Kino no Tabi – 07

Eating a hot dog reminds Kino of a time she once unsuccessfully tried to get one over on her Master, who was cooking hot dogs at the time. Kino then shares a story with Hermes that her Master shared with her, about a country with a big clock tower and, suspiciously, an even bigger police force.

When Master’s young male apprentice is framed for drug possession and locked up, and she is unable to bribe the dirty cop to let him go, Master uses some of her Apprentice’s infiltration equipment and uses an elaborate set of diversions in the form of city-wide trash can bombs to clear the jail of police and slip in wearing one of their uniforms.

The Apprentice knew she would come—like Kino, he knows very well how good she is—and the question is not can they leave, but how. Both Master and Apprentice agree to make a bang rather than sneak out; demonstrate their full power to an arrogant bully that could use a good nosebleed.

For three days and nights they hole up in the central clock tower, shooting any and all policemen who draw within range, but not killing anyone; only wounding them. They cause such a disturbance, the police start to lose their grip on the country, as the public and their leaders demand something be done.

Master and Apprentice do not relent as smaller and smaller formations of police form up at the base of the tower. All are scattered by gunfire, until the very petty-tyrant commanding officer who sat on his petty throne and told Master no price was high enough to free her companion, is now the one who must offer a price to the Master—and it better be high enough, or more bullets will rain down.

It’s a good story, and one I’d think was apocryphal were it not for the somewhat magical realist nature of Kino’s world. Not to mention it just makes sense that the woman who made Kino the kind of “traveler” she is would be that badass!

Kino just so happens to be in the neck of the woods of that Clock Tower Country, and when she arrives in the courtyard where many shots were once fired without taking a life, she finds a monument made from a door blown off one of the police trucks back then.

An old man with a cane and and a granddaughter explains to Kino and Hermes that the memorial is a tribute to the two “Travelers of Justice” whose brazen acts freed the people from a corrupt and oppressive law enforcement system by essentially wearing them down until they grew ashamed of their conduct and shaped up.

Kino and Hermes alike are a bit amused that the country took Master and her Apprentice’s actions in such high esteem, but was the Master simply keeping her skills sharp in service of escaping the country, or did she have grander plans for that three-day-and-night stand?

We’ll never know, nor will Kino, but after this black-and-white and sepia-tinged look back to the past, she turns Hermes around and continues forward, into that Beautiful World, to  make some history of her own.

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Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Kino no Tabi – 05

“Hero” is rarely a title rightly given to oneself; it must be earned and bestowed upon them by those who deem them a hero. And sometimes it’s not the hero’s choice; they just are a hero, because that’s what the people say. Kino runs into one of those people, a tour guide and true believer who fawns over the great hero of her people and gives them a tour of his modest house.

While in there, the tour guide tells Kino and Hermes a number of stories about the relics on display, like a shovel that let him plant flowers anywhere (that was probably for digging poop holes) or his special knife (which is just a souvenir from another country).

Finally, Kino and Hermes meet the hero’s motorrad, kept in perfect running condition, but not ridden since his master’s death. He’s in his version of Hell, and wants desperately to either be freed or destroyed. Kino can do neither; not without deeply offending the people. Would YOU want to get on the bad side of that tour guide? Nuh-uh.

However, before leaving town Kino is approached by a boy who dreams of being a traveler, like Kino and the hero of their country. Kino nudges the kid in the direction of the hero’s doomed motorrad, leaving it up to the kid whether he’d like to take it for a ride. I doubt he could ever go back if he did, though!

Upon entering the gates of another country (the only gate through which travelers can enter or exit, oddly enough), Kino and Hermes find themselves in a dark wood, out of which a man appears and, talking to them as if he knows them, asks if they’ve seen his lover or were sent to give him a message about her. The man’s maid/caretaker catches up to him and takes him back home.

Kino and Hermes go into town and get the skinny on the man from the folk at the inn: He was the hero of their revolution, who had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter. When the day of the revolution came, he launched a grenade at the escaping royal family’s car, killing them.

His actions secured liberty and a new government for the country, but the princess whom he’d slain turned out to be the farmer’s daughter. Wracked with grief and betrayal, the people say he went mad; and has had to be cared for by one caretaker after another.

For five years, he’s waited for his lover to return, and everyone keeps lying to him. Apparently no one wants to be the one to give him the bad news that she died, because they all say they’ll continue to lie until he dies or they do.

After helping the man’s caretaker get her wagon out of the mud, she offers them tea at the house the government built for the man. After sending him away by lying about an engine noise at the gate, she sits down with Kino and Hermes and tells them the truth: she is the princess, the royal family the man killed were body doubles, and her real family is safe and living comfortable lives out of danger.

Despite the man not knowing who she really is, the princess is still happy, and never wants things to change. The next day, when Kino and Hermes prepare to leave, the man runs out to meet them once more and tells them the truth: he’s not really crazy; he’s actually happy with things the way they are. Everyone in this country is happy lying to each other for their whole lives. I’m not sure if I should pity them or envy them.

Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 05

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Oshutaru/Ukon has taken a shine to Haku and Kuon, to the extent that he assigns them the very open-ended, important misssion of protecting the capital and the people “in his place”, which assumes he’s busy with other matters. Haku and Kuon are intrigued, and a big sack of money cements their acquiescence.

Haku then embarks on a strenuous cycle of manual labor by day and learning to read and write by night. Nekone is surprised to find how quickly he learns, but also comes to understand why her big brother is so interested in him.

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Just when Haku is at the end of his tether, Kuon awards him a day off for all of his hard work. Unfortunately, the same day he has off is the day one Atui-sama, daughter of Soyankekuru-sama, the Ouro of Shahharo, decides to run away from home seeking love.

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Atui may be a bit naive, but she’s a good enough character to trust Haku, who is indeed a good sport as he shows her around the city, all while she’s being hunted by Kiuru, an acquaintance of Nekone tasked with bringing Princess Atui home (though the arrows suggest a dead-or-alive scenario).

Hara Yumi, who also voiced Albedo in Overlord, brings a very distinctive affectation to the royal yet rebellious (and flirtatious) Atui. And whether by accident or by intention, Haku does manage to keep her safe.

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At the same time, Atui wrongly assumes Haku and Kuon are a couple; they are, but not the romantic type. Interestingly, Haku doesn’t seem to want to get involved with anyone, from Kuon and Rurutie to Atui.

When Kiuri, Atui, and the others meet up to discuss things, Atui decides to return home; she doesn’t wish to cause more trouble for anyone. She thanks Haku for a fun day beyond the palace walls.

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When Haku meets with Ukon, he tells him about a rumor spreading across the capital of “a man who hears the people’s voices, no matter how small.” Those rumors are actually about Haku, performing good deeds for his fellow capital-dwellers, while gradually gaining renown in return.

Haku agrees to go along with Ukon’s plan and be “The Righteous Man”, at least until a better-paying job shows up. Then Atui moves into the same inn where Haku and Kuon are staying. He may not know quite who he is (or was), but his allies continue to multiply.

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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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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 01 (First Impressions)

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From White Fox and the director of Jormungand and Katanagatari comes Utawareumono, a show that ably demonstrates less is more by starting off simply and not trying to do too much in its first episode, yet still utterly drawing me into its fantasy world. We’re dropped right into the same plight as the protagonist: we know not his name nor from whence he came, but neither does he. He just suddenly wakes up in the middle of an achingly gorgeous wintry landscape, barefoot and wearing simple green robes, and he has to run, first from a giant centipede, then a frightening goo monster with a face.

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Unsure of who he is, where he is, and what to do, a hand suddenly grabs him, and when its owner turns around to face him, he learns it’s a beautiful young woman. She introduces herself as Kuon once they’re safe, and appoints herself his guardian, as she considers herself responsible for his life now that she’s gone and saved it. She lends him warmer clothes and the two trudge through the winterscape towards a village.

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Along the way the as-of-yet no-named man learns Kuon has ears and a tail (the latter she’s very cross at him for touching), and Kuon learns the man doesn’t have much energy or stamina to go along with his amnesia. But I enjoyed the fast rapport they develop; Kuon is unflappably kind and patient, and their environs are, as I said, arrestingly pretty. The show has a stirring score, but when it eschews music for the silence of the place, I could really feel the cold, just I could feel the warmth of the campfire.

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When they arrive at the village, it’s an opportunity for Kuon to show Haku, as she officially names her (by the power vested in her as his guardian), other aspects of herself. She eats a huge amount of food in the form of the delicious-looking, fajita-esque spread she orders at the inn. She also has a bit of a mischievous streak in peeking in on Haku in the bath, which she soon regrets when he starts doing nude calisthenics, a scene for which you can tell the show didn’t skimp on the Foley artist.  In addition to bumping up her cuteness, her tail is also a good indicator of her mood. She even mixes up a salve for his blistered feet before he hits the hay. It’s all very pleasant domestic stuff.

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The next morning, Haku learns he’s not getting a free ride; if he wants to keep eating and staying at the inn, he needs to do his part. It’s here where Kuon learns Haku is, essentially, allergic to manual labor, and quite bad at it when forced to do it. However, he does show he can use his head and has a mind for machines when he fixes the waterwheel at the village mill. That achievement may have helped him find his niche, even if he only fixed the thing so he could sleep.

In all, this was a well-made and well-executed episode; a pleasure to watch. It reminded me a bit of Spice & Wolf in its immersive power; feeling like a nice, cozy blanket I can wrap myself up in. It’s actually a welcome change of pace from the more hectic Summer stuff I just got done watching. That being said, the cold close in which three men are attacked in the night by some kind of beast promises more action in the near future.

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