While things are zipping along nicely, I’m still quite unsure where Satelight is headed with this adaptation. They continue to adapt the manga at a pace of a little more than three chapters per episode – brisk, certainly, but not insanely so. And so far there haven’t been any huge, game-changing rewrites that tip off where the series is headed. My suspicion when this started was that we were headed for a repeat of Zetman, a long-running manga crammed into one cour with an original final act, but that was already obvious by this point in that adaptation – not so here. I suppose it’s possible the plan is simply to adapt the first 40-50 chapters and stop, leaving an open invitation to buy the manga, but if I were betting I’d still put my money on an anime-original ending of some sort.
Arata still isn’t shaking the Earth or anything, but story-wise it’s doing a solid job of conveying exactly what this series is – a straightforward, entertaining shounen fantasy with lots of action and a splash of shoujo style. My biggest regret is that Satelight hasn’t given us a richer, more fluid visual experience in the mold of Mouretsu Pirates to do justice to the look of Watase Yuu’s manga – the art is colorful and the character designs have grown on me, but the animation and background detail are, in a word, ordinary. I have no major complaints apart from that – I enjoy the BGM, the casting is fine and the narrative structure (as you’d expect from a rock-solid director like Yasuda-sensei) is excellent.
Several new faces appeared this week, as Hinohara and Konoha arrived at the “Hell on Earth” prison of Gotoya Island, but the most important of them is Kanate (Minagawa Junko). He’s one of the first people they meet upon arrival, when it becomes clear that someone has started a rumor that anyone who brings the head of the “Princess Killer” to the warden will be freed. Gotoya isn’t a traditional prison with cells, but rather a sort of lawless wasteland, where everyone is left to fend for themselves – and Kanata is also fending for his adopted otouto, Ginchi, after both of them were sent to Gotoya for thievery. Kanata is about to take a stab at grabbing the head in question when “The Reckoning” begins – a daily ritual where two prisoners are sucked into giant tubes where, presumably, they meet their end.
Kanata is an important character, and he strikes the right notes in his first appearance, largely thanks to the casting of Minagawa-san – who’s about as good as any female seiyuu at portraying boys. There are those who feel the Kanate-Ginchi thread is the most emotionally involving in the manga, and I’m pleased that by first appearances, it appears that it’s not going to be shafted by the adaptation. It isn’t hard to see that Hinohara and Kanata were always going to end up allies in a place where real friends are few and far between, despite their rough start – in addition to a pass at taking Hinohara’s head Kanate ends up claiming Konoha after he rescues her when she takes a tumble (not that he has any clue what to do with her). Hinohara also finds another seemingly friendly face in Osome, the female prisoner who feeds him what little information he has about Gotoya.
What we didn’t see in this episode was Arata, or any sign of modern-day Tokyo. For those interested that’s not a shift – they didn’t get any play at this point in the manga either. There’s an awful lot happening in Amawakuni at the moment what with Hinohara and Konoha arriving in Gotoya, not to mention that he’s just been asked by the dying Princess Kikuri to find her before she dies, and to rule the land in her place. Hinohara’s arc at this point looks very much like a standard shounen hero’s – the reluctant boy full of self-doubt forced to shoulder the responsibility for many others and to grow up. Well, Watase-sensei is working her first shounen series here, so I suppose it’s natural she’d take her cues from established precedent – but as the story progresses, both Hinohara and Arata Kangatari reveal more of their actual bloodline. I only hope the anime is able to portray that with as much accuracy as they’ve portrayed the direct approach of the first chapters.