A Face of Evil – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Four)
Have you ever thought a situation was going to be bad, only to be proven wrong because everything was actually worse? That’s this episode in a nutshell. After being summoned to rescue five people unable to evacuate in time from something pleasantly known as a “curse womb”, our trio de protagonists find themselves way out of their depth. To be fair, such a scenario is fairly common in this world, apparently, and sorcerers are often forced to deal with curses far stronger than themselves. But hey, nobody said the logistics of fighting creatures beyond the ken of mortals would be easy…not that that reality is comforting in anyway. Still, pitting three first-year students against a special-grade curse is apparently an occurrence as rare as it is dangerous—and it is very dangerous. Yet, despite the intensity of the situation, this is a solid element of world building. Sure our leads can be thrown into terrifying situations, but knowing it is not an entirely unique scenario makes it seem less contrived. This is further aided when the main trio actually do find themselves in danger. There’s no preferential treatment: they run in fear. Sure, Sukuna mops the floor with the special-grade once Itadori switches with him, but it never feels as if any of the cast is truly safe. Kugisaki almost gets eaten, Fushiguro’s summoned spirits are defeated with frightening ease, and Itadori loses his left hand and four fingers from his right. It’s…it’s not a great scenario. When the focus cuts back to Kugisaki—having pivoted to show the horrors beset upon her classmates—she has even seemingly accepted her death, simply vowing to curse the curse trying to consume her. As messed up as it may sound, these moments are what have set Jujutsu Kaisen apart in its early episodes. Though it carries the traditional Shonen tropes of barrelling through adversity with positivity and faith in a dream, along with a tremendous power lurking within, the series balances this with a brutal reality. Sure Itadori wants to save people, but people can be many things. One of the survivors—and I use that term loosely—in this episode killed a young girl during his second offence of driving without a licence, but even he had a mother who wept for him. It makes me curious to see how Itadori will develop as the series progresses, as his naïve ideals have been consistently and subtlety altered since we were first introduced to him.
Speaking of introductions, Sukuna shows off his power in a big way. The guy barely exerts any effort, regrowing extremities and then fending off explosive attacks with them. Still, the series continues to show that Sukuna does not have the interests of Itadori in mind, as healing any injuries their shared body sustained was seemingly accidental and/or reflexive. Sukuna even attempts to goad the special-grade curse into teaming up with him to kill the jujutsu sorcerers, before becoming fed up with herding the now-terrified creature. The series also robs us of any sense of stability when it becomes clear that Sukuna doesn’t care if Itadori dies. Sure, he’ll lose a conscious form, but he can’t willingly control it anyway; additionally, he has eighteen other fingers out there in the world with the potential to resurrect him. It’s a simple fact, but it certainly changes the game. Despite housing a curse that can seemingly dispose of any threat with a flick of the wrist, it doesn’t look like Itadori will be able to play his trump card without the very real possibility that it will kill him…and, like, a whole bunch of other people. Still, Itadori managed to punch the special-grade with a cursed-energy punch; so, that counts for something. Right?
Head to Foot – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Four)
The day has finally arrived; after one whole week of waiting, Konami is ready to tackle Anti-Monkey Rock. So…she does…and she climbs it. That’s about it, to be honest. This episode just opens with Konami beating the one real challenge presented since the series started, which—in case my sarcasm isn’t coming through—sort of robs the moment of any drama. Sure, she’d have to beat the rock eventually, but there was no real lead up. In fact, due to an off-hand line of dialogue, we learn that a month or so has passed since the last episode, rendering any sense of build up moot. Konami is just better at climbing now: deal with it. In fact, we’re already at another climbing competition…I still don’t know most of the main cast. Apart from a passion for climbing, barely any character possesses anything beyond a singular identifying trait. Actually, I was going to begin my list of traits with the protagonists but I’m now realising that they have the least identifiable traits. Sure, creepy Spider-Woman is a shallow character, but at least I know that. I still can’t remember the name of the captain of the protagonists’ team, nor the name of the school they attend; I only remember Nono because she literally has her name written on her shirt sometimes. This episode also cements the concept that notable climbers are given an epithet by somebody, leading me to label upcoming characters Panther-Lady and Ballerina. Speaking of, why is Ballerina being introduced at this point in the story? After outright explaining her backstory and motivation, Ballerina declares herself a rival of Konomi. See, Ballerina attended the same ballet school as Konomi—a school which Konomi excelled at. Did anybody else remember that Konomi took ballet? I sure as heck didn’t. Also, how many things is Konomi supposed to be good at? The series begins by seemingly throwing her out of her comfort zone, but she has an almost prodigious knack for climbing. How are we supposed to buy Konomi as the underdog when we have seen her succeed in literally everything she attempts?
