「二兎追う者は一兎も得ず」 (Nito Ou Mono wa Itto mo Ezu)
“The Man Who Chases Two Rabbits Catches Neither”
Man, did the budget get hit with the ugly stick. The last episode had some “quality” artwork, but most of the present-day scenes were animated in CG. The incorporation of 3D artwork into the show was seamless in past episodes, and they make sense in laborious action scenes, but it’s jarring to see scenes where Ushii is standing still, talking to Tora, and the lip flaps and head movements are as jerky as a video game cut scene with in-game models. And what on Earth is this!? I get that Dragon’s power can let him levitate, but it looks so ridiculous with the ice pack that he looks like Lifeform-Hojo N from Final Fantasy VII, and it doesn’t help that the 3D makes it look like he pumped the breaks to plop himself down to fight on Ushi/Tora’s level. As soon as Usagi used zombie Shuryuu’s strength to catapult him into the sky, that should’ve been a warning sign of how convoluted it would get to have Usagi insert himself into the fray, but the execution would’ve been easier to process if it didn’t look as sloppy.
The lack of pomp and circumstance to the character deaths is a double-edged sword in this episode especially. It was amusing to see just how BS it was for Dragon to get bisected right as he was about to enter the fray, and immediately after he caught his brother’s head in confusion. Some of the best dark comedy in Juuni Taisen is how absurd the situations are that got competitors killed like Hitsujii realizing what Tora’s drinking was for after hearing her killing method or Dotsuku finding out what a mistake it was to power up Niwatori. Beginning an episode with a character so pumped up about joining in the fight being taken out only a couple minutes into it by someone who showed up out of nowhere to mention how similar the situation is to the Moon Rabbit folklore is on-par with these moments
The downside to this is that Usagi is completely demolished by Ushii and Tora as soon as he starts fighting. It’s been established that Usagi isn’t that good of a fighter, and his success has been a combination of clever tactics using his necromantist powers and pure luck. Still, you’d think he would have more tricks up his sleeve since he’s been built up as a cunning psychopath. As others have said, he’s also the only character who hasn’t had any backstory or reasoning behind his existence. While he wouldn’t be as intimidating if we knew the ins and outs behind his character, it would’ve been nice to have a small nugget of what kind of life someone like him would’ve lead in a world where you aren’t slaughtering everyone around you.
Much of the present day scenes could’ve been better, but Episode 09 excelled the highest with Tora’s backstory. Her transition from a beloved role model at the local dojo to a soldier who had grown apathetic and blood-thirsty through her alcoholism was devastating, and highlights how her transition aligns with the lives and ideologies of her fellow combatants. If combatants such as Snake, Dragon, Niwatori, and Inou were meant to express what people are willing to do once they’ve become desensitized to cruelty and violence, Tora was intended on showing how far someone can fall after finding a way to numb themselves to the murder they commit. Her dependence on alcohol abuse to keep herself satisfied and cope with the battlefield becomes self-destructive as she’s disowned from her dojo, suffers memory loss, and picks up on animalistic impulses while she kills in a drunken rage.
Tora’s POV as a soldier could easily lend itself to the entire story in itself as we see numerous angles of the lingering affects of war, whether it’s Inou’s involvement with militias, Shuryuu’s anti-war negotiation efforts, Hitsujii’s arms-dealing, or even the entire premise of the Zodiac War in itself as a decider of world power. It doesn’t linger on politics as much, but Juuni Taisen is still a very political story that explores the socioeconomic impact that war has on the people and nations that are ravaged by conflict. Many of the combatants are involved directly behind-the-scenes through the war, but Tora’s perspective as a soldier in the front lines of war place her in a vulnerable position as someone who’s jaded view of society comes from how meaningless the death she’s seen truly is, and how much she’s relied on alcohol as an escape from the trauma she’s had to face in the line of gun-fire. Most of the contestants have a grandiose role in the wars committed throughout the years, but Tora’s fall from grace and ostracization are all too real for those who haven’t been able to shake off the aftereffects of the battlefield after coming home from war, and can only cope through unhealthy addictions as a result of the neglect they face once they’re back to their lives as civilians. That alone makes Tora’s story compelling in relation to the combatants who were involved with the sidelines of conflict.