Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever
So a lot went down in last week’s episode for better or worse, and since I ended up exhausting myself quite a bit trying to get all my thoughts out there, I’m happy that this one’s a lot less stressful to talk about. “Less” stressful being the keyword here because the story certainly isn’t slowing down, and things are looking particularly dire for Norman this week as the threat of his shipment carries the bulk of this episode’s content. With that in mind, it kind of goes without saying there’s a whole lot of drama packed into this one, and unlike last week’s events, the anime’s specific style of approach in handling this material doesn’t feel at odds with what it needs to convey.
Things start off looking pretty bleak for the kids as everyone tries to process Norman’s predicament, and the implications of Krone’s demise as it hammers home that Isabella means business. The former seems to be hitting Ray especially hard, and he desperately tries to think of any solution that could help save Norman. Once again, it’s kind of interesting to see that for all of Ray’s talk about making rational decisions, he’s the one being the most emotional here, Mariya Ise does a stellar job of conveying just how frustrated he feels about seeing all his plans go up in smoke, and watching Norman being put in harm’s way. Norman himself isn’t handling things much better as we see usual smile crack under the pressure of his own demise and watching the horror of his situation set in on him is just heartbreaking. As has generally been the case with these comparisons, the manga pulled readers directly into Norman’s headspace as he processes what to do next, but this is one instance where I’ll actually say the anime opting to go for something quieter works for the better. While seeing his thoughts certainly ramped up the tension of this crisis in the manga, his character animation here speaks volumes more about the level of fear he’s facing, and the visual direction of how that fear gradually turns into a quiet sense of resolve in choosing to face this situation head on is probably my favorite scene from this adaption so far.
In the end, Norman decides that the best solution is to accept his fate and sacrifice himself so the others can continue working on the escape plan, but Emma and Ray aren’t having any of that. The two of them throw out a few suggestions on how to save him, with the biggest being that he could pretend to escape while hiding out in the woods till the escape starts and that Ray could break a few of his limbs to keep from getting shipped out in his place. These ideas clearly reek of desperation, but they do convey just how much these two care about their friend, and it causes Norman to break down and reveal that he still wants nothing more than to continue living alongside them. As compelling as all three of these characters have been individually we haven’t really seen too much of their dynamic as an actual trio, so this scene really does a lot in helping to sell the bond between them, and while it’s doubtful things are going to end very well for them, it really makes me hope they they can get something of a happy ending.
Norman’s material gets the brunt of the focus here, but there’s some other bits we get as well that are also simultaneously where the anime falls a bit short this time around. One of them is more details on Ray’s past as we learn that he’s actually been aware of the farm’s true nature since literally the very beginning. Turns out he retained some of his memories as an infant and gradually put the pieces together as he got older which does a lot to explain his world view and why he’s maintained such a cynical stance on things, as the terror of the farm system is basically all he’s ever known. Sadly, it’s also a rather big case of the anime telling us and not showing us, as the manga actually does displays the visual details of Ray’s memories to the audience while the anime opts not to. While the scene’s still directed pretty well in spite of that, showing this stuff first hand was both frightening and pretty effective as far as world building goes, so I can’t for the life of me understand why the anime staff thought this approach was a good idea. Still, the scene does what it needs to I guess so I suppose it’s not too big of a deal in the long run. The same pretty much goes for the episode’s climax as Norman goes through with faking his escape only to return and reveal to Emma and Ray that there’s a giant cliff beyond the wall. Ending on that revelation makes for a good cliffhanger, but getting our brief glimpse into what the world outside the farms looks like, only reveals the limitations in the anime’s current visual style as the backgrounds make the forest beyond the farms look bland rather than haunting. Hopefully that’s something the anime will correct in the long run (along with a few other things) but for the moment, it’s bit of a weakness. Aside from those complaints though, I’d say this was a pretty strong episode. My problems with the anime’s direction certainly haven’t gone away, but it’s managed to at least turn it’s focus on character animation into a strength this time around, and if nothing else, I’m glad that this material still feels compelling.