Oh, and if you thought this episode didn’t have some weird moment completely out of left field, fear not. After deciding to help Konomi buy proper climbing gear—a few months into her training—the protagonists visit a local seller…who really likes fitting shoes. Through an insistent use of the word “naked” instead of “bare” when describing feet, we are presented a sequence where it seems the lady who sells climbing gear has felt up each of the main cast…not that the truth is too far off. Just because, Shop-Lady determines which climbing shoes would be the best fit by touch alone…before using her cheek to confirm. Now, I know this entire scenario is just a dumb gag, but it’s also indicative of a pattern in this series: the only actual character interactions are creepy ones. In presenting every character with a single gimmick, beyond a shared love of climbing, everybody seems isolated from one another. I don’t buy that any of these people are friends or teammates; I have no real insight into their relationship with anything except the wall they happen to be climbing. Characters discuss each other via their climbing skills, their techniques, their gear: nobody just wants to hang out and talk. It feels like the characters never share the same space as one another, like a congratulatory high-five would reveal somebody was actually a ghost that nobody could actually see. Now that I think about it, I hope somebody is a ghost: that’d be cool. Oh, everybody in the series also has the hots for Kiku’s dad. So, I guess they are into something other than climbing walls. How about that?
Like Cat and Cat – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Seventeen)
With last week’s venture into the psyche of Tanaka fresh in our minds, Haikyu!! spends yet another week putting volleyball on the back burner. This time around, we’re taking a peek at Nekoma’s match…before immediately being launched into a flashback about Kenma (the team’s setter) and Tora (the team’s hothead). Though a shift from a climactic match, it is certainly refreshing to see how some other fan-favourite characters are doing—and how they were doing long ago. Though always presented as the lazy genius of Nekoma, the Kenma of the past was even more of the former than he is now. This leads to the major conflict of the episode, as Kenma’s lack of effort once clashed with Tora’s intensity in a major way. Now, while the notion of an energetic character taking umbrage with a lazy one is a pretty standard basis for character’s to fight, Haikyu!! does what it always does and provides a more rounded exploration of both sides. Kenma is lazy, but he is also logical and actually does house a desire to win; Tora is energetic, but uses that energy to cover up insecurity. This all comes to a head when Kenma, of all people, calls out Tora for blaming his flawed plays on something as vague as “guts” (and not having enough of them to secure victory). Now, Haikyu!! itself often touts the importance of a fighting spirit, but it also builds its characters to understand that a foundation of skill is needed to support that concept. This episode simply splits those two aspects into their own characters for the purposes of representation. On the surface, the episode’s moral arises when we leave the flashback and see that Kenma and Tora express (within their own mind) that they are clad the other is not on the other team. It’s a nice moment. However, the episode also presents another moral, one that arises when you think about Kenma and Tora’s evolution as individuals. True, one’s still lazy and one’s still energetic, but they have learnt to temper their predominate traits with those they originally maligned: Kenma now leans into his desire to win and Tora places a larger importance on strategy. They’re the same as they ever were, but they’re also not.
