I hate to be a broken record (do people still get that reference? Well – even a broken clock is right twice a day…), but Hana no Uta is pretty much a broken record itself. You know what to expect here and Ryo-timo always delivers.
That said, this might very well be the best episode of this incarnation so far – a rip-roaring and action-packed lark from start to finish, nicely balancing the action and comic elements and managing to give the events taking place more weight than they’ve had at any time so far. I’ve praised Ryo-timo liberally for his animation, art and choreography but the guy really understands pacing too – he can deliver 22 minutes without much of a pause without leaving the audience feeling exhausted when it’s all over.
We’re over halfway through this series, and we’ve finally segued into the main plot with the official arrival of Hiizuma Enjin (Tomakazu Seki). Fans of the franchise know him well, of course, and while the episode didn’t go into any detail there’s a lot of baggage here, as he’s inhabiting the body of Ao’s older brother Gin (who also happens to have been Akina’s best friend). There’s a nice irony here, as Gin volunteered to be tuned to the other dimension to try and stop what he and Akina assumed was the unintended merger of the two dimensions, only to have Enjin possess him – ironic because Enjin is the descendant of a branch of the family that was sent over against their will, and has been planning to merge the two dimensions using the Seven Pillars all along.
The news Enjin brings puts the lie to everything Akina’s life (and Sakura New Town, if you ask me) has been founded on, of course – and the fact that he’s starting at Gin’s face every time he confronts that lie is all the more gut-wrenching for him. As for that little side-track about Kouhime and the mayoral election, of course it was merely a front for Enjin to try and steal Akina’s body – and Yuuhi quickly puts the kibosh on the whole thing anyway by declaring that she’s too young to run (duh). It does bring Shinozuka (Ono Yuuki – I enjoy the fact that the onii in YQ are both played by Onos) officially over to the white hat brigade, though.
Kingdom 2 – 24
I’m not especially proud of the fact that I’m still bothered by bad CGI even though we’re 63 episodes into Kingdom – but I can’t help it, I am. When the series goes action-heavy as it did this week that’s always a red flag, and this ep was absolutely jam-packed with some of the worst CG you’ll in anime this year (and that’s saying a lot).
The thing is, this was an episode that displayed this series at its best and worst. Because in addition to that bad CGI you had one of the most epic throw-downs you’ll see in anime this year, and I can’t help but agonize (once again) over how great this show could have been if it had a decent animation budget. And it says something about how damn good it is even with the visuals having as many troughs as they do. The writing and the battle choreography here are first rate, and it continues to offer an object lesson in how to portray warfare both on the macro and micro level. And let’s face it, that puts it in pretty elite company in anime these days.
At this point I’m pretty much ready to confer the much-coveted “magnificent bastard” status on Lun Hu. Seriously, I spent the entirety of his battle with Xin (with a side of Wang) hoping he wouldn’t die here, because he’s such a great villain – just smug enough, whip-smart, preposterously fearsome in battle. Characters like Lun Hu are too entertaining to die, no matter which side they’re fighting on. But of course we know Xin isn’t going to die here, so something has to give – though whether that leaves Lun Hu standing at the end of the battle is an open question.
As for Xin, I think he proved here why, despite the fact that he’s not as conventionally smart as Wang Ben or as clever as Meng Tian, when the toy soldiers are shoved to the side and the bloodletting begins he may be the most dangerous of any of them – and as Lun Hu found out, he’s the one you don’t want to be fighting hand-to-hand. You see this in sports, too – some guys just have something inside them that allows them to surpass themselves in crucial moments, and Xin is one of those guys. As Lun Hu himself said, he “may have let my guard down, taken him a little lightly” – and he paid for it with a cut to his wrist which seems to have severed his tendons. Of course, this comes after landing several blows on Xin despite fighting off Wang Ben at the same time. I think the most impressive thing for me about Lun, though, was how he carried himself when the fight was over and the Feixin and Wang Ben forces were retreating – he stood his ground, scolded his officers not to panic and stated that this presented a great opportunity to strike back, inflicting twice the damage they’d received. Spoken like a magnificent bastard.
The side dish this week was a check-in on the fight between Wang Ben’s father
Roberts Wang Jian and Jian Yan – specifically, our first look in a while at “My Man” Bi. He’s drawn the attention of Wang Jian himself for his yeoman work, which nets him a field promotion to 5000-Man General – and the task of luring Jian Yan into an enclosed canyon and wiping out his 10,000 man force with his of half the size. It’s not the first time I’ve said it with this character, but Bi hoisted a couple of serious death flags this week – let’s hope the writers don’t salute them next week.