For how clumsy Caligula has been in its last few episodes (or, as the majority would argue, the entire run), I have to commend the buildup to this episode’s big reveal.
The episode picks up right where last week left off: with Shikishima Ritsu in, presumably, his apartment. A news program on the television discusses the latest victim of “astral syndrome,” where patients fall into a coma and the case is supposedly linked to the company that Shikishima works at. It becomes clear early on that the show has shifted back to the real world. There’s narration by Shikishima about being back in reality and how much he hates the crowds, the smells, and the deafening noise, all while the various shots of him walking call back to the first episode’s walking montage. It’s a nice touch, reminiscent of a time when Caligula had potential during its premiere.
At a crosswalk, Shikishima notices a broadcast detailing the first death of a victim of “astral syndrome.” Immediately, we know the story is about the Ostinato Musician who died: Shadow Knife. However, before Shikishima can further contemplate the death, he gets abruptedly shoved into traffic, narrowing avoiding a car. Continuing on his trek, Shikishima takes increasing notice that he’s being followed, but he gives no heed to the pursuers.
When he reaches his (empty) office, he reminisces about his time working as part of a team on a project, presumably µ (an earlier scene has reporters asking if there’s a connection between “virtuadolls” and “astral syndrome”). However, there’s one PC that’s on and when he goes to confront who’s in the office, he calls the intruder by his full name: Shikishima Ritsu. The person we’ve been following this episode is in fact, Shingo Tachibana, and Shikishima used his face when he entered Mobius.
For how clumsy Caligula has been in its last few episodes (or, as the majority would argue, the entire run), I have to commend the buildup to this episode’s big reveal. Overlaying Shikishima’s narration over a callback sequence to the first episode was well done and because there were almost no hints about Shikishima’s past, there was no real reason to guess that we’ve been following an “imposter” this entire time.
However, in that same respect, the revelation’s only emotional impact is in its shock value. We did get a few hints and flashbacks in the first episode that Shikishima was miserable in reality, but such details were shelved when the show started to introduce its large cast. Over the course of 10 episodes, we only knew Shikishima as the psychology-know-it-all, but he was still bland as heck and not a very compelling protagonist. The reveal that in reality he’s insecure, shy, has trouble communicating and is generally a loner is…fine. However, it would’ve worked a lot better if the Shikishima in Mobius was written and portrayed with more bravado, or any other emotion other than the one-note character he was.
In any case, the show continues on with its reveal about Shikishima’s insecurity, how he was a talented programmer that effectively wrote µ’s program and sought to enter Mobius. However, for some reason he didn’t end up getting “chosen” by her, so he forcibly entered the virtual reality himself. Due to the events that transpired, he’s now back in the real world to try and fix µ’s programming, taking the responsibility of doing so on himself and rejecting Shingo Tachibana’s help. I’m of two minds on this development: I’m glad Shikishima is standing up for himself instead of cowering away, but it’s still just an extension of him lashing out at others instead of being a mature adult and accepting help. Either way would’ve been pretty cliché, but in the case of accepting Tachibana’s help, it would’ve shown a bit more adult maturity, instead of leaning further into the “bitter nerd” stereotype.
Additional flashbacks show Shikishima teaching µ what happiness means (to him), and it’s easy to surmise that’s how µ got such naïve and basic ideas about what constitutes happiness. It’s ok and it’s nice to get some solid evidence for Caligula’s world building (e.g. background on µ’s sense of logic) instead of having to speculate (which I’ve done a lot of in past reviews, especially when defending this show).
By the end of the episode, Aria shows up on Shikishima’s monitor and invites him back to Mobius to fix µ, who’s sucking out the negative emotions out of Mobius’s denizens at the expense of maintaining the façade.
If that were all there was to the episode, I would give it a solid B or B-, because while the story beats were good, the animation was still a bit dodgy at times. Unfortunately, Shikishima’s plot was interspersed with what was happening in Mobius and there the show falls into the same pitfalls that previous episodes fell into.
In the last episode, the rest of the Go-Home club was met by Marie, who was actually an Ostinato Musician named Wicked. She threw a grenade. Things went boom. It was dumb.
Guess what? It was still dumb in this episode, especially because everything happening in Mobius was one long, protracted fight scene. Don’t get me wrong, it was animated….mediocrely (and when mediocre is a positive, it speaks to how low Caligula has gone), but it was still just mindless action in episode 11 with a character who showed up too late in the game.
If Marie’s reveal as Wicked was shown in an earlier episode (i.e. before episode 6, the midway mark), I would be (foolishly) lenient, as I would’ve hoped that her character would be fleshed out and explored in the latter half. She gets a couple of lines that hint that she has a disability in reality and that her family finds her a burden, wishing she would die already. This attitude toward her presumably led her to adopt a nihilistic worldview, wishing for the death of everyone else.
Critics would (rightly) lambast this as a terrible depiction of people with disabilities, saying that it reinforces stereotypes that people with disabilities are people with no more use and are just burdens to their loved ones. I will admit, I agree with such criticism; however I would also argue that this could’ve been used to flip the script; show Marie as someone with a strong will who could bring a different perspective on things that an able-bodied person wouldn’t be able to. How people face up to adversity differs from one individual to the next, but I would hope that the shows or pieces of entertainment we consume show us the potential of who we could be. Furthermore, while some critics may see such a backstory as tragedy for tragedy’s sake, it’s important to remember that these ideas surrounding people with disabilities aren’t made up; they have a basis in reality and are issues that some people face every day of their lives. It’s also not Magical Girl Site level of tragedy (wow that premiere…). Side note: Caligula’s writing team probably would not have been able to handle such delicate subject matter.
Shame Marie’s dead now, or perhaps it’s a blessing; one less character to worry about now.
Indeed, after calling out KagiP as a traitor (finally….someone did it), she loses her legs due to an explosive blast by KagiP and then (presumably) her life when she….tries to kill the others in a suicide blast?
….For &#*$’s sake Caligula…
Once again, you introduce ideas without exploring them with appropriate justice, at least with half of this episode.
Oh, and Thorn shows up (with a cool lance) to confront Shogo, but there’s not much revealed there, just hints that Thorn (aka Ichika) isn’t actually Ichika. The other Musicians show up briefly to run into the school building, presumably for another fight with the Rogues.
In the end, half this episode was interesting and (sort of) explored the potential of using the internet as a means to reinvent one’s self. The other half was an overly long fight scene that had the same issues as many other of Caligula’s episodes. I’m getting exasperated by this show.
- Final episode next week. While I won’t be writing a review of the full series, I will give some thoughts on it as a whole and provide a final rating.
- So, was Shikishima’s backstory also anime original? Wouldn’t be surprised if it were, it’s pretty cliché but it’s also a lot more than what we’ve gotten with the rest of the characters.
- I personally think one of the biggest issues with Caligula is its cast; it’s just too damn big to comfortably explore everyone’s issues. Yes, other shows have handled a large cast much better, but other shows also don’t have the whole cast consist of characters that run away from their problems in reality.
- Relatively minor thing, but Shikishima being revealed as a stereotypical “anti-social, loner nerd” plays way too hard into the insecure nerd stereotype. Such a stereotype doesn’t reflect the general reality. Yes there are people like that, but holy carp it’s not everyone.
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