「ケモナーマスクxMAO」 (Kemonarmask x Mao)
“Animal Mask x MAO”
This episode of Hataage! Kemono Michi might not have as much of an extensive focus on our main protagonists, but it is important in helping to flesh out rival characters like MAO and Joanna, providing them with the proper segue to enter the plot full-time. At the same time, it gives other members of the cast further development with the thief duo of Misha and Wolfgang attempting to get revenge on Genzou for violating Wolfgang back in Episode 01.
As goofy as the tone is in Hataage! Kemono Michi, I have to applaud the anime for making MAO’s side of the story incredibly sad. Given that Genzou was his greatest rival and had been the only wrestler he had been determined to fight against, much of his purpose in life is dashed when Genzou mysteriously disappeared. Not to mention that Genzou is likely presumed dead as there’s no trace for even the most seasoned detective to track down. As a result, you have MAO facing a combination of Genzou “possibly escaping from his match and Genzou being spirited away before MAO could fulfill his dream of finally beating him in a one-on-one match.
The resulting damage hits like a brick with MAO going through a deep depression. From laying in bed all day and reflecting on life in the rain to seeing his missing rival in other mascots that pass him by, MAO exhibits textbook symptoms of actual depression. His therapist recommends a different hobby to get his mind off of Genzou, but he still ended up stitching his mask onto a scarf when he took up knitting. It might not be the best material to explore depression, especially when they diffuse his depression as merely a build-up to MAO getting his chance for a rematch after being summoned by Joanna as the demon king’s hero. But it was intriguing to see how much the anime was willing to commit to showing MAO undergoing numerous signs of grief during his depressive state.
The same level of maturity can’t be said for Wolfgang’s treatment as one of Genzou’s early victims. There’s a reference to that moment shoved near the beginning when Misha tries to hold back laughter about how Wolfgang reacted to Genzou’s advances. Thankfully though, much of the humor revolved around Wolfgang is far tamer in this episode as his misfortunes are in the form of being attacked by the ant-man and facing Genzou while he’s in wrestler mode. He even has an endearing moment that happens when he backs away from his plan to capture Hiroyuki when he’s smitten by the puppy’s overall cuteness. At the very least, Genzou’s Giant Swing will probably leave a more lasting impression on Wolfgang in later episodes than his Episode 01 fondling.
While this episode’s humorous scenes came from the thief duo as well as Genzou’s reluctant pursuit of Mandrakes that would eventually be eaten by Hanako, it had more plot-relevant elements introduced with wrestling coming back into the fold. Right when Genzou’s one-sided fight against Wolfgang had reminded him of his wrestling days, MAO was warped into the same isekai universe by Joanna to act as the hero to fight for the demon king.
To compete with Princess Altena’s hero-of-choice, MAO is brought into the fold as their version of her hero. Even though we are only given the very beginning of MAO’s interactions with Joanna, it should be interesting to see where the story goes from here knowing that him and Genzou will eventually meet and a rematch is highly likely to be in the cards.