(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Training Daze”)
“Training Daze” is the fourth episode of gen:LOCK, Rooster Teeth’s mecha anime web series, and lasts twenty-four minutes. This is the best episode so far, packing in everything that I wanted to see with the enthralling team dynamic, a focus on Valentina’s gender-fluidity, and mecha action that starts out entertaining before it takes a sharp left turn into suspense.
We start with a well-paced montage for the gen:LOCK recruits as they undergo their daily routine — wake up early, eat breakfast together, gen:LOCK into their Holon units, head into physical training, repeat. It’s a little funny to see Valentina Romanyszyn wake up the groggy Cameron “Cammie” MacCloud so roughly on a couple of the mornings. The little fried egg bit between Cammie and Kazu Iida and Valentina scoffing at Kazu when he checks himself out in the mirror are nice touches, too. But even though they’re showing progress, it’s clear they are having a difficult time forming a bond as a team. Dr. Rufus Weller teaches them about uptime, a time limit for how long they can stay uploaded to their Holon before their mind remains stuck in it, and overclocking, which describes the gen:LOCK process boosting the recruit’s reflexes to an unusually fast rate. Both of those concepts were mentioned in the previous episode. He also teaches them about the intelligent armor that makes up their bodysuits and warns them about the possibility that you can age out of gen:LOCK. For example, Unit Leader Leon August was a little too old when the program began, which was they didn’t sign him up.
One day in the Holon bay, Julian Chase starts talking to Miranda Worth again, albeit awkwardly. She states the weaknesses of the gen:LOCK recruits, cautioning that they might struggle out on the field if they don’t improve their communication. Julian apologizes for keeping her in the dark for so long; he knew it would only put her through more misery if he died on her a second time, which was once a highly likely probability, and he understands that she moved on by starting to date Jodie Brennan. Then he offers Miranda a chance to start over, which she tentatively accepts. And boy, I’m still having trouble embracing the way this relationship is going. Julian doesn’t have to pressure Miranda into a romantic relationship; they can easily be friends. I know I should be sympathizing with him since he is the leader of the gen:LOCK recruits and he has to cope with getting past his debilitated body by living in the world as either a hologram or a Holon, but frankly I connect with the recruits a heck of a lot more. As for Jodie, nothing has been shown to make me care about him, but I’m assuming Miranda cares about him if he was the first guy she chose to date. However, the manner in which she and Julian are approaching this romantic prospect suggests a farfetched disregard for Jodie. If this part had been fixed up, the episode would have been absolutely perfect.
At the same time in the bay, Cammie materializes as a hologram and complains to tank mechanic Miguel “Migas” Garza about how off she feels in the Holon. He reveals to her that she can revamp the endoskeleton of her Holon for a better center of gravity, and he alludes to other design modifications on which he’s working.
The recruits, exhausted from training, are initially reluctant when Cammie encourages them to unwind in the Ether, a recreational virtual reality hub. They eventually give in to her persistence and put on headsets to enter the Ether, gen:LOCK‘s colorful spin on Ready Player One. I’ll admit, I’m getting more accustomed to Cammie’s rabbit motifs, so I actually found it amusing when she showed up with a cute little bunny as her avatar. Kazu’s avatar looks like a tougher version of his real-world form. Yasamin “Yaz” Madrani looks pretty much the same, except she has a hijab, and a short talk between her and Cammie touches on Yaz feeling comfortable enough to expose a little more of her roots. This is a notable detail when you consider the unresolved issues she has with her history as a former Union member. Valentina shows up as a male and calls herself Val. She, or rather they, goes on to talk about their gender-fluidity, which puzzles Kazu. He asks about their birth gender, but they playfully dismiss the question. Cammie is disappointed when Julian shows up in a simple hoodie.
Cammie starts scrolling through role-play games for the recruits. The first option is a sci-fi war game that dresses them up in Halo-ish military armor, the second is pirate-themed, and the third is a fantasy game where you can hunt monsters. I was not expecting the third option to dress them up in the iconic clothing from Rooster Teeth’s RWBY, with Cammie as Ruby Rose, Julian as Jaune Arc, Yaz as Blake Belladonna, Kazu as Sun Wukong, and Valentina as Lie Ren. Being a devoted fan of the fantasy anime web series, I just can’t get over this wonderful easter egg. I thought for a moment RWBY may get a gen:LOCK easter egg next volume, but then I remember it sort of happened in Volume 6 with the Pacific Rim mech.
