After three episodes and some careful consideration, I’ve decided not to continue with Kunoichi Tsubaki no Mune no Uchi. While it featured some lovely sisterly camaraderie and genuinely kick-ass action, the overly-cute Takagi-san style designs are starting to wear thin, and I suspect the “will Tsubaki meet a boy” question will drag on far longer than I’d like…—Preston
Tsubaki is almost at the end of her kusari-fundo regarding the near-constant bickering between Sazanka and Asagao. That’s when Uikyou and Kikyou, the polar opposite of that pair, show up. Their speech and movements are so in sync, they might well be identical twins. They also offer the secret to getting along in scroll form.
The only catch? The scroll has to be taken from them. Tsubaki makes things interesting by tying Sazanka and Asagao together by the leg so they have no choice but to work together against their far-better coordinated opponents. Uikyou and Kikyou have no trouble slipping out of their grasp and making them look foolish.
Ultimately, Sazanka and Asagao stop arguing and start doing something that will help their odds. That means Sazanka clinging to the larger, stronger Asagao so the latter can move freely without worrying about the rope. Alas, the twins use sleep bell jutsu, and the two have to punch each other to stay awake.
In their dreams, it works, and they manage to defeat the twins. But in reality, they fell asleep despite all the pinching. Nevertheless, the twins report to Tsubaki that they worked hard, and together, while also admitting the scroll containing the secret to getting allong was blank. Ultimately, the only ket to getting along is practice, like any other skill.
In the second half, Hana-senpai is fed up with the girls constantly making fun of men. She cancels classes and announces that there will be a game of tag. She’ll be “it” an will play the role of a male, while anyone she catches will go without dinner. Every girl knows they’re no match for Hana, so the exercise seems to pay immediate dividends.
Hana is able to catch just about every girl, and when an overconfident Benisumomo comes straight at her, she reminds her of the still yawning gap of ability between them. After seeing Beni and Tsubaki fight on pretty much equal ground, Hana is on a totally different level…which makes you wonder why she fears males so much and insists the others do the same.
Whiel Asagao quickly falls victim to an all-too-easy caveman meat trap, Tsubaki has a plan for defeating Hana. It involves Sazanka using transformation jutsu to let Hana’s guard down. When Hana notices Sazanka’s imitation of her fellow teacher Konoha is not quite right, Sazanka is captured by the “real” Konoha…but that’s really Tsubaki in disguise.
Because Tsubaki’s transformation jutsu is far more convincing, Hana speaks to her as if she were speaking to the real Konoha, and lets slip that the men being scary is merely a lie they must uphold at all costs. Tsubaki is so shocked by this she transforms back into her normal form and darts away.
When Hana tries to give chase, her bad back starts barking at her, and the real real Konoha comes to help her. Hana tells her to find Tsubaki, who heard something she shouldn’t have, and is now all mixed up.
The repetitive conjecture about otoko (i.e., males) so prevalent in the opener is entirely absent here, with one half focusing on a Dog v. Sheep combat training. Tachiaoi invited Tsubaki to join them first, but cocky Team Sheep leader Benisumomo insists on taking Team Dog on. But Sheep member Touwata, obsessed with hard work and willpower, thinks her leader Beni is relying to much on her talen
Her concern leads her to parlay with Team Dog for Tsubaki to give Beni a “good thrashing” in hopes it will convince her to start working harder. Tsubaki agrees, and in the meantime Sazanka and Asagao break the parlay by capturing Touwata, only for both of them to get caught in Sheep’s trap expert Mizubahou’s rope net (a net she’d only set up due to habit!).
You immediately get the feeling Tsubaki is only humoring the younger Touwata, and sure enough, Tsubaki is one of the only people who knows that Benisumomo’s cool lazy act is just that: an act. In reality, Beni works her ass off and always has. She just worries that if anyone else knew her secret it would harm her carefully maintained rep.
After a friendly greeting, Tsubaki and Beni get down to business. It’s clear from their sparring that these are indeed two of the most talented kunoichi in the village, and their jumps, flips, feints, kicks, and punches comprise a beautiful, deadly dance. The two flow like water until breathing flame one another, creating a big boom that draws their kohai rush to the scene. Tsubaki and Beni say they came to a draw, but Beni promises Touwata that she’ll win next time.
