Watanabe-sensei just can’t resist getting a plug in for the bikes…
Without any question, series that are groundbreaking and game-changing are something to be admired. But the ability to reinvent the tried and true may, in a way, actually be more difficult. How is it that Majimoji Rurumo is consistently able to take what should be trite and predictable and make it captivating and fresh? It’s a miracle of good writing, yes, but a lot of credit still goes to director Sakurai Chikara and J.C. Staff, who’ve done a terrific job putting together an eye-catching and visually clever show (I find myself taking huge numbers of screencaps every week) with an outstanding cast, mostly of no-names but with a couple of able assists from legendary seiyuu.
I’m never again going to make the mistake of dismissing Majimoji Rurumo as an afterthought to Yowamushi Pedal, because the series has totally won me over. This week’s subject matter is the hot spring, and one could hardly think of a more overused cliche in school series than that – but once again this series manages to find the charming and offbeat in the familiar. Outlaw Star sets the standard for the onsen episode, but Majimoji Rurumo’s is solidly at the top of the second tier.
There is actually a legendary Ookami Jinja not far from Tokyo, Mitsumine in the Chichibu area. It’s deep in the mountains and takes a long time to get to so I haven’t been there, but it seems like quite the cool place with many wolf legends. As for mixed gender baths (konyoku) they’re somewhat legendary too these days, as they’ve become uncommon apart from very rural areas – they were once widespread across Japan, before Western morals taught the Japanese to be ashamed of such places (it should be noted that parents taking children as old as 10 or 11 into the opposite-gender bath still seems quite accepted even in Tokyo).
The premise of this episode is another of Sempai’s occult wild-goose chases that actually turns out to catch a wild goose, just as it did with the legendary swimsuit. This time it’s a spring whose waters cause people to turn into wolves (more true wolves than werewolves in the Westerm sense, as it turns out). But first we have the boys trying to draw as much ecchi energy as they can out of the konyoku experience, with Sakurai (it turns out that the enforcer Izumi has a serious crush on him) playing the role of the good boy (and he looks the part).
This makes the ep look like it’s going to be a straight-up fanservice romp, which it is for about half its length. Again, though, this is done with so much unpretentious goofiness and exquisite comic timing that it’s great fun to watch play out. As with the kitten episode, though, there’s a serious turn coming, in both senses of the word. Sempai ends up making an unsuspecting Kouta his guinea pig for the spring water as payment for ditching the trip to find it, and soon enough Kouta has enough hair on his legs to instil rage in legions of Oofuri fans. At this point it’s natural to assume this development is going to be played for comic effect too, with Kouta desperately trying to hide his increasingly lupine physiognomy and the girls convinced there’s a wolf loose at the inn.
Things don’t get as dark here as they did with the kittens, but they turn out to be a whole lot more serious than you’d expect – and quite affecting, too. Once the obaa-san with the shotgun shows up, it’s clear this is no game – the locals are on the hunt with shoot to kill orders, and Kouta is terrified and alone. Not even Chiro recognizes him (after much frolicking in human form she’s turned back into a cat to chase a mouse) but Ruruomo does. She chalks it up to a witch always recognizing her contractor, but there’s obviously a deeper sort of connection implied here. It’s she who ends up hiding Kouta – now fully in wolf form – from the angry mob, and she who reminds him that he doesn’t need hands to use a magic ticket to have her save him, he need only wish for it.
It’s surprising how genuinely touching these moments between Rurumo and Kouta are, despite the absurdity of the situation. You really feel the terror and loneliness he feels, and the relief that Rurumo still knows him. There’s no trace of the dojikko Rurumo here – she’s calm and competent and takes charge of the situation, and makes sure to save the day (and Kouta’s skin – all of which he shows after he changes back, and the episode doesn’t cheapen the moment by exploiting it for comic purposes). Majimoji Rurumo just keeps finding emotion in the strangest places, and making that which should be superficial feel quite deep. Not many of you appear to be paying this show much attention, but I for one am glad we’ve gotten the chance to spend a few months with it.