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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Hyouka – 06

Oreki’s history class is momentarily disrupted from an argument coming from an adjacent class; he recognizes Chitanda’s voice. After school in the clubroom, Chitanda tells the others what happened, and presents Oreki with the mystery of why her teacher made a mistake. After eliminating a few possibilities, Oreki concludes the math teacher mistook the lowercase a for a d in his notes, thus messing up Class A’s progress with Class D’s.

Oreki Houtarou is well aware he cannot refuse Chitanda Eru’s request to solve her mysteries, be they grand like last week’s, or relatively mundane, like this week’s. But while this mystery wasn’t as glamorous (it was just a case of Chi’s teacher mixing up two letters), the club took it just as seriously, and the episode didn’t skimp on the neat little details. For instance, the first half is merely the club discussing the seven deadly sins, including anger, which Chi believes necessary but chooses to avoid it whenever possible. She tries to stop an angry Ibara’s Fukube-aimed tirade with cookies. Once that box of cookies is open and we see that they’re letters, the solution is right there before us long before Oreki figures it out. This speaks to Oreki’s belief in luck as a major player in whether and how he’s able to solve things.

After the opening credits, the entire episode takes place in the clubroom, and nobody leaves until the end. Yet we’re still taken to different places: Chitanda’s story of what caused her to yell at her teacher is visualized as a kind of noh theatre with traditional masks on non-traditional mannequins (the teacher himself is a crash dummy). When Oreki feels Chitanda’s catchphrase “I can’t stop thinking about it!” coming on, he imagines hundreds of tiny, intent Citandas climbing over him like cute leaches with amathyst gazes. Indeed, after he solves this, Oreki is still frustrated by the biggest mystery of all so far, at least for him: what exactly is going on inside Chitanda’s head and any given moment…and why he can never refuse her.


Rating: 8 (Great)