Back on Funimation this week with happy thoughts all around (unless you downloaded One Piece), Fractale gave us a ton of exposition and a few jarring surprises. As suspected, Enri and her brother belong to a rebel group - some (including Clain) would say a terrorist group - resisting the influence of Fractale. Calling themselves The Lost Millenium, they live in a state of comparative deprivation in a hidden village. Having removed their "terminals" they no longer receive instantaneous medical care and the other necessities of life - they have to do everything for themselves, including grow food and (such misfortune!) make coffee. Idealists they are, of a sort of Luddite school - a "back to nature" anti-technology sect that's not unlike some you might find in the rural Western United States. They see Fractale as a cult in its own right, and Clain and all the others like him as slaves.
How does this all tie in with our heroes? According to the leader of Lost Millennium (Sunda, Enri's big brother) Phryne is a priestess who stole secrets from the temple at the center of Fractale - "doppel data" - and hid it inside Nessa somehow. So now Clain and Nessa are basically hostages, though treated pretty well. Clain is thrilled at all the antique technology and at his first taste of real food, which Nessa can neither taste nor contextualize - so she asks him to explain taste to her in interpretive dance. An odd moment, but it works. Here's where things take quite a turn, though - our cartoonishly drawn villains who act like Team Rocket and serve their prisoners tasty meals are actually terrorists after all.
It would be hard to imagine anyone not being surprised by the scene at the "Star Festival", the ritual called by the Fractale Temple. Lost Millennium flies off to disrupt it with Clain and Nessa (uninvited) in tow. It turns out that the festival is basically an excuse for Fractale to update everybody's internal software and make sure they don't start thinking rebellious thoughts, which tends to happen after a while. Through the special glasses Sunda gives him Clain is able to see the truth - these people are being brainwashed. Lost Millennium is pretty much the good guys, eh? Then they get out the machine guns and start mowing down the priestesses and the worshipers alike. The Priestesses start to fight back and all hell breaks loose - it's an orgy of graphic violence that catches the viewer totally off guard. Bodies and blood fly everywhere, and among the victims is Enri's comical henchman Butcher. Through all this we see another Nessa dressed in the Priestesses' robes - is "our" Nessa but a copy? - and none other than Phryne shows up. Nessa Mark II calls her "Onee-sama" and things are altogether a
Where did that come from? Quite a bold and nasty turn for a series that, if anything, resembled Miyazaki's gentler works of the 80's. As suspected this is turning into a discourse on freedom - what it means to be free, and what price is worth paying both to give up your freedom and to try and get it back. There were no good guys in that last scene - certainly not the cult leaders brainwashing their people, and even more certainly not the "freedom fighters" gunning them down in cold blood. Clain and Nessa are good, certainly - Clain is nothing worse than naive, and Nessa is an artificial being, a walking illusion. Whether Phryne is a good guy or not seems very much in question after that ending, though in my heart I still don't believe she's evil. This looks like it's going to be a pretty ambiguous morality play - and the arc is going to be Clain's development as he realizes both the futility of existence under Fractale and the cruelty of the world outside its influence. As a techno-skeptic and an antiques otaku he would have seemed a natural recruit for Sunda, but judging by his reaction to events at the Star Festival I can't imagine him having any sympathy for their methods. Perhaps he and Nessa will end up on the run, isolated from both sides.
That was a wonderful feint by Yamakan - if he can continue to surprise and engage the way he did in this episode, even his critics might have to take a vow of silence - for a few moments, anyway.