「どうしても叶えたいたったひとつの願いと割とそうでもない99の願い」 (Doushitemo Kanaetai Tatta Hitotsu no Negai to Wari to Sou demo Nai no Negai)
“The One Wish That Must Be Granted, and the Ninety-nine That Can Be Done Without “
The finale doesn’t make it a secret that Nezumi is supposed to be an underwhelming winner. Juuni Taisen thrived on the anticlimax of its fights, but the ultimate battle to the end is the internal war Nezumi faces as he mulls over the wishes he could have granted. Despite Duodecuple being one of the few wish-masters in fiction that allows you to wish for more wishes, Nezumi shot down so many of his own wishes that it took him away from his comfort zone.
Nezumi’s wish being to have his memories of the tournament erased is icing on the cake for the show’s dedication to anticlimax, but it is in-line with his personality throughout the war. His attitude throughout the outcome where he won was exhausted and apathetic to everyone around him, but his unluckier routes had him stare death in the face with terror and shock. He would have a traumatic breakdown wanting to forget all of this happened knowing that he is almost as traumatized by conflict as Uuma was. It is disappointing in hindsight, but the writers put more thought into the outcome and ending of the tournament than the war itself.
What made this episode shine was how in-depth it went into what Nezumi was able to gather from the experiences his powers give him. It went into some of the funnier results of his abilities like how he got rejected by a girl he liked in every reality he could travel to, as well as the results of some of his pettier wishes like getting rid of his classmates or flipping a girl’s skirt.
However, the most fascinating experiences Nezumi gathered from his powers was his memories from other timelines about the other combatants wishes from when he aligned with different people. It was interesting to get insight about the warriors selected for the war, and how normal most of their wishes were. Each revealed the true nature of the warriors such as Uuma’s insecurities causing him to want to seek out talent, the Twins lying about really wanting money over anything else, and Tora wanting to use her wish to be with Ushii. Some were out for self-interest such as Tsujii yearning for eternal youth now that he’s started to appreciate life, Inou’s hilarious wish for a harem of 3.5 billion men, and Usagi’s ominous wish to “be friends with everyone in the world“. Some hoped to use wishes to find inner peace such as Dotsuku wanting to take care of his adoptive daughter or Niwatori hoping for confidence in her own decisions, enough so for Nezumi to ask if she should instead wish for life away from being a warrior. We even understand from Nezumi’s initial ideas what his mindset is in that he regrets not having seen Misaki’s wishes for peace through, and contemplates bringing her back or using her wishes. What this episode does with flying colors is give depth to the warriors of the tournament, and offers some insight on who Nezumi is as a person.
Juuni Taisen most valuable asset is avoiding a main problem that aligns with most death game anime; the end game. For example, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. As someone who enjoyed the series, every episode was a nail-biter, especially when the present day death game was paired up with the DR2 cast’s origin story. However, when you see the big twist around Episode 12, the entire show unravels and becomes a lot more disappointing in hindsight. Or Mirai Nikki’s transformation into wonky science-fiction territory by the time you get near the end point. So much investment is put into the build-up and twists in the middle that by the end of these kinds of shows, the ending is always forced, hackneyed, or sloppy.
Sometimes that’s the intention, like how the anticlimax of Fate/Zero’s ending is to evoke how much nastier this Holy Grail War is compared to the one that Shiro eventually takes part in for Stay Night, and how Shiro would come to prevent something like this from happening again. Nonetheless, Fate/Zero is probably one of the couple tournament stories where they have every right to focus more on the fights than the end game because that particular Holy Grail War was meant to be violent and relatively pointless in the long run. For other stories with similar premises, it plays off more like the writer didn’t put much thought into a proper ending.
With Juuni Taisen, it avoids this problem outright by placing Nezumi’s unexplained powers at the end of the finish line as a valuable pay-off for investing in the story. Throughout the show, they play with your expectations by scattering random kernels around to second-guess what you thought the outcome would be. Questions like “Will Nezumi use his powers now?”, “How is this person going to die?”, and “Is Nezumi not going to be the only person to make it out?” run wild.
Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, especially because the show still places its stakes much higher. As they give you the character’s extended backstory, it ties you closer to the characters, and makes it all the more painful when it’s their time to go. NisioIsin also helps to flesh out the lore of the world through the cast’s relationship with the world around them. Each of the competitors are shaped and molded by warfare, and all have their own experiences and ethos decided based on whether they were mediators, soldiers, generals, opportunists, or puppetmasters on the battlefield. In the process, it also made many of the competitors such as Misaki, Tora, and Ushii sympathetic and meaningful characters. Nezumi’s powers themselves open up another can of worms about the possibility of seeing timelines where we learn more about the cast based on how they interact with him. For instance, learning that Usagi would’ve been great friends with Nezumi adds more to his character as well as the idea that Usagi, Ushii, and Tora had won the tournament in other timelines, giving us the chance to imagine how differently thing could’ve gone with those three as the winners. The finale does this wonderfully by outlining how different the wishes of the combatants are compared to their outward appearances.
A big elephant in the room that throws a wrench in all of this is having the knowledge of exactly the outcome of the tournament. While it does conceptualize the idea of reprogramming the question of “Who will die” into “How will they die?” it also renders showing us the entire tournament meaningless. If you’re under the mentality of the journey being more worthwhile than the destination, this is not the show for you because the OP sequence and death order make it glaringly obvious what the outcome will be and why the rest of the characters are able to recognize Nezumi. People were predicting this very early on, and kept bringing it up as the episodes went on, but even though it makes the last episodes enthralling, there is no tension when everything is spelled out that soon.
Juuni Taisen was at its most clever around the beginning and end, but by the mid-point, it became obvious that they were relying wholly on Nezumi’s powers being explained as the end goal. There were still some great shocking moments around the early points where it wasn’t as obvious such as when Niwatori got her powers boosted by Dotsuku, or the stretch of time around Misaki’s origin story where no one died, but by the time Uuma got trapped in the burning building, it became apparent that there was not going to be a change in the formula, and we were still in for a padded out tournament to wade through to get to Nezumi’s big moment.
But despite the outcome being made inconsequential by the time you catch on to the pattern, there is still a lot of value in Juuni Taisen. As bloodthirsty as the cast is, they are made to be much more likable with the backstory they are given in this adaptation. As much complaining as there can be about the value on the mid-section of the tournament, it was nice to learn about what makes them tick, and gives them much more meaning than other tournament shows that couldn’t care less about who lives or dies other than the main characters. Making almost everyone the story’s protagonist at one point in time would’ve been effective at keeping viewers on their toes about whether they’ll make it out in one way or another. It was also cool to find out about Nezumi’s powers considering that it does toy around with our curiosity in how the tournament could’ve wound up in scenarios where Nezumi lost. There is a ton of potential with the series, and the sequel novel could contribute to fleshing out the universe and characters for future stories. It could possibly give us a chance to see how other timelines could’ve turned out, or create a Steins;Gate-esque work where we see how Nezumi’s power plays out in the 99 other scenarios he’s been through before he gets to the one where he wins. Although it could’ve been compelling if the anime didn’t constantly remind us of how the kill order aligned with the zodiac order, it doesn’t undercut how wonderful the cast and lore of Juuni Taisen ended up being.