Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 09

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It’s with a semi-heavy heart that I bid adieu to perhaps the strangest Fall show I’m watching. Its episodes are usually fairly fun, but has lacked substance and cohesion. The show’s M.O. is to introduce two or more new cute female characters per week, and the show has gotten very crowded and unfocused as a result.

This week it’s two of Kuon’s “sisters” from her homeland, who baby her like a couple of mother hens. Their treatment of her is over-the-top to the point of incredulity, and we’re talking a show were almost everyone has tails and fuzzy ears. I will say I liked the little mini-arc the Big bird and tiger had, but it’s all just so darned random.

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Random, but at the same time, very workaday. Much of this show has been Kuon and Haku eating and bathing while encountering the new characters of the week, many of whom have stuck around, leading to a huge entourage of people, many of them princesses.

It was  also nice to have Haku inadvertently demonstrate how well he’s come to know Kuon by visiting all of her usual haunts, and going somewhere he knew she’d never go (the BL bookstore) only to find her hiding there. But it’s not much we haven’t seen before, and nothing that reignited an interest in continuing the show for a whole second cour. As you can see, I can barely scrape together 250 words about it. That’s when you know it’s time to say sayonara.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 08

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You have to give Utawarerumono credit where it’s due: it certainly knows how to surprise with its content. One episode we’re following Haku as he becomes entangled in one princess or another, the next, he’s on an undercover mission with Ukon and Atui to investigate corruption aboard the Eight Pillar General Dekoponpo’s immense pleasure barge.

It’s all quite wacky and out of left field, but it works, because Haku works so well as a protagonist with an inscrutable talent for being in the thick of things without even trying, and because the characters that surround him are as bright and quirky as he is unassuming and laid back.

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Sure enough, their time aboard the barge reveals a huge, apparently illicit gambling operation centered around duelling giant insects. That doesn’t stop Atui from getting really into the gambling, along with Kosuri, who makes a cameo as another party seeking corruption.

When the bugs get loose and have to be dealt with, Dekoponpo quickly flees, and his sycophantic valet Bokoinante tries to load as much loot onto the lifeboat as possible. These two characters are cartoonish and one-dimensional, but remain amusing in their banter nonetheless.

As for Atui, she proves again she’s a capable warrior, even if she just violently lashes out at her targets with her eyes closed (she doesn’t like bugs). As for her getting covered in a sticky white substance, well…I’m not sure that was entirely necessary.

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As for Haku, when he goes to the general’s office to find hard evidence of corruption, he encounters a furious Bokoinante who has come for his master’s favorite golden statue, which helpfully serves as a shield for Haku when Bokoinante slashes at him.

In any case, Kosuri and Ougi are the ones who end up with the evidence and quickly alight from the ship, while Atui’s spazzy attacks bust a hole in the hull, causing the whole barge to sink. Quite the collateral damage; hopefully Dekoponpo is well-insured.

Haku is saved from drowning by Ukon, but only after he drops the heavy golden statue he wanted to keep. The rest of the giant bugs are dealt with by troops under Oshutaru’s counterpart, Mikazuchi. In the end, they don’t collect any evidence, but as Ukon says, “it’ll all work out.”

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Back home, a strange fog comes upon Haku, along with two mysterious cloaked ladies who invite him to come with them through what seems to be an interdimensional portal. After a trip through some trippy caverns, he ends up in a strange indoor garden, where a familiar-looking woman serves him familiar-tasting tea.

Then an old man asks Haku to tell them all about his experiences since waking up in the mountains with no memory. Word is certainly getting around about Haku and his hard-to-describe but undeniable value to those around him. But I can’t pretend this episode wasn’t all over the place, because it was.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 07

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First of all, Rurutie really lets her hair down this week as she plies a bookstore for BL literature, showing Atui an entirely different Rurutie than the one she’s accustomed to. She even meets her most beloved author. Say, he looks a bit like Haku, no?

From there, talk comes down of a ceremony in which the imperial princess will finally be revealed to the public. And as soon as I saw a new face, I figured she was that very un-revealed princess, hiding in plain sight.

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The only problem for her is, while no one knows who she is, she comes off as a haughty highborn girl, reading and taking whatever BL lands in her lap, eating whatever lovingly prepared desserts are lying around, and generally making a big mess with the expectation someone else will clean it up.

