Episode 23 of Shangri-la, “Prelude to Destruction”, begins with Kunihito preventing Kuniko from chasing after Ryouko and Mikuni. Kunihito is clearly not willing to shoot Kuniko, but he is also not letting her go. Kuniko is about to give the smackdown on Kunihito, but Momoko appears to stop her, revealing the unsurprising fact that Haruko has been taken hostage. Not that Momoko would have let Kunihito pass to attack Kuniko, but Momoko got preoccupied with saving Sayoko who had jumped off the ledge, who had then went off on her own to find Mikuni.
Kunihito must have been really reluctant to betray Kuniko, considering that he could have just pretended to join Momoko to go and help Kuniko, instead of making his betrayal obvious by pleading with Momoko to let him through. And with the fate of the world in the balance, Kuniko has a pathetically easy job of turning him back to her side. Haruko would have to be saved through some other means than giving in to the demands of the hostage takers, i.e. ATLAS staff.
In what looks like the chamber where Hiruko used to be, Ryouko has Mikuni insert all three daggers into the slots of an upraised pillar, which opens the way to deep within ATLAS. However, Shougo, Leon, and Shion show up to stop Ryouko, with Shougo firing off a warning shot. Trying to destroy the world has turned the ATLAS staff against her. Unbeknownst to them, Sayoko is lurking in the shadows. Ryouko now has no intention of keeping them alive, but when Mikuni says that she would allow their survival, Ryouko tells Mikuni to shut up.
It looks like serving the heir to ATLAS is indeed no longer part of Ryouko’s core programming, with her being polite to Mikuni only because she is needed for something. Ryouko then calls to Shion, who had been more dragged along by Leon than being opposed to Ryouko, and Shion actually aims his gun at Leon. Turns out that Shion has a terrible inferiority complex and is jealous of his brother, so Ryouko paying any attention to him, even if it is abusive attention, has made him loyal to her. Leon had no idea that his little brother felt that way.
Ryouko notes that Shion is the only one that would not betray her, but his blind obedience just severely annoys her. So she shoots at Shion’s head, who is only barely saved by Leon. Ryouko drags Mikuni on to the platform in the center of the chamber, which starts lowering itself down a shaft, which in turn starts to be blocked off by a rising wall. But before the shaft is blocked off completely, Sayoko jumps onto the platform to confront Ryouko. Meanwhile, Shion reconciles with Leon when Kuniko, Kunihito, and Momoko show up.
Having arrived at another entrance, Kuniko and the others are ready to fight the ATLAS staff, but they have no intention of opposing her. In fact, it turns out that Shougo had bothered to have other ATLAS staff release Haruko. Unfortunately, Ryouko and Mikuni are already on the long elevator ride to the forest of guidance, presumably underground at the foundations of ATLAS.
On said elevator platform, Sayoko is trying to get Mikuni away from Ryouko. Mikuni wonders why, since Sayoko had been so eager for her to become the heir. Sayoko indeed wanted it badly, but that was before she saw Ryouko telling Mikuni to shut up, which made it apparent that Ryouko will not serve the heir. And Ryouko confirms as much, so Sayoko tries to kill her. I wonder if killing Ryouko’s body would really accomplish anything: I’m not sure how much of her personality comes from the physical interface hardware and how much is from Zeus itself.
As Sayoko vainly tries to hurt Ryouko, we learn the backstory about them being university classmates. Ryouko had gone to university simply for the novelty. While Ryouko found most students to be totally uninteresting, Sayoko had the misfortune of attracting Ryouko’s interest. Sayoko seems to have been a studious nerd in university, but Ryouko’s words imply that Sayoko had a relationship with a professor. And Ryouko twists the knife in Sayoko’s mental wounds by saying that the professor said only bad things about Sayoko in bed, obviously implying how she had stolen Sayoko’s lover. Why am I getting the silly thought that Momoko may have been a professor of botany a long time ago?
Given how long Ryouko must have found Sayoko interesting, it should be no wonder how mentally messed up Sayoko is now. Ryouko reveals one final piece of information that would put a stake in Sayoko’s heart: there is a drug that could have cured Midori and Mikuni. In fact, Ryouko developed it seven years ago, at which point Midori could still have been saved, but she kept it secret just because she didn’t want to see Sayoko happy. Sayoko is then dropped down the shaft, and Ryouko informs Mikuni that they have almost reached the zeroth layer.
The zeroth layer looks a lot like the cavern that we saw Nagiko and Tarsian discover in a flashback from episode 20. Nagiko calls the zeroth layer Yomi-no-Kuni. It is a giant cavern that was discovered while building the foundations for ATLAS. The cavern also contained a mysterious temple, where Nagiko and Tarsian found the mummy of Himiko with the heavenly spear Ama-no-nuboko piercing the body. Nagiko and Tarsian realized this the moment they saw the mummy, even though they do not know where the knowledge came from.
Even if Nagiko and Tarsian did not understand where they got the knowledge, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t use it. They created the bio-computer Zeus using the DNA of Himiko, and they somehow used Hiruko, human sacrifices, and the Ama-no-nuboko to keep ATLAS from collapsing. It looks like references to the Kojiki might be much more literal than I thought, and while Himiko is not mentioned in the Kojiki, she might be a reference to an ancient shaman queen.