Before the recruits can pick a game, though, the Ether starts glitching. After the recruits are pulled out and they hear the alarms blaring throughout the Anvil, the Vanguard flies them to Dallas’s Data Center for the Ether, which the Union is trying to disrupt. This makes sense, since the Ether appears to act both as a VR hub and a general Internet hotspot, and the Union may want to concentrate on it as a weak point. On the plane Dr. Weller and Colonel Raquel Marin explain that the Union normally creeps through territory to conquer it little by little with minimal collateral damage. This tactic of suddenly stretching their forces a hundred miles from their base to reach the data center isn’t their style. This might indicate they are growing more aggressive, but I wonder if there are deeper motives for this peculiar plan of attack. There’s also a nice bit of dialogue with Yaz when she refers to the Union with “we,” then changes her wording to signify her separation from them — another clue to her mysterious past. Bullheaded
The recruits gen:LOCK to their Holons and drop into the city, splitting up to fight the Union’s soldiers and arachnoid mechs. The flaws that Miranda had pointed out earlier show up subtly here, especially Cammie’s first-time jitters around diving into the fight and Kazu’s go-for-lightning attitude that leads him into knocking a globe sculpture off its pedestal. Nonetheless they defeat much of the Union’s forces. The Vanguard soldiers send drones into the data center, and they don’t detect any signs of life inside. Everything looks okay until Cammie notices a mech surrounded by purple smoke down the road, believing it’s Kazu at first. But it has four arms, a one-eyed head, and the same purple color scheme as the smoke — which is actually Union nanotech.
This is when things turn surprisingly dark, because the nanotech domes over Cammie and traps her so that the Union mech is able to leap on her, rip off her head, and start tearing away at her chest. She’s lost her vision, and I think it’s possible this is causing her pain as well. Yes, it is only her Holon, not her human body, but we still fully empathize with her fright, very likely aided by her appropriately terrifying screams. The rest of the team moves in to fight the mech, with Yaz wielding two blasters (I think she picked up Cammie’s blaster) and Valentina giving the finishing blow by sniping the mech from a rooftop. The shot pushes it down, and then it gets up and looks back at the Holons before it retreats with the nanotech in tow. Yaz mind-shares her Holon with Cammie, and when she’s able to see again through Yaz’s eyes, she is understandably upset to see her own headless Holon. Valentina sounds taken aback when Yaz reveals this is the first time she’s mind-shared this way. All the Vanguard are left perplexed as to what Union mech they just fought.
What makes “Training Daze” my favorite episode up to now is how efficiently it covers all the show’s core elements without spreading itself too thin. I’m feeling more and more emotionally invested with the characters as they try to become a well-oiled team. The sassy, cursing Cammie is competing with Dr. Weller for the spot as my favorite character.
This episode truly digs deeper into Valentina’s gender-fluid character design, which is a great match for their nonbinary performer Asia Kate Dillon. I can see the potential in how their relationship will develop with Kazu, who seems bewildered by her chosen identity — not as if he’s opposed to LGTBQ concepts, but more as if he hasn’t ever met anyone like this before. There is clearly chemistry between them, so it will be interesting to see how he sorts out his feelings towards her. The issue as a whole was handled very well in spite of the slightly clunky wording that Valentina used to lay out their gender-fluidity. In fact, I think this adds to the realism of the matter, since we still live in a world where it’s hard to introduce this subject to people in a smooth fashion. A thoughtful detail is when the confused Kazu turns to Cammie for clarification and she states that it isn’t her story to tell.
I didn’t expect the fight scene at the end to have fun with the Holons taking down the Union soldiers and mechs, then completely switch the dials and introduce this demonic-looking Union mech who mutilates Cammie’s Holon. I was mostly confident that she would turn out okay, but this didn’t stop my heart from racing. And this is just her first mission where she had to kill people, even though they had sided with the enemy, so I can see her engaging in a PTSD arc. But I really love her character, so it will be frustrating if she gets put out of commission for the rest of the season. Hopefully this can be something where she pretends everything is fine and then her recovery can unfold over the next season.
I’m realizing that the animators have designed the Holons to move like real people instead of huge mechs, which explains why the combat felt like live-action in contrast to what’s usually shown in mecha anime. The fight choreography is as intense and well-thought-out as the high-energy scuffles in RWBY. And I still don’t know what the Union is. I have faith in the show that it will reveal the info to us at the proper time. Still, whoever is handling their PR and designing these monstrous mechs could do a far better job of giving them a humane, peaceful image.
Finally, I need to note that the primary theme for this show appears to be identity — who you are, where you stand in the world, uncovering your qualities, staying true to your roots. Valentina/Val is the clearest example. You can also count the recruits familiarizing themselves with their Holons, Kazu determining his relationship with Valentina, Yaz expressing her origins, Julian deciding on the best way to live in the physical world, and Cammie realizing how unprepared she is for the battlefield.
Aside from the minor blemish that is the Julian-Miranda arc, “Training Daze” is an incredible episode, the best one out of the four we’ve seen. A structure that covers all the bases like this is what I would love for each of the next four episodes. And go check out the Cammie cosplay on which someone has already begun working.
Windup score: 94/100