Absent the crucial piece of information that she’s royalty, Kuon treats her like she’d treat anyone who scarfed down her kunyui: with barely masked contempt and an intent to do bodily harm. The threat of punishment scares the girl off, and a lively chase ensues.

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That’s broken up rather quickly by the silver-haired Munechika, who proceeds to paint the girl’s back door red, showing everyone why the mention of punishment spooked her so. The next day, to Kuon and Haku and everyone else’s surprise, the girl who menaced their headquarters is revealed as the imperial princess, Anju. Though frankly, her upper-crust behavior and lofty manner of speaking should have tipped them off. In all, a not unpleasant, if predictable, little episode.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 06

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Utawarerumono is tops this Fall in sheer amount of time spent in the baths, but by that same measure, no Fall show is better at selling the sheer pleasure of those baths, particularly after a hard day’s work. This week, there’s no work, nor does the episode ever leave the inn. But that’s okay, because a lot of neat stuff happens within the inn’s walls, as well as in its baths.

And it all starts when a beautiful, mysterious woman offers Haku sake in those baths, without any concern about him seeing her naked. The next day Haku receives an invitation to a banquet hosted by inn’s owner, whom Haku deduces was that woman. He brings Kuon as his plus one, and they proceed to explored the surprising depths (and heights) of the expansive inn.

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Kuon solves a puzzle on the wall at the supposed top level, revealing a staircase to an even higher level, Myst-style. But Kuon Has A Bad Feeling About This and doesn’t want to go up there. Haku doesn’t have any reservations, and the woman from the bath ends up on top of him. But for all the threatening purple fog and compromising positions, there’s actually nothing to be afraid of.

Turns out the woman is Mother Karura, one of the women who raised Kuon, and who is so sensitive about her age Kuon must call her Big Sister Karura. The three of them are soon joined by another one of Kuon’s guardians, the husky-voiced Mother Touka. Her reservations were based on her believing she saw Touka before, dressed as an inn employee.

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Turns out the mothers founded the inn as a kind of home away from home, complete with baths that the country they’re in used to lack. It explains why Kuon likes the inn so much, as well as her nervousness around the mothers. She doesn’t consider herself a “full adult” like they are, and was unsure how to act.

Haku is a good guide in this instance, calling for the start of drinking, only to be drunk under the table by Karura. He nearly drunkenly confesses his love for Kuon before passing out, leaving the daughter and two of her many mothers to chat and reminisce.

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Touka, for one, believed Kuon and Haku were married, and Kuon reacts like she usually does in such instances, assuring anyone curious that they’re just “travelling together” and she’s far more of a guardian than a lover. Her mothers let her obfuscation pass, though they may well sense better than she does what she has with Haku, and it ain’t just guardianship.

After a huge meal (which poor passed-out Haku misses out on, but is apparently smaller than the meals Kuon used to scarf down), and the mothers explain their presence in Yamato (they’re investigating and observing its development…to be continued), Kuon loosens up a lot more, and before long, the women are back in those lovely baths.

There, the mothers have a pleasant surprise for her: they share sake with her, like a fellow adult, and not just any sake: the same sake she accidentally drank when she was a boisterous little girl. All this time Kuon sought the ideal of adulthood her mothers represented, but they already considered her an adult ever since she drank that sake. Now that she’s drinking it again, she can officially consider herself one, too. And not just because she’s a Hakusitter.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 05

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Oshutaru/Ukon has taken a shine to Haku and Kuon, to the extent that he assigns them the very open-ended, important misssion of protecting the capital and the people “in his place”, which assumes he’s busy with other matters. Haku and Kuon are intrigued, and a big sack of money cements their acquiescence.

Haku then embarks on a strenuous cycle of manual labor by day and learning to read and write by night. Nekone is surprised to find how quickly he learns, but also comes to understand why her big brother is so interested in him.

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Just when Haku is at the end of his tether, Kuon awards him a day off for all of his hard work. Unfortunately, the same day he has off is the day one Atui-sama, daughter of Soyankekuru-sama, the Ouro of Shahharo, decides to run away from home seeking love.

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Atui may be a bit naive, but she’s a good enough character to trust Haku, who is indeed a good sport as he shows her around the city, all while she’s being hunted by Kiuru, an acquaintance of Nekone tasked with bringing Princess Atui home (though the arrows suggest a dead-or-alive scenario).

Hara Yumi, who also voiced Albedo in Overlord, brings a very distinctive affectation to the royal yet rebellious (and flirtatious) Atui. And whether by accident or by intention, Haku does manage to keep her safe.

