Fruits Basket – 19 – The Audacity to Live

While Shigure’s editor Mitchan is on a mission to collect his manuscript, he misdirects her, and she ends up crossing paths with the latest member of the Soumas to be introduced: Souma Ritsu, or “Ritchan-san.”

Immediately, her defining characteristic seems to be “cripplingly apologetic and self-loathing” on a show where Tooru, Yuki, etc. are already here!

When Tooru accidentally hugs Ritchan, who is trying to run away for being such a nuisance to everyone, she suddenly transforms into her form, the Monkey, and Tooru learns that she is actually a he in women’s clothes, which he’s always worn since he was a young lad.

Upon transforming back (off-camera), Ritchan is challenged by Shigure and Tooru not to reflexively apologize so much, and when Mitchan returns he’s called upon to placate her. That’s when Mitchan prepares a noose with which to hang herself then writes to her parents in her will, apologizing for leaving this world before them.

Ritchan and the others are able to talk Mitchan down, and Shigure reveals he has his manuscript ready for the deadline, but then Ritchan spills coffee all over it and Mitchan faints from the shock. That’s when Ritchan decides to climb up to the roof, indicating his desire to jump off and end his miserable, worthless life.

The source material of Fruits Basket shows its age by once again making light of both Mitchan and Ritchan’s threats of suicide, only for Ritchan’s latest threat to be taken seriously by Tooru, complete with her trademark relaying of lessons she and her mom learned together and empathetic pep talk.

The juggling of disparate tones didn’t work for me, largely because it’s initially treated as a silly character quirk. That left a bad taste in my mouth that is hard to set aside even when the show suddenly takes Mitchan and Ritchan’s intermittent intentions to die seriously. It’s as if it’s trying to have its (fruit)cake and eat it too (or at least a book about fruitcake).

Tooru’s assurance that no one knows the reason they were born, but that it’s enough to just keep living until they find that reason, be it through something or someone, is definitely a welcome and vital message to all who feel like Ritchan and Mitchan sometimes feel.

But I’ll admit I was a little distracted not just by the show’s past flippancy on this subject, but the fact Tooru nearly died herself by slipping on the roof tiles.

Fruits Basket – 11 – Giving Everything

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Tooru is a giver. She gives and gives and gives, sometimes without thinking; sometimes with quite a bit of thought behind it; and always, always without regard for any consequences that might crop up as a result of that boundless generosity. The only one she’s not generous to is herself. As has been said about her, she plays by a different set of rules.

Two of the unintended effects of this: it’s hard for her to accept anything in return, and it’s hard for anyone else to give to her without her wondering if that’s really okay. But after Valentine’s Day, you have White Day. It’s tradition. It’s the rules of society. So she’s expecting something in return for her chocolates. She just wasn’t expecting a hot spring trip, courtesy of Momiji.

As with most things offered to her, she feels unworthy, or at least feels she’d be an expensive burden. An onsen is costly, no matter how you look at it! And this, despite the fact she spent so much of her own money buying ingredients for the chocolates she gave everyone, she’s fallen behind on school trip payments. Kyou, just barely moderating his temper, asks Tooru to go have a bath, then turns to the issue at hand: just how stupid is Tooru to be so selfless with her money?

Momiji regails Kyou and Yuki with a “Funny Story” from a book he once read in school, about an “idiot” traveler who was constantly being swindled and duped out of possessions, until she wandered the forest naked. There, a bunch of demons duped her out of her body, all except a head with no eyes (shades of Hyakkimaru), leaving her only a piece of paper that read “idiot.”

First of all, this is not a funny story, WTF is wrong with Momiji’s classmates? But secondly, the fact the traveler never despaired, but only wept with joy that the things she gave up went on to help people (even if they lied about needing them). Like Tooru, her warped perspective is just something that works for her, and you can either accept it or consider not hanging out with her anymore, because she’s probably never going to change!

For all of this shows’s demonstrations that the Soumas can transform into animals, Tooru may be the most bizarre creature of them all, and especially out of place in modern Japanese capitalist society. Yet like Momiji, Kyou and Yuki, what initially, by my own less lofty set of standards and different perspective, might seem like idiocy could also be described as nobility; of representing the best of what a person could be; someone who, if everyone emulated them, would make the world a so much better place.

