Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home
We’ve finally arrived at Astra’s pentulmate episode, and if you’ve been a little overwhelmed by the show’s seemingly endless barrage of mysteries, you can rest assured this one dials things down considerably to focus on it’s latest revelation. That doesn’t mean this one is any less intense though, as the real truth behind Charice is a pretty wild ride of it’s own, and manages to throws a couple more curveballs into the mix. More importantly, it manages perfectly encompass all of the show’s themes up until now, and makes for not only it’s hardest hitting episodes to date, but one that has helped to firmly set the series into one of this year’s strongest anime offerings.
As we learned last week, Charice is a clone just like the rest of the kids, and specifically a clone of the king of Vixia. He was raised with the knowledge that he was a clone, and therefore worthless outside of his value as an eventual replacement body, and the only real freedom he knew growing up, was in the time he spent with the kingdom’s princess, Seira. Seira was opposed to her father indulging in cloning since she believes that clones are just as human as their originals, and when she discovered that her father had made a clone of her in secret to use for spare organs , she had that clone taken away to be raised by one of her handmaids in secret. That clone was Aries, and while Charice’s original mission was in fact to kill the others and die along with them, he decided to change plans upon realizing Aries true identity, since the real Seira was assassinated long ago, and he sees her as a replacement that could help the king to get over his grief.
Even when I first went through the manga, I was kind of curious how throwing a king into this show’s giant conspiracy would shake things up, but as it turns out he’s just as vunerable to the possibility of being outed as a criminal by the recent Genome Act as the rest of this show’s horrible “parents”, and by all accounts he’s easily the worst of the bunch. While the others also didn’t see their clones as anything but replacements, they at least gave them some semblance of an identity, even if it was one their parents could literally project themselves onto. Charice was told right from the start that he was nothing more than a tool for his original, and has been so thoroughly brainwashed by this that he has pretty much zero sense of self. Even with how messed up some of the other kids have been Charice feels especially broken, and what’s really sad is that he’s been so indoctrinated into the idea that he’s just a shell for the king’s use, that he doesn’t even realize how he’s been harmed, and that his desire to see Aries as a replacement for Princess Seira is effectively perpetuating the same kind of horrible projection the king forced onto him all those years. It’s pretty much the ultimate culmination of all this show’s themes regarding how a parent who doesn’t see their child as their own person, can destroy that child’s sense of identity, and it feels especially fitting that this struggle serves as the final major obstacle for the kids to overcome.
Charice’s story would feel like a tragedy in a less optimistic show, but this is still Astra, so even he manages to find some hope to latch onto. That hope of course, comes from Kanata, who cuts straight through Charice’s facade to reveal his true emotions. While Charice might have only thought he was pretending to be a part of the team throughout this whole journey, he truly did come to care about the others, and his joy at constantly discovering the unknown was just as sincere. Charice really just wants the chance to live his life just like anyone else does, and while he still tries to convince himself that dying and allowing Aries to placate the king’s grief would be the best outcome, Kanata gets him to realize that he’s the one who’s grieving the most over her. It’s clear that at least part of Charice’s self-loathing is rooted in the idea that he can’t forgive himself for watching her die in front of him, and even if he does ultimately want to be happy, it’s not something he feels he deserves, especially since the king opted to directly place the blame for Seira’s death on him.
Unfortunately, this is all way too much for Charice to process at once, and when his conflicting emotions become too much for him, he attempts to commit suicide via the portable worm hole. Kanata manages to beat some much needed sense into him before he gets the opportunity to follow through on it, but this comes at the cost of Kanata losing his arm in the process as it gets sucked through the wormhole. The shock of this whole situation convinces Charice that he wants to live after all, and since he previously expressed interest in being Kanata’s second in command someday when Kanata achieves his dream of being a proper space captain, Kanata convinces him to quite literally dedicate himself towards being his right-hand man. Subtle this is not, but it drives the show’s point home, that people don’t have to be a product of their parents, and that people don’t have to be blood related to be truly considered family. Something that’s best exemplified not in Kanata and Charice’s shouting match, but in Aries’s earlier flashback to her memories with her mom after discovering the two of them weren’t related after all. While the timing of that flashback would give the impression that Aries feels a strong resentment towards her mom for lying to her all those years, even through her tears, it’s more obvious that Aries feels gratitude for all the love her mom showed her, and that she’s who she is now because of it. It’s a wonderful moment that really speaks to the heart of this show, and I’m glad that so much care went into it’s execution since it helped to bump up this episode from a merely great one, to one of the best episodes of anime from this year in general.
On the whole this episode was fantastic, and I really can’t stop thinking of reasons to gush about it. Everything from the direction to the pacing was really on point this week, and I have to give some especially strong props to the great performances from Yoshimasa Hosoya and Nobunaga Shimazaki as Kanata and Charice respectively, since the raw energy of their delivery during that whole conversation really helped to give it some extra punch. Even though this was only the second-to-last episode of Astra and we still have a whole hour-long finale to get through, this one really felt like the climax of the story, and it resonated with so much of an emotional punch, that’s pretty hard to believe anything that happens in the actual conclusion could top of it. Whether or not that actually proves to be true though, one thing that’s for sure is that regardless of what lies in next week’s finale, this show has already proven itself to be an absolute standout, and if it manages to stick the landing, it could have all the makings of a classic.
Available on Funimation