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At the same time, Atui wrongly assumes Haku and Kuon are a couple; they are, but not the romantic type. Interestingly, Haku doesn’t seem to want to get involved with anyone, from Kuon and Rurutie to Atui.

When Kiuri, Atui, and the others meet up to discuss things, Atui decides to return home; she doesn’t wish to cause more trouble for anyone. She thanks Haku for a fun day beyond the palace walls.

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When Haku meets with Ukon, he tells him about a rumor spreading across the capital of “a man who hears the people’s voices, no matter how small.” Those rumors are actually about Haku, performing good deeds for his fellow capital-dwellers, while gradually gaining renown in return.

Haku agrees to go along with Ukon’s plan and be “The Righteous Man”, at least until a better-paying job shows up. Then Atui moves into the same inn where Haku and Kuon are staying. He may not know quite who he is (or was), but his allies continue to multiply.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 04

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In the big capital, Haku, Kuon, and Rurutie meet Ukon’s little sister, Nekone, who has her doubts about Haku for most of the episode until she realizes he’s actually a pretty nice and interesting fellow, and learns from observing him not to worry so much or overthink things.

As far as baths are concerned, overthinking is definitely not a problem for Kuon: Clothes come off, Kuon gets in the water. Kuon also makes sure Rurutie and Nekone are as God made them that they might fully enjoy the experience of bathing. When talk that Ukon is with Haku on the men’s side, Rurutie’s inner fujoshi comes out. We even see Maroro without his white base mask.

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The next morning, Haku is very refreshed, and Nekone invites him, Kuon and Rurutie to join her on a tour of the capital, during which she’ll determine whether Haku is worthy of being a friend to her brother. On the tour, they catch sight of the hugely-popular general Oshutaru, and Nekone clashes with Haku on what she perceives as his arrogance, ignorance, and general dimwittedness.

The girls find him a job waiting tables, and to Nekone’s surprise, after a rough start, Haku starts to fit right in. No one has a problem with him the way she does, so she starts to wonder if her perception of him is the true problem. Stepping back from her preconceptions of him, she starts to see the odd but comforting charisma he exerts, and which Kuon, Rurutie, and even her brother Ukon have come to like.

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After a hard day’s work and with the cost of his mistakes subtracted, Haku has made barely enough money to buy a meal, let alone a room at an inn. Nekone is still dubious, but delivers an invitation from Ukon to Haku and the others. When they arrive to find Oshutaru, he reveals “Ukon” is merely a false identity he uses on occasion. With Ukon and Oshutaru being one and the same means he and Haku are already good friends.

Seeing how much her brother truly trusts and cares for Haku, Nekone takes a page out of Haku’s book. She, Kuon and Rurutie have already hit it off, so she decides, without overthinking, to simply regard them as friends, as they clearly already consider her one.

Meanwhile, two cloaked messengers report Haku’s presence in the capital; news that is very well-received by a venerable elder-type whose face is concealed. We saw Haku as a simple waiter this week, but it’s clear there are many people whose existence he’s not even aware of who have far grander plans for him.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 03

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Unwatched nine-year-old prequel aside, Utawarerumono continues to churn out entertaining little yarns chronicling the adventures of the hapless Haku and capable Kuon. This week they join Ukon in escorting a kind and adorable young princess, Rurutie, to the capital.

Along the way, the girls enjoy a hot bath, but Kuon hears someone lurking in the woods and runs out to confront them, but in her absent-mindedness ends up presenting her naked self to Haku.

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The convoy is eventually attacked by bandits led by a feisty young woman (Nosuri) and a rapey old man who steal all their wagons containing tribute for the emperor, but Ukon lets them ride off without a fight, causing Haku to suspect the super-strong badass has a plan in mind for foiling the thieves.

Nosuri, by the way, quickly ends her alliance with the rapey dude when she learns he’s built a large hideout in the canyons where he intends to bring more women and children to victimize. She don’t want no part of that.

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Even when things don’t go exactly according to Ukon’s plan, and the rapey leader ends up right back where Haku and the girls are, the fact that Haku made Rurutie’s plump, affectionate riding bird fall for him back in the beginning of the episode pays off, when the bird dispatches the bad guys in a protective rage.