The proprietor of the onsen, a woman of frail health whose off-camera son is the Monkey of the Zodiac, was initially suspicious of Tooru, an outsider, of being a potentially disruptive or harmful force to her cursed child. But that was before she met her, or saw her soaking in the spring with her dead mother’s picture in a plastic bag to keep her dry. She can tell she had no reason to worry; Tooru is One Of The Good Ones.

It’s amazing Tooru agreed to go at all, considering how kingly a gift she considers a hot spring trip. By blowing everything nice other people do for her out of proportion…it can be challenging, at times perhaps even trying, to contend with that. But everyone has fun at the onsen trip.

Tooru plays the quickest and funniest round of ping pong, gets a lovely hair ribbon from Yuki, along with his full-on Prince Act, and Momiji gets to sleep beside Tooru, even though she’s just a year younger than Kyou or Yuki. But the night before she learns this, Tooru simply lies in bed thanking her mother for making all this happiness with the Soumas possible.

That may seem macabre—essentially thanking your mom for dying—but like I said, Tooru doesn’t play by those rules. Everything that happens to her, and everyone she meets, good or bad, is a miraculous gift, and she takes absolutely nothing for granted.

 

Juuni Taisen – 12 (Fin)

 

In the finale, we spend virtually the entire time inside Nezumi’s head as he ponders which of the one hundred wishes he has will be the one he asks Duodecuple to grant as a reward for his winning the Juuni Taisen.

For all that inner monologue, we don’t learn anything about Nezumi’s past, only his very mundane present, in which he attends high school and stands out mostly due to how antisocial he is.

We see his ability in action on more than one occasion as he weighs his options, and early on these are mostly frivolous, such as wishing for everyone in his class to die, or for the skirt of only girl who talks to him to flip up in front of him.

But the more he wracks his brain trying to think of a proper wish, the more rationales he comes up with to render those wishes undesirable—living forever; remaining young forever; making everyone happy; gaining the ability to survey a thousand possibilities instead of a hundred—they all have their cons that leads to their dismissal.

He considers the wishes of the other, now-slain warriors, which is interesting because throughout his ninety-nine failed attempts to win, he manages to interact peacefully with each and every one of his eleven adversaries. In a way, that’s rather apropos, since at one point or another everyone has to deal with rats.

In one of those deleted possibilities, Tora tells him how her wish is to fight beside (or possibly against) Ushii; it’s a wish that’s actually granted in the timeline Nezumi ultimately goes with. Tora turned out to be my favorite of the twelve warriors, so it’s gratifying to hear that despite losing the competition, her wish was fulfilled and she died without regrets.

If there’s one thing this final episode makes clear, it’s that Nezumi’s ability is a curse, since he remembers everything that could have happened but didn’t. So the wish he ultimately comes up with—to be able to forget everything that’s happened, or might’ve happened—seems like the best way to go. After all, his memories of all those countless deleted possibilities hampered his ability to choose any other wish.

By the time he’s counted up to 99, he’s an exhausted fellow seemingly on the verge of mental breakdown. Being allowed to forget it all is a tremendous relief even his classmates notice when he’s happily dozing at his desk.

With a RABUJOI Score well under 7.5 and a MAL Score of barely 7, Juuni Taisen was never in danger of winning any “Anime of the Year” awards. Of the shows we haven’t dropped this Fall, it’s the lowest-rated.

The reason I stuck with JT was its efficient and reliable structure: twelve episodes, twelve characters, eleven all-but guaranteed deaths, and one winner. Many of those characters and their backstories were serviceable, particularly those of Niwatori, Sharyu, and Tora. The CGI-assisted combat was also a strong suit (though IMO there wasn’t enough of it).

I wish Ushii and Usagi had gotten proper backstories. The wish-granting ability of Duodecuple was way too broad. Nothing really came of the silly oligarch gambling angle. But Juuni Taisen was still a fun, if flawed, ride.

 

Juuni Taisen – 11

After giving Tora a proper death to deny her corpse from becoming another one of Usagi’s slaves, Ushii ponders how best to deal with a necromantist so hell-bent on victory, he somehow managed to enslave himself before dying.

