Last stand of the Gin brigade.
Everything Shinjyu-sama touches breaks.
It’s hard to write about this anime without getting into the meta-narrative, which is to say, nearly everyone who watched the prequel knew what was going to happen. It’s likely a rare person who watched the prequel before the main, and the main series gave away the game: Minowa Gin was nowhere to be found, Sonoko was broken beyond belief, and Sumi would lose her memories along with the use of her legs. The tragedy was known from the beginning, which makes it hard to judge this as a standalone piece. And should it be? Most people did not experience it as such. So let’s judge it within that context.
Humans open themselves up to the possibility of pain and loss in fiction for the cathartic experience; to see others suffer makes us feel alive. But it’s a rare individual that opens themselves up to the punch, which is why uncertainty and surprise are huge elements of the equation most of the time. Stories can be done well when a character is fated to die, but they have to lean into it, and Washio Sumi no Shou did—well, it did that in part. I went back and forth as to whether all the death flags for Gin, especially during episode three and four, were too much or not enough. If they were trying to maintain the surprise (for the rare viewer who doesn’t know what’s coming), they were too much; if they were trying to rub it in for viewers who knew Gin would die, it was either the right amount or not enough. Your mileage may vary. Personally, I would have given up the game and gone all in on death flags, rubbing it in again and again and again, so that the viewer would never be allowed to forget that this girl would die, and what that would mean. Punch the viewer over and over, so that when the time comes they have all their shields up—and then do a death scene that punches each of those bruises mercilessly. The death scene they gave us was pretty good. I would have gone farther, but I have no complaints about what we got.
And even if we knew she would die, the emotions expressed by the other characters, both Sumi and Sonoko and Sensei and most of all Tetsuo, Gin’s younger brother, were raw enough to drive the knife home. Which is right and proper, because character deaths are so often about the people left behind more than the one who dies; the dead, after all, are in a place beyond having to care. The issue was that, with only two episodes to grieve for Gin, introduce the new hero system, maim Sumi, and completely break Sonoko, it ended up far, faaaar more rushed than the two episodes spent killing Gin. It needed another episode at minimum, maybe two. Episodes three and four were the most focused, and therefore the best. There was little emotion in episode six, for our shields were up and they didn’t pound them mercilessly enough. It suffered for it.
The sum total was a show that I had a hard time watching; past episode three, I knew it was going to get rough, and I could never find a time I wanted to watch just one episode of the tragedy roulette. So I saved them and watched the last three all in a run. Humans shield themselves from pain they know is coming, which is why the original Yuuki Yuuna was so effective—we didn’t know what was coming at all. Six episodes (or three movies, as they originally aired) also has the downside of directly translating into a three act structure, so we knew precisely when Gin would die (end of episode four), and when Sonoko and Sumi would be maimed (episode six). This would have been a difficult show for me, the guy who only blogs shows with optimistic worldviews, to cover weekly. While the original Yuuki Yuuna was dark, its worldview never dived into outright pessimism (Mimori’s did, but the show’s did not), mostly on the back of the titular Yuuki Yuuna. This prequel had no one in that role. It was pain all the way down.
As a prequel for the main series for someone who’s season the original, it was fine. The Gin death hit home, even if the Sonoko/Sumi maiming did not. It will likely enhance the sequel solely due to the work they put in on Sonoko, though, since we knew little of her before and a lot about her now. As a standalone series for someone who hadn’t seen the original, it probably fared better, though at the expense of lessening the impact of the original (not knowing why Mimori had three spirits, or who the shattered Sonoko was, or what Mankai does were big reasons for the original’s effectiveness). In the end, this was a flawed piece, and probably not exactly necessary for fans of the series. I do think it could end up making the sequel a little better, though, which is what I’m really on board for.
I’ll be doing at least an intro post to the sequel next week, and there’s a greater chance I’ll blog all six episodes than there was with this prequel. We’ll see though. Tune in next week to see what the sequel’s got.
- This series is another example of an old argument of mine, of using OPs & EDs properly (or, in this case, not). The tonal shift between the end of episode four and the ED was horrible, it yanks the viewer right out of the grief, whereas the images were relatively well (they rub it in that Gin is gone). Imagine if a mournful song was used instead, or even the same song done in a minor key. Speaking of making it sound eerie, imagine if they took Gin out of every scene in the episode five OP. Leave the scenes in, just take her out. It would be eerie, to see this path where once Gin walked, or to see the scenes with the three girls off-kilter, because now there are only two. It’s an extra detail that can really elevate an episode.
- It’s buck wild that they changed the girl’s weapons without any training. A bow and arrow is not the same as a rifle!
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