Apart from a couple of wayward steps in the middle, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii has been consistently pretty damn good, and it’s shaping to finish up with what looked like a cracking couple of episodes. We’ve seen some nice development between Livi and Nike, and of course that’s the straw that stirs the drink with this series. But now we’re getting what’s surely the best plot of any arc, and an intensity level (in more ways than one) that surpasses anything we’ve seen up to this point.
I confess that one of the reasons this show appeals to me is that it almost feels like seeing Otoyomegatari play out on-screen, something we may never actually get to see in its own right. There are more differences than similarities, but there’s an essential quality to the main relationship that’s shared, and it goes beyond the calendar. The last couple of episodes have beautifully depicted the gradual transition of Nike’s feelings from those of maternal affection to genuine love, a sea change in the way she views her partner. We saw that happen memorably between Amira and Karluk of course, in circumstances that were not wholly dissimilar.
For the Nth time, I really like these two and the way they interact with each other. Nike’s mounting romantic tension playing out was pretty hilarious – chopping wood and peeling potatoes enough for thousands as her mind wrestled with these new-found urges. “You’ve done that lots of times” she thinks – interestingly – about the kiss. And when she walks in on Livi changing she thinks “You’ve seen him naked lots of times!” But that was then and this is now, and once out of the bottle the
elephant genie can never be put back. I also like the way Livi expresses himself here – “It’s fine”, he says of their height difference. “I won’t be like this forever.” He also reveals (not for the first time) something of a poet’s soul in the way he reflects on how the “closed in” nature of the rain makes him feel more secure that Nike won’t fly away from him. As anime romance goes, this is good stuff, really believable and articulate.
Of course there’s a fly in the ointment, and that’s Nike’s grandmother. She’s the real power in the Principality of Rain, a formidable figure and opponent. And more so than any of the earlier arcs, this one represents a credible and intriguing conflict and a true threat to Nike and Livi’s future. Tohara is an intriguing figure – rather than try to exploit the opportunity a worldwide drought gave the Principality she closed off the country to avoid having their powers become the object of a war. There’s wisdom in that, but it also reflects a strong isolationist strain – one born of necessity, arguably, but in old age it seems to have taken root and expressed itself in dark ways. She’s the real enemy for Nike and Livi, not Kitora (Kondou Takayuki) the lovestruck cousin and childhood playmate of Nike. He – like everyone else in this country it seems – is merely dancing to Tohara’s tune.
I have my own suspicions about Nike’s father, who portrays himself as a meek and clueless son-in-law who screwed up by marrying Nike off while Tohara was off touring the world with Kitora. My guess is that this was a father trying to give a daughter something better – get her out from under Tohara’s suffocating domination and being the process of opening up his country to the world (perhaps a hint of social commentary in that). Either way, though, Tohara was furious and this entire false illness and subsequent visit is engineered to wrest Nike away from the Sun King forever. This eventually leads us to Kitora knocking Nike out with incense and locking her up in the magic-proofed prison tower (there can surely be no greater gesture of familial love) and the old woman proceeding with a plan to hypnotize Livi and make him decide he has no interest in being with Nike.
Fortunately, Livi is quite the master when it comes to the politics of deception, and he’s not fooled. This is really a terrific setup – Livi doing battle with the obaba on the outside, while Nike throws herself against the bars of her cage until she’s bloodied, much to Kitora’s horror. Neither one of them is willing to sit tight and wait for the other to act, which is what I really love about this pairing. If not the Duke himself the wild card here is surely Nike’s sisters, who likewise seem to chafe under their grandmother’s stifling authority but for the nonce are too frightened to act against her. That is, apart from Kara, who’s the one who assists Livi after he escapes from the failed attempt to sedate and hyptnotize him. Kitora too is likely to end up helping Nike rather than see her damage herself further, which is going to leave Tohara increasingly isolated.
The power of love can’t be denied – and certainly not by the bride’s family trying to steal her back, be it in 19th Century Turkey or wherever the heck this series is set (no medieval lands with film cameras and electronic music spring immediately to mind). It’s nice to see Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii steaming towards the finish line by focusing on what it really does well and showing new strength as a plot-driven drama, too – there’s nothing quite like a good love story and anime gives us far too few of them.