t feel right to blame them for their heroic naïveté, nor to blame Clair and Shuichi for sharing their villainous yoke so others wouldn’t have to. Still, Isao got a raw deal.
Everything culminates in an explosive three-way confrontation between Clair, Shuichi, and Elena, emotionally heightened now by our knowledge of Elena’s tragic motivations and desperation. It’s also aided by a beautifully-rendered fight scene from key animator Hirofumi Okita, whose infusion of weight and personality into his drawings really helps sell the catharsis of the action. I was also remiss in commending his contributions last week, where he focused instead on character acting and delivered some wonderfully lively scenes of Shuichi’s classmates playing together. Gleipnir has never been a consistently amazing-looking production, but I respect its ability to allocate talent and resources into its most important scenes. It doesn’t have in-your-face avant-garde direction, but it has good direction in the sense that it’s able to make these moments come alive.
Speaking of the avant-garde, though, the climax of this finale (and by extension, of this season) spirals delightfully into the realm of the weird and psychological. Shuichi recalls his past, respects Elena’s kind intentions, and rejects her protection. He chooses to ally with Clair over her, nonetheless still twinning the two in his mind and consequently making it impossible to resolve this unhealthy love triangle right now. Through monologue and soliloquy, he and Clair recapitulate the show’s central theme—that despite their mutual emptiness they can find fullness and fulfillment in supping on each other. And considering the textual importance of sex and the adaptation’s proclivity towards sleaze, it’s noteworthy that Clair climbs into Shuichi still wearing her uniform. It communicates the urgency of the scene, but it also shows the strength of their emotional bond without the distraction of fanservice. While there’s always going to be a place for trash in Gleipnir, and I wouldn’t have that any other way, I thought this was a good creative decision.
Then spectral Honoka shows up and whisks them into a surreal psychological realm where they have to fight off the advances of her innumerable ghost clones. I’m not going to pretend like I understand what Honoka (and/or Kaito) is doing here, nor how it apparently has the potential to end the world (outside of the whole “Kaito has 100 coins” thing being bad), but it is bewilderingly fun to watch! The show’s thematic allusions to Evangelion finally get a visual complement, and it’s an exciting escalation hinting at the secrets the manga still has in store. And I just want to say I’m a big fan of how Shuichi reloads his revolver—by biting off the cylinder and using his gooey malleable flesh to form a fully-loaded one. It’s extremely Cronenberg and I’m here for it.
Overall, Gleipnir ends its anime in a place that affirms my affection for this rambunctious and emotionally resonant piece of garbage. It’s a ten-out-of-ten 7/10 anime. And that’s not a backhanded compliment! My ideal “7/10 anime” is a show that lets itself get messy and experiment, sometimes to the point of failure, but in a frequently ambitious and shameless way. I love those, cracks and all. Gleipnir easily adheres to that criteria, and it joins my pantheon of shows that are difficult to broadly recommend but irresistible to talk about. In that regard, thanks for joining me for these weekly critical dissections inside this gross and tacky cartoon dog costume of a series, and I hope we get a chance to revisit these disaster teens in the future.
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The state of the world has left Steve in despair! But never fear, he’s still on Twitter too much.