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.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

No. 6 11 (Fin)

Citizens of No. 6 start dying from the parasitic wasps within them. Shion and Rat have found Safu, but she’s become a medium for Elyurias, and while part of her remains to tell Shion she loves him, she isn’t quite Safu anymore. Rat sets a bomb on the main computer core and escapes with Shion, but Safu stays put. When the bomb blows, the prison begins to crumble, and is hastily evacuated. Both Nezumi and Rat are seriously wounded by gunfire from guards. Elyurias transforms into a giant wasp and spreads her power throughout No. 6, removing the infestation of wasps, tearing down the walls, and healing the guys. With eveything Shion hoped for accomplished, he and Nezumi go their separate ways, with Shion returning to a changed No. 6.

Eleven-episode runs can be killer for series with Really Big Ideas like No. 6. As the series progressed, it seemed unsure of how large a story to tell, and unsure how exactly to tell it. Episodes were spent with Nezumi and Rat just sitting around philosophizing. There’s a lot of exposition and lengthly explanation here, too. This was not a perfect ending, and I don’t think it was a great one, either. But it was pretty good.

I was disappointed that the guys came all that way to rescue Safu (though Rats primary goal was destroying the prison) only for her to say a few word and then basically die; she almost feels like a McGuffin. She’s obviously the kind of girl who knows who she loves no matter how little of him she actually sees, and Shion is a mess after Rat carries him off without her, having lost someone he had so much more to say to. But his pipe dream came true – in a deus ex machina, neat-little-package way kinda way. It had a definite ending, which is more than can be said of some 11-episode series.


Rating: 3

No. 6 10

Having gained access to the prison via capture, Shion and Nezumi must climb a mountain of dead and dying bodies in order to reach their ultimate destination. As they progress through the prison, Shion starts to hear Safu, and he becomes virtually possessed by a force that drives him towards her, making him calm, cold, and merciless to the security guards. He snaps out of the trance and the two meet up with Safu, as was planned by Elyurias.

Nezumi hopes beyond hope that the Shion he entered the prison will be the same one who leaves, but that grows less and less likely as he’s exposed to its visceral horrors. I can’t imagine why such unspeakably horrible measures need to be taken to preserve No. 6, and the systems in place seem to dwarf any possible human effort to oppose them. Of course, the power of Elyurias seems to be beyond the power of those who run No. 6. One would hope, that is.

This episode is full of quick, kinetic action sequences, as we finally get to see Nezumi do what he does best. But for all their efforts and good intentions, I can’t help but feel that Elyurias – whomever she/it is – may not be altogether benevolent herself, and that Shion and Safu are merely her instruments, carrying out her will without a shred of their own. If they were themselves, they certainly wouldn’t kill, and yet, here they are, killin’!


Rating: 3.5

No. 6 9

Those who run No.6 show just how evil they can be as they plow through the western district, indiscriminately killing and destroying. Nezumi begins enacting the plan to save Safu / bring No. 6 down, including luring a No. 6 official with Dogkeeper for info, then getting captured and sent to the correctional facility where Safu is. They and the others who survived and surrendered may soon wish they’d been killed back in town, from the looks of it.

Just in case you didn’t know: No. 6 is a bad, bad place run by bad, bad people. They massacre people outside the walls, scoop up whoever survived, then dump them into a big black void like garbagemen dumping trash into a landfill. It’s bleak, and it’s a scale of evil we haven’t yet seen, but here it is, with Nezumi and Shion right in the middle of it. I’d ask how they’re going to survive what seemed like a fall of, conservatively, several hundred feet, but oh well.

Between Rikiga’s side job as a pimp, dogkeeper’s ambiguous gender, Shion’s “serious” dreams for the perfect happy ending we know we’re not going to get, Safu waking up and attacking the lab techs, and the aforementioned dumping into a big cubist prison, it would seem like the buildup is just about complete. Which is good, because there are only two episodes left to wrap up all this loveliness. Oh yeah, Nezumi also sings, but I felt like it would have been more impactful without the reverb and accompaniment.


