After returning from a horrifying campaign in southeast Asia, Master Sergeant Jonathan Morrell flees quarantine, fearing that he will be disposed of now that his fight is over. The Superhuman Bureau is called in to help the US military locate this missing trooper, while Jiro attempts to comfort Jonathan and return him home. As the true nature of the military’s long-term plans are revealed and their hunt grows more aggressive, Jonathan’s mind starts to fray, and in his panic, he begins to revert to the ruthless killer he became in the jungle.
Holy moly, was this episode a shift from the tone of my last review. Gone is much of Concrete Revolutio‘s traditional absurdity; this story is about how superhumans that have gone to war are treated when they return and how they cope with what they’ve done and seen. On top of this, we learn more about how superhumans are regarded in other parts of the world and what this may mean for our friends at the Bureau.
None of this is to say that the show ditches its cartoonish style for gritty substance. While the events that unfold are among the darkest of the series, there are still goofy powers and transformations on display. Fittingly for an episode that deals with the US Military, they look more like sequences out of G.I. Joe or The Centurions (Power Xtreme!) than your typical anime or kaiju serial. While seeing soldiers with hammer-hands and machine gun-arms does look goofy considering the grim subject matter, Concrete Revolutio has built up enough good will and suspension of disbelief that this never bothered me.
Appropriately titled The Never-Ending Battle, episode 20 focuses on an artificially-enhanced superhuman soldier trying to escape not only the military that made him into a killer, but also the horrors he experienced in the jungles and villages of southeast Asia. MSgt Morrell suffers from severe PTSD, triggered by everything from the natural landscape of Japan to Asian religious items. Watching him swing from fearful to violent over the course of the episode is painful, and once it hits the final resolution, feels tragic and inevitable.
While Morrell’s plotline is the heart of the episode, there is far more going on in the background. The commander of the US superhuman soldier program is one of the more compelling one-off villains the show has produced so far. He sees himself and his men as tools to ensure the future of humanity and to destroy the monsters and boogeymen of the past. There’s more depth to him than you might first suspect, and the tension his outlook sparks with Emi (one of the “old world” creatures he so despises) gives her another motivation beyond casually stalking Jiro and riffing on Kikko.
Digging even further, we see hints of Prof. Hitoyoshi’s prior work on superhuman augmentation during the war, and even catch a glimpse of the elusive Master Ultima. While these brief moments don’t come to much right now, everything appears to be building up to a more large-scale confrontation between Jiro, the Bureau, the US military and Master Ultima himself in the future. I’m excited to finally learn more about this superhuman who has been quietly driving elements of the plot in absentia.
What I love about this episode is that it plays to Concrete Revolutio‘s greatest strength, which is using the tropes and trappings of old-school anime and other media to discuss challenging topics. It takes a huge and complex theme (the treatment and use of superhumans in war) and boils it down to a very personal story about a man who cannot escape his past. Jiro tries to ensure Jonathan’s freedom, the military tries to eliminate its dirty secrets, and the Bureau finds itself caught in the middle. It’s a tight story that still manages to sow the seeds of future plotlines without feeling like it’s all foreshadowing and no payoff.
If there’s a weakness to episode 20, it’s that everything happens so quickly that there’s not enough time to absorb it all. I would’ve liked to see more exploration of Jonathan’s reasons for becoming a super soldier, and the motivations that made his commander so dedicated to eradicating supernatural/mythological beings. Concrete Revolutio keeps up its almost breakneck pace and doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but still delivers a satisfying, if tragic story. Hopefully the creators will keep building off what they’ve laid down and deliver another awesome mashup finale down the road.