「機密事項七〇七コトダマノサキハフクニ」 (Kimitsu Jikō Nana Maru Nana Kotodama no Sakihafu Kuni)
“Confidential File 707, The Land of Blessed Words”
The character development in Jouran is like an uneven sidewalk. For a time, it feels like it’s going somewhere, only to periodically trip you up with giant gaps. Case in point-after learning to care for Asahi, Sawa became hesitant to kill. That development disappeared when she was quick to pull her sword on Kuzuhara, insisting she needed to kill the shogun. What was the point of carefully building up a Sawa hoping for a peaceful future, only to completely ignore that in having her act the way she did in episode one?
Her ties to Kuzuhara as her guardian would make her feelings of betrayal stronger, understandably complicating her emotions. To make her character more fully fleshed out, the least that could have been done, would have been to show her conflicted feelings between peace and the strong hurt and desire for revenge after learning of Kuzuhara’s lies. But, they don’t do that-they simply show her in assassin mode without any pause for reflection.
Kuzuhara murdering the shogun was as expected with his flashbacks of Karasumori village strongly hinting that the determining factor in his allegiance is Sawa’s safety. It was symbolic that the shogun turned out to be frail-as frail as the political system that was teetering on edge with dragon’s vein shortages and civil unrest. In a striking parallel, Kuzuhara kills the shogun on the same day the riots overthrow the government- finally bringing about the new political order that was being teased since episode one. When Kuzuhara declares he is the “man who cleans up the trash of the world”, he is making a word play with his full name, Kuzuhara Jin. “Kuzu” is a Japanese word for “trash”, “harau” can mean “to dispose of” and “jin” can mean “person”-basically his name sounds like “trashman”.
Nana has been a constant companion for Sawa, as crows have been for generations of Karasumori before her. It is fitting, then, that when Kuzuhara transforms, he becomes a crow to protect Sawa. When he ingested the blood, I wonder if it allowed him to choose his form or if it decides for him. None of the others who used the blood turned into crows. Janome turned into a snake and Sawa and Tsukishiro turned into different kinds of beasts- each reflective of their personalities.
The conclusion seemed rather hasty. Sawa just found out about Kuzuhara’s lies and true intentions, on top of her internal conflict between peace and revenge. Killing her off without resolving those things made it seem as if the writers themselves didn’t know how to do that, resorting to death as an easy way out. If they had to kill Sawa off, at least they could have let her die with a bang, in an epic battle scene. But maybe that was intentional-Sawa wanted to leave her assassin past behind and would have wanted her passing to be at home with Asahi, where she learned the meaning of a better tomorrow.
That better tomorrow was snatched like a thief in the night by Rinko (the knife lady). When Sawa left her alive, it seemed like Sawa’s example would encourage Rinko to also try pursuing a more peaceful life. I was fully expecting Rinko to leave Nue, so it was a let-down when she resorted to the default of “kill for Nue”, as if she hadn’t been touched at all by Sawa’s kindness.
This final episode as a whole was an amalgamation of everything that went wrong with this series. One of the most glaring deficiencies was the half-assed character developments where characters like Sawa start to mature, only to abandon any progress for the sake of clumsily knotting up loose ends.
A prime example is Tsukishiro-there was a lot of potential for them as an intriguing character with their obsession of Sawa as inspiration and justification for their own life. But, the writers killed them off without delving any deeper into Tsukishiro’s complexities. The character writing was like a neighborhood tease-flirting with everyone, but not actually committing to a serious relationship. To be fair, this might not entirely be the writers’ fault-perhaps more budget and time was allotted to visuals than the writing and the writers weren’t given the time needed to flesh out the plot. I doubt we’d ever find out if that was the case, but it is helpful to keep the possibility in mind.
Like history, this story repeats itself in a cycle. The basic pattern of an orphan with a tragic backstory becoming a protected child giving hope to the guardian and then becoming a protector themselves is repeated over and over with Kuzuhara, then Sawa, then Asahi, and then Satsuki (the child Asahi cares for). I get it, history repeats itself and the beauty of parent-ship is to pass that on to the next generation. However, with these characters, there wasn’t any variation to freshen things up. Particularly in the case of Kuzuhara and Sawa, their stories were so similar, it felt like a basic template was applied to their storylines.
The historical aspect of this show had such great potential. In the beginning, they did a great job with connecting actual historical events to this alternate history, setting up expectations for an intriguing historical ride. I really wish they had followed through with that-the Meiji era in Japan had a lot of change happening, which makes for an interesting contrast to a setting where a government suppresses that change far longer than in real-life history.
A strong point of the show was definitely the visuals. The art for the scenery was breathtaking, particularly in the episode that featured the cherry blossoms. It was also beautifully striking how they wove the contrast of the scarlet red against the dark backgrounds in the views of the red-lit capital at night, Sawa’s umbrella, etc. I also liked how they used a different art styles of a more bold style for the fight scenes and a more standard art style for the non-fight scenes.
All in all, this show had great potential. It is a shame it did not fulfill that potential, but it has been a fun ride speculating on where they would take the stories and characters. A big thank you to everyone who read and commented and a special thank you to Miss Simplice for co-writing with me for the first half of this series!!