“Burning him to ash with fire” is as good a plan as any, but Usagi, or rather, the grotesque undead creature crudely reconstructed by Zombie Sharyu, catches up. When Ushii tries hacking Usagi to bits again, Sharyu jumps out from inside Usagi’s body to pin Ushii down.

It’s as devious a tactic as it is fucked up, and Ushii knows he’s hosed, and has been hosed since the moment Usagi turned Sharyu.

Ushii would prefer death to becoming a part of  Usagi’s menagerie, and Nezumi, appearing at precisely the perfect moment, grants him that preference, using Hitsujii’s bomb to blow up Usagi, Sharyu and Ushii to win the Juuni Taisen, just like that.

It turns out that “perfect moment” was no coincidence, but rather the only “route” Nezumi could have taken in order to win; the other 99 out of 100 ended with him getting killed and losing.

This week we learn that he possesses the skill “Hundred Paths of Nezumi-san”, but to the episode’s credit, we’re shown how it works before it’s explained, in a bizarre, Groundhog Day-style sequence in which Nezumi keeps refusing to submit to a post-victory interview with Duodecuple and ends up killed in various, often grisly ways, only to reset back in Duo’s office.

It’s apropos for a warrior of the rat—one of the ultimate survivors on earth—to not only have more than the “nine lives” of the cat, but be able to look at one hundred different routes in order to pick the one that will lead to his continued survival. Even weirder, he remembers all of the routes he “deleted” by “locking in” to the “winning” route.

After sitting down and talking with Duo about Sharyu’s role in creating a route for Nezumi to live (which he repaid by killing her as she requested down in the sewer), his alliances with Tiger and even Usagi in other deleted routes, and other matters, before the sun comes up and Nezumi is excused to rest and come up with a wish to be granted.

As is his style, Nezumi will come up with 100 wishes, then go through each one as Duo grants them to determine which one would be most beneficial. That should make for an intriguing finale.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 09

The “Desperate Fight in the Macro Zone” concludes in epic, massively satisfying, and surprisingly moving fashion, proving that splitting it into two parts was a smart move. Hellsalem’s Lot gathers on rooftops to watch the pandemonium unfold, confident the world’s largest individual, Gigagigafutmassif will put the Rielmonster in its place.

Of course, using force against Riel only makes him bigger and stronger, leading Giga to beat a hasty retreat and leaving the crowd without a champion to save them from certain ruin. Chain and the Werewolf Bureau are in the midst of a week wine cellar-emptying girls’ “night” out, and miss the whole thing.

Riel has long since had his fill of his situation, but Gemnemo is unsympathetic; he wants his latest experiment to play itself out to its devastating conclusion, with him pulling the strings the whole way. Riel now knows how solitary it is “at the top” of the city’s food chain.

For such an action-packed episode, the first act is mostly Riel fondly remembering one fine day in Central Park (or whatever it’s called in HSL) with Leo. When a batted baseball breaks Riel’s arm, Leo goes to bat for him, not only standing up to the bully that hit the ball and laughed at Riel’s arm, but headbutting him.

Leo didn’t back down on that lovely, pastoral day (it really is a gorgeous memory accompanied by an appropriately wistful musical score), despite being small and relatively puny; Riel, on the other hand, is disgusted with himself for running away in a similar situation.

Now that he’s more lucid, he can see Libra members not back down even though their opponent is orders of magnitude bigger and stronger. And with infiltration expert Chain indisposed, it falls to lil’ Leo and Sonic to deposit Li Gado’s weapon into Riel’s giant body. Leo has to take his God’s Eyes to their absolute limit, but he’s not giving up on his friend.

Gado makes it clear that Riel is probably not even in control of his body any more, as Gemnemo is a control freak who responds to Riel’s second thoughts by starting an operation that will eliminate his free will—but not his senses, making him watch and hear all the millions he’ll kill.

Gemnemo, in the end, is just another bully who has exploited Riel’s need to be stronger for his own scientific gain. Thankfuly, Sonic gets to Gemnemo in time to stop him, and Riel’s giant body gradually shrinks, until he stumbles and falls into the Eternal Hollow.

In the aftermath, Zapp tries to excoriate a contrite (and likely hungover) Chain for being AWOL during the battle, but Leo steps in to remind Zapp that he was indisposed as well due to his attempt to swindle Riel when he was more human-sized.

