WARNING: There are major spoilers in this recap/review. Watch the episode before reading!

Metallic Rouge Episode 4 Recap/Review: “Freedom and Phantoms City”

Photo: Bones/Crunchyroll

Director: Masamitsu Abe
Writer: Toshizo Nemoto
Storyboard Artists: Satoshi Takafuji, Yasushi Muraki

Four episodes into Metallic Rouge, the show’s creative team finally found the right balance. The three previous episodes were talky science fiction or action-packed mecha battle series. However, “Freedom and Phantoms” does something different, as it’s the first episode to go hard on both fronts. The philosophical discussions fuel the action-oriented aspects of the episode, and the result hopefully signals what’s to come for the rest of the series.

Conflict between Neans and Humans heats up 

Photo: Bones/Crunchyroll

The episode opens where we left off in the third episode. The Council of Free Neans suspects Rouge murdered their leader, Juval. Of course, she didn’t. Rouge does think the real killer might be the informant for the Alters mentioned in the last episode. Meanwhile, someone informed the cops about Juval’s death. So naturally, they show up to quash the burgeoning movement for Nean rights.

Seeing a powerful military force show up to suppress a group of people with less power into compliance hits hard (editor’s note: especially right now in the United States, as anti-trans legislation is on the rise). We’ve all seen over the last decade news reports and footage of police forces suppressing people all over the world protesting police or government brutality. Good science fiction should reflect our world, and Metallic Rouge is at its best when it reflects on that brutality, giving the series some bite.

While the politics of having robots/androids once again be stand-ins for any disenfranchised group (people of color, queer, immigrants, etc.) remains questionable at best and problematic at worst, it remains to be seen if Metallic Rouge will do something truly wince-inducing. In this vein, character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto does something interesting in the design of the Neans. While their skin is gray-tinged, the Neans don’t all look like they’re of white European descent, and they’re coded to look like different ethnicities. It’s a smart design choice, giving some hope that Metallic Rouge might not do something cringeworthy. 

Photo: Bones/Crunchyroll

As this all happens, Naomi keeps track of Rouge’s quest for the informant. There’s a lot of fun Naomi moments in this episode. So far, Naomi is the most interesting character in the show. The animators seem to have the most fun animating her, giving her movements and posing a lot of personality. She might be an agent of Alethia, and there’s a possibility she’s a Nean similar to Rouge, but Naomi may have her own agenda. In both the sub and dub, her American and Japanese voice actresses, Cassie Ewulu and Tomoyo Kurosawa, respectively, have fun showing the many sides of her personality throughout this episode.  

Metallic Rouge episode 4, where the philosophical and the physical meet

boy screaming
Photo: Bones/Crunchyroll

The reveal of Juval’s killer is a little underwhelming. It was Rion, the Nean assistant to Dr. Afdal. Rion was a bit of a wet blanket when he was on screen. Still, his being able to murder Juval is a big deal. Earlier in the episode, a Nean says Neans can’t kill each other. Up to this point, we’ve only seen either Immortal Nine or Rouge members kill other Neans or humans. This action hints that the Neans might be able to override the Asimov code.

However, Afdal shows up to kill Rion and reveals himself as Phantom Verde, the Immortal Nine member Rouge and Naomi were after. This gives more context to his comments in the previous episode. It turns out that Afdal/Phantom Verde is a nihilist. He believes neither humans nor Neans have free will. Hell Gallion, who shows up to frame Rouge, seems content to stoke the fires of discontent on each side, Phantom Verde believes neither sides needs that. They’ll destroy themselves of their own accord.  

The fight with Rouge digs into one of the series’ big conflicts: what agency does Rouge have? Is Rouge simply a tool for Alethia to eliminate troublesome Neans? Does Rouge fight the Immortal of her own free will and her own reasons? Rouge, throughout the fight, insists she does this on her own, and Naomi makes a point early on that neither of them are tools. Still, there’s a doubt she’s not fully in control.

This brings up maybe the biggest revelation in the show so far: Rouge’s past. We learn that Rouge is uncertain of her activation date. During the fight with Phantom Verde, Rogue hallucinates various other Neans that she’s killed. She’s clearly haunted by the deaths of those she defeated. For a lead character, Rouge has been a nobody so far. This episode starts turning her into a person, thanks to some solid voice acting from both her American and Japanese voice actors, Monica Flatley and Yume Miyamoto.

Photo: Bones/Crunchyroll

The fight with Phantom Verde once again shows Bones’ ability to create dynamic fight animation. The animators in all the fight sequences so far have put real physicality into the battle sequences. There’s gravity and weight when a character makes physical contact. There are also some visuals employed. Verde constantly deploys a nerve gas, so there’s fog everywhere as he and Rouge duke it out. Seeing Rouge literally confront the ghosts of her guilt as hallucinations add layers to her struggle. That it ends with both combatants lying on the floor, one dead and the other exhausted, couldn’t be a better visual.   

By the way, as everything is going on, we see more of that circus only really showed up at the end of the last episode. The Circus of the Robot looks pretty ominous throughout the episode. It is even more ominous when they march on the Nean settlement at the end of the episode. 

VERDICT: “Freedom and Phantoms” showcases the kind of show Metallic Rouge has been building towards. While it still doesn’t unravel any of the mysteries laid in previous episodes, both the philosophical and physical conflicts feed into each other. The struggle for free will and autonomy plays out on a macro level (the conflict between the police and the Neans) and a micro level (Phantom Verde and Rouge’s fight). Rouge finally starts becoming her own character.