Episode 15 of Shangri-la, “Straying Defeat”, begins with Zhang trying to rein in Karin and Klaris. He is not so narrowly focused on the markets as the other two, and he doesn’t like the way Karin and Klaris are making money like bandits when violence and death are occurring not far from Karin’s abode. However, Medusa takes its own initiative to cut off access to Zhang, since his sentimentality is only a detriment to making money. Karin and Klaris do not disagree with Medusa at all.
As for Kuniko, she exits the National Diet Building where she had learned the shocking truth about her grandmother, only to find that it has turned into the ATLAS Project Memorial Hall. When the entire environment is made out of mimetic ore, landmarks are turning out to be rather useless. Kuniko is soon rejoined by Momoko.
Meanwhile, ATLAS staff is puzzled by the attack from an apparent third party, the same sort of attack that happened at the end of episode 1, except this time a toxic gas is being emitted. I have little doubt that if the toxic gas were to be analyzed, the same toxins as found in the air of the Cursed Sea of Ikebukuro will be found. Given how the attack started much earlier, with the miasma being emitted shortly before Kuniko got her surprising revelation, things don’t look so good for my theory that Kuniko’s mental state of confusion can prompt such attacks.
Tarsian points out that chemical weapons are banned by international law, so if things continue with the mystery attacks and toxic gas, the ATLAS project would be adversely affected due to economic sanctions. Ryouko’s solution is to directly negotiate a ceasefire with Kuniko, declaring that she is willing to bomb the eighth layer of ATLAS to smithereens to quell the uprising if Kuniko were to refuse. Momoko thinks it is a bluff, but Kuniko knows Ryouko better than that. The responses from both parties make it clear that neither is responsible for the mystery attacks.
Tarsian also involves himself as a mediator representing the United Nations’ International Court of Justice as requested by the prime minister, guaranteeing the safety of Metal Age insurgents if Kuniko would agree to a ceasefire. This isn’t a bad idea: any promises from just Ryouko would be rather lacking in credibility. Tarsian wants Metal Age to disarm and withdraw from ATLAS, stating that this is a ruling already made by the United Nations. Kuniko agrees to the conditions because refusing could mean international sanctions for Japan, which would make things worse for people living outside of ATLAS. At least Metal Age got something as well, with Tarsian promising that the United Nations will make sure that the Japanese government would properly support refugees for at least three years.
As Metal Age gives up its weapons and withdraws from ATLAS, Takehiko notices an ethereal girl running in the distance. When he follows her into an indoor location, he finds an entrance to a small shrine. Mimetic ore is in play as the environment changes suddenly to a path among a field of shoes, or maybe something else entirely is involved. Is Hiruko made of mimetic ore? If not, I’d say whatever is related to Hiruko is involved here as well. I say this because Takehiko comes across a small shrine with a particular pair of small shoes, which apparently belonged to his younger sister Yasuko who seems to have been sacrificed as a vessel for Hiruko.
This particular scene implies some disturbing information about Takehiko. It sounds like he has been working with Ryouko for some mysterious common goal and learned about Hiruko from her, although he only got to see what she looked like in episode 10. He seems to have been aware that children were used as vessels for Hiruko, although he was surprised by just how many children were sacrificed if the field of shoes is to be believed. It surprises me, too: I had thought only about a couple of dozen of girls would have been sacrificed in fifty years, but the actual number seems to be far higher than that. Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
Takehiko laments that he had done whatever he had done in the belief that Yasuko was still alive somewhere after disappearing one day, but now that he knows that she is gone, it was all for nothing. It would be just like Ryouko to promise Takehiko that she would help find his sister while fully aware that she is gone, but I don’t think this is the case. Yasuko disappeared a long time ago while Takehiko was still a boy, so Ryouko may genuinely have no idea what happened to her. Back to Takehiko and Ryouko possibly working together, I wonder if Takehiko heading to a different building than the one Kuniko ordered in the previous episode is related to this, or if I really just misheard him.
The fact that we see an apparent ghost of Yasuko might mean that the soul of Hiruko does not overwrite the souls of her vessels, but rather pushes them out into the substrate of ATLAS. Yasuko might have incorporated herself temporarily using mimetic ore. This might be the same way Kanaria incorporated himself in episode 11 despite being dead physically.
This gives me a totally crazy theory. ATLAS is not meant to be an impregnable fortress that protects humans living inside the structure from the elements. Instead, human minds are supposed to reside within the substrate of ATLAS itself. With consciousness residing within mimetic ore in incorporeal form, no harm can come to them, and this is the ideal that Nagiko wishes for. Hiruko is essential for ATLAS not because of some prophetic function, but rather precisely because the souls of her vessels are pushed out into ATLAS itself. This process might only work for children, and I can see a fundamental difference in opinion brewing between the older generation and the younger one.
This might explain the huge number of shoes Takehiko saw, and might explain why higher-ups in ATLAS such as Ryouko and Sayoko seem to be psychologically broken, assuming that they don’t think much of an incorporeal existence or sending hordes of children out of their bodies. The forest might be highly contaminated with mimetic ore containing the souls of these children, which might explain the attacks originating there as they do their own thing. And maybe the virtual reality we saw in earlier episodes will have a much bigger role in the future when Kuniko and others attempt to contact these souls.
Back to the episode itself and less crazy talk, head leases that Karin and Klaris had set up all around the world to make money (the mechanism is explained in episode 6, although my own summary might be far less than clear) are becoming defunct. Klaris manages to figure out that Zhang was responsible from the flow of funds, even though it’s hard to believe that he has enough funds to do what he is doing. This doesn’t discourage Karin, however.
