As the credits rolled and SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh’s excellent ending theme “scaPEGoat” played (the OP was also dope), four words blazed through my mind: “Are You Not Entertained?!” I certainly was.
This ambitious, thrilling episode had a complete and compelling arc and aced all the fundamentals, giving it the feeling of a rich, self-contained short film when combined with the premiere.That premiere was key in setting the brutal tone of the human/vampire conflict while creating solid kinship and sympathy with young Yuu and buying into his motivations for wanting to live a life of revenge. This episode would not have been nearly as emotionally resonant without it.
Owari also surprised me quite a bit with its deftness with bait-and-switches. Last week’s cold close created an It’s On Like Donkey Kong vibe, but Private Hyakuya Yuuichirou proves to be a rough fit in the demon army, where soldiers are expected to put their personal feelings or vendettas aside and obey orders. Yuu breaks the rules, and so he’s punished…by being sent to school.
This sudden addition of the school drama allows the show to let its hair down a little after a stodgy start and finds a pretty strong comic voice in the process. Yuu isn’t just banished to school, but there’s a soldier posing as a classmate whose tasked with supervising his progress in making a friend. If he keeps breaking rules, his suspension from the army will only be extended.
That soldier/classmate is Hiiragi Shinoa, deftly voiced by Hayami Saori, whose standout performance blends military formality and authority with feminine grace and sly humor. Her character design and eyes in particular somewhat remind me of Steins;Gate‘s: clean, attractive, and stylish.
Yuu’s punishment makes sense. Yes, he’s scarred by past traumas, but if he wants a future fighting vampires, he needs to learn how to engage people and work in a team, which means forming bonds. That’s not going to be easy for someone who lost his whole damn family, and you could say the show’s being tough on him, but I think Yuu has just the right amount of arrogant, rebellious dickishness to allay that concern for me.
And just because humanity’s population has literally been decimated (not entirely wiped out as Yuu thought; but then he grew up absorbing vamp-prop), high school is still high school, so there are bullies and weenies and he decides he won’t let the former have their way with the latter…which is when Shinoa helpfully warns him his suspension will be extended if he harms a civilian. This guy can’t win!
But in another glorious case of the good kind of bait-and-switch, the would-be victim of bullying, Saotome Yoichi, turned out not to be a weenie after all, nor was he being bullied: he wanted the non-bully to put in a good word for him with the demon army. Yoichi tried to enlist and failed the exam, but he wants to keep trying so he can avenge his sister, who died to protect him, as we witness in a grim micro-flashback that made my heart sink.
This externalizes Yuu’s own desire for revenge, but in this case, he justifies his own desire as backed up by his strength and ability. On the other hand, he still thinks Yoichi is a whiny little weakling who’d only get killed, and in any case, his sister probably wouldn’t want him avenging her. The discussion is put on hold when a bomb goes off and the city P.A. alerts everyone of an escaped vampire test subject.
Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to prove he belongs in the extermination unit, Yuu runs to school to seek out the vampire, stopping her from feeding on a student. The non-bully is there too, but in this moment of crisis, he’s paralyzed, and admits he lied about wanting to enlist.
Here, the show shows off its readily apparent action combat chops, as well as the inherent trickiness of fighting a vamp with a regular katana when her wounds and severed limbs quickly grow back, and any bystanders are like phoenix down for her. Yuu needs help, and he gets it when Yoichi tackles the vamp minx. When Yuu asks why, Yoichi calls him a friend. Yuu then holds the vamp back and they go out the window, Spring Break-style.
Yuu is able to get the vamp to land on his sword, but it’s still just a sword. Enter the anti-vampire spell-dosed sword of Lt. Col. Ichinose Guren, commander of the Vampire Extermination Unit, Shinoa’s superior, and the man who rescued Yuu four years ago. When he pulls out that sword, the vamp dissolves into a cloud of gore and ash.
Ichinose thinks Yuu looks every bit the helpless little kid he saved back then, but he can’t deny the fact he held his own with that vamp pretty well, and also minimized causalties. He also can’t go back on his promise to lift Yuu’s suspension if he makes a friend, both because Shinoa won’t let him, and because Yoichi is so happy his friend Yuu is okay he pounces on him like a cat, knocking his head on the pavement.
In the episode’s beginnings, Yuu remarks how every time he closes his eyes he sees the faces of his family before they’re murdered by vampires. So while he’s out cold after a life-changing day, there they are. Only this time, they express their relief Yuu was able to live and fight for something other than revenge. Just as Mikaela put his life on the line for Yuu, and Yoichi’s sister for him, Yoichi and Yuu protected each other.
From now on, he won’t be living just to avenge his family, but to protect the two friends he’s made today, all the other friends he’s sure to make in the Vampire Extermination Squad (which he and Yoichi are assigned to, joining Shinoa), and to protect a humanity in resurrection. This looks like the start of something great…especially if we take the hints that Mikaela didn’t die, and is now a vampire.