I know Kanon has been heavily criticizing this part of Akane Route, but let me address the point of that Kotarou vs. Earth Dragon, and why Kotarou’s attack, which was explicitly described to be specifically designed to kill the Earth Dragon, but ended up killing the Key instead. This kinda flashed in my mind after writing about the anime and what I thought it was trying to do, but I tend to forget… and then there’s hell week. Yeah.
I did mention that one of the visual novel’s theme, as laid bare by the end of Terra Arc, is addressing humanity’s tendency to fixate too much on short-term goals that they fail to go after the more important long-term goals instead. In Terra, this manifests as humanity’s fixation in keeping the Earth for survival’s sake, as opposed to finding opportunities beyond the planet and carve their future even without it.
This theme also manifests in this scene: surely the former is represented by Kotarou’s fixation in defeating the Earth Dragon. But his goal is to reach Akane and release her from the chains of the Holy Women’s desire for Salvation. With that, he must stop the world from ending, and this represents the latter. I’d also like to think that the the Dragon symbolized the obvious distance between Kotarou and Akane, but the barrier isn’t the only problem here; it’s the Key, which I’d also like to think of this to be the manifestation of that desire.
While fighting against the Earth Dragon, which is extremely difficult to defeat unless he pushed himself beyond his current (at that time) limit, he became too focused in finding ways to defeating it, evolving his blades to the point that it could only slice through the Earth Dragon alone. But defeating it won’t stop Akane from successfully carrying out Salvation; it will only, at most, break the physical barrier between the pair.
Perhaps the blow he received from the Dragon snapped some sense into him, or maybe the short dialogue between him and Akane put him back to his rails, it’s not clear, but he may have realized that the Earth Dragon isn’t his target. It’s whatever putting the world to its end, and the existence that which chained Akane to orchestrating Salvation – the Key. (That, or Tanaka is just fooling us around haha.)
Remember how familiars feed on their summoners’ desire to see the world change? Well, the Earth Dragon is the Holy Disciples’ familiar. When the Key died, their means of carrying out that change faded into air, and perhaps along with it, their desire for change also dissipated. They have also been greatly exhausted of life, so, the Dragon died along with the Disciples.
By the end, he was unable to save the Disciples, but Kotarou was at least able to save Akane, stopping her from being dragged along by the aforementioned chains. It may be badly-written, or not, but I’d like to think that it makes thematic sense regardless.
On another hand, I disagree that Akane Route lacked romance. If there are expectations for some cute sweet romantic interaction from this route, akin to (another Rewrite route) Lucia’s, this is seriously bound to be disappointing.
Romantic relationships can come in many forms, and Kotarou and Akane’s relationship is particularly mature, sensual, and also very subtle, which suits her just right. This can be seen in much of Kotarou’s actions, in Akane’s expressions, and basically the fact that Kotarou has become a part of Akane’s private life – they share the same room! But at the same time, their romance is also distant, and that’s largely because of their positions in the story.
The last CG may not have had them explicitly holding hands, but that gaze. The way they look at each other man. Their gaze so sensual that I might faint.