「猪も七代目には豚になる」 (Inoshishi mo nana daime ni wa buta ni naru)
“Even Boars May Become Pigs After Seven Generations”
Picture this: You have an array of characters inspired by ancient lore tied to a death game where only one can walk home victorious. The winner gets the serum to a fatal poison they ingest at the beginning and one wish granted by a nefarious looking man. Sounds familiar, right? Well, how about all of this, except it’s written by NisiOisiN, the author of the Monogatari series and Katanagatari? Now you have Juuni Taisen!
As of the first episode, it doesn’t overtly resemble his other body of work. You’d be able to find shades of his clever writing peppered throughout the episode like the musclebound bunnyboy Usagi (Okamoto Nobuhiko) vehemently denying he’s responsible for the beheading of a contestant while he waves his bloody sword around, or how Usagi’s enthusiasm to join the pacifist group that Shuryuu (Hayami Saori) the Monkey proposes effectively discourages other contestants for wanting to join. Nonetheless, you’ll find that the first episode of Juuni Taisen has a lot more fun reveling in the violence, blood, and mayhem that is to be expected of a death game show.
On a visual front, the episode was effective in balancing out 2D and CGI with flying colors. Although some of the action uses 3D to render the physicality of the characters and their weapons, it all blends in so well that it never looks jarring or garish. It’s also a plus that they animate character movements smoothly while they use 2D. While the character designs of the anime don’t capture the unique qualities of the original LN illustrator Nakamura Hikaru of Arakawa Under the Bridge fame, the animation helps breathe life into their motion and actions as we are formerly introduced to the 12 characters, each representing a different animal of the Chinese zodiac.
A majority of this episode is told from the perspective of Inoushishi (Hikasa Yoko), but we learn so much about her within the span of the episode that it raised some strong death flags her way. Over the span of the episode’s time, we witness her backstory on why she became the contest’s representation of the Boar. Seeing her one-sided rivalry with her younger sister unfold as she encourages her to become addicted to murder as revenge for being chosen as the original Boar painted her an interesting choice for an unlikely villain protagonist. Even with her sister carrying around fox corpses, I couldn’t help but feel bad that she was far gone by the time she was coerced by her sister to fuel her desire to kill everything around her.
Though the competitive roughness of Inoushishi’s upbringing molded her into being tough and unsympathetic, her perspective also raises questions about what she knows about the other contestants. She has a high level of respect for veteran Ram Hitsujii (Cho) and Ushii (Umehara Yuuichirou), the Ox who is the favorite to win. She also has an unexplained contempt for Shuryuu and an unknown link to Nezumi (Horie Shun) the Rat. The plot enjoyed teasing us about why Nezumi and his voice are so familiar to Inoushishi, but the lack of details guarantee that we’ll learn why eventually.
That’s why it still came as a shock that she was fatally wounded so quickly when Usagi resurrected the corpse of the Snake to restrain her as he stabs her in the chest. Many viewers are already writing her off as dead, and from the looks of it, this just might be the end of the Boar. Glaring death flags aside, the mystery behind her familiarity with Nezumi lead me to second guess whether they were going through her backstory so quickly because they were going to kill her off or if they wanted us to get used to following her until she discovers who he is. If this really is the last we see of Inoushishi, we might just have to learn about her secrets from other characters.
As a result, this would be a great chance to shift points of view from episode to episode to keep things unpredictable as far as who is going to walk away with the victory. The standard death game anime tends to have the main character pre-designated as the victor, or at least the one to dissolve the game, but without a sole focus, it gives Juuni Taisen the golden opportunity to keep viewers completely in the dark about who’s perspective to latch onto. And if every character is as morally flawed as Inoushishi, it also begs to question which contestant would the audience be better off watching win? If someone must win, would there be anyone to really cheer for if they all have closets full of skeletons? What would a death game be like if there wasn’t a blank slate character who has their heart in the right place, and stands for positivity? Would we look at Fate/Stay Night or Battle Royale differently if there we didn’t follow someone who stood as the moral center of what the audience thinks about all the murder and carnage? Fate/Zero plays around with this premise, but Juuni Taisen is in just the right position to pull the wool over viewers’ eyes on who the winner will be, and who we want the winner to be. Usagi is growing on a large amount of viewers for his unusual personality and buff scantily clad appearance, but these contests often favor level-headed characters like Ushii. Shuryuu was the first person to call for pacifism which is usually either the traits of an MC or the first few to be eliminated, but it’s likely that she was planning a ruse given Inoushishi’s distaste. This could be a show where Inoushishi will either be saved and recover at the last minute, or be quickly disemboweled by Usagi. It could even be someone completely off our radar or visually unpleasing. The biggest pull of the series is in how unclearly defined details are at this point for a genre where the characters we’re supposed to love and hate are spelled out for us right away. There are many reasons you’d enjoy Juuni Taisen, but that alone will make the anime fascinating to follow up on weekly to see what they reveal next.
OP: 「ラプチャー」 (Rupture) by Panorama Panama Town