It has been a hot minute—DOUBLE DECKER has come, gone, and been soul-crushingly disappointing, and there’s still neither hide nor hair of the supposed second season we were promised. Ah, well. In the meantime, there’s always old favorites.
As a reminder, these recaps presume the reader has seen the series at least once through, and spoilers won’t be marked.
Fear is Often Greater Than the Danger
“The amount one worries over something is often worse than just doing the thing.”
Origin: A Japanese proverb, this is slightly more loosely translated than some of the ones before (although as a reminder, the translated proverbs are chosen by the original team, not the localizers). The literal translation is Anzuru yori umu ga yasushi, or “Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it.”
While the connection for this episode is obvious—Karina is questioning what she wants to do and finds that in going with her gut she arrives at the right answer—it makes me grind my teeth that this is a proverb associated at its most basic level with childbirth. Karina is doing what comes “naturally” to her in being a hero, but the episode is also drenched in men telling her what to do and zero self-awareness about that fact. Centering her quote around a “feminine” theming when it’s fairly tangential to the bulk of her issues is frustrating, to say the least.
In Short: Blue Rose, aka Karina Lyle, is conflicted. Her job as a hero means she has to stay late to keep up with her schoolwork, rarely sees her friends, and has limited time to focus on her passion for singing. Initially ready to quit, a pep talk from Kotetsu pushes her to realize that she truly does want to help people.
As I intimated in the last recap, this wonderful show that I love tends to fall flat on its face when dealing with female characters. More than their male counterparts, their plots tend to rest on a cornerstone of emotional passivity—they loudly proclaim that they don’t want to do something, but a male character (usually Dadsert Kotetsu) is able to convince them that they should really consider that thing after all. Were I inclined to be uncharitable, I would call it resolution by mansplaining.
The problem with this might not jump out to first-time or younger viewers, because Kotetsu gives pep talks all over the place, including to characters like Ivan and Barnaby. It’s kind of his thing. But there is an odd difference that I’d term specificity. Other hero-centric episodes are often centered around an external conflict, usually a guest character, who is tailored to them. Something for them to react to that no other character could solve.
But here, the rescue at the end is almost incidental. They need Karina’s ice powers, but the actual focus of the hard labor is on Kotetsu and the others struggling against the flames. What we see from Karina’s perspective is her observing the news, and then showing up to take care of things no problem. Even in her moment of triumph, we’re shut out from her in a way that feels strange and alienating for a show that’s so much about zeroing in on character interiority.
It betrays a discomfort with her viewpoint that is depressingly understandable when considering things like Nishida’s comment below. Despite him praising her self-awareness, she’s never really allowed to fight against the ways the hero system screws her over. She becomes a lot more mature at interpersonal communication, but anything systemic falls by the wayside, all but unexamined.
[Blue Rose’s] feelings towards Kotetsu and her self-awareness as a hero are her interesting points, I think. She’s pretty weak when it comes to love, so I think she might be a bit troublesome for people around her.
- Mafumi Nishida (series composition), Official Hero Book Interview
Karina’s 24 hours:
00:00-2:00 – Radio Program Recording
2:00-2:30 – Go home
2:30-3:00 – Read song TV program script
3:00 -3:30 – Take a bath
3:30-7:00 – Sleep
7:00-7:30 – Wake up
7:30-8:00 – Breakfast with parents
8:00-8:30 – Go to school
8:30-9:00 – Math Class
9:00-10:00 – World History Class
10:00-11:00 – Physics Class
11:00-11:30 – Gym Class
11:30-12:00 – Go to the studio, have lunch
12:00-13:00 – Daytime Television Program performance
13:00-14:00 – Training Center
14:00-15:00 – Do homework while transporting
15:00-15:30 – Go to the studio
15:30-16:00 – Song Program business meeting
16:00-16:30 – Outfit fitting
16:30-17:00 – Take a break and do homework
17:00-17:30 – Dinner
17:30-18:00 – Rehearsal
18:00-18:30 – Take a break, study
18:30-19:00 – Take a break, nap
19:00-20:00 – Song Program Performance
20:00-21:00 – Go home
21:00-21:30 – Arrive at home
21:30-22:00 – Take a bath
22:00-22:30 – Study
22:30-23:00 – Confirm magazine photographs
23:00-23:30 – Confirm interview article
23:30-24:00 – Chat with mother
- Hero Gossip (She’s so busy holy shit)
Readers, one and all, allow me to introduce you to the wonders of “QUALITY Gym.” It took a few more weeks for that term to take hold in the fandom, but this is the earliest point at which it becomes clear. “QUALITY” is the snarky term for off-model animation, something that happens in just about every anime.
