In a sense, this episode of Hoozuki no Reitetsu seemed a lot closer in spirit to the first couple of episodes than the last few. The difference is that I’m so wrapped up in the sensibility of the series now that it doesn’t play as nearly so esoteric and droll. There’s a common touch to the highbrow material like thisweek’s , and a bit of wry sophistication to the raunchier and more broad comedy that we’ve seen in the previous few weeks. That’s one of the key reasons why Hoozuki is so successful with so many different styles of humor.
The featured character this week was Hakutaku, and that nearly always means a deep dive into Japanese and Chinese mythology. As we join him this week he’s in the midst of a brutal hangover as Momotarou is happily playing the role of disapproving wife. Hakutaku being in charge of healing arts is ironic since he’s a walking poster for every unhealthy vice there is. He’s spent the previous night with a bijin who turns out to be Daji, concubine to King Zhou of Shang (roughly 3000 years ago). He was the last King of Shang, and Daji is roundly credited with bringing about the destruction of the kingdom with her debauchery and astonishing sadism.
One could go on about Daji’s exploits of torture and cruelty (she went on to be a reviled figure in both Chinese and Japanese mythology), but cutting to the present, she’s now the proprietress of the “Foxy Lady”, a brothel in Mortal Hell, and it was she who spent the night with Hakutaku – and left him with a ¥500,000 bill along with his hangover. Hakutaku is remarkably cheerful despite whoring himself into debt and spending the morning worshipping the porcelain idol – he has time to make wry observations (like the fact that the computer only became popular because guys wanted to access porn, the same reason the tech advances so quickly) and decides to cure himself with the hair of the dog in Mortal Hell.
After a very funny short montage on the theme of “alcohol is the antonym to cool-headedness” we rejoin the party at an izakaya in Hell, where Hakutaku’s arrival brings a death glare from Hoozuki, but Enma apologizes for his subordinate and invites the God of Fortune and the Peach Boy to join. There’s karaoke and spicy ma la (Sichuan – the famous “numbing spicy” flavor that truly earns its name) hot pot, which leads us to a rare moment of Hoozuki losing face – turns out he’s weak when it comes to spice (though a fiend when it comes to o-sake, which he reminds the lightweight Hakutaku). Okou tries to keep peace by appealing to them as “Tat-chan” and “Kat-chan” – using the names of the twin brothers from Adachi Misturu’s “Touch”. Hakutaku is amused, Hoozuki is not – and Okou reminds him “It used to be really popular” (damn right – in the 1980’s Tatsuya and Katsuya were the two most popular boy’s names in Japan). When Okou heads out Nasubi and Karauri follow her like a pair of puppy dogs, and the party as a whole comes to a close when Enma-sama starts to tell a story about his grandson and Hoozuki warns everyone to escape.
The rest of the episode surrounds events in “Screaming Hell”, where those who sinned under the influence of alcohol are consigned to eternity. They’re risen up and stolen the wine from the eight-headed snake Yamata no Orochi. In addition to causing quite the uproar to which Hoozuki (with a skylarking Hakutaku in tow) must attend, this loops in several names who get their second anime shout-outs in two days. It was Susanoo (Uka-sama’s father, for you Inari Konkon watchers) who slayed Orochi, and it’s also noted here that he “took a dump in Amaterasu’s Shrine” (I don’t think we’ll see that in Inari Konkon). Hoozuki’s eventual solution is to force the sinners to drink until they’re sick with it (a commentary on forced drinking in Japanese society, not the only one in the episode), which gives Hakutaku the opportunity to over the Yoro Wine Falls on his estate for rent – a rare occasion where he proves useful to Hoozuki, but also his means to pay off his tab with Daji. Hoozuki’s final remark – “He’s like a breath of fresh trash”.
This definitely qualifies as both the strangest and most mythologically-driven episode of Hoozuki since the premiere, but what really stands out is the relentless irreverence and the slightly out-of-control nature of the narrative. This episode was like watching a pinball – it bounced in rapid-fire fashion from gag to gag, legend to legend, with nary a rest. I didn’t get every joke but with this many, there were still plenty to go around. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder what in the world was going on in the mind of the person that wrote it, and then leaves you very glad they did.