I confess, I’m really not sure what DEEN and director Hatakeyama are are planning – maybe there’s a second season green-lit already for all I know. But the series has undeniably taking a weird and circuitous route over the last several weeks, giving us full-episode detours starring Ranko and Mero, and now an episode told from the perspective of Sanka Aria, one of the least-known characters in the main cast. There’s world-building in all of these eps, but it’s an odd way to approach telling a story in a one-cour show.
I don’t think it had been confirmed before this point that Aria wasn’t Rea’s birth mother, but it was hard to come to any other conclusion based on their interaction. I’ll put this episode to the acid-test for ones that detour from the main plot – was it a game-changer? Did is alter the dynamics of the series in any meaningful way? The Ranko episode seems to have failed that test, and I’d judge that the Mero one passed it. The jury is still out on this one, because the meaning of everything that happened hasn’t become fully clear yet. But based on what I know now, it feels as if this episode did more to confirm what I already knew – or guessed – than anything else. That doesn’t make it a bad episode, but it does make me wonder again whether this meandering is wise.
If it does nothing else, the episode fills in some blanks in our knowledge of what Rea’s family life was like. It’s an interesting system the Sanka have – prospective wives become maids through an arduous selection process, and vie for the young master’s affection. If anything I’m even more convinced now that Danichiro is seriously sick and twisted. He completely ignores every woman in the house (including Aria) but decides to marry a 15 year-old girl in a wheelchair after one meeting? It’s love at first sight, I suppose, but it speaks to the fact that even then Danichiro was given to obsessive love – and when the frail girl dies after giving birth to Rea, he transfers his sick obsession to his daughter.
Even as obnoxious and ill-defined as she was, I always felt more sorry for Aria than anything. And indeed, she seems to be largely a victim here – taken as a second wife by Danichiro, but never having consummated the marriage because the only two females he’s ever been sexually attracted to are Rea and her mother. It’s no wonder she’s become an angry drunk (keeps her flask in her garter – nice), bored with life and ignored by a man who doesn’t even bother to pretend to love her. Under the circumstances it’s even easy to understand why she hates Rea, though of course none of this is Rea’s fault. I’m not sure what the desired audience reaction was when she went Mrs. Robinson on the tied-up Chihiro – revulsion, laughter – but however the author and director were playing it, I just saw it as pathetic more than anything – and it’s clear that Chihiro feels the same way. His “Sorry – I only like zombie girls” probably wasn’t intended to be intentionally hurtful, but I doubt he could have said anything that would have cut Aria deeper.
And yes, Chihiro is here – remember him? His reaction to being abducted is surprisingly calm – “This could be interpreted as kidnapping” – really Chihiro, you think? Whether it’s bravery or lack of sense I don’t know, and indeed Chihiro has always tended to approach the bizarre with a pretty blasé attitude. Babu has found him and Rea is on the way, there being no doubt where he was taken – but for now he’s in the clutches of an insane man in love with his own dead daughter, and if I were him I’d be a little more worried. It looks from the preview as if Danichiro is going to settle things with a fencing match, but I assume he’s got something in mind with higher stakes than winning or losing on points.
It should also be stated that Sankarea continues to be one of the most interesting shows of the season to look at. I loved the effect of the blank canvas Aria hung up, which then reflected the image of whatever she was discussing (I’m assuming that was stylish flair, and not meant to be really happening). I also loved the way the portraits of Rea were slowly lit up in turn as Chihiro sat tied up, waiting for Danichiro. It’s a pretty rare thing for a series to look absolutely nothing like the usual style of the studio producing it – I could probably count on both hands the anime about which I would have no guess as to who the studio was based on the animation and art, but I would never guess this one was DEEN in a month of Sundays.