Princess Usagi’s Review – Episode 07
「機密事項六三七タマユラノハル」 (Kimitsu Jikō Roku San Nana Tamayura no Haru)
“Confidential File 637, A Fleeting Spring”
Wabi-sabi is a concept in Japan of beauty existing in fleeting things-one of the reasons why the short-lived cherry blossoms are considered beautiful. It is appropriate that cherry blossoms form the backdrop of this episode where short-lived moments are key. Like a fragile sakura petal, peace rests briefly on Sawa and Asahi before floating off, out of reach in the breeze. That breeze being Tsukishiro. Tsukishiro arrives with new information relating to the Karasumori clan’s fate-crushing their lives like petals pressed between a book’s pages.
Sawa is determined to change from assassin to civilian, but Tsukishiro insists that with so much bloodshed change isn’t possible. The problem isn’t whether or not Sawa herself can change, but whether she is allowed to change. It is clear in her daily life with Asahi that Sawa is learning to leave behind her assassin life-as poignantly portrayed when she stops herself from killing a spider. Tsukishiro does not want her to change-they admire her for being the tragic assassin and if Sawa changes, then Tsukishiro’s image of her will crumble.
Tsukishiro built their life around admiration for Sawa. They take on what they see as the role of a tragic hero in the dirty work and “self-sacrifice” they do for the sake of a lofty goal (to rescue Sawa). Tsukishiro’s whole mission of rescuing Sawa from her bird-cage isn’t really about rescuing Sawa. It is really about Tsukishiro preserving their image of Sawa (and Tsukishiro’s self-identity based around that tragic assassin figure) by keeping her in a cage-albeit one of Tsukishiro rather than Nue’s making. This is selfish, but Tsukishiro is convinced it is good, an act of devotion. This leans dangerously towards fanaticism which leads to terrible things when they kill Asahi to force Sawa back into revenge mode.
I am not surprised Asahi was murdered given how many of the other characters have already been killed. I feel bad for the teacher who invested his kindness (and love interest) in Sawa and Asahi only to be murdered. This will close Sawa’s heart off again to protect others from dying because of her. The cold-blooded determination to achieve their goal at any cost shows how very dangerousTsukishiro is.
Transient peace applies not only to Sawa’s life but also to this alternate society. We again get hints of undercurrents of unrest with the teacher mentioning “incidents” (riots) in Satsuma and Choshu. This is significant because, during the Meiji restoration, Satsuma and Choshu were regions that supported the emperor and opposed the shogun. Satsuma is also located in Kyushu, which in this alternate Japan is the region that seceded from the rest of the country. The cancellation of the festival brings to our attention the problem of dragon’s vein shortage. While at a glance it may not seem like a big deal because Japan could get energy sources from other countries, it is actually a big deal. This comes at a time in history when Japan is striving to show itself to be a nation that can stand on its own two feet and run in the big leagues with the Western nations. Any shortage of resources means less self-reliance and more dependence in the long run on the countries they want to catch up to. This society is collapsing at the corners in a process that will eventually lead to radical change in the center, no matter how hard Nue may try to sequester the damage.
Princess Usagi’s Review – Episode 08
「機密事項六四二オウマガトキ」 (Kimitsu Jikō Roku Yon Ni Ōmagatoki)
“”Confidential File 642, The Witching Hour”
This episode highlighted differences between Sawa’s and Kuzuhara’s guardianship styles. Kuzuhara does not try to protect Sawa from the tragic fate he knows all too well of an assassin who loses everything. He went so far as to train her to go through the same experience of cold-blooded killing. This is not very good guardianship. When looking out for a child, one should help them avoid their mistakes and live a better life than you did, rather than pushing them right into the abyss. In contrast, Sawa tries to shield Asahi from living the bloody life she did-running away to give her a chance at a peaceful life. Sawa is the better guardian in this respect.
Yet, Kuzuhara looks out for Sawa in his own peculiar way in watching over her from afar and stepping in when necessary, like when he rescues her after the fight with Tsukishiro. It is Kuzuhara, not Sawa, who keeps their charge alive-in part because he taught her fighting skills. Asahi did not know how to protect herself (and also, as a child, it’s hard to defend oneself period against a super-powered adult). There is something to be said for teaching a child to be able to stand on their own two feet, even though it may be hard for them in the moment. Later on, they will have an advantage in getting through life not having to depend on people who will not always be there for them. However, that does not mean taking extreme measures like teaching a child to become an assassin-in this, Kuzuhara was terribly wrong.
In the process of caring for Asahi, Sawa allowed Asahi to change her- teaching her to re-think killing as the only option of dealing with an issue. Seeing how Sawa hesitates when on the point of executing Tsukishiro rather than immediately killing shows how deep of an impression Asahi made. In contrast, Kuzuhara doesn’t appear to have allowed himself to be changed by Sawa over the course of caring for her. Both start out with the same palate of tragedy tinged with blood, but they each make something different from it. I think that Sawa comes out the richer for this because it is as important to learn from the one you protect as it is to teach them. As Sawa learned from Asahi’s kindness, even the innocent trust of a child can teach us something more than an adult could.
When Kuzuhara opens himself up with a brief sketch of his past, it would have been more effective if they showed his past as a flashback, rather than just dialogue. They didn’t really do anything to make you sympathize with Kuzuhara. He sounded like someone trying to say the right words, without any depth behind it. I think this is a shortcoming that is representative of the show as a whole-presenting a mix of ingredients that would make a good product but falling flat in carrying through with it.
Miss Simplice’s General Impressions
Jouran has been quite interesting but not enough to keep me glued to my screen. Episode 7 is what really threw me off. Tsukimura’s motivations are thin lined at best and quite sporadic. On the one hand, they want the best for Sawa, offering her a path towards freedom from the Nue organization, and a few minutes later her savior turned whistleblower murders her one true source of happiness. Apparently, Sawa can only live freely if she continues on the path of a cold-blooded killer. I’m not so fond of this narrative.
I have similar qualms when it comes to the eighth episode with Jin. Who exactly is Jin to Sawa and why does he come to her rescue only once she’s been wounded, pummelled, kicked into the dirt? Something I enjoy when I watch stories unfold is how relationships evolve, mold, and bond people together. Connections are central to a good story and they’ve effectively murdered the best connection Jouran offered. Most of the other characters and their connection to Sawa seems superficial. If there is depth to be found, I don’t believe the narrative was executed well enough to demonstrate it.
All this to say that I will be bowing out of these reviews but might make a quick appearance around the finale. I’m still intrigued, wondering whether the series can redeem itself between now and its season finale. So watch this space. But in the meantime, you’ll be in good hands with Princess Usagi!