In / Spectre – 03 – From Snakes to Steel

Kotoko finishes explaining the Tanio Aoi case to the serpent guardian spirit’s satisfaction: Aoi wanted the police to find the remains of a fetus she miscarried and buried in the swamp after learning of Machii’s betrayal and then learned that he was innocent. Kurou escorts her to a taxi where she falls asleep on his shoulder after he admonishes her for taking such risks.

It was odd that the showrunners chose to end this case so quickly into this episode before a new case began; it might’ve been more elegant to simply wrap up the serpent case last week. At any rate, two years suddenly pass, and we’re re-introduced to Kurou’s ex Yumihara Saki, now a traffic cop but still haunted by the supernatural things she became aware of through Kurou.

A rumor has spread of Nanase Karin, a busty idol killed by a steel beam now using that beam to attack people as the faceless ghost “Steel Lady Nanase.” Saki heard a statement from one of her victims who survived a car crash but it was later discounted due to him being under duress/in shock. Saki doesn’t deny to her supervisor that whatever caused the accident, she believes there are “beings that surpass logic and reasoning.”

She also has a nasty flashback to her traumatic incident with Kurou and the kappa that led to her eventually breaking up with him. Saki still lives every day in fear and depression, and has only become more aware of youkai and such since the breakup. That’s when she encounters Iwanaga Kotoko, who just so happens to be battling Steel Lady Nanase on the hill Saki uses to get home.

Sick and tired of being ruled by fear, Saki charges Nanase recklessly, dodges her steel beam and punches her right in the gut, only for her fist do go right through the ghost. Kotoko swoops in, loses her false leg, and delivers a solid kick to Nanase, forcing her to withdraw. Saki, a cop, was just saved from a ghost by a petite amputee in a sun dress.

It’s a lot to take in, but Saki still does her duty, not letting Kotoko slink away without treating her wounds—and in the process, hopefully gain more answers about WTF just happened. That’s when she flashes her badge, Kotoko realizes the cop is Saki’s ex, and re-introduces her as Kurou’s new girlfriend.

As this is a bit much to take after such a harrowing incident, Saki gives Kotoko a good slug to the face for her lack of tact! But despite the bad vibes surrounding Kurou, who doesn’t yet appear after the two year jump, I think Kotoko is just the person Saki needs to know at this point in time. Not just for the Nanase Karin case, but for her own emotional benefit.

In / Spectre – 02 – Murder at Mount Tsukuna

Iwanaga Kotoko has a very cool job, a job I would love to have. This week, she’s summoned to a very fretful giant serpent guardian spirit of a swamp on Mt. Tsukuna. This serpent needs the calming, ironclad explanation for why a woman dumped a corpse into his swamp and said to herself “I hope they find you.”

Kotoko probably doesn’t expect this to be a dangerous mision, and this is confirmed when the serpent expresses his general distaste for humans. Her reason for inviting Kuro to tag along isn’t about protecting her or defeating a boss, like last week’s case. So what is it about?

I’d say it’s a combination of her genuine affection for him and desire to be his wife, and part of that if the Goddess of Wisdom can become involved with the human most youkai fear most, perhaps she can show them he’s not really so bad!

That said, she’s unable to convince him to accompany her to Mt. Tsukuna, though when she uses youkai to locate his apartment, he sends her off with a hoodie to keep warm in the mountains and a hot meal of miso soup and onigiri, so he doesn’t come off as completely heartless.

Also, unbeknownst to Kotoko until much later in her meeting with the serpent, Kuro actually does follow her and observe from a distance, perhaps trying to get a feel for who this person is without the benefit of her being able to put on any airs.

What he witnesses is a surpassingly clever and well-spoken young woman who not only shows the serpent spirit respect and deference he doesn’t believe he deserves, but holds his proverbial hand through all the facts of the case she has amassed with the help of the youkai who work with her.

As the serpent attempts to rebut Kotoko’s explanations, Kotoko simply zigs or zags to a new route, adding ever more color and depth to the story of what led to Tanio Aoi dumping Yoshihara Hiroo’s corpse in the serpent’s swamp.

Since Aoi lived at the foot of Mt. Tsukuna, she may well have been aware of the fact the serpent was once worshiped there as a water god who brought rain. While the serpent betrays a bit of godly haughtiness by saying he would have much preferred a beautiful living girl to a dead middle-aged man, Kotoko reminds him there are two ways to bring rain: presenting an offering to please the water god, and one to enrage him; Aoi did the latter.

That’s when the youkai Kuro used to track Kotoko reunites with its sibling, and Kotoko realizes Kuro has been there all along listening in—including the part where she called him her boyfriend. But before their “lovers quarrel” as she calls it, she wants to resolve all lingering questions and doubts the serpent might still have. Not only does she have a cool job, she knows it, and thus does the very best work she can.

In / Spectre – 01 (First Impressions) – An Eye and a Leg

Two years ago, Iwanaga Kotoko saved Sakuragawa Kurou‘s life by catching him as he fell backwards. All she asked in return was that he remember his savior for the rest of his life. Kotoko later learned Kurou had a girlfriend, but they recently broke up. Having harbored a one-sided affection the last two years, Kotoko now approaches Kurou with her intentions to date him with eventual plans for marriage.

If Kotoko sounds like an unusual girl, she is: when she was eleven she was kidnapped by various youkai who asked if she would consent to serving as their “God of Wisdom”, one who could both mediate issues between youkai and between youkai and humans. In exchange for agreeing to help them, Kotoko lost her right eye and left leg, but considers becoming a god who can commune with youkai to be a fair trade.

When a particularly nasty ayakashi troubles a local library, youkai go to Kotoko to ask for aid. But as she’s outgunned in this particular case, she asks Kurou to accompany her. While youkai everywhere fear him like some kind of bogeyman, including a kappa whose reaction to seeing him led to his breakup with his girlfriend, Kotoko sees the value of having someone like him in her corner.

Thus, their “first date” involves confronting the giant beast in the library, and while Kotoko’s words fail, Kurou’s actions don’t. Only even Kotoko is surprised by how Kurou deals with the beast: he lets it rip his arm off, only for it to immediately regenerate, and the beast shortly dies, poisoned by Kurou’s flesh. Kurou confesses that something happened to him when he was eleven too: he ate youkai flesh.

While lacking in action until the final  minutes, the introduction of the forthright, no-nonsense, charming Kotoko and the inscrutable, unflappable Kurou is very well-handled and their dialogue never drags. They sport instant chemistry, owing in no small part to the voice talents of Miyano Mamoru and Kitou Akari, and I’m eager to see not just how they work together but how they become closer going forward.