Change is the air, finally.
This was probably the most interesting episode of Arata Kangatari so far – both in its own terms, and because it’s where we’re finally seeing some deviation from the manga. The anime is half over – as for the manga who knows (it’s about to release its 19th volume, with no signs that Watase-sensei is slowing down). This presents some interesting dilemmas both for the anime staff and for fans of the series.
Fans of Watase Yuu know that she can be surprisingly dark and grim – character armor doesn’t always apply where you think it might, and she confronts some pretty intense themes under her pretty exteriors. We got a little taste of that early on with Hinohara’s bullying issues at school – not to the extent that we did in the manga, sadly, but there’s still a part of that story to be told. And happily, it looks as if the anime will be devoting some time to Arata’s storyline next week, shedding further light on those events. They’re important on their own terms – it’s Arata’s main chance to shine as a character – but also because to understand Hinohara, you really need to understand the trauma that made him who he is.
Another thing Watase Yuu veterans know is that she has a tendency to give deep backstories to characters who appear to be minor players or even villains, and that poignant and powerful emotions in her series can come from places where you don’t expect them. The story of Ohika (Konishi Katsuyuki) is a pretty hard-hitting one. He shows his honor when he refuses to believe the charges Akachi levels against his Lord, Kannagi, and says that even if they were true he would stay loyal and share Kannagi’s punishment rather than forsake his master. Judging by what we saw (in aftermath only) last week, it seems likely that all of Kannagi’s other Zokusho responded the same way – which reinforces both the notion that Kannagi inspired a fierce loyalty in his retainers, and that all of them suffered the same fate Ohika did.
And that fate is a brutal one – even after Ohika’s agreeing to submit his Hayagmi to Akachi in order to spare his wife and household, Akachi betrays his promise and kills two servants and even Ohika’s pregnant wife, Fuyu. This all happens as Hinohara hides and watches, helpless – and he remains helpless as Kannagi arrives on the scene and does battle with Akachi in a rage over what’s happened. For Hinohara the hesitation is understandable – Kannagi is the one who killed the Princess, framed him for the crime and had him sent to Gotoya. Yet everything he’s seen in Kannagi’s domains, especially at Ohika’s compound, shakes his belief in what he believes to be the truth. In the end, Kannaga has his Hayagami, Homura, forcibly taken from him and seems a broken man as Akachi leaves him to survive and suffer over his loss.
Watase-sensei is very good – deceptively so – at making us believe we know what’s happening and who her characters are, then pulling the rug out from under us. I’m not going to say a whole lot for now about the obvious Kannagi and Akachi backstory the anime is hinting at, because it’s being hinted at a lot earlier in the anime and there’s just no way to know how much of it they plan to cover. Suffice to say it’s a very good one, and the anime has already made it obvious that they were once very close, and share regrets over someone named Emisu. It also seems very likely based on this episode that the anime has eliminated a second-tier but fairly important character but again, I’ll leave that where it lies for the moment.
As of now, what’s critical is that Hinohara is facing another crisis of belief – in what he sees around him, but mostly in himself. This element of finally confronting his fears and not running away is perhaps Watase’s broad attempt at a classic shounen trope, but it’s essential to Hinohara’s character. He has to decide what kind of future he wishes to pursue inside Amawakuni, where he’s been asked by the Princess to rule the land yet wants to harm no one – rather a problem with the world of the Sho appears to be an "eat or be eaten" scenario. Hope arrives, however, in the notion of an old legend Kotoha recalls, where one Hayagami might have the ability not to force others to submit by force, but to have them submit willingly (as Tsutsuga did, in fact). The details of this are still unclear, but the name of the sword is Tsukuyo – and the utterance of that name appears to have a profound impact on Hinohara’s Hayagami. One that does not go unnoticed by interested observers, near and far…
(Note: Arata Kangatari will be on hiatus next week as it’s pre-empted by a table tennis tournament)