Working conditions in the industry are absolutely brutal, especially for entry-level animators, and there isn’t always time or resources to make everything look fluid and pretty when you’ve got to get an episode out every week.
Something has to give, and usually it’s dialogue-heavy scenes where a bunch of characters are on screen, meaning they don’t have to be rendered in as much detail. The training scenes at the Hero gym are smack dab in the middle of that venn diagram, and it results in some truly meme-level expressions and bodily proportions. We salute you, QUALITY Gym.
This episode is the first (and definitely not the last) case of a major plot element appearing in the broadcast version of the series but not the home release: when Karina holds up the dollar bill she received from Kotetsu, you can clearly see the Ouroboros insignia on the back of it. While this is consistent with the final teaser at the end of the season, it was removed from the blu-ray version—presumably because if it was that obvious, Barnaby would’ve noticed it a long time ago.
Even though this episode is about Karina, it seems borderline disinterested in her. Certainly it isn’t on her side—the framing makes it incredibly obvious. The completely fair criticism that Karina half-assing it on the job could get someone hurt is given considerable weight from the mouths of both her father and Kotetsu, and it’s the best argument the script has for why she needs to make a decision.
But Karina’s complaints are not given that same weight of importance. When she gets scared because someone is firing a sub-machine gun at her, it’s played first for comedy in the moment and later as a petulant excuse to her manager, never mind the legitimate complaint that she is easily the least armored hero with just about all her vital spots fully exposed. Her actual elemental skills might be off the charts, but nowhere is she proclaimed to be faster than a speeding bullet.
Her costume, likewise, is remarked upon in the context of her father not liking her revealing clothing, but Karina never brings up anything about it. We know she has feelings on the subject, since it’s one of the first things we hear from her in the party scene in the first episode. But she never complains here, not to her managers, not to her mother (who is not an authoritative figure here but more of a fretting orbiting body compared to the men in Karina’s life), and not even in her head while she’s alone.
After all, if she complained about being objectified then the show might have to be a teensy bit self-aware about the copious number of butt and boob shots this episode wallows in. The “oh, she has to do it for marketing!” is nothing more than the flimsiest of shields that apparently gave the boarders the giddiness of a carte blanche.
Her age is never part of the equation, either. Anime might be replete with gross leering at underage girls, but it stands out much more starkly in a show that mostly has a grown-up cast. There is a hell of a lot to question there—managers bemoan the fact that they have to appeal to sponsors and appropriate behaviors for heroes, but nobody bats an eye at the decision to market this seventeen year old as a sexy sadist for the consumption of adult male fans.
As a final aside before I get too depressed about this character’s wasted potential, Fire Emblem is far and away the best advisor in this episode even if they’re listened to the least—they accurately pinpoint what’s going on in Karina’s head, and their advice to her is in keeping with their later comment to Kotetsu that “it’s not use lecturing a young girl like her” (and hey, guess who Karina will continue to come to for advice later without balking at it).
There was a rich subplot to be had in Karina’s offhand admiration of Nathan’s status as CEO—one imagines her picking their brain and venting her problems with not being allowed to control her own image. GOD I’m so angry the show never made time for that kind of thing.