「トナリという名の少女」 (Tonari to iu na no shoujo)
“The Girl Named Tonari”
As I noted in the comments last week, it’s rather ironic that Gugu always went barefoot, because he left some mighty big shoes to fill. The arcs on either side have certainly highlighted that. While the Jananda storyline is interesting in plot terms, the supporting characters are notably weak in comparison to what came before. It wasn’t just Gugu either, though he was obviously the most important – his entire supporting cast was much more engaging than this one (or the cast in the March arc, for that matter).
Pioran is the common thread running through all these post-prologue arcs of course, but she’s been sidelines for much of the past few episodes. The Jananda sequences have, frankly, been very depressing. That’s not new and it’s almost entirely intentional, but even as bleak as the ending (and much of the rest) of the Gugu arc was, there was an element of love and loyalty – and humor – that redeemed it. That’s not really the case on Jananda, where even the supposed allies of Fushi are either not likeable or still ciphers.
Yes, let’s talk about Tonari. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds her an incredibly annoying character, for starters. But above and beyond that, what has she done to earn any trust or affection from Fushi – or the audience? She’s responsible for this whole situation of Pioran being imprisoned and Fushi forced to engage in gladiatorial battles, which she justifies with her “poor poor pitiful me” sob stories. She manipulates and lies to Fushi every step of the way, taking advantage of his naïveté and lack of experience as a human (people like Tonari tend to have a great radar for potential victims like Fushi).
I don’t buy Tonari as an arbiter of who “deserves to die”, either. Pioran may be ready to give herself up for Fushi’s sake and she may be guilty of some of the things Tonari says she did, but Fushi learned loyalty at the hands of a legend in Gugu – and he’s pretty loyal intrinsically anyway. The Creator confirms the Occam’s Razor truth about Parona without any preamble – if Fushi can become her, she’s dead. He compounds this by noting how glad he is she died so soon, making her form available to Fushi, which Fushi rightly expresses his disgust at. But the Creator also proactively warns Fushi about the Nokkers’ arrival this time, so Fushi doesn’t have the luxury to nurse his resentment.
Fushi does manage to use his mole form to sneak inside the prison, and even locate Pioran. But she has a point – even if he can get inside, how can he get her out? Fushi is obviously not going to listen to Pioran’s urgings to abandon her but he does have a serious practical problem. If he still had his Oniguma form he’d have a hard decision on his hands (and indeed, that does enter the realm of possibilities) but in the moment he has no choice but to leave Pioran and return to the arena. His opponent in the semi-finals (we know who his final opponent will be) isn’t the sneering villain of last time – it’s just a guy fighting to protect his younger brother. In the end it’s Fushi protecting him from the audience – with limited success.
All this is building towards the next battle with the Nokkers, and Fushi has no Gugu, March or Oniguma to help him win it. Finally, Tonari’s crew make themselves useful – though mole does too – with their combustive arrows. With everyone back in the fold Fushi has quite a powerful assortment of forms to choose from now – though his ability to mass-produce items may in fact be even more powerful. For me, though, Tonari still hasn’t done nearly enough to earn his loyalty – and there’s someone waiting for him who has.