「牛刀をもって鶏を裂く」 (Gyuutou o Motte Niwatori o Saku)
“Cutting a Chicken with a Beef Cleaver”
Everyone who saw this coming from a mile away was absolutely correct. With ordinance to the preview photo, the episode title, and the ED order, Niwatori ended up getting killed off. It would be inaccurate to say she was the next to go since it’s implied that Ushii might have killed Uuma off-screen, and Niwatori guaranteed that this would be the last time we’d see Inoushishi. Still, with the results of the last three episodes, it’d be easy to say that the main attraction of the show hasn’t been the unpredictable outcomes since the fate of characters with comprehensive backstories is outright revealed to us early on. In it’s defense, it does builds tension by keeping the viewer guessing about how they’ll go, and you won’t know if they meet their end with one assailant or another. The main problem with this episode specifically is that there’s only one conclusion to jump to with “Cutting a Chicken with a Beef Cleaver“. Possibly, they made this episode the easiest to predict so that they can throw a curve ball in the formula, but you might make a lot of money in a Juuni Taisen dead pool by predicting the obvious choices.
However, it’s flaws in predictability are made up in the storytelling and characterization of its cast. By the last 5 minutes, I was deeply invested in Niwatori because they had bought out so much in her within the span of the last couple episodes. Her backstory outlined how methodical she was during her assassination missions, and how she creative she can get with using birds to drop grenades on people. They didn’t give as much detail to her past as an amnesiac who was adopted by an assassin after she was found to have killed her parents, but we begin to understand her more through her actions in the present day. It’s nice how they don’t immediately make her psychotic, and have her keep up with her cutesy act even while going on the offensive in giving Inoushishi a gross sky burial via her birds or promising to dedicate a statue to Dotsuku. I got too attached, and by the time she faced off against Ushii, I thought for a second she had a chance to survive through her One Man Army buff only for that hope to be dashed right off the bat.
The most interesting part of the episode to me is the short, redemption arc she had after sitting down with Shuryuu and Nezumi. After settling in with their group, she hesitated to kill Shuryuu when she had the chance, and left in frustration. Her untimely demise also happened as a result of feeling protective over Shuryuu’s pacifist group, and refusing to let Ushii find them once his resolve to murder everyone was made clear. It gave Niwatori some depth as her interest in seeing Shuryuu’s mission come into fruition starts weighing on the idea she clung onto that she needed to backstab her way through the competition to win. In the end, she’s repulsed by Ushii’s admittance of wanting to backstab Shuryuu had he joined the group (In hindsight, it’s funny how after Usagi wants to join the pacifist group in the first episode, Ushii is the first to put his hand down following Niwatori).
It could be Niwatori’s own feelings, but it’d be believable if Shuryuu and Nezumi’s powers had anything to do with her change of heart. The anime has been vague about what the duo is capable of other than what their abilities imply. Nezumi’s “killing all” approach is the most mysterious as the power he’s had on people so far in giving them deja vu about his existence. In this episode, the most suspicious is Shuryuu’s “killing peacefully” method. We know she has diplomatic skills under her sleeve, but she might be able to exude a charm that makes negotiations come together more smoothly. Her influence on Niwatori would be simple to outline since her resolve ended up getting shaky when Nezumi started sleeping, when she drank Shuryuu’s tea, and after a long conversation with her. If Shuryuu can use her power through speech or consumables, she would definitely be able to cause Niwatori’s motivations to waver. If Shuryuu wanted to be malicious, then the feelings of passionate anger that Niwatori felt about Ushii wanting to threaten the pacifist group’s mission could definitely be linked towards Shuryuu’s power working against Niwatori’s survival instincts. “Killing peacefully” could easily mean the power to convince those that threaten her act as human targets to shield her from deeper threats, granting Shuryuu the ability to lead Niwatori to her demise to defend herself from Niwatori’s betrayal and stall any nearby foes.
As one of the more interesting characters, I’d hope that the next episode isn’t hinting that Shuryuu is going to be next. It’s foolish to say given my first point about the show making it clear whose going to leave next, but there is a sense of dread in the fact that she could be next to go, whether it’s by Ushii’s hand or by any wildcard assassin that shows up out of nowhere. Much like Niwatori, I have gotten quickly attached to Shuryuu’s character as an outright pacifist with possible tricks up her sleeve to help her out along the way, and her interactions with Nezumi have been nice to watch. Nonetheless, this peace is bound to end given the nature of the competition and the other competitors. They did such a good job at making Shuryuu look like both a cinnamon roll too pure for this competition and a suspicious person to watch out for that I feel like it wouldn’t be the same without her unique method of advancing through the Zodiac War. Hopefully, they’ll keep her around for a little longer, and, if not, at least give her something neat for her last hurrah.