It feels like Itsuwari no Kamen is pulling its punches, when following through would work much better.
I feel like Itsuwari no Kamen is an example of half measures, and why you shouldn’t take them. If you don’t know what a half measure is, google it. Also, watch Breaking Bad. I haven’t finished the series myself, but I’ve seen the half measures episode, and it’s revelatory. Also see: Ron Swanson on whole-assing one thing, and on the wrong way to consume alcohol. The second link has no relevance on anything I’m saying, I just think it’s funny.
The biggest culprit this time was Aruruu and Kamyu’s plan to draw Kuon’s group away and turn back the Yamato supplies. The former element was fine, I have no problem with them trying to make sure their adoptive imouto doesn’t get killed in their attack. But they never attacked. I can imagine Kamyu not wanting to do it herself, but they didn’t even take the supplies, even though we saw Benawi doing exactly that in a still.
Why? Why do they keep holding out on the action? The people of Tusukuru aren’t saints. Viewers of the original series know that, but even here they show them harassing and stealing from Yamato. This is war, but Itsuwari no Kamen seems constitutionally unable to follow through with the themes it presents. Instead, it’s all fluff—pleasing fluff, funny fluff, but fluff nonetheless. And a man cannot survive on a diet of fluff alone. Not unless that’s what we go in expecting.
Penalized For Being Utawarerumono
Perhaps the greatest failing of Itsuwari no Kamen—and I realize it sounds like I’m delivering a postmortem before the season is over, but I’d like to lay this out there while the thought occurs—is that it’s an Utawarerumono series. That saddles it with certain expectations, some of which have to do with quality, but many of which have to do with story structure, theme, plot constructions, or mood. And the problem with expectations is that, when you violate them, people tend to end up angry. Even if the result is better than what the audience was expecting.
I’ll give you an example: The Wachowski Brothers’ 2008 Speed Racer movie. I recently watched it for the first time, and I loved it. It was like Redline where the love story swapped was out for a family friendly aesop, and also there was a monkey, a spunky kid, ridiculous car kung-fu action, and John Goodman beat up a ninja with wrestling. Yet the critical reception was terrible when it came out, because people expected a live action racing movie, and what they got was the purest distillation of an anime-by-way-of-Nickelodeon’s-color-palette aesthetic that watched more like the clichéd perception of an acid trip than a traditional movie watching experience. Expectations were violated—violently, in this case—and audiences hated it, even though I, for one, loved this movie. Though then again, I went into it knowing it was a live action anime, so I was expecting what I got. I just didn’t expect it to be so damn good.
In Itsuwari no Kamen, viewers went in expecting the same mix of elements we got in Utawarerumono. The strategy, war, and politics. The mysterious post-apocalyptic world. The light-hearted episodes sandwiched between the dramatic arcs. The bevy of beautiful kemonomimi girls who all wants to bang the main character. Not all of this is necessary—the harem, in particular, is entirely optional, and many viewers greeted its apparent lack with happiness—but many of those elements are non-negotiable. Itsuwari no Kamen didn’t need to be as arc-based as Utawarerumono was, that’s fine, but not having the drama at all is a deal-breaker. Hardly getting into the strategy and war until the second cour is a deal-breaker. So little focus on the mysterious world is a deal-breaker … as an Utawarerumono series.
But if Itsuwari no Kamen is being penalized in our perception for being an Utwarerumono series that doesn’t feel like an Utwarerumono series, it’s not alone. That’s one of the (many) reasons why the Star Wars prequels were so reviled, and why The Force Awakens is, I would argue, overrated at present. The big question is whether Itsuwari no Kamen is good on its own terms, and while I will wait until the final episode to render judgment on that, I can tell you now that it’s not looking good. It would take a doozy of a last few episodes. Even Tokyo Ravens, which radically improved in the final stretch, was up to full speed by this point.
Kuon’s Reason For Helping Yamato
Moving back to the episode at hand, while I did find all the fluffy elements duly amusing, the one part that was legitimately interesting was Kuon’s stated reason for helping Yamato. It’s not that she wants Yamato to win, it’s that she’s sure they’ll lose if they go toe-to-toe with Tusukuru in earnest, so she wants to stop the war before it comes to that for the sake of her friends in Yamato.
My first instinct is that war is messy and uncertain, and it’s pretty bold to say that with such confidence. Yet Kuon has seen Vurai rampage with the mask, and still she’s sure that Tusukuru will win. That’s bold, certainly, but she may be right. I still feel like there should be more tension between Kuon’s belief and Haku, who is now helping Munechika come up with a plan because … he’s the protagonist? Because for some reason Oshutoru, Munechika, and the princess trust him that much? That feels unearned as well. Whatever the case, at least Kuon hasn’t gone totally nuts.
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – A trip to Atui’s country, a chase after a wild Mukkuru, and suddenly Haku is leading Yamato military strategy. Wait, what? #utaware s2e19
- Too close, dude. That’s your grown-ass daughter, not a dakimakura.
- Little Atui was a tyrant, while older Atui is seriously endangering Haku’s life. Some things never change.
- If the kemonomimi humans have stories of cars, trains, planes, and space ships (these kinds of things are always travel related), I’m surprised they haven’t advanced further technologically. A big part of the challenge of inventing is getting it into your head that something might be possible. Is the emperor holding them back, or their mistaken belief that it’s magic? Hmm…
- If you’re good at defending fortresses, you probably know how to attack them, yes. That doesn’t mean you’re good at executing an attack. Knowledge isn’t the same as ability. Whoda thunk it, Dekoponpo is kind of an idiot.
- I also think Itsuwari no Kamen is hurt by holding back too much, probably because they were greenlit for two games and they wanted to save some material for the second one. That’s stupid. Use all your best material now, and trust you’ll come up with more by the time the next one is due. But that’s a dissertation for another day.
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: Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Introduction, What Star Wars: The Force Awakens did right, What Star Wars: The Force Awakens did wrong, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Conclusion.
Full-length images: 10.