Five days later, Leo has a walk in the park, still picturesque and tranquil, but seems lonelier without Mr. Riel by his side. All of a sudden, he notices something under his shoe: Gado’s weapon shrunk Riel to the size of a mouse!

But Riel is actually just fine being this size; for one thing, the view’s not bad (Leo now appears monumental to him, matching his bravery and loyalty to his friends); for another, he wouldn’t feel right being all the way back to normal after the fuss he caused.

Juuni Taisen – 09

When we begin Aira Kanae’s backstory, she’s just an ordinary high schooler riding her bike to the dojo…but she’s too good. She surpasses everyone, and becomes head of the Aira-style school, and is put to work as a warrior. The practicalities of a hand-combat specialist in bullet and grenade-strewn war zones escaped me, but apparently she’s just that damn good.

The hypocrisy of the war-torn world starts to weigh on Kanae, until she finds that drinking lets her forget so she can move forward and kill more efficiently and viciously. She engages in each successive battle drunker and drunker.

She’s kicked out of her dojo for abandoning the teachings. Heck, she abandons everything, including her humanity, and reason, all to become an unstoppable raging beast—the Tora of the present. But I’ll admit: watching Kanae drink, kill, and repeat got a bit repetitive (even if that was kinda the point).

I can’t say I got a whole lot out of her backstory, aside from the fact that she can only be an effective warrior by killing her brain cells. She also doesn’t seem to have a wish in mind after victory.

Tora remains in a temporary alliance with Ushii (Ox) this week as they face off against Zombie Snake and Zombie Dragon. Oh yeah, Usagi used Sharyu to propel himself into the sky and kill Dragon, then make him another member of his little team. So while there are only two twins, it’s essentially four-on-one against Tiger and Ox.

The resulting battle has some of the smoothest and most interesting motion to date, though it’s pretty clear when the characters are drawn and when they’re CGI models. Still, the battle looks great, even if it only lasts a few moments, as Tora busts open Dragon’s tank of liquid nitrogen, which takes out both Dragon and Snake…at last.

That leaves Usagi on his own against Tora and Ushii, and they charge at him and appear to tear him to pieces…but I’m not convinced he’s dead by a long shot. He must have something up his sleeve, as well as a reason he didn’t involve the very capable Zombie Sharyu in this encounter. Indeed, his red eyes may indicate he himself was never “alive” to begin with.

Of course, Tora and Ushii believe he’s dead, which is dumb, and prepare to duel one another. It doesn’t help these purported elite warriors’ credibility to have such gaping blind spots all the time. As for Rat, the last character shown in the end credits, he’s still alive, somewhere. Could he end up being the last warrior standing?

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 08

Leonardo Watch, and his even skinnier, more skittish friend Mr. Riel, are weaklings in the macro world, constantly falling victim to shakedowns from bigger, stronger bullies. Leo acknowledges and accepts his low strength and fighting ability as simply the way things are.

Then he’s hit in the head by the baseball-sized vehicles of microbial hyperdoctor Li Gado, who lives in a suit the size of a flea. Gado is after his scientific counterpart Gemnemo (also a microbe) whose super-dangerous experimentation on “hyperaugmented accelerated cell division” will affect both micro and macro worlds. He’s counting on Leo to help him.

Riel, who is upset with himself for running when his friend was in trouble, is approached by Gemnemo, who offers to perform the hyperaugmentation procedure to make Riel stronger; someone to take seriously, even fear, rather than be taken advantage of.

It just so happens that Zapp is the first person to (politely) try to extract some pocket cash from post-procedure Riel, who reacts quite extremely, throwing Zapp out of the diner with such force he ricochets off several cars in the street.

Riel isn’t seeking the bullies who mugged him and Leo before, but they find him, and immediately wish they hadn’t; he beats the pulp out of them all, even the guy with fractal fists. When the police arrive, they find that any offensive action only makes Riel bigger, stronger…and harder to reason with.

Klaus, on a low-key mission escorting the SS-level symbiotic prisoner Dog Hummer/Deldro Brody to the art museum, gets wind of the police battle, but learn of Riel’s special ability to absorb all force used against him a bit too late, after Klaus tries to contain him with a blood grid barricade and Dog/Deldro perform the “Hundred Crack Fist of Me”.

