Episode 8 of Shangri-la, “Lipstick Cruelty”, begins with the ending from the previous episode where Ryouko announces the execution for Kuniko, although Kuniko herself seems more concerned about what Ryouko might do to anyone else.
Ryouko’s subordinate Soichiro Hata thinks that the threat of execution was just a way for Ryouko to frighten Kuniko, considering that Kuniko is an integral part of whatever plan by ATLAS. At least this confirms that Kuniko is not a threat but rather a valuable asset to ATLAS. However, Ryouko is quite serious about going through the execution. It’s not that she wants Kuniko dead, but rather that Kuniko would be useless for their plans if she can’t even survive this execution attempt. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryouko earlier quipped about fellow inmates “agreeing” to the execution fully knowing that it might cause a riot later on.
Kuniko’s upcoming execution is splattered across the news, which gets Takehiko into a panic. On the other hand, Nagiko and Momoko are oddly unconcerned about this news, worrying more about the food to send Kuniko. I doubt they put much faith in Takehiko’s hare-brained scheme to tunnel their way to rescue Kuniko: they talk about how the next step is up to Kuniko. They clearly know something about Kuniko that the rest of us do not.
The news also reaches Karin, who considers it more of a curious news item, which is when she receives a piece of electronic mail. This makes Karin extremely happy at first since she thinks that it’s from her mother. Karin seems to keep her mail address very secret, which might explain why she thinks the mail is from her mother. Unfortunately it’s spam: even more than a century later, spam is still a problem. Karin is in the envious position of being able to do something about a spammer, though: she can use Medusa to financially ruin the spammer. Or at least she would do so if Medusa wasn’t still preoccupied with the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Despite her earlier response to a possible message from her mother, Karin keeps telling herself she’s not lonely. She is obviously unaware that this is a sure sign she is lonely.
As for Kuniko herself, the idea of being executed feels more like an abstract concept instead of something that will actually happen. In fact, the mood is very far from serious when Momoko comes to pay a visit, although Momoko stresses that Kuniko should think about everyone instead of just any particular person when the hypothetical situation of what Kuniko would do if Momoko were to be executed comes up. At the same time, Momoko hands Kuniko a care package with some food, lipstick, and a dress.
The other girls in the detention center are less flippant about Kuniko’s upcoming execution, though, as they discretely collect materials that might be used to break Kuniko out. Tomoka tries to do her own part, using her feminine wiles to convince a guard to let her see Kuniko, although she’s caught by the immune Leon on her way to see Kuniko. It would be amusing if Leon was immune because he only has eyes for his younger brother, although it’s almost certainly just due to better discipline.
Leon does seem to have some empathy for Tomoka’s desire to help Kuniko, so he does end up letting her through. Tomoka suggests to Kuniko that they escape from the prison, but Kuniko seems to be lukewarm to the idea. I’m surprised Tomoka would say anything like that at all, given how Leon, who kept out of sight from Kuniko, was keeping watch on her with a gun pointed to her head. After the visit, Leon let’s Tomoka go with the promise to keep what happened secret. However, Soichiro Hata saw what Leon did, and with his inquiry as to why Leon let Tomoka go when something happening to Tomoka might be a pressure to motivate Digma-2, Leon ostensibly replies that too much pressure could incite an overreaction. Hata in turn promises to keep what happened secret.
Given the short interaction between Leon and Tomoka in the previous episode and what happened right now, it looks like there is going to be a relationship developing between them, which is something that I had completely not seen coming. Although it remains to be seen what sort of relationship it will be or how it turns out in the end …
After the break, a fight breaks out between Nao and Rena in the cafeteria, which is soon broken up with work outside as punishment. This is actually what they wanted: they’re working together to gather materials and get chemical products using the sun as part of a plan to break Kuniko out. Elsewhere in the detention center, Ryouko mentions that there is a particular significance to the date planned for Kuniko’s execution: it is Kuniko’s day of destiny, but Ryouko mentions that it is such for Mikuni as well. In fact, Sayoko informs Mikuni that she will be able to have a proper visit to the outside instead of the short jaunts so far, although it’s not because Sayoko had succeeded in developing applicable medication. I predict a solar eclipse in the near future.
When the date set for the execution comes, Kuniko dresses up in her usual clothes and makes a point of putting on lipstick. The execution is to be done by firing squad, with the inmates watching and Rena even having brought along a noose “in case the firing squad screws up”. As Kuniko is walked into position, she “carelessly” drops her lipstick on the ground. It’s actually deliberate: when the firing squad is about to fire, Kuniko swings the lipstick cap in her hand and sends the lipstick tube flying, which cuts off the gun barrels. Momoko had snuck in nanowire thread inside the lipstick, which Kuniko is now putting into good use.
