Winter has come to Hokkaido, and with it, the effects of the ongoing war are felt more keenly than ever. Chise is continuing to grow as a weapon, but with her powers barely under control, the slightest provocation can set her off- injuring both enemy and ally alike. Faced with the reality of his girlfriend’s transformation, Shuji’s feelings for her are undermined by fear- could it be time for the couple to break off their relationship? But Shuji and Chise are not the only ones facing some difficult decisions; preoccupied with the thought of protecting his friends and family, Shuji’s best friend Atsushi must decide whether or not he should drop out of school and enlist in the army.
At the beginning of Saikano, we saw a sleepy town barely touched by a war that was raging across the globe. By this point in the series, however, the normal life that Shuji and his friends enjoyed has been all but eroded away; food is scarcer than ever, classrooms are half-empty- even school itself is little more than a formality now. Admittedly, we still don’t know anything about this war, but as before this is unimportant, a mere backdrop to the character-based drama.
Where the last volume stuck primarily to Shuji’s perspective, this instalment focuses more on Chise herself, and her desperate struggle to retain her humanity even as her Ultimate Weapon abilities continue to evolve. This new Chise is a tragic and unsettling figure, constantly keeping herself in check lest she destroy her friends by overreacting to a minor threat, and only able to reassure herself that at least her numerous victims died quickly. Under these circumstances, it seems almost inevitable that Chise’s relationship with Shuji would falter, although they experience as much pain apart as they do when together.
It’s not all about Chise and Shuji, however, with these episodes offering a glimpse into the lives of some of the supporting characters as they each deal with the effects of war in their own way. Yukari, the girlfriend of a classmate killed in the Sapporo air raid, no longer dares to invest any emotion in the people around her lest they be the next to die; Atsushi, meanwhile, takes the opposite view, choosing to join the army in order to protect his loved ones, but clearly having little idea of the realities of war. Despite her prominent role in the first volume, Shuji’s first love Fuyumi takes something of a backseat here, although in her place we finally get to properly meet her husband Tetsu, a member of Chise’s squad and the one person able to strike up a normal friendship with her.
The second volume of Saikano is no less hard-hitting than the first, offering a bittersweet and sometimes heart-wrenching insight into the lives of those affected by war. We may never come to know the bigger picture behind this conflict, but if you can accept that and simply let the lives of a handful of characters unfold in front of you, this series will prove most rewarding.