The force of both Klaus’ defense and Dog/Deldro’s offense causes Riel to grow to kaiju scale. All of these big, huge hulking entities stalking around, smashing into each other, ruining the city around them…and it all started with a microscopic conflict between a microbial mad scientist and the valiant hyperdoctor working tirelessly to stop him.

The usual ways of dealing with threats won’t work here; they’ll only make things worse. The fate of both worlds may depend on weak ol’ Leo, Li Gado’s hastily constructed super-weapon (that looks like an elaborate plastic toy), and perhaps Sonic the monkey.

Juuni Taisen – 08

Juuni Taisen finds itself at the bottom of the Fall 2017 barrel, and while that’s due in part to an overall above-average season, it’s also due to the show’s own up-and-down, variable quality.

When there’s an interesting warrior’s story being told parallel to the present events of the battle, it’s a good watch. But when present events are halted in order to deliver even more backstory on the Tatsumi Brothers, who are boring…it’s a bit harder to get through.

In this interminable outing, there’s another “flashback-within-the-flashback” as the brothers are put on trial (in what looks like the Supreme Court) for acting far beyond their purview as warriors.

The defense (which Dragon provides himself, but seems to include two of the judges?) note that they’ve done a fair bit of Robin Hood-style stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and even sponsored a little kid by funding the procedure to restore his sight, only to kill his big brother on an evidence and witness-liquidation mission.

Neither the trial nor the events it covers really tell us anything new about the Tatsumi Brothers. Even when they’re doing good deeds, it’s basically for the same reason they pull off heists: to kill time. These guys don’t really seem to have any real motivation in life, except to stay occupied.

We only get about five minutes of time in the present, during which Ox’s saber sparks ignite Tiger’s alcoholic mouth-foam (no one has ever combined those eight words before), and Ox learns Zombie Snake can be killed with fire. The brief Ox-Tiger alliance proves successful, though Ox promises a proper duel with her at a later date.

Meanwhile, high above the fray, Dragon seems to be preparing to team up with his brother Snake one last time (despite dead Snake being loyal Usagi now), hoping he’ll destract the others while he prepares a “memorial” for him, which I assume will involve Dragon’s signature ice.

Unfortunately, most of this episode felt like filler.  I await the backstories of Ox and Tiger, which will hopefully be both more interesting and less long-winded.

Juuni Taisen – 07

We finally get a bit of story on Snake and Dragon, the only two warriors who came into the Juuni Taisen as a built-in pair of allies, at least until only the two of them were left. The older Dragon is more serious and into hacking, while the younger Snake has a little less caution and prefers to do the smash-and-grabbing.

When the two learn they’ll be in the Taisen, fighting in a battle where there is only one person left standing, they’re…mostly fine with it? I guess? I mean, neither seemed interested in going against the path laid out for them. Of course, we learn that being matched pair going into the battle meant absolutely nothing against the psychotic Usagi.

If Dragon can barely muster a shrug at the death of his younger brother, um…why should I? These two are probably the most boring of the twelve warriors.

Sharyu is more interesting even as the undead servant of a necromantist, as Usagi has her collect the expired Uuma from the bank vault, likely to make yet another servant. He’s really running the table here.

Tiger’s talents seem to include being able to consume an infinite amount of alcohol (though we don’t get her story this week) and striking how and when her opponent least expects it, owing to her drunken-fist style.

In this case, her opponent is the headless Snake. She easily snatches his fuel tanks from him, and then…starts drinking them. Why she just assumed it was potable alcohol (and not de-natured or, worse, gasoline) I don’t know, but perhaps she could smell the difference?

Ox drops in on the headless, tankless, and one armless Snake…and then takes his other arm, and threatens to take his legs too. Why the “genius of slaughter” is being so sporting with a corpse is a bit beyond me; all he does is make himself a sitting duck for the instance when Snake’s disembodied arms fly out from the darkness and put a choke hold on both Ox and Tiger.

Ox ignites Tiger’s flammable mouth foam, seemingly incapacitating the Snake but also seemingly burning Tiger. And above it all, watching closely, is Dragon, still alive, but not seen since the opening meeting.

At this point, I’m starting to wonder if anyone will be able to succeed against Usagi, his growing legion of corpse friends, and his bottomless bag of underhanded tricks.

