Maybe all the meandering of the plot was to build up to this.
Splitting the party is bad for the party, good for the audience
Conclusions first: I enjoyed most of this episode. Conventionally, there comes a point in every story where all the odds are stacked against our heroes, and this is probably the time for Haku and gang. The two wars were just mostly just a mess, either just one side stomping the other, or nameless troops mashing together without much coherence. Itsuwari no Kamen is much better at handling the small scale than the large (more on this later), which is what they’re finally getting to now. After all those episodes dallying around Yamato, it’s about time that we get a payoff. And this is probably the best that we’ll get: finally, the country that has treated Haku so well, that seemed so nonchalant to all troubles while under the watch of its immortal emperor, is turning on itself. Splitting the party also helps, because keeping the gang together feels far too secure. I’d prefer a clearer sense that they were outnumbered, divided and hunted, though what we got was overall good enough. Special commendations to the soundtrack, which is one of the most consistently good things about Itsuwari no Kamen.
I also wish that the tension was maintained longer. While most of the episode did a competent job juggling comedic moments to break up the sphincter-clenching, it all sort of deflated at some point. It’s that persistent issue with Itsuwari no Kamen again; it just seems so loathe to commit. Come on, don’t stop here; make her shiv someone instead of having Big Bird intervene with a morality lesson like it was an episode of Sesame Street. I think it was exacerbated by having the climax of the episode too early with the Suddenly Kuon. While the cliffhanger we actually got was good as well, this one’s bigger. We’ve already seen Vurai go Super Saiyan and kill a lot of people; Kuon doing it should be much more significant and much more traumatic. In the end, it takes away from the rest of the episode. For example, Atui’s silent confrontation with her father didn’t feel as dramatic as it really should be, because Itsuwari no Kamen released a bit too much tension already.
A question of scope
I could keep picking at bits of the episode, but again since I liked it overall, let’s talk about some big picture ideas instead. I’ve come to a strange sort of conclusion lately; instead of Itsuwari no Kamen being too slow, didn’t it actually go to fast? That is, it tried to take on too many lines of plot and couldn’t see them all through to a proper conclusion. The war with Tusukuru mostly fizzled, the war with the barbarians was not really, Kuon, Rurutie and Atui all didn’t struggle nearly enough about the decision to betray their country and their families—I think it’s a matter of Itsuwari no Kamen not having a clear understanding of its scope. Generally, we can look at the fantasy world of Utawarerumono from three different levels: the individual, the national and the international. Itsuwari no Kamen tries all three—it focuses a lot on the characters living within Yamato, it gets into the domestic politics of Yamato, and also Yamato’s relationship with its neighbours (fights a few wars, etc). Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been very good at all of that, the large scale stuff in particular, but it does it anyway because, hey, Utawarerumono. Now that Itsuwari no Kamen has lost the ‘international’ stuff (until someone invades Yamato, at least; it’s a prime time to do so), I think it’s better for it.
One of the reasons why Itsuwari no Kamen seems to struggle with nailing down its scope, or just mixing it all together perfectly, may be because it has the misfortune of being the middle of a trilogy. For every Empire Strikes Back, there is an Attack of the Clones. Being the middle of a trilogy means it’s the middle of a larger story, which is very often the soft underbelly. The beginning and end is what writers think about the most, with the middle being a blurry thing they have to fill in later. That’s understandable; the beginning is where you have to start, and end is the climax and all the exciting stuff, and getting from one end to the other is work. So I don’t fault itsuwari no Kamen too much for being a bit over the place—but I do fault it. Even if you manage to link to act one, and build up for the act three, if you don’t tell your own story properly then that’s a failing.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. Hopefully, Itsuwari no Kamen is now over it’s own weak middle, and has a clear idea about its end. It has, at the very least, managed tie most ends of its plot to Haku. Unlike previous arcs, he’s clearly in the middle of the Great Escape. I hope he manages to do something heroic before the end.
Looking ahead – Oshutoru vs Vurai?
So the previews spoils Oshutoru getting his mask back. Why even take it from him in the first place? So that Vurai can have a, ‘BWAH, HONOURABLE COMBAT!’ moment? Are the two just going to throw down now? I smell collateral damage, unless Vurai just likes setting himself on fire for no reason. Good thing we’re in a stage of history where the lives of peasants aren’t worth anything.
I would, of course, prefer that Haku has some agency in the entire thing, since he is the protagonist. And Itsuwari no Kamen has been trumping up his competency and intelligence for a while now. This is a good time for him to impress.
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – Passerby is a capable and physically attractive blogger. We should really give him a raise #utaware s2e23
- Okay, so now that Yakutowaruto has, like Munechika, used his super move, does he die?
- Nosuri being fully competent is such a strange feeling.
- Of course, it helps that she has Lothlorien cloak technology.
- The less you like him, the more of him you’ll get. That seems to be how it works.
- It may look like a stupid gag at first, but keep in mind they were conjuring flames from their fingertips just a moment before.
Stilts’ first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for his email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: Superhot: Storytelling through gameplay, Deadpool: Tonal Balance Through Non-Linear Storytelling, Through their own flaws, and Look to the one before.