In the second segment, Sazanka wants more of Tsubaki’s attention but the two are in different huts for their respective classes. But Tsubaki has apparently been more distracted because of otoko of late (though you wouldn’t know it from this episode). So Tsubaki sneaks out of class through the bathroom, telling Asagao to stay put and cover for her. Before long Asagao is threatened with no dinner and instructed to catch Sazanka at all costs.
While glancing out the window in class, Tsubaki spots her kohais playing hooky and intercepts them. I love how Sazanka rushes at her big sis only to catch nothing but air as Tsubaki flips over her while tying her up in one lovely acrobatic flourish. But when asked directly why she snuck out of class, Sazanka surprises Asagao by not giving the true reason, not wanting Tsubaki to feel like this was her fault for neglecting her kohai.
Tsubaki, however, is as wise as she is strong, and knows Sazanka was lying about simply wanting to go for a walk in the nice weather. So she keeps the camellias Sazanka picked for her (symbolizing love, natch), and makes sure to give her some love later. Sazanka makes good on her promise to give Asagao all of her meat, and Tsubaki shares half of hers with Sazanka.
From the friendly but intense competition between Tsubaki and Benisumomo, to the similar dynamic between the two older girls’ eager kohais, to the sisterly affection that surrounds both Team Dog and the Akane community as a whole, this episode was a compelling slice of kunoichi life.
What if Takagi-san had a kunoichi ancestor…and instead of sitting next to the boy she likes in class, the ancestor lives in an all-female village where girls are raised to fear and avoid men? Even though said men are just on the other side of the mountain…and the ancestor really wants to meet one?
That’s In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki in a nutshell. The titular Tsubaki is the best kunoichi student in her village, but she’s also growing up and starting to think about boys, even though she’s never met or even seen one. But hey, sometimes it’s the unknown that drives us.
Most if not all of the other girls harbor a similar curiosity, but mixed with a hatred and prejudice for the gender, often to the tune of repeating the same jokes about them (they’re monkeys, their crotches are weak, they stink). Two of her own kohai, Sazanka and Ahegao, even go off on their own to try to meet and then beat up the men when reports come in that they’re nearby.
Tsubaki striking out into the night to bring the two younger girls home provides much of the episode’s action, and the chase is beautifully storyboarded, directed, and animated. These wee ninja are quick as darts and twice as sharp. They can also breath fire and change their forms, you get the feeling any men out there would be at a disadvantage.
Tsubaki very nearly lets her own curiosity about men (which again, is different and less hostile than that of the other girls) lead to contact with the men, as she concedes that no harm can come from simply watching them from afar.
However, when one of those men appears behind them, Tsubaki freaks out and they escape. The tiny Sazanka wanted to fight them (she wants to fight everyone), but Tsubaki had more than enough unknown for the night, having walked right up to the edge only to retreat in the end.
Whether the near-encounter with a man was real or just Tsubaki’s dream, what becomes clear that morning is that the Akane clan’s village is a lot like Takagi-san’s school (again, if it were all women), with a colorful array of characters at different stages of adolescence.
The Takagi-san style art with larger heads can make it hard to nail down how old everyone’s supposed to be, but judging by the character designs of both elementary and middle school students in Takagi, it’s a similar mix here, with some girls making more kiddy jokes like boys are some kind of beast, while others closer to Tsubaki in age seeming to share a more complex curiosity about them.
One thing is certain: Tsubaki’s recent preoccupation with men is distracting her from her training, both in class and out in on the grounds. Asagao Sazanka soon puts two and two together and notices her big sis seems to get flustered when she hears the word man. This is unfortunate development as a lot of people say “man” a lot in this episode.
Sazanka thus issues a challenge to Tsubaki: if she can use her flame jutsu to evaporate a large puddle of water while she whispers “man” in her ear, it will prove to her that Tsubaki isn’t afraid of men. Tsubaki ends up creating enough flames to make a huge crater, thus putting Sazanka’s concerns to rest.
Nevertheless, Tsubaki wants to meet a guy. She doesn’t know why, or even what she’d say or do if she did, she just knows she wants to meet one really bad. This, despite the fact her elders and peers have all been conditioned to believe men are brutal savages.
Leaving aside a more specific desire for romance, a part of Tsubaki is telling her there is more to this world than her village, and that it may just prove beneficial to learn more about what lies beyond its borders.