Face-to-face once again with the Second Floor Guardian behind closed doors, ‘Underwater (Part One)’ begins with Bam’s wish to carry the now-disabled Rachel up the Tower being heard.
After a few minutes, Bam reappears before Rachel and Yu Han Sung with the Guardian’s blessing, allowing Rachel her final chance to climb the Tower and Bam the opportunity to protect that which he holds dearest. The decision made, Yu Han Sung proceeds to commence the final test: the Underwater Hunt.
Placing Bam and Rachel underwater, encased and protected by a bubble of Shinsu, this aquatic challenge requires the remaining Regulars to ensure that the two are swept up by a giant ‘Net Dolphin’ and spit onto dry land.
As the Net Dolphin Queen creates a large net of Shinsu to prey upon the fish, Bam, and Rachel, in the surrounding waters, brutish ‘Barnacle Goblins’ will attempt to steal the Net Dolphin’s prey. If the Net Dolphins’ hunting is successfully interrupted, and the two reunited friends are instead consumed by the Goblins’ lamprey-esque ‘Giant Wetworms’, a failing grade will be awarded to every member of the class.
Once again taking charge as Lightbearer, Khun opens the test with yet another expertly crafted strategy, directing his fellow teammates to take up optimal positions in preparation for the Barnacle Goblins’ incoming thievery attempt.
As the test begins, the hot-headed Test Administrator Quant finds himself surprised at not only how strange this final test is, but how quickly and effortlessly Yu Han Sung was able to arrange it. Though Yu Han Sung waves off these oddities as privileges of his rank, Quant’s questions are enough to raise Lero’s suspicions about the Test Director’s true motives.
A calm falls upon the battlefield in the early moments of the test, allowing for nervous conversations between Rachel and Bam and Khun and Ship, respectively.
Rachel finds herself inspired by Bam’s new resolve and drive to protect his friends, flashing a smile for the first time since she left Bam to climb the tower.
Khun and Ship reflect on the latter’s reasons for wanting to help Bam in his journey. As Bam had finally found “everything important that was stolen” from the other members of the class, Ship finds himself wanting to help Bam avoid losing “what he’s got.”
These tender moments of friendship are abruptly interrupted by Hatsu’s discovery that two of their teammates had gone missing, leaving behind only a trail of violent blood spatter. Sensing “a strange bloodlust,” Ship is soon ambushed by the test’s most fearsome element: a wide jawed, bipedal, tentacle-wielding monster known as The Bull. Holding a freshly poached body in its mouth, the abomination turns its attention towards Ship.
This diversion of attention lasts only a brief moment, as the Bull deems Ship to be of insignificant consequence and proceeds to brush past him on the way to complete the rest of its mission. Insulted by the Bull’s disregard, an angered Ship takes matters into his own hands, leaping into the air and driving the blade Serena had gifted him into the monster’s back. Finally capturing his attention, the Bull whips Ship into the air with a swing of his tentacles, dropping him towards its gaping, hungry, maw.
Ship is saved from the jaws of death at the last second by the surprise lashing of a green whip from the shadows, thanks to the sudden appearance of Androssi, Anak, and the Green April. Butting heads over who could more easily take down the Bull, the two Princesses of Jahad challenge each other to a time trial contest. As each girl gets five minutes to fight the Bull by themselves, Androssi offers the stakes herself: if she wins, Anak must turn over the Green April and Black March, but if she loses, she’ll be Anak’s eternal servant.
Though the Regulars appear to have the upper hand in the test, with the scouting component of Khun’s plan being executed successfully and the two Princesses pushing the Bull to the edge of defeat. However, this luck soon runs out, as the tables turn violently against the young combatants.
As Hatsu survey’s the enemy’s advance, he is discovered by a rogue Goblin, prompting a swift reaction from Paracule’s spear that draws the full attention of the monstrous army towards their team. Despite being moments away from defeat at the feet of Androssi, the Princess is eventually ensnared by the Bull’s tentacles, being mercilessly crushed into unconsciousness.
Lo Po Bia Ren finally unveils himself to Anak, stating that his mission was to enter the test to ensure the elimination of the ‘false’ Princess and revealing his personal control over the Bull.
Bringing the two Princesses together, Ren drops the Green April in front of a weakened Androssi and offers her a final chance at executing the will of King Jahad, asking her to kill Anak then and there.
Her eyes wide, Androssi is unable to answer before the scene cuts to a hopeful Bam, looking out towards the open ocean. In the face of his optimism, Rachel appears to pull back her feelings, leaving the two to ascend towards the surface as the episode comes to a close.
Last week’s episode, despite its intention as a ‘break’ in the action for the series, was an uncharacteristic low point for the series, but thankfully, ‘Underwater (Part One)’ seems to signal a return to form (literally, in the case of Rak’s reversion to his full bodied form) with a well-paced mix of action reminiscent of earlier episodes in the season.
In the review for the previous episode, a major issue raised was the continual introduction of new plot elements, as viewers were beginning to be asked to remember an almost overwhelming amount of mystery. This issue seems insignificant in hindsight, as ‘Underwater (Part One)’ sees the resolution and growth of multiple threads established last week, including Yu San Hung’s motives and Ren’s true mission within the Tower.
The new plot points, such as the demand that Androssi fulfill her mission and kill Anak, build naturally upon information learned before and avoids blindsiding viewers with more to keep track of.
One of the biggest disappointments from last week was the series’ art direction, which seemed to fall apart as the episode progressed. ‘Underwater: Part One’ more than makes up for these errors, showcasing a multitude of different fighting style animations and introducing a new set of diverse, almost ethereal settings.
This spike in quality isn’t perfect, as there are still one or two scenes in which the composition is jarringly low-effort, and the large quantity of action scenes can’t make up for the fact that it is admittedly not as dynamic as those seen previously, such as the fight between Anak and Androssi during the Fishermen Position test or Anak’s performance in the Crown Game, but it’s enough to ease any worries that Crunchyroll had completely dropped the ball halfway through the season.
The highlight of this week is easily the intrapersonal character interactions and relationship developments. Nearly every character is given a chance to have their own unique personality shine without the feeling that they’re being written out of character or acting simply in service of the plot. Among the best moments of this episode are Ship’s care for Bam, Serena, and his pride, Ren’s playfully insane taunting of Anak, and the genuine disdain for each other seen in Anak and Androssi’s casual-yet-angry kick battle.
After the drastic dip in quality seen in last week’s episode, ‘Underwater (Part One)’ comes out swinging to deliver a level of quality closer to the series’ strong, early episodes. While not perfect, audiences should easily have some, if not a majority, of their faith restored in the series after watching the sincere character interactions and varied action scenes. As the season races towards its climax, fans would be doing themselves a disservice to end their climb now.
- Character moments are the sincere and entertaining
- Action scenes and art style are improved from last episode
- Ship finally has his time to shine.
- Actions scenes aren't particularly dynamic.
- Though less than last week, composition issues remain present.