In way ways, this chapter feels as if it’s the one where the series really begins. Without question this was the best episode of the first three for me, because it’s really the first time the larger purpose of the story emerges, and the first time the characters give you a glimpse underneath their well-practiced façades. Without Jonah there would be no movement in Jormungand, only action (those are two very different things) and the Jonah we saw in the first two episodes was almost entirely closed off into himself.
Several things set this arc above the first two, starting with the presence of the most charismatic antagonists to date, the assassins Shishio (Koyama Tsuyoshi) and Chinatsu (Kanda Akemi). Shishio is the lone survivor of an eight-person assassination squad called “Orchestra”, and he hears beautiful music in the sound of gunfire and screams – and along the way he’s picked up a commando (in more ways than one) in Chinatsu. We meet them in the process of rubbing out a Mafioso run afoul of the boss he was trying to cheat, and rubbing him out in the noisiest way possible. Like all characters in this cast, these two are absurd to the max and utterly preposterous, but hard to take your eyes off of.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the characters in this mess of death and destruction that is Jormungand are alike, though. That lesson is at the heart of the story and it (as the major points of the series so often do) plays out through the education of Jonah. The setting is the Italian Riviera, and what starts out as a lesson in maths (judging from his hilarious guesses to their questions, one he desperately needs) from Koko and Tojo (Yanai Hitoshi) turns into an altogether different sort of lesson when Jonah uses a toilet break to ditch class and follow Koko and Valmet on a shopping trip into town. And a good thing, too, as Orchestra ambush Koko outside a jewelry shop, and it’s Jonah who drops in to thwart their initial attack.
I want to touch on a couple of points about the remainder of episode and how it enlightens Jormungand, and I don’t think I’ll be spoiling if I do. First of all, yes – the action sequences are ridiculous. They’re supposed to be ridiculous, just as the characters are supposed to be bizarre, because realism isn’t what this series is about. Everyone and everything in it is larger than life, and Takahashi-sensei is using the very common technique of using such characters and events to shed light on the human condition in ways that can’t be accomplished through a “realistic” story (this will become clearer as we go). Don’t focus on the fact that Jonah is running across a piazza towards Shishio, each firing machine guns, and neither is hit. Focus on what that act tells us about Jonah and his situation.
Fortunately Lehm makes this easy for us by explaining it in great detail, and in doing to illustrates something else that’s important in Jormungand. Just because all these archetypal characters inhabit the same brutal world, they’re not all alike. Some arms dealers will sell to anyone, some pick and choose. Assassins will think nothing of starting a firefight in a public square full of people. And child soldiers with death wishes are different from Team Koko in very important ways. Lehm gives Jonah a good lesson in this, telling him “Little boy soldiers and their way of fighting piss me off. Get rid of your death wish and replace it with training and more training, and get rid of that boy solider idea.” Lehm scolds Jonah for losing his cool and being pissed off that Lehm stopped his suicide run, and then says “I’m more pissed than you” – but says so in a completely calm and cool tone, a cigarette dangling casually from his lips.
You could do a lot worse than listening to Lehm pretty much all the time in Jormungand, because he’s one guy who says exactly what he’s thinking and doesn’t BS around with the trivial. He’s both the brains and muscle of the outfit in case you haven’t figured that out – yet he still follows Koko. In that light Jonah’s first question as a member of the team – asking Lehm why he follows her – makes perfect sense. And his speech to Jonah does, too, because he sees what Jonah has brought with him to the team, and where his goals and theirs are different. There are very practical reasons to set Jonah straight – a boy with his own agenda isn’t good for life expectancy, and walking away alive is always priority #1 for Team Koko. But there are other reasons too, which I won’t go too deeply into now but which should be starting to crystalize if you’re watching closely.
I’m also not going to talk too much about why Koko brought Jonah onto the team, but that’s a subject that will crystalize too, as we progress in the story. What you can see is that she considers herself something more than a death merchant – that she sees a duty in helping Jonah “level up his humanity as part of her team”. As to what motivated Jonah to lose his usual detached demeanor and become so GAR and reckless in Koko’s defense, that’s another question that has to be left to interpretation for now. It’s another example of how the absence of Jonah’s first-person narration makes the anime fundamentally different from the manga – but if White Fox left it out I’m assuming they did so for a reason, and I’ll say no more about it. But perhaps now, for the first time, new viewers are getting a sense that Jormungand is something more than a wild, absurdist thrill ride.