「You Can Call Me “Noir”」
And onto the second worst part of the Okumura arc; his palace. From a meaningful purpose, it has the upward advantage of working well with Okumura’s character. As the CEO of a black company (or burakku kigyou) akin to real life izakaya restaurant chain Watami, it fits within his character to have his palace reflect on the work-place fatigue, worker exploitation, and karoshi that would happen from the stress that Okumura Foods gave to its employees. It also gets credit for being one of the many moments that the game calls out societal issues in Japan, and how working conditions have been steadily worsened by exploitative bosses who have no qualms with power harassment and verbal abuse among other grievances. The outer space theme of Big Bang Burger lends itself to both the unbridled ambition that Okumura has and his “Rosebud” being a spaceship model kit he couldn’t afford until inheriting his grandfather’s company. Unfortunately, the depth of its thematic elements are undercut with how awful many of its puzzles are such as fighting through different managers to find the ones with the right key card or the infamous airlock puzzle where you have to travel through several airlocks in a maze to get to the right side of the airport.
Luckily, the anime’s double-edged sword of having turbo-fast pacing is utilized at its highest point during this part of the game so they were able to skip over the obnoxious puzzles of Okumura’s palace yet retain its impact and essence. The anime also works to try to make Okumura a more redeemable figure as it reflects back on Haru’s childhood where her grandfather and father played a positive role in her life. It might have been for time restraints, but excluding the part where Okumura gives a fake apology to Haru before his boss fight also helped to make him seem genuine in his regret over abusing his power as a CEO, using his access to mental shutdowns as a means of getting rid of the competition, and trying to get into politics by trying to pimp out his daughter to a politician’s son. His game appearance did little to make us feel for him in the same way that we weren’t supposed to feel bad about Kamoshida or Kaneshiro, especially with how little we see of Haru’s feelings towards her dad when he was kinder, but the anime does try to give him a better path at redemption before his mental shutdown is triggered.
Haru herself gets far more justice in the anime as we see why she would be attached to the both of them as well as be obsessed with the cafe atmosphere of Leblanc given her experience with her grandfather’s cafe before Okumura inherited it to transform it into a burger chain devoid of compassion or soul. We also get a better understanding of her motivation behind gravitating towards her Beauty Thief personality, the code name Noir, and the drive that allows her to tap into the full powers of her persona, Milady. It sounds sadistic, but the anime also did service to Haru by having her tear up and shout at Destinyland when her father collapsed dead on live television. The game had a weird way of making her feel numb to his passing that goes beyond any feelings she might’ve had about his descent into the criminal underworld, and had Haru treat her father’s death like he was a family pet that died. Not sure if the anime will have her forget about grieving her dad like the game did, but her reaction at the end of the broadcast gives me hope that they would improve on fleshing out Haru, her personality, and her behavior, and not force her into the position where she has to bite her tongue when it comes to being upset about her father’s demise.
This episode sets the tone for the next arc as the cultural phenomenon of the Phantom Thieves’ exploits come to a head with Okumura’s mental shutdown. Sojiro catches onto the public fervor the news helped create in cheering on the Phantom Thieves to steal Okumura’s heart, and as Ryuji becomes disillusioned with how they’re being seen as merely entertainment, the active encouragement from media outlets for the Phantom Thieves to go after Okumura would look more and more like a set-up that would deal a catastrophic blow to the group. The stage is set for Sae Niijima in the episode’s final moments while she gets closer to finding the linkage to Okumura and the Phantom Thieves. Akechi feeds her contradictory information that the Phantom Thieves might have no link with Okumura whatsoever, but Sae’s convictions that Okumura used the Phantom Thieves to eliminate the competition only to turn on him are too strong at this point. With her interest in solving the case beginning to consume her, we can look forward to seeing her come into the picture in the next few episodes. Though the amount of episodes left until the anime reaches its 24th lead me to think they are going to end the anime after the next palace and finish it up in another cour or a film, it’ll be exciting to see not only what the anime has planned for the next palace, but also the surprise twist they planned for the anime.