Juuni Taisen – 06

It’s a pretty good bet that anyone who gets a backstory on this show will probably be the next one to die. The last two weeks we got the stories of Monkey and Sheep, and get Horse’s this week. By episode’s end all three have bought the farm, just when all three are confident they have things well in hand.

Sharyu, a master of martial arts, doesn’t see anything particularly challenging about Usagi’s way of fighting…until it’s too late, and he seemingly uses a master-level move for the first time. But Usagi doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, he has the head of Snake up in a tree watching his back. Very slick. I’m sure we can expect Usagi to use Sharyu’s corpse to add to his zombie support group.

Like Sharyu, Hitsujii approaches Tora and thinks she’s weak and not a threat to him. After all, she’s just lounging around getting sloshed. Little does he know she’s a famous “drunken master”, despite her looks, and wastes no time killing him while his guard is down. With six warriors now dead, the bidding is open for the faceless rich people to choose who will win; an aspect of the show that remains the least interesting.

Then there’s Uuma, Warrior of the Horse. He survived Ox’s onslaught thanks to his life of making his body an impenetrable suit of armor, but has lost the will to fight and holes up in a super-secure bank vault.

Nezumi, being a rat, is still able to slip in, and hides there for a moment from the pursuing Zombie Snake. Nezumi warns Uuma that the vault is no longer safe, and simply surviving is the same as being dead, but Uuma pays him no mind.

Still, the Rat’s words irk Horse, who gets so lost in his thoughts by the time he realizes Snake is burning down the entire bank with him in it, it’s too late; his body can handle the heat, but there’s no oxygen to feed that body.

Assuming he doesn’t survive (though he’s a tough dude; who knows), that leaves five warriors: Rat, Tiger, Dragon, Rabbit…and Ox, with six episodes remaining. All in all, an efficient, focused, and satisfying outing to mark the halfway point.

 

Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.

Juuni Taisen – 04

Only a quarter into Juuni Taisen, at least four warriors had fallen (we learn Horse may still be alive; maybe Ox left his fight with him to take care of Niwatori last week). This week, we get Monkey/Sharyu’s backstory, indicating she may be next.

But she’s not…at least not this week. The four front-loaded kills so far give the show a chance to slow down and paint the picture of who the Warrior of the Monkey is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.

Yuuki Misaki, as she is also known, was trained by a triad of monkey elders who never argue in the art of changing the state of whatever she wills. While that’s demonstrated as turning stone to sand, she uses her skills to turn war into peace.

Responsible for hundreds of ceasefires and prevented civil wars, Sharyu can honestly state she may well have saved more people than anyone else in the world. Nezumi at least knows her as this, and even believes it was Sharyu’s unblinking optimism that “weakened” Niwatori to her death.

On the flip side, having saved so many means she’s also failed to save more than anyone else alive. Things don’t always go as she plans, and the result is often bloodshed and other atrocities, in some cases more intense then had she not intervened or held negotiations.

What does she do? Well, Misaki doesn’t seem to blame or torture herself, for one. She takes the defeats in stride, along with the victories. She retires to her perfectly normal home life with her husband, who wishes she’d just give up the fight and live a full life with him. Misaki understands, but makes it clear: he knows what he got into, and if he truly loves her, he must fight his own battle as she fights hers.

Back in the present, after scolding Nezumi to not “sell platitudes short, little boy” (he thinks she’s a naive idealist, but she thinks he’s naive, since he’s seen so much less of the world than she has), Sharyu spots a zombie bird; necromanced by Usagi along with all the other birds Niwatori killed last week. The flock chases Sharyu and Nezumi, forcing them to the surface.

Waiting there is Usagi, proving Niwatori right in her assertion he and Ox are the most dangerous warriors. Were it not for Sharyu’s quick reflexes, mobility, and speed, Zombie Snake would have sliced her in two as soon as she emerged from the manhole.

Instead, Nezumi takes on Snake while Sharyu accepts Usagi’s challenge. She may be a pacifist, but she’ll fight if she must, and she really must here. Will Usagi’s reign of terror continue? Will Sharyu and Nezumi end up as macabre additions to Usagi’s collection of zombie thralls? Or is there hope, however small, that Sharyu can end the fighting with words? If anyone pull it off, it’s her. On the other hand, Usagi’s pretty psycho…

Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.