This episode also uses Kenma as a vessel to explore a rather rare viewpoint on volleyball: it’s pretty fun. I know that might not sound like a wild idea, but it sort of is when you think about how subdued it is. Haikyu!! is a series about volleyball, and everybody in the series possesses a passion for the sport that burns with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Kenma just thinks it’s fine. Though he doesn’t hold any particular reason to play the sport, he doesn’t hold any particular reason to not; so, he keeps playing. I mean, why the heck not? This is a series about a high school volleyball team; some people just want to play sport when they’re at school. No grandiose motivation, no lofty dreams or ideals, just an interest in playing. Sure, even a passing interest houses a desire to win, but why does everything have to be so darn intense all the time? Sometimes passion can lead to a darker path, a path where, say, a coach’s strategy revolves entirely around driving one player to exhaustion in order to destabilise a team. A valid strategy? Yes. A mean strategy that makes said coach seem like a jerk? Also yes. Perhaps the true moral of this episode is to moderate your passion with a concern for others, because there’s a difference between winning and making the other team lose. Either that or beware anybody carrying a bucket; they may splash you.
No Time to Dai – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Four)
And just like that, the switch has been flicked: Adventure of Dai just turned things up to eleven. After spending the past three episodes getting to know Dai and a bit of the backstory behind the world at large, episode four has turned everything on its head. We ended last episode with Master Avan transforming into the iconic Dragon Quest dragon monster: the ultimate task in Dai’s training. It seemed that this episode would largely be dealing with that situation; however, things quickly take a shocking turn when The Dark Lord himself rocks up out of nowhere—immediately throwing everything into utter chaos and raising the danger level to unprecedented heights for our lovable hero Dai.
The Dark Lord, we learn, is named Hadlar and had been revived by an even mightier demon, the enigmatic Dark King of the Underworld. Furthermore, we discover that Master Avan was in fact the Hero of Legend that had defeated the Dark Lord all those years ago. It is a twist that I personally did not see coming, yet it is one that makes sense and adds an interesting layer to his connection with Dai.
The episode is largely a battle between Master Avan and Dark Lord Hadlar; however, after entering the fray and managing the draw blood from Hadlar, Dai becomes a target of the Dark Lord as well. Hadlar realises he can’t let any of Avan’s students live, elsewise they may become strong enough to defeat him some day. Hadlar decides to unleash a kill shot on Dai; however, we end on a shocking cliffhanger, with Avan taking the hit himself blocking the blast to save Dai’s life…
All in all, this was probably the best episode of Adventure of Dai yet. The story has well and truly kicked into gear and, with the revelations of this episode, I for one can’t wait to see where the series goes from here. Hadlar is proving to be a truly despicable villain that I can’t wait to see get his ass handed to him in the future by Dai. The ball is absolutely rolling now, and this series has got me hook, line, and sinker.
The Root of the Problem – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Four)
Another week, another episode of Yashahime. Just when I thought that this series couldn’t possibly plunge any further into the realm of nonsense, episode four takes us on a psychedelic trip through a rainbow time vortex that I won’t be forgetting any time soon—for all the wrong reasons.
Episode four opens up with our three leads having lived a period of time in modern-day Japan and having become accustomed to the joys of modern living (Moroha most of all). Things kind of plod along with no real direction until Moroha discovers, somehow, that the demon that Inuyasha and Kagome fought in episode one (named Root-Head) is actually embedded into the root of a tree and is capable of time travelling back to the feudal era. Why is this root demon capable of this ability? Well, it has attached to what is known as the Tree of Ages, I guess? Anyways, Moroha convinces the other two that she can make a deal with Root-Head to time travel them back to the feudal era so they can capture the butterfly that had cursed Setsuna to be unable to sleep, despite the fact that Setsuna repeatedly admits that it actually doesn’t bother her at all and she has become used to not sleeping and doesn’t have any real desire to reverse the curse. But that doesn’t stop Towa and Moroha, who have decided this will be their mission and make a deal with Root-Head to send them back in time.
