It’s a tough time to be a big story in anime.
We’ve just had the conclusion of one anime that really suffered from its one-cour length, Red Data Girl – though it managed to be one of the better shows of the season anyway – and we’re staring right down the barrel of another in Arata Kangatari. When I was really getting into anime just after the turn of the Century, two-cour or longer series were pretty much the norm. I don’t know exactly when that changed – I didn’t really start to notice it until it was already fact, which leads me to think it was pretty gradual. I actually think things got a bit better after a nadir for longer series, with a small recovery peaking last Spring and Fall – but the landscape today still sees far fewer multi-cour shows by percentage than we saw ten or even five years ago.
It’s easy to guess why – it’s really all about risk. Less episodes means less committed money, but of course, when a show is a hit it means less Blu-rays too. The problem is, successful shows can always get sequels (which don’t always commercially succeed to the same degree) but unlike in American TV, anime effectively never get cancelled mid-stream because the production is so far advanced that the money is already spent. It is what it is, but that doesn’t make me any less sad in watching shows like RDG and Arata and thinking about what might have been.
We’re at a curious point in Arata Kangatari now, in fact, because while some of what’s being skipped is clear, there’s actually stuff being added – and hints of various events that superficially would seem to have no chance whatever to be animated in the next three episodes. I’m left with the impression that we’re going to be looking at a strange melange of events over the next three weeks, with Akachi, Hiruko and Yorunami all having a piece of the pie – when in fact, they’re focus characters at different points in the manga. And the overall main narrative is surprisingly still very close to where it would be at this point in the manga (somewhere around 15-20% of the way in) and we still have the Arata in Tokyo scenario playing out, now with one of the Six Sho running around (though not on the track team) in Kadowaki’s body.
What’s interesting – and welcome – is that this episode actually did more to elaborate on the backstory between Hinohara and Kadowaki than the manga did, believe it or not. I was a bit surprised at the reaction to Kadowaki last week – apparently a lot of readers/viewers don’t care for him, and I suppose for those folks this ep won’t change much. I always thought he was quite an appealing baddie, because of his menacing character design and the fact that he’s driven almost completely by pure, helpless anger. I liked the way this episode captured the essence of the relationship in Watase’s writing but gave it a more approachable form. Effectively, Kadowaki was fine as long as he could be the alpha-male in the friendship (rank is a hugely important part of adolescent relationships for guys). As soon as Hinohara felt sorry for him, he unwittingly flipped the entire relationship on its head. By doing so he placed himself above Kadowaki and made himself the lead dog, and – already feeling neutered and impotent because of his humiliating home life – that was the one thing Kadowaki couldn’t tolerate. It might seem like thin gruel to fuel this much rage, but frustrated teenage boys are pretty angry creatures to begin with.
The other nice side of this is that we got to see Hinohara really let his rage out for the first time. If Kadowaki is driven by anger, Hinohara has been driven by fear. He’s suffered from the high-school equivalent of combat fatigue, basically becoming a hikikomori because of what Kadowaki and his henchmen did to him. If he unwittingly made Kadowaki feel powerless, Kadowaki quite intentionally did it to him – and finally, with a powerful weapon in his hand, he has a way to stand up to him if only he can believe in himself long enough. Alas, this leads to the "demonizing" of Tsukuyo (and at last the arrival of Okamoto Nobuhiko in his more traditional voice) – a process that’s already happened with Orochi, making Kadowaki the perfect wielder – and only Kotoha’s intervention keeps Hinohara from losing himself to the darkness altogether.
The other interesting element of the episode is Kannagi’s role. When Hinohara is shocked and withdrawn after the confrontation, Kannagi sees his chance and steals Tsukuyo, only to realize that once the Sho has chosen its master, it isn’t simply a matter of taking the Hayagmi and fleeing with it. Kannagi seems to have accepted that Hinohara is the only one who can fulfill a needed role that he himself cannot, and appoints himself to try and drive the boy out of his funk. This is the crux of Hinohara’s character, really – he’s always his own worst enemy, and too nice for his own good. With the truth of his identity now no longer a secret from Kotoha, she too faces a choice about what’s important to her, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice for a person she now realizes she’s only known for a few weeks.