We’ve known him by many names throughout the series: Gil The Snake, Gil the Butcher, Gil T. Cigar. But until today we’d known our principal antagonist solely through reputation and impostors, with the only hint to Gil’s dangerous nature being the delicious, gravelly tones of Kenjiro Tsuda rumbling out of his mouth. But with “The Bridge to Hell” we finally meet the man, the myth, the legend in the flesh, and what follows can only be described as a 15 minute animated wrestling Heel promo. And I mean that in the most positive way possible.
After quite casually throwing his Railroad-stanning employer from the train, Gil takes the spectator train hostage over the titular bridge, and then strides out to greet our remaining racers and absolutely dunk on them. He’s seemingly researched every member of the cast and knows exactly where to hit them to make it really hurt, threatening Hototo’s remaining family, tearing up Jing’s car, taking Sofia hostage, and dredging up Dylan’s broken past just to twist the knife as his gang wrecks each racer’s car. Gil’s concrete goal is to take the Trans-America race’s prize money as ransom from the sponsors, but it’s obvious he’s mostly in this for the chance to smugly, sadistically humiliate anyone in his way. He’s stronger and more dangerous than anyone else right now, he knows it, and he wants to gruesomely impress that onto every person beneath his boot heel. It’s exactly the kind of intro you’d want for a villain in an over-the-top show like Appare-Ranman! and combined with Tsuda’s vocal performance, Gil went from a curiosity to somebody I love to hate in just a few short minutes.
That said, the sequence amounts to the entire cast more or less standing in place for the lion’s share of this episode before getting their asses handed to them, and both animation and direction take a step down from the series’ standard in the process. The episode doesn’t look bad necessarily, but there’s a noticeable stiffness to just about everyone’s movements once they step out of their cars, including the brief fight between Gil and TJ. It’s not enough to greatly distract from what’s happening in the moment, but does stand out compared to the rest of AR’s consistently solid character animation. The bigger issue is the workmanlike feel of the staging and editing – AR has always been buoyed by sharp timing, and that’s barely present through most of Gil’s tirade. There are long shots of characters standing stock still and talking back and forth without so much as a shot/reverse-shot to keep the viewer’s attention, and it serves to drain a lot of the energy from what should be the heaviest material of the series.
On that topic, every wrestling fan knows the quickest way to get a Heel over with viewers is for them to take out a beloved hero, and Gil takes that advice to heart. He initially teases at having killed Sofia, then reveals she’s more useful as a hostage, only to turn around and try to kill Appare instead when our eccentric lead tries to stop him from torching his car. But in classic responsible big brother fashion, Kosame literally takes the bullet instead, and perhaps more surprisingly it actually sticks. There’s still a chance this is a bait and switch – it just seems out of character for a show this generally lighthearted to really kill its most likable character – but everything in the final minutes suggests this is real and permanent. As of yet I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. While Kosame’s arc had wrapped up with saving Hototo in episode 8, it does feel cheap to take him out of the show with 3 episodes left, but there’s also a lot of room now for Appare to change with his chaperon and closest friend suddenly gone. I imagine my opinion will depend on how the show follows this up – the cast just lost its most lovable linchpin, and exploring the shock or grief of that offers a lot of opportunity for further fleshing out the survivors.
Speculation for next week aside, Appare-Ranman! keeps chugging along well, and if nothing else I certainly want to see the entire cast take out Gil the Smug in glorious fashion. We’re very much hitting the endgame of the show, and I’m hoping that after some healing, some grieving, and a lot of auto-repair it can cross the finish line in style.
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