「魔眼の牢獄」 (Magan no Rougoku)
“The Evil Eye’s Prison”
Who would’ve thought that this would turn out to be one of the sleepers of the season? Ever since the second episode, this series has far exceeded my expectations for a high school comedy set in a fictional alternate universe where the Tokugawa shogunate won the Boshin War (unlike in Hakuouki), and now it goes a step above that by mixing in a fair degree of interesting plot to go with all the laughs thus far. Bringing all that together are Hobby Japan’s very attractive character designs, and ARMS studio’s production work that never ceases to amaze me with the amount of detail that goes into the distant shots. Normally, that’s when studios have an opportunity to skimp, but ARMS somehow keeps all the character faces looking proper regardless. It’s something that actually goes a long way when picking out interesting screen captures to take. As for the plot itself, it was pretty much expected that Yukimura, Sen, and the others would try to save Jubei and Muneakira from becoming guinea pigs for Yoshihiko’s master samurai experiments. Things progressed steadily towards that with an added obstacle from the effects of Gisen’s evil eye that had seized Muneakira’s will, for which Yukimura and Sen pulled a spirit resonance type of technique to protect their general. It was actually kind of cool to see them fighting in that empty white vacuum, especially when Yukimura burst onto the scene to put a stop to Gisen’s mind games. However, the real surprise came from Nia, who was sympathetic towards the unwavering loyalty that Yukimura showed towards Muneakira and her unilateral concern for his well-being. As a true samurai with her honor to uphold, she did something that I wasn’t expecting at all — disobey Yoshihiko’s orders to kill Yukimura and Sen.
For now, what will come from her betrayal remains to be seen in the grand scheme of things, albeit she did leave a lasting positive impression of her character right away. It may not have been much, but I felt it added quite a bit of depth to her as well, after seeing her resist Yoshihiko’s control over her with tears in her eyes. Despite being fairly brief, that development sure wasn’t a dimension to this series that I was expecting given the lighthearted nature of it up until now. It was a very welcomed one though, as it coincided with Yukimura and Sen’s confession to Muneakira to get him to wake up from his mental prison. The confessions themselves were brought about in an interesting way as well, in that they didn’t seem out of place given how the girls were uneasy about admitting their feelings, and didn’t sound so forced or unnatural to the point that the seriousness of them were put to waste. While they still weren’t anything overly profound compared to other series, they did tie in well with the overarching plot about the lack of natural master samurai as of late. Namely, the girls surmised that it’s due the lack of befitting generals who form genuine loving bonds with their samurai to awaken their abilities, rather than using them as some disposable shield that’s easily replaced. It’s undoubtedly an overused theme — love conquers all — except it’s actually refreshing to have it in a samurai context. In fact, I’m curious to know if there will be any further development in that regard in these late stages of the series.
With only two episodes left and the preview suggesting that Muneakira’s kiss to Jubei will unleash her master samurai self to wreck havoc on Yoshihiko’s inhumane experiments, it doesn’t leave a lot of room to pursue the shadow over Japan, Amakusa Shirou. In addition, the next episode title suggests that we’ll be delving more into Nia’s side of things, which is a welcomed development in my books after her honorable betrayal here. The only problem is that it doesn’t leave any time for anything else, and reiterates to me that a second season is in order to depict the rest of the story. Hopefully we’ll see one, sooner rather than later.