“The Imperial Capital”
I’m split between wanting the plot to develop faster, and wanting it to take its time.
Starting Slow—For Better, or for Worse
Since I finally started the original Utawarerumono (update on my impressions below), I can begin to compare them. And in having watched the first five episodes of the original, a stark difference shows itself. Several, to be truthful, but one in particular struck me. By the fourth episode of the original, the plot was already appreciably moving, and any character development we got was while things were happening. Here, it still feels like things are building up, and I’m torn on whether I like that or not.
On the one hand, the plot up to this point in the original was more simplistic. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t watched it, but it’s a basic premise that has played out plenty of times, both in medieval-style fantasy fiction and in reality. The plot in Itsuwari no Kamen is harder to nail down. Partially because it still doesn’t feel like it has begun, though there are shades of it ramping up, but also because I have a feeling it won’t be as simple as the base, beginning plot of Utawarerumono was. Which I like, but it has risks!
I’ll use a book example. In my Overlord END post, I mentioned that I had just finished Throne of Glass. Since then, I’ve read the second in that series, Crown of Midnight, which was better in a lot of ways (author Sarah J. Maas really puts her characters through the wringer)—and yet, I find myself having trouble defining precisely what happened, a problem I didn’t have in the first book. The reason is structure. The structure of Throne of Glass was simple—there’s a contest, the main character needs to win it, dastardly stuff starts happening on the side. That structure underlines everything the book does, making it easier to internalize. In contrast, the structure of the second book is far looser, which made it harder to grab a hold of, despite the greater strength of the character moments.
Itsuwari no Kamen strikes me as a story that may follow the same path. Granted, I might be jumping the gun here—it could launch into a fairly typical quest next episode, and was just building to it slowly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the storytellers are trying to do something more ambitious, or at least less typical, with the structure that undergirds the story. Which sounds like praise, but let me be clear—a little structure is not a bad thing. Either way, now we’ll get to see how prophetic I end up being, or how completely wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time for either.
Character Development Before Plot
I mentioned before that in the original, it felt like the character development was happening while the plot was progressing, whereas here it feels like the two are almost separate. This episode was all character development, particularly for Nekone (Minase Inori), but also for Haku as well. But no, that’s not right—it’s not that Haku received any development, but we received a crash course in Haku. And it kind of worked.
To be clear, it’s generally a better idea for character development to happen along the way, because taking time out to develop or illuminate character specifically, such as by giving Haku a random part-time job that I doubt he’ll keep, feels like a waste of sorts. But nearly every storytelling rule can be broken, and I think this episode ended up working fairly well. Or if it didn’t, I still found the dive into Haku’s character interesting.
The reasons Hakuoro attracted love and admiration were obvious and immediate. Once again, it’s a story as old as time—the charismatic, stoic leader. Whereas with Haku, a more difficult path is being tread. I said last episode that Rurutie fell for Haku too quickly, and then this episode they tried to build up Haku’s strange charisma. I’m still trying to decide if they told us too much instead of showing it, but they kind of did both, and it kind of worked. Possibly because Haku does have a strange charisma, at least to the audience.
Haku embodies a unique kind of wish-fulfillment. Instead of being the Destined Hero, with a shining sword and a boisterous personality that the (stereotypical) gamer and anime fan is assumed to not possess (because all nerds are introverts, right? No, but quite a lot are), Haku seems more obtainable. He’s laid-back, even lazy. He has both traditional intelligence and emotional intelligence, the latter shown through how he has no problem asking for help, albeit perhaps a bit too readily at times. He’s well-balanced, and he doesn’t let pride get in his way. He admits what he doesn’t know, he doubts what doesn’t seem right, he doesn’t get into pointless fights, and he seems to empathize with people readily. He’s the hero an introverted procrastinator can see themselves becoming, because he doesn’t take the initiative readily, and yes, he has to be pushed forward on occasion, but if he has someone on hand who can help him with that, he can excel.
(By the way, there’s truth in people liking Haku more because be asks for help. People honestly like helping others out. Not constantly, and not without good cause (even if that cause is simply that they like ’em), but we do like to help others out. It makes us feel valued, which feels good, and that feeling is transferred to the person we helped. You’ll see this most of all when you’re asked (or you ask for) intelligent advice.)
Haku’s an odd character, and perhaps it’s good that they’re starting slower and deliberately showing us what makes him tick. Without a readily available archetype to base him off of, we need to know him, not just people like him, for anything that follows to work.
Fun Times in the Capital
In between all the background development that’s (hopefully) shaping the story to come, we had plenty to enjoy in this episode in particular. Bath-time aficionado Kuon was fantastic, for several reasons, and I really don’t have to say more. But I will—Kuon best girl 4ever!! I also laughed at Rurutie’s yaoi shipping, though three times in one episode was probably beating that particular drum too hard (hur hur hur). Though as fanservice, it certainly did the job (those abs, DAMN!), and there was plenty for everyone.
On a less goofy note, Nekone is definitely kawaii as hell, and though her realization that she should lighten up and just become friends with people when she wants to was perhaps a bit too rapid as far as development goes (people don’t usually change their natures that quickly), it did lead to a sweet scene at the end. Fun times had by all.
Looking Ahead – Oshutoru’s Identity
I’m sure some viewers were wondering if Oshutoru was Hakuoro from the first series, but the reveal that he’s one in the same as Ukon would seem to put a
tail nail in that theory. (Or does it!?) It doesn’t lessen my curiosity in the least as to what the heck Oshutoru/Ukon is up to, though. That, and whether this emperor who has lived for centuries really is one person, and what that means for Haku and crew.
Original Utawarerumono Marathon Update (up through episode five):
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – It’s character development week for Nekone & Haku (also. Oshutoru). Plus bath-time fanatic Kuon & yaoi shipping Rurutie! #utawarerumono s2e4
- I like that both Haku and Kuon are in agreement about their relationship. Sure, that could change later on, but it’s nice seeing two people who have other shit to do other’n constant sexual tension. Not that that isn’t fun, but variety is nice.
- Perhaps the reason Haku’s character works for me is because I agree with so much of what he says. From it not being any fun if we knew what others were thinking (true—that’d be too easy) to it being a waste if you don’t enjoy life (pursue challenges and have fun!), this guy says nice things.
- I laughed when Haku revealed he’s illiterate! Which does make sense, even if Hakuoro never apparently had that problem (unless it was addressed “off-screen” in the original anime, i.e. in the game only). He did lose his memory, after all.
- Whereas the original series (up to this point) already felt like it was totally Hakuoro’s story, this season feels more like Haku’s and Kuon’s story. They feel more like equal protagonists.
My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: It depends, Momentum & mental space, The best content is in email, and My morning routine