The noose that Rena is holding is also not just a noose. It’s a foot rest made of rope attached to a hydrogen balloon that Nao, Rena, and the other inmates have been making in secret. Kuniko and Tomoka escape with the hydrogen balloon to the cheers of the remaining inmates, whom Kuniko promises to come back and help. The escape could have been derailed easily by a well-placed gun shot popping the balloon, and a guard is about to do just that, but he is stopped from even attempting a shot by Hata, who had so far been in charge of Kuniko’s execution. The reason is that the gun shot might ignite the hydrogen and cause an explosion: it sounds like Hata may have set up the execution to fail if Kuniko didn’t manage something by herself, with the guards being in the know.
Kuniko and Tomoka land at a nearby road, where Momoko just happens to be waiting for them to Kuniko’s wonder. If Momoko knew Kuniko’s plan to escape using a hydrogen balloon, then it’s only a matter of predicting where the balloon would land given the winds: knowing Kuniko so well may have helped Momoko figure out what the plan would be in the first place. I wonder what Takehiko’s reaction will be when he learns all the effort to dig a tunnel was for nothing?
And it is indeed Kuniko’s plan: she had thought of it during the three days she was forced to stand in the prison yard. It’s not explained how her plan was passed on to Nao, Rena, and others, but I can speculate that she got some help from sympathetic guards to pass on messages and materials. For all I know, Hata may have even made sure some of the guards would be sympathetic. Even if Momoko hadn’t smuggled in the nanowire used as a weapon or the carbon thread that Nao et al. used to stitch the balloon together, which I chalk up to Momoko knowing what Kuniko would need after guessing her plan, I’m sure Kuniko would have figured something out.
Back at the prison in the aftermath of Kuniko’s escape, it’s a bit chaotic with the armed guards trying to control the unruly inmates, with Rena even taunting the guards to shoot them. In any normal prison, control over unruly inmates might be regained with some amount of violence, but no one would take such a taunt seriously. Unfortunately, this is currently not a normal prison: Ryouko is the warden. While Ryouko is tired of playing warden and is ready to get back to ATLAS, Leon just had to ask what should be done with the inmates. Ryouko’s answer shocks Leon and Hata: she tells them to fulfill their wishes without much thought, and considering their taunts outside, the girls are soon massacred.
Nao, Rena, and the other girls at the detention center: we hardly knew you. I have a feeling that Ryouko is going to regret her thoughtless decision. I foresee a whole lot of pain for Ryouko courtesy of Kuniko making good on her claim from the beginning of the episode, but Ryouko might not care much about that. Instead, the news of the massacre might affect Kuniko negatively once she hears about it, making her start second guessing everything she does because the massacre could argued to be due to her escape attempt. I don’t think a complete loss of confidence by Kuniko is something Ryouko wants, not yet at any rate.
As Kuniko, Tomoka, and Momoko walk back to Duomo, they encounter attendants from the Moon Palace holding a ceremony outside. They have just come across Mikuni’s excursion to the outside world, and the episode ends with the Sun being eclipsed by the Moon. I wonder how Miko would respond? I hope we don’t see Momoko getting killed in the next episode because Momoko tries to lie about the matching earring, something I’m sure Mikuni is going to notice. The earlier discussion between Kuniko and Momoko about Momoko’s hypothetical execution gives me an uneasy feeling, though. On the other hand, I’m not sure if Mikuni’s telekinesis would even work outside the Moon Palace.
Given how Kuniko is supposedly integral to the plans of Ryouko and ATLAS, I again wonder exactly what role is expected of her? I have this crazy idea that Kuniko is supposed to replace Ryouko, inspired by how it seems to be Kuniko’s mind rather than physical prowess that is wanted. Ryouko might be Digma-1 and was created as a ruthless and psychopathic person capable of building ATLAS, but once ATLAS is completed, a Digma-2 who actually cares about the ATLAS residents would be needed. Ryouko might wholeheartedly embrace the plan, but the limited shelf life might explain her decadence. Or Kuniko might be intended to replace Hiruko, whose own role is as yet unclear, although having Mikuni be the intended replacement for Hiruko would also fit the previous theory. Needles to say, this is pure speculation, and it’s not helped by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anything in the current power structure of ATLAS corresponding to Kunihito.