「オルタスI」 (Orutasu I)
Well, isn’t this a convenient time for me to return? Fresh from the burial of a significant main character, Kaminai pushes its world-building narrative forward, revealing a world split (unintended pun) in so many ways. There still exist a large number of faults with the writing that would’ve probably made Stilts cringe, but this episode introduces some interesting symbols into the mix that give life and history to this death-ridden world.
Putting aside the fact that nobody has noticed the presence of two Gravekeepers in this huge city, guards and captains included, even though Kiriko (Tetsuya Kakihara) was able to notice at first glance, Ortus is an interesting place. Located presumably in the Francophone speaking region of Western Europe, it is remarkable that a city of this immense size could stay stable and peaceful in regards to the nature of its ever-degenerating population. In contrast to what you’d expect of a zombie town, Ortus is well maintained and orderly, with signs of culture such as plays and churches still very much active. The populace is ever active and mobile, and despite the need for the city’s inhabitants to wear masks to presumably hide their mortality, the friendly nature of the city is unhindered.
A particularly interesting note lies with the three major landmarks of Ortus, each with their own message about the city. The first we are prominently introduced to is the huge incomplete tower that looms over the otherwise well-maintained city. At least for myself, this tower reminds me of the Tower of Babel, a biblical structure that represented humanity’s failed desire to reach heaven directly from Earth. Those who are familiar with the story know how it ends–before the completion of the tower, God scatters the people of Babel across Earth and created separate languages for each group as to prevent them from rejoining one another to complete the tower. Perhaps the structure in Ortus serves as an unavoidable reminder of the curse that God placed on the world, of the abandonment and denial that their old deity placed upon them. While I myself probably would hate to be reminded of that every day, perhaps its constant reminder keeps the dead (and distant observers) in constant perspective of their current situation.
With this in mind, the second landmark–the main gate of Ortus–brings some interesting meaning to the table. When we are first introduced to the gate midway through the episode, with it is accompanied the images of many a Gravekeeper’s spear, presumably signifying the graves of their former owners. This display, along with the gate itself, shows no mercy to those who serve the grave, actively defying God’s will. While both Ai and Scar are in danger from this foreshadowing, it is Scar’s voices and slowly worsening condition that makes her situation all the more dire. Given how the show is unafraid of killing off characters, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Scar were to die off before the end of this arc. However, even more important than the gate itself is the monument to the “Idol of Death” above it.
Interestingly enough, the citizens of Ortus have not been jaded enough by irrational deities to not follow another one. I suppose in times of despair, it is comforting to take comfort in benevolent beings that promise you salvation, except the Idol of Death promises more protection from a forced deathbed than a reward in the afterlife. “She shall not allow the living to escape…she alone became the guardian of the dead.” states the last two lines of her description. Aside from providing more foreshadowing for the death of one of the main characters, it’s an interesting notion that the dead are actually being protected from the living/gravekeepers. In every type of zombie fiction (with perhaps exception to the recent Warm Bodies) , one singular notion always comes into play: humanity must survive at all costs against the zombie invasion. However, the tables are flipped here, where the dead have legitimacy to their existence, enough so that they have a rallying deity to unite their cause.
However, what deity at this point is to be trusted? How can the people of Ortus even know if this deity brings them the protection they desire? I’m sure the next few episodes will bring light to the topic, but already can we establish that something dark is looming behind all those masks people are wearing, specifically that of the princess. The third monument happens to be the government offices of Ortus, the gloomy looking castle that stands out from the otherwise warm-colored town, which houses the princess/savior of the dead. Instead of bringing universal hope, it seems that some people will not agree with this brooding plan–when Ai looks around the city in the morning, joy and wonder engulf her, but as soon as she lays eyes on that dreary castle, her expression displays concern. However, if I had to guess anything, the concern will ultimately not lie with what the princess will bring about, but rather what will happen to the princess herself, as is foreshadowed in the aptly named play, “The Idol of Murder and the Princess of the Dead.”
What new mysteries will the city of Ortus reveal to us in the next few episodes? Although hiccups in the story were distractions, I felt that the scope of the story brought some interesting plot points to put into motion, where the “chosen land for the dead” is the central theme. A new (and beautiful) adventure lies ahead in this massive city, and undoubtedly someone’s life will be put to rest by the end of it all. The question that now remains is who…and for what reasons will they die for.