Also known as Colon Cancer: The Article!
I also realize that it’s not Monday, but again, just roll with it, please?
The last two volumes, Always Stand By Me, are one continuous story, as one might infer. As a result, the pacing of the two don’t exactly match, and there isn’t as much going on in the first, while a ton of things happen in the second. Also, my memory on some of the details is a bit fuzzy, so I hope you’ll be able to excuse me for some errors as you read this.
In the first half, Lord Mallory, perhaps the last remaining head of Mithril, drives up to an estate somewhere in Britain/England/the U.K./I dunno, and meets his pop, who is revealed to have created both Mithril and Amalgam (he may also be Mr. Hg, the so called “leader” of Amalgam). Mithril was originally created to be a global peacekeeping making sure that Cold War tensions don’t escalate too high. However, the founder of Mithril needed a check on Mithril, to see that it doesn’t get too powerful. This resulted in Amalgam, Mithril’s rival. Originally created for benevolent purposes, Amalgam has been used for a number of unsavory purposes throughout the years, all of which he had no control over. At this point, Kalinin and his forces show up, discovering all this information, and after collecting some more, they leave, with Lord Mallory holding a gun to his father’s head. We never find out what happens.
Cut to the TDD, preparing for upcoming conflict with Amalgam. There are many character moments between this point, especially between Sousuke and Tessa (who knows she lost to Kaname, at this point), and Mao, who isn’t over Kurz’s death. The gang soon learn of Amalgam hijacking a Soviet nuclear missile base, planning to fire it somewhere, seeking to really ramp up tensions, and even possibly inciting World War 3. Mithril sends a small team to try and take back the base, but we soon learn they are clearly outmatched by the two elite AS units faced back in Come Make My Day. At this point, Tessa also lets Sousuke know that they’re also going to hit Merida base, which is now Amalgam’s new home. Amalgam is building a device that will bring this world back onto the correct timeline. However, Leonard’s concept of correct is a bit screwed up: he wants to create the perfect world for him and Sophia (and this certainly has much to do with his past). Preparing to secretly raid the island, Sousuke and one of the engineers build a flight unit for the Laevatein. When that’s done, the TDD makes a swing near the island, letting the Laevatein launch.
Sousuke and the Laevatein launch, destroying a Behemoth mid-flight, and taking out a few more before touching down. At this point, the TDD crew storm the base, and Sousuke has a radio conversation with Kaname: while they act much as they did during their previous radio conversation, Kaname soon rebuffs him, saying this is for the best, and that he’s trying to destroy what they can gain due to their selfishness. Sousuke’s mood turns extremely sour at this point, calling her a liar and a bitch. He calls her out on what she’s doing, as she’s just playing to Leonard’s tune. Then he calls her Sophia: it’s at this point that we learn Kaname is actually not in control, that it’s been Sophia in control all this time. Kaname, in the deepest parts of her mind, now realizes this. We go into Kaname’s mind, and find out that, due to the massive machine’s energy and influence, Kaname and Sophia have been leaking details back into the past: in other words, they have become Whisperers (kind of funny that Kaname has been talking to her future self, in retrospect). At this point, Kaname takes over again, for good, and makes her way back to the Mithril group. Meanwhile, Sousuke makes his way to Leonard, fighting his Belial. While no match for the Belial, he activates the Fairy Feather, and is finally able to fight fairly with the Belial. Soon, Leonard runs away, but is gunned down by Kalinin, who has his own plans with the project.
Since the giant machine is now breaking down, the Mithril guys have started retreating, leaving a few Amalgam soldiers, Kalinin, and Sousuke. The pair have a knife fight, with Kalinin constantly calling him something like a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Kalinin, additionally, did not fancy Leonard’s plan: instead, he wanted to use the machine to place the world back on our (the readers’) timeline, where the Cold War already ended, and many of his friends still alive (though with a few friends now alive probably dead). In essence, he’s the realist to Leonard’s idealist. However, all the while, Kalinin still regards him as his son, as he reveals when Sousuke wins the fight. Meanwhile, at the Soviet missile base, we learn that Clouseau and Mao are having a tough time, but luckily, a familiar face shows up to lend a hand. Turns out that, with Wraith’s KGB connections, they were able to locate and pick up Kurz before he died from his injuries. Kurz takes one of the elite AS units by surprise, sniping it, causing its destruction. They soon gang up on the other AS unit, taking that one down. Arriving in the nick of time, they just manage to stop the missiles from launching. Back at Merida, the machine is now going critical, and Sousuke, out of ways to survive, is preparing to meet his fate. However, AL proposes a better plan. They can use the Lambda Driver to shield Sousuke from the explosion and all the assorted radiation to follow. By doing this, unfortunately, AL will not survive. Sousuke objects to the plan, as he’s grown quite attached to AL, but eventually gives in, soon remarking that AL seemed more like a human being than an AI.
Sousuke, trapped in the cockpit for a week after the explosion, is eventually picked up by the American Navy, who take him to one of their bases in Japan. All’s back to normal, at this point, and Clouseau, Mao, and Kurz have to break him out of the base. This leads to a humorous scene where we learn that Sousuke already broke out of the base, takes their vehicle, and drives away, leading them having to deal with the alerted base personnel. Sousuke soon picks up his old Jindai High uniform (or a new one), goes to the school, and soon meets up with Kaname, where they have a touching, highly satisfying reunion.
I found these two volumes extremely satisfying. While it doesn’t match the excellent drama of COMO and BOMF, it does wrap up all the series’ mysteries while not even remotely approaching the levels of convolution of the last novel. We finally figured out why Kalinin winded up betraying Mithril (I’m sorry I couldn’t convey it all that well here, I tried my best though), and we found out what happened to Kurz, we discovered every last secret of the Whispered, and we not only got proper conclusions for various characters’ developments, but a proper conclusion for the series itself. Also, I was pretty glad when I found out that Sousuke never lost his edge (as can see in his conversation with Sophia), as I bet some people feared when they were reading what happened in the previous novels. Overall, I think these two novels are fantastic sendoffs for the entire series.