Shu awakes in his cell the next morning after being beaten and tries to talk with his cellmate, at first to little avail. Outside, we’re given an insight into the daily lives of Hamdo’s child soldiers as they train against each other for actual combat, overseen by a strict instructor who beats his charges for making mistakes. And elsewhere Lala Ru is brought before Hamdo again, this time in his verdant gardens where the plants enjoy more water than the soldiers, to say nothing of what the civilians might get. This pair of episodes starts fleshing out the world that Shu was brought to, generally painting it as darker than last time but in a few moments some genuine human compassion shows through in the smallest of actions. We also get a much better picture of the lives, motivations, and attitudes of the residents of this world. This humanizing is important to seeing the characters and their actions, whether humane or barbarous, in the appropriate context. A few legitimately crazy individuals like Hamdo do exist, but the vast majority of his followers and soldiers are sane, rational people who were convinced, coerced, or who convince themselves into doing terrible deeds.
Shu’s cellmate first tries to help him by wiping the sweat off his brow, but when he quickly wakes up and keeps frantically asking if she is Lala Ru she knocks him back out with a metal bowl.
Nabuca and Tabool in a training fight using their actual knives. After Nabuca trips Tabool and holds the dull edge to his throat the drillmaster stops them, but one can imagine that such bloodless practice sessions are not always the case.
Tabool is reprimanded for complaining that Nabuca’s move wasn’t one they were taught.
Some reminders of home.
Hamdo goes into wild changes of mood once more, first creepily smearing the juice from a crushed fruit on Lala Ru’s face as he speaks softly, then yelling and pulling her hair while demanding that she help him.
The gardens, a painted room somewhere near the top of Hellywood filled with plants and flowers.
Shu gets to talking with his cellmate after convincing her that he’s not a threat, who it turns out is also from Earth. Sara was living a normal life just as Shu was somewhere in America when Abelia appeared and abducted her, apparently thinking that she was Lala Ru. Despite their desperate situation, Shu keeps telling her that things will work out somehow and that they’ll get to go home, even if he doesn’t have a logical reason to think so at the moment. Soon the guards show up and take Shu, Hamdo having ordered another interrogation. Abelia and an adult soldier beat him and then hang him by his hands outside Hellywood, even though both of them acknowledge that Shu probably doesn’t know where the pendant is. In the shadow of the fortress Nabuca and the other child soldiers train on an obstacle course, carrying full packs and fake rifles. Later on Nabuca and Boo are ordered to take Sara from her cell to a room somewhere else within Hellywood. They push her into a room with a rather unpleasant looking resident, who grabs her and quickly shuts the door. Sara was given to the man and raped off-screen, symbolized by the flower Hamdo through out the window blowing away in the wind in front of Shu; whether or not Nabuca and Boo fully realize what they were agents of is uncertain, though Nabuca is probably old and aware enough to understand.
Shu’s optimism is very out of place here, and things would only get worse, but it’s the one thing that might keep him from being lost in the madness if he can keep it.
Hellywood interrogations aren’t very creative, usually just using brute force. Maybe this says something about Abelia, since she hasn’t seemed to cross the line from ‘normal’ violence to more sadistic forms of torture.
Shu hangs outside while Abelia and the guard admit that he probably doesn’t know anything. The state of the windows adds to the other hints that Hellywood is in a state of disrepair.
The obstacle course, right after Nabuca is told to ignore the boy who fell. Given that the child soldiers all seem to have pistols, the fake rifles might point to a shortage of some kinds of small arms.
Sara being shoved into the man’s quarters. Red seems to be a thematic color this episode in various scenes of psychological suffering.
Late that night an alarm sounds in Abelia’s office: an enemy land battleship has penetrated their lines and is headed for Hellywood. Hamdo is panicking as Abelia quickly begins to dispatch their available forces, which include the humanoid and snake-like mecha that captured Lala Ru as well as Nabuca’s unit. But when the fight isn’t going well, Hamdo orders the firing of what appears to be Hellywood’s main weapon, the UMP launcher. Despite Abelia’s initial warning that there are still many of their forces in the area, Hamdo is still panicking and orders it fired anyway. The enemy battleship is destroyed, but many of Hellywood’s forces are also wiped out in the blast. Shu can see the explosion from where he hangs outside, an explosion that seems somewhere in the range of a tactical nuclear weapon. Nabuca and Tabool survive, but there are a great number of casualties as Hamdo gives a speech demanding further sacrifices to bring their nation to greatness. Sara and Shu are returned to their cell later that night, but Sara is in shock, crying in the corner, and Shu is too weak to even move.