The bandits are arrested by imperial guards, and the way is clear for the rest of Rurutie’s journey to the capital, where Kuon is certain Haku can find a good job, even if he claims not to be ready for one yet, because he’s perhaps the laziest protagonist of the Fall, yet still somehow likable simply because I’m not sure I wouldn’t act the same way as he if thrust into such an unfamiliar world.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 02

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That lovely, cozy, immersive quality I spoke of last week? It was largely supplanted this week by an ably executed but mostly pedestrian adventure-of-the-week.

When Kuon is hired by Ukon to hunt some giriri (giant centipedes) lurking on the outskirts of the village, and Kuon insists Haku comes along, it means a fast pace and more action than last week, with so much going on relative to last week it was hard to settle in. All the extra action also exposed the show’s sometimes iffy production values.

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Ukon is a pretty bland strongman with a penchant for being surprised whenever Haku makes himself useful, while Mororo is the archetypal prancing anime dandy. Neither are repellant, but they’re not as interesting as Kuon and Haku on their own.

The episode is effective in one regard: it shows there are all kinds of ways to contribute, not just to the village, but in a more high-stakes situation involving giant centipedes. Haku also demonstrates he’s a natural math whiz, which will serve him well in the capital.

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My problem with Utawarerumono: I find myself preferring a slighter cast and well-placed bursts of action punctuating more world-building slice-of-life; in other words, a series of episodes like its first. But that’s probably not what this show is going to be, judging from its 25-episode length and an OP positively bursting with dozens of different characters that made my eyes glaze over.

A trip to the capital means more introductions…a lot more, as well as a departure from the snowy environs that drew me into the show in the first place. I’m not saying I feel misled, nor expected the show to languish in that village for 25 episodes. I’m just saying the things I like about the show and the things the show intends to focus on may not be the same going forward.

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 01 (First Impressions)

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From White Fox and the director of Jormungand and Katanagatari comes Utawareumono, a show that ably demonstrates less is more by starting off simply and not trying to do too much in its first episode, yet still utterly drawing me into its fantasy world. We’re dropped right into the same plight as the protagonist: we know not his name nor from whence he came, but neither does he. He just suddenly wakes up in the middle of an achingly gorgeous wintry landscape, barefoot and wearing simple green robes, and he has to run, first from a giant centipede, then a frightening goo monster with a face.

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Unsure of who he is, where he is, and what to do, a hand suddenly grabs him, and when its owner turns around to face him, he learns it’s a beautiful young woman. She introduces herself as Kuon once they’re safe, and appoints herself his guardian, as she considers herself responsible for his life now that she’s gone and saved it. She lends him warmer clothes and the two trudge through the winterscape towards a village.

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Along the way the as-of-yet no-named man learns Kuon has ears and a tail (the latter she’s very cross at him for touching), and Kuon learns the man doesn’t have much energy or stamina to go along with his amnesia. But I enjoyed the fast rapport they develop; Kuon is unflappably kind and patient, and their environs are, as I said, arrestingly pretty. The show has a stirring score, but when it eschews music for the silence of the place, I could really feel the cold, just I could feel the warmth of the campfire.

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When they arrive at the village, it’s an opportunity for Kuon to show Haku, as she officially names her (by the power vested in her as his guardian), other aspects of herself. She eats a huge amount of food in the form of the delicious-looking, fajita-esque spread she orders at the inn. She also has a bit of a mischievous streak in peeking in on Haku in the bath, which she soon regrets when he starts doing nude calisthenics, a scene for which you can tell the show didn’t skimp on the Foley artist.  In addition to bumping up her cuteness, her tail is also a good indicator of her mood. She even mixes up a salve for his blistered feet before he hits the hay. It’s all very pleasant domestic stuff.

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The next morning, Haku learns he’s not getting a free ride; if he wants to keep eating and staying at the inn, he needs to do his part. It’s here where Kuon learns Haku is, essentially, allergic to manual labor, and quite bad at it when forced to do it. However, he does show he can use his head and has a mind for machines when he fixes the waterwheel at the village mill. That achievement may have helped him find his niche, even if he only fixed the thing so he could sleep.

In all, this was a well-made and well-executed episode; a pleasure to watch. It reminded me a bit of Spice & Wolf in its immersive power; feeling like a nice, cozy blanket I can wrap myself up in. It’s actually a welcome change of pace from the more hectic Summer stuff I just got done watching. That being said, the cold close in which three men are attacked in the night by some kind of beast promises more action in the near future.

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