“Episode 2”

The prologue over, we now start with an unexpected beginning. Namely, following a trio of monks- Myokei, Gyokuei, and the newly instated Abbot of Keiko-in, Arikoto (Miyano Mamoru). When you hear “Abbot”, you’d expect an old guy filling those shoes, but no, this Abbot is a youth (and quite a good looking one that, which Gyokuei doesn’t fail to remind us while crushing on his superior). Seeing him in action, it’s no wonder the Abbot was promoted as young as he is- he’s on a whole different level from his companions and takes his job as a spiritual guide very seriously. While Myokei and Gyokuei concern themselves with “worldly” matters like bitching about the shogun or gloating over rank and station, the Abbot sees only those in need, risking his life to offer prayers for the dead and solace for the family. He even passes up an invitation to stay longer in Edo, desiring to get back to his duties in Kyoto.

Things turn sinister before long- Kasuga (Inoue Kikuko), Iemitsu’s nurse, takes notice of the Abbot’s comely appearance and comes for a private audience, imploring them to stay. Then, a costly sum of gold is offered up to them-it’s clear she’s got some ulterior motive up her sleeve in attempting to buy the men’s favor. Things get even scarier when the monks are held prisoner in their rooms, under the pretense of the red face pox. Things aren’t looking good here and Myokei has the size of it- the shogun has been collecting young men and wants to add the Abbot to the inner chambers. What he doesn’t know is that Iemitsu has died, from the red face pox and what we don’t know is who (if anyone at this moment) is standing in his place. One thing is certain- Kasuga rules the roost here and won’t take no for an answer. Going behind his back, she removes him from his new position and orders him to join the Oooku, to which he solidly refuses.

If being held prisoner weren’t bad enough, Kasuga orders prostitutes for the monks and refuses to allow them to leave unless the Abbot renounces his vows and sleeps with one. Even when offered sake and women, the Abbot remains steadfast in his personal beliefs, but does so in a gentle way- he never derides the alcohol or the women and instead gives his full compassion to one entertainer’s tragic (though sadly, not unusual) backstory of being sold into prostitution by her husband.

I give the guy credit for remaining unruffled this long- that takes great presence of mind and dedication to what one believes to be their calling in life. Which makes it all the more devastating, that a selfish woman with power forces him to abandon his position, one in which he would have done a great deal of good in a hurting world. Things escalate even further when she orders the deaths of a prostitute and Myokei and threatens Gyokuei to incentivize the Abbot’s capitulation. That was a pretty shocking turn of events there- I remember back when I read the manga, I didn’t expect them to turn the sword on Myokei and the prostitute- devastating for so many innocent people to be wrapped up in bloody politics. It’s painful to see the dilemma of this young man, who has done nothing wrong yet receives such treatment and to have his dreams of saving others dashed to pieces when he couldn’t even save his companion. The episode ends with business unsettled, but I don’t think there will be any surprises as to what the Abbot will choose.

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