They all begin travelling through the aforementioned psychedelic rainbow time vortex when they are stopped by the spirit of the Tree of Ages who has taken the form of Kikyo (a character from the original Inuyasha series), because she had shot the tree with her arrow in the original series. The Tree of Ages informs the girls who their parents are—a reveal that has no impact because it was offhandedly revealed in the last episode in expository dialogue for no reason at all. The tree spirit then requests them to kill the Beast King and also for Towa and Setsuna to kill their father Sesshomaru at the same time. This comes entirely out of nowhere. The spirit informs them that the Beast King and Sesshomaru plan to destroy time and the world itself through some plan that isn’t really made clear. Setsuna and Towa refuse to kill their own father, despite having never met him or know anything about him. This causes the tree spirit to unleash Root-Head to attack the girls. They then defeat him in about one minute flat and they awaken outside of the tree in the feudal era.
I don’t understand what this series is trying to accomplish. Why should I, as a viewer, care about lifting the butterfly curse on Setsuna if she herself doesn’t care about it? Why should I have an investment or interest in this tree spirit’s request to kill Sesshomaru and the Beast King—a plot thread that was just offloaded out of nowhere, with little explanation, by a character who literally came out of nowhere—a plot line that seems like it will exist in counter to the girl’s main quest to lift this butterfly curse? It’s like the series can’t decide what story it exactly wants to tell and has little idea of how it wants to tell these stories anyways.
At this point, I am well and truly on board for the ride, but it remains truly frustrating how little we know about our leads or what exactly the narrative being told here is. Time will tell if Yashahime can course correct itself. Hopefully, now that the girls are in the Feudal era, the story can gain some focus. But, as I said in last week’s Writings, I have no reason to have any faith in the series based off what they have delivered thus far. That said, I have come this far; I may as well ride this train to the end of the line, for better or for worse.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Four)
Now that is what I’ve been waiting for! Finally, IWGP has delivered its first truly great episode. This episode was just simply fantastic, both the layers to the plot and the complex mystery that isn’t so black and white. This was a genuinely emotional episode that explored the nature of parenthood and the consequences of an absent parent; the kind of story that made the original IWGP such an instant classic.
We begin our episode with Makoto on a stroll through the back streets of Ikebukuro, when he encounters some flowers placed by an old man at a staircase. It turns out that the old man’s son had been killed five years prior under mysterious circumstances; Makoto promises the old man that he will solve this case and find the truth of who was behind the death of his son. As the episode progresses, we come to see that things aren’t so simple. We learn that the son was actually a gang leader from Ueno, and we come to discover he was far from a perfect person—or even a good person really. The deeper Makoto digs, the more troubling a matter it becomes. He could reveal the truth of who is behind the murder, but in doing so he would unveil the dark life the son had lead and hurt the father who still, five years on, sheds tears for his precious son’s death. It is an interesting moral quandary to say the least: that even a criminal wife beater can still have a parent shed tears for them. It makes Makoto’s decision so much more difficult, as we see Makoto having to reconcile with his own past and absence of a father which has likewise lead to him being entangled in the ganglands of Tokyo.
The episode ultimately reaches a truly emotional climax as the truth eventually comes out. Some truths, as ugly as they may be, have a way of finding their way to the surface eventually, as the tragic spider web of pain that surrounded the final moments of the old man’s son’s life does. He wasn’t a good man, but he was still somebody’s son. It is a tough pill to swallow, and it is one that IWGP doesn’t shy away from. The father assesses that he was too absent a parent and had failed his son, he promises to meet him again soon and apologise for not being there for him. You can’t help but feel in this moment that Makoto wishes that his own father would speak those words to him. It is a truly understated final moment, as the old man’s beloved jazz music plays us out into the ending theme.
All in all, this was without a doubt the best episode of IWGP yet, and I for one hope to see more episodes like it in the future for this series. This was a special episode in every regard: a must watch, to say the very least.