More use of red light this episode, shortly before Abelia warns Hamdo about using the UMP on their own forces.
Nabuca and Tabool on the front lines. For all Tabool’s aggression he’s as frightened looking as one would expect a child to be.
Abelia is clearly upset with their losses, but Hamdo only pours on more propaganda now that he’s safe.
Sara and Shu that night in their cell. The visuals speak more than their words could.
At the start of the next episode Abelia is woken by a call from Hamdo. He finally acknowledges that Shu probably doesn’t know where the pendant is, and orders her to immediately begin searching the fortress. Shu is given over to her to do what she will with, and she decides to add him to Nabuca’s unit. The scene lets us see Abelia outside of her usual duties and more normal and even vulnerable than usual. She sleeps in pink sheets, uncharacteristically feminine given her public harshness, and even asks to start the search later in the morning after getting more sleep. After being ordered to start immediately, she sits up and slaps her cheeks to get into her role as commander. Shu is sent to Nabuca’s unit’s barracks and allowed to rest and recover while the rest of the unit searches. Nabuca places Boo in charge of guarding him, continuing a pattern of him seeming to protect Boo and give him the easier work. Tabool is not happy with the new recruit, venting his anger at Nabuca while searching for the pendant, but Nabuca confronts him and reestablishes his authority. Abelia meanwhile coordinates the search and seems to be jealous and stressed about the attention that Hamdo relishes on Lala Ru instead of on his faithful servant.
When Abelia sleeps and is first waking up, she has a very different expression on her face before she slaps herself and puts on her ‘command face.’
Abelia is in fact ordered to make preparations to ‘recruit’ more soldiers soon.
In addition to her faithful service, Abelia also seems to maybe be in love with Hamdo, given her jealousy over Lala Ru.
Hamdo first tries some grand speeches and guilt to get Lala Ru to cooperate, then turns once more to threats. It’s unclear whether she suffered the same fate as Sara or not.
Nabuca finds and returns the stick Shu picked up at the factory back home, and even treats Shu relatively well. Still, he’s very touchy about anyone mentioning that Shu saved him and makes it clear to Shu that he owes him nothing for it.
Sara is still hunched up in the corner, but one guard sees her handkerchief and in a small act of kindness attempts to hand it back to her.
Tabool convinces some squadmates to grab Shu and beat the location of the pendant out of him with a potato or bar of soap wrapped in a towel. Shu manages to headbutt it back and hit Tabool in the face, prompting him to draw his knife just as Nabuca and then their drillmaster show up.
The punishment for beating a fellow soldier is 10 lashes, to be administered by the victim. This and other encouraged or forced acts of violence help mold children into killers both here and in the real world.
Nabuca explains how he and Tabool were brought from the same village to be soldiers, and that the rest died or were killed when they tried to escape. The rest of the unit was made to kill their former comrades after this escape attempt, and Nabuca asks (importantly, as opposed to orders or warns) Shu not to try and run. The child soldiers are promised that when the war is over they will be allowed to return home, something that keeps them going and allows them to be manipulated.
Final Thoughts: – The revealing of many of the Hellywood characters’ histories and mindsets these two episodes was the most interesting to me. Abelia shown as a normal woman, even if just for a few moments, and her adoration/jealous issues with Hamdo make for a much more interesting and realistic character than just ‘a villain.’ Nabuca was hinted at being one of the more decent characters who seems protective of his fellows, but then it’s added into his character mix that he’ll do whatever he’s ordered to do if it furthers those goals, including enabling rape.
- The Hellywood world as an environment gets a lot of development this time around too. The ways that the child soldiers are recruited and controlled is explained, as well as the presence of enemy forces and Hamdo’s ability to fend them off, with no concern for the lives of his soldiers. There’s also a sense that lately he’s been relying more on child soldiers to replace his losses, and the exact circumstances of their recruitment (and that of Nabuca and Tabool) would be interesting to know. They talk about being able to go back home someday, and this is one way they can be controlled. Another method from the real world is to force the children to commit atrocities such as the killing of a parent to deprive them of any hope of being able to return home, a method used by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda (and neighboring states as the LRA moves around.