Sakuragi's encounter with Ishihara in the previous episode was definite a high point in the series as he coped with trying to settle things and get it so that everyone can just move on with no real worries. Ishihara being as nuts as he is at this point couldn't let it go and forced Sakuragi's hand. Unfortunately, his fate was decided by that act as when he moves just a bit further along, bloody knife in hand, neither the police nor the US military would take kindly to what they're seeing. Sakuragi's intent of getting to Mario and Sasaki's presence there cause it all to come to a violent end though, a sad one that you really don't want to see after all that he had suffered and gone through just to get to this point. It's a truly tragic moment that defines a large part of this series.
While Sakuragi's end is given a proper moment of reflection, as he views the lives of those he's just made such strong friends of, it's a quiet and somber piece overall in the first half. But that end of the first half marks the end of a large segment of the series as when it picks up, it's now a year later or so and the rest of the guys are out of the reformatory and meeting at the tree where they promised to go. All of them are there and wanting to know the details of what happened to Sakuragi, though Mario doesn't really know all that much of it since it all happened with the military. It's interesting to see the group in a bit more casual civilian mode, a bit older as well and especially with Turtle having hair, and it does a good job of setting up the second half of the series.
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