Meanwhile, Kusanagi is having a crisis in his beliefs and principles as he watches the aftermath of what was effectively a civil war. He may have previously been able to rationalize the suffering of non-ATLAS residents as unavoidable, but recent events have made it even more of a stretch. And even more doubts enter his mind as he finds out that none of the survivors that were rescued along with him in episode 11 have any recent record of staying at a hospital. In fact, there is no record of them being rescued at all.
Kuniko and Momoko don’t leave with the rest of Metal Age and instead takes another route that Momoko had used to escape ATLAS in episode 12. Kuniko wants to use this chance to get a better look at how life in ATLAS is like. They arrive at the fourth layer of ATLAS which contains the residential area, and it turns out to be a remarkably ordinary city. So much for my conspiracy theory that no one really lives normally in ATLAS … The fact that Kuniko and Momoko are taking their own route out of ATLAS had not gone unnoticed, so they end up having to hide from the authorities.
By a remarkable coincidence, Kuniko and Momoko end up hiding in the Kusanagi home with Kunihito’s mother, Kusanagi Haruko. And this really has to be a coincidence; I can’t believe that their unauthorized jaunt just happened to go past the Kusanagi home at the moment when the authorities discover them. Unless Momoko is really the mastermind behind everything, and that’s just crazy talk. Poor Kuniko: Momoko concocts a story about them being a couple of transsexuals on the run, and despite Kuniko’s denial about her being a transsexual, Kuniko’s somewhat lacking chest convinces Haruko to believe Momoko.
Kuniko gets an insight to how the average long-time resident of ATLAS thinks from the conversation with Haruko. While they abstractly understand that life on the ground is tough, they don’t really understand how desperate it is, and wonder why Metal Age staged an uprising when they could have just waited for their own turn to be accepted into ATLAS. So far Kuniko and Momoko don’t have an inkling that Haruko is Kunihito’s mother.
Meanwhile, Zhang manages to derail all the head leases around the world despite Karin’s efforts to fight him off, which bankrupts Ishida Finance. Zhang couldn’t have done it without Nagiko, who turns out to have been a legendary carbonist. I had wondered who the original carbonists were after hearing Karin and others referred as neo-carbonists: now I know Nagiko was one of them, although I still don’t know why the current generation are “neo”. Zhang had stopped Karin and Klaris not only because of the moral problems with making money off large-scale suffering, but also because the real carbon values and market carbon values were diverging too greatly by now and threatening the carbon market.
With bankruptcy, Klaris declares that she will enter a convent to become a Sister Mary Robart and never approach the carbon market again, but I somehow doubt we’ve seen the last of her. Karin, on the other hand, refuses to give up. Her first step to recovery is to obtain huge amounts of funds. The funds are to be stolen from the Japanese government by hacking into Zeus. Karin sets the survival instincts of Medusa to maximum and hands over top command priority to Medusa itself so that it won’t be constrained by slow human control. I suspect this will have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences.
Medusa manages to weave through the security systems of Zeus at frightening speed, taking advantage of the holes left behind by Sayoko’s previous hacking attempt in episode 12. To keep top secrets from being leaked, Tarsian orders that Zeus be formatted. This is an extremely drastic step and would cause chaos in ATLAS. Maybe it wouldn’t be a total disaster if ATLAS had competent IT guys and kept offline backups that would take just a few weeks to recover. On the other hand, maybe Zeus stores so much data that offline backups just are not feasible. I wonder if the formatting of Zeus is why Tarsian created Medusa in the first place?
It’s a moot point, however, as the ATLAS staff refuses Tarsian’s orders at gunpoint. Ryouko reveals that they figured out Tarsian was responsible for the creation of Medusa, so she uses this as a pretext to usurp power from him. That was pretty quick: I thought it would be a few more episodes before she tried something like this. In the meantime, Medusa has managed to reach the core of Zeus, which agitates Hiruko severely, and figures out the password for the core files, which turns out to be the prophecies for the three Digmas.
Karin learns something very shocking about ATLAS from the files, although we don’t get to hear what it is. ATLAS staff have not remained ignorant of the role of Ishida Finance, though, so Leon leads a security team to apprehend Karin. Fortunately, it turns out that Karin’s teddy bear chair is also an emergency escape pod, so Karin manages to escape. I guess she will turn up in Akiba sooner or later.
Back at the Kusanagi home, where Kuniko is facing her worst enemy, her hated carrots, Kunihito returns home. While Kuniko and Momoko are completely surprised upon learning that it was his home, Kunihito doesn’t react as much to the presence of Kuniko and Momoko. His doubts about ATLAS must be really bothering him. After dinner, where Haruko’s cooking taught Kuniko that carrots aren’t so horrible after all, Kunihito returns the boomerang that Kuniko lost in episode 5 and expresses his doubts, and Kuniko confesses that she is full of confusion as well.
The episode ends with a development that comes out of nowhere, where ATLAS staff led by Leon enter the Moon Palace to arrest Miko. I don’t know what Miko is being arrested for, and Miko seems to be surprised about it as well. The only thing that comes to mind is Miko rescuing Momoko, but it’s not if Momoko was even an official prisoner in the first place.
A shallow look at Shangri-la might suggest that there are only three sides: ATLAS, Metal Age, and the rest of the people. But since the beginning there were hints that Metal Age might be in league with ATLAS behind the scenes, and I had thought there would be just one or two conspiracies behind everything. However, things have become messy with Nagiko having been the founder of ATLAS, hints of Takehiko working with Ryouko, etc., and it looks like there are far more conspiracies with everyone having their own agenda.
I’m getting confused because I no longer know who is on whose side, or even how many sides there are in the first place. I feel like I know what Kuniko and Kunihito are going through. But this is not a bad thing at all, as it adds depth to a lot of characters and it doesn’t feel like all of the conspiracies are careening off into their own unrelated plot threads.