OP: “UNDER/SHAFT” by Maon Kurosaki
There are more cases where the opposite is true, but with Jormungand I’m glad I’ve read the manga before seeing the anime. Not just because the plot is much easier to follow, but because seeing it play out reminds just how brilliantly Takahashi Keitarou lays out the foreshadowing in his story. Everything that happens is foretold, and just about every detail is riddled with hidden meaning and subtext. Jormungand is like an extremely elaborate jigsaw puzzle that may seem impossible to piece together, but will astonish you once you sit back and look at the complete picture.
White Fox are showing us the merits of a religiously faithful adaptation. It’s a perfect storm in the sense that this series fits almost exactly into a two-cour format with very little adjustment necessary, but nevertheless they’ve shown real restraint when adapting, trusting the audience to figure it out even when the manga intentionally obfuscates what’s really happening. I won’t deny that Takahashi-sensei is almost unfair in the sense that he includes things no normal person could possibly pick up on first reading; I’d actually recommend viewers watch the entire series again once it’s finished if they haven’t read the manga – because you’ll be astonished at what you notice the second time around. I’m also impressed that despite sticking closely to the manga, White Fox also managed to make a very distinct season break happen as if it were naturally a part of the story, when in fact it’s not.
What this first episode of “Perfect Order” does (along with the OP and ED) is give you a crystal clear idea of what the season is going to focus on. Jormungand had a dizzyingly complex story and astute observations on global politics and moral philosophy, but ultimately for me what makes it a great series is that it’s a series about great characters. “Larger than life” is a too often used term, but it really applies to the characters here – they’re all ridiculously charismatic and playing parts in a sometimes absurdly fanciful play, yet they feel very real as people – that’s Takahashi’s magic, and White Fox has translated it to the anime. With the heavy lifting of introducing the players and setting the stage done, the series can turn it’s attention to what really matters – and that’s the people at the core of the story.
I mentioned last season that the bigger Koko’s smile is, the more she’s hiding herself – a fact Renato (who turns out to be a CIA plant, in the episode’s big reveal) alludes to in his meeting with Bookman. If you watch any of S1 again the “Dragon Shooter” arc would be a great choice not just because it’s arguably the best, but also the most revealing about the characters. “Black or White, Koko continues on her grey path”. That sums her up pretty well, and her reaction when Dr. Maggie asked her “Aren’t you a dragon yourself?” is understandable. It’s the worst possible question, the last thing she wants to think about – and it explains, I think, why Jonah is so important to her. The boy is the woman’s tenuous connection to her humanity – the last thing keeping her from turning into a dragon.
Koko and Jonah are, of course, the heart of Jormungand – and he admirably holds up his end of the bargain. One of the best child characters in anime or manga (or elsewhere) Jonah is exceptional because while he’s no naïf – a trained and gifted killer with the stomach for the job, in fact – he’s still a child whose innocence reveals itself whenever his guard slips (which is usually in Koko’s presence). A child soldier, a boy who hates guns and travels with an arms dealer – he’s a study in contradiction, and it’s through his jaded but still somehow idealistic eyes that we see Koko, and the world she inhabits. In uncharacteristically clear terms Takahashi-sensei makes it clear what’s happening here – Scarecrow is “targeting the youngest of the group” in Operation Undershaft. And the newly introduced CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer Hex (the wonderful veteran Hisakwa Aya) is seeking to go after Koko not just to kill her, but to hurt her in the worst way possible.
In case you haven’t figured it out, there are no coincidences in Jormungand, and the timing of Koko’s decision to tell Jonah about the vagaries of CIA hierarchy (the smile never leaves her face) is not a matter of chance. How many times has she said she’s afraid of anything? Koko can look at an operation and see the fingerprints on it, and Jonah has something of this natural gift as well – as witness his reaction to the conversation between Koko and Dr. Miami as HCLI’s 126th rocket launch was occurring in the Solomon Islands. Dr. Miami is another character who’s always smiling and playing the fool, but looks can be deceiving – which makes the contrast with the likes of Valmet and Karen (who’s joined Dr. Miami as an assistant, setting up a fascinating dynamic), whose feelings are always plain on their faces, all the more stark. What all of these people have in common is there connection to Koko, the snake moving through the rushes at the edge of the shore – and now Jonah is part of her tangled web as well. Once someone becomes connected to Koko, things can never be the same – and it’s a fascinating thing to watch play out. It’s great to have Jormungand back.
ED: “Laterality” by Nagi Yanagi