Rating: 3

No. 6 7

Ah, now this is more like it! Instead of characters, relationships and motivations all essentially milling around in a holding pattern as they seem to have done the past couple episodes, Shion finally has a reason to do something, Nezumi finally takes up a position, and, with four episodes left, we may be starting to see sunshine at the end of the pseudo-utopian corridor.

As I’ve said, I really like Safu. She’s pretty, she’s very bright, and she’s very forward and to-the-point where sex is concerned. Unfortunately, last week she was captured by DHS right when she was about to go after Shion. While bright, she underestimated the level of surveillance in No.6, as Shion’s mom’s house was bugged. Safu only has one brief scene this week, but that’s all we need to see that she’s in peril and in dire need of rescue. Whenever you wake up naked and suspended in liquid-filled glass tube in a lab, things are not going well (Just ask Bill Clinton).

Nezumi keeps the knowledge that Safu is imprisoned from Shion, at least initially. But despite his outward mocking and loathing of the white-haired mother hen, he starts scheming behind his back to save Safu himself, using the dogkeeper’s prison connections. I love his interaction with the dogkeeper here: we’ve never known why the two hate each other so much they’d wish each other dead, but they seem to have reached a truce here. Meanwhile, Shion finds out anyway, when he find’s Safu’s coat in a thrift store of all places. So he’s off to save her…alone.

After exchanging a “goodnight kiss” (on the lips?) that’s really a goodbye kiss, Shion is off. But Nezumi follows, and the two exchange punches, thankfully no more kisses, and Nezumi finally voices exactly what Shion means to him, going all the way back to when he saw him screaming from his balcony in a rainstorm. Shion is his savior, the reason he draws breath today. These two clearly have feelings for each other, and they have for a long time. But Safu still needs saving. They’ll save her together.


Rating: 3.5

No. 6 6

I like how Safu is walking around a cold, windless No. 6 with a look of contempt on her place. If it weren’t for her grandmother dying, Safu would never have returned to No. 6, and learned that Shion’s no longer there, but out in the West Block. When she learns this, she immediately declares her undying love for him and vows to track him down. But the security bureau have other ideas, and promptly detain her after she leaves Shion’s mom’s bakery.

I can safely say Safu is my favorite character in this series, and so it’s good to see more of her. The black-and-white-haired lovebirds have just gotten boring. They repeat the same arguments over and over; Nezumi is a totally static dickweed, and Shion is as plain and dull as his hair color, going on about developing a serum and breaking down the wall. It would be nice to see exciting stuff like that, but instead we get more odd couple bickering.

Great things have been done in eleven episodes before. AnoHana most recently. FLCL was only six episodes; Blue Submarine No. 6 only four. All of them did an infinitely better job telling a story in a limited time than this. The main characters are totally unlikable and they’re either too waffling or too weak to do anything. The only person who tries to take action – Safu – is immediately arrested. And when Nezumi gets word of this, does he tell Shion? ‘Course not. Give me a break, No. 6!


Rating: 2.5 

No. 6 3

Shion starts reacting unfavorably to his strange dark bruises, and Nezumi must operate to remove a pupa. In the process, Shion’s hair changes color and he gets strange pink strips all around his face and body. His friend aged rapidly before dying from the bee, but Shion survives, thanks to Nezumi, who saves his life for the second time.

Now Shion must come to grips with his new reality: he’s outside No.6, looking in. He can’t have the same mentality he had before. Nezumi doesn’t like the city one bit, and will gladly laugh heartily as it burns to the ground. Furthermore, he threatens Shion not to go crawling back there, or they’ll be enemies. While Nezumi has every right to be bitter considering how he was treated, Shion can’t quite be okay with him wishing for the city where his mom and friends live meeting a horrific fate.

In the meantime, we meet another resident of the real world, the “dogkeeper.” She politely stands by in amusement while Shion lays out his plan to warn the city about the killer parasitic bees. But his plan is full of holes. He won’t be warmly recieved if he goes back, especially looking the way he does. Heck, he may have blown it with Safu, too, what with his exile and new, punkish look.


Rating: 3.5