But Ryouko has gone out of control, and Nagiko and Tarsian now have no idea what she is trying to do. They wouldn’t be having so many problems with her if she could have just been a simple terminal, but they didn’t have a choice because the life energy acquisition system had to be built-in. Nagiko mentions something about having no other choice in order to animate a corpse, while Tarsian notes that Ryouko would have to pay a price for her freedom. I don’t quite understand the rationale for Ryouko’s human form, such as the part about life energy acquisition and whether the corpse refers to Zeus or a certain person in particular.
At the end of their musings, Shion arrives to ask for their help. Kuniko had managed to pull out a dagger back at the chamber, but this did not stop the elevator platform. Neither did explosives help at all with penetrating the barrier blocking access to the shaft. Before Nagiko and Tarsian arrive to lend their knowledge, Kuniko finds out by accident that a dagger can cut quite easily through the barrier, and Kuniko heads down the shaft alone. There are still the other daggers: Kunihito might be following her soon enough.
Nagiko and Tarsian may not have been needed to break into the shaft, but there is still something they can help out with. Karin is still trying to stop Medusa from breaking into the military networks (which is apparently connected to the United Nations: I would have expected that no country would have been willing to give the least bit of control to their nuclear arsenal to an external body). Things look bleak, but they is a ray of hope when Nagiko and Tarsian show up online to help stop Medusa. Incidentally, Tarsian’s previously unseen avatar reveals what must be an image of himself as a cool guy, while Nagiko’s avatar is the young version of herself. The old men of Akiba are probably disappointed that Nagiko’s avatar is not Magical Gina …
The chosen representation of the network battle with Medusa is rather cartoony, and that is just fine with me since they can use any representation they want. But Karin’s online connection seems to go offline after a mild attack from Medusa that should not have affected her much. Somewhere else on the network, Karin encounters her supposed parents who literally are teddy bears, at least when online. Soon afterwards, the network connections to Medusa that the others were using to hack into it are quickly cut off.
At least we now know that Karin’s parents actually existed and were alive up to three years ago. But her supposed teddy parents have shown up to tell her the truth that they are dead. Karin’s parents have died in a plane crash three years ago, but this was kept secret from Karin because she was already developing Medusa. We also see that the last thing her father said to her was for her to be a good kid, while her mother said they would have her favorite lunch menu along with her teddy bear: an innocent thing to say to their child, it seems to have become an obsession for Karin. And while it’s not clear who is responsible for the coverup of Karin’s parents deaths, it is quite clear that Ryouko is the one who is telling Karin all this now, presumably to torment Karin just because she can.
Back at the basement in Akiba, news articles about a plane crash from three years ago appear on the monitors. The old men of Akiba remember such an incident, so it won’t be easy to delude oneself that they are forgeries. The articles mention the deaths of Ishida Kousuke and Ishida Kanon, and the old men realize that they might be related to Karin. And Karin herself is in a panic, as her repeated attempts to contact her parents by mail only returns an error that no such mailbox exists.
After dealing a powerful blow to Karin’s psyche, Ryouko tells Mikuni to pull out the Ama-no-nuboko and put it back in a properly vertical position. After this, Mikuni would be the official heir of ATLAS, although it might not mean much at this point. After what Ryouko did to Sayoko, Mikuni refuses and wants Sayoko back, but Ryouko threatens Mikuni with death, stating that she could just have another AAA rank member do it. The three daggers were only necessary to open the way to the forest of guidance, which presumably had to be used by Mikuni, but now that the way is open, Ryouko has no further need for Mikuni in particular.
While Mikuni has handed out plenty of death, she has never been on the receiving end before, so she gives in and starts crawling for the Ama-no-nuboko. At this point Medusa has gained control over 80% of the United Nations’ systems, and Mikuni is about to pull out the Ama-no-nuboko. This is when Kuniko breaks through the ceiling, and Ryouko actually looks surprised, at which point the episode ends.
I had wondered how Zeus could still be the most powerful computer in the world even after decades since its construction. It now makes sense given its origins. Now I have to wonder if Ryouko being as cruel as she is has anything to do with how the mummy of Himiko had been found with the Ama-no-nuboko pierced through the body. With Ryouko trying to force Mikuni to pull out the heavenly spear, something she apparently cannot do herself, maybe we might learn what Ryouko is ultimately trying to achieve, which might be related to what ATLAS was built for in the first place, except that Ryouko is trying to monopolize all the benefits for herself. Nagiko and Tarsian may have been manipulated by Himiko.
The revelations about Karin’s parents makes the whole situation around the development of Medusa more complex than I thought it was. Tarsian seems to have started the development with Karin as the main developer, although it is not clear what Medusa was being built for. Perhaps he wanted to develop a replacement for Zeus, which in the form of Ryouko was already showing signs of going out of control. Whatever the case may be, it seems that Ryouko was the one responsible for covering up the deaths of Karin’s parents so that she could subtly manipulate Karin during the development of Medusa.
It’s still possible that Tarsian was responsible, but I don’t think so: it sounds like Ryouko was pretending to be Karin’s parents for three years. In fact, I’m not sure if the plane crash that killed Karin’s parents was an accident: I actually suspect Ryouko caused it. I’m hoping that this will be more reason for Karin to help Kuniko beat up Ryouko to a pulp (metaphorically, as I think any true beatdown will have to occur online). And Karin may have even more reason to do so with a possible relation to the other Digmas through Digma-0.