Warning: Review contains spoilers!
The New Year’s Tournament continues this episode. First half, Uno shows everyone just why he’s so great at gambling: not because of cheating, but because he is exemplary at pinpointing people’s tells during a game. The childish Nico amazes during the second half by showing that he can learn anything he looks cool in the blink of an eye.
5 episodes in, and I can finally remember 3 of the 4 inmates’ names thanks to this episode. This one really highlighted why at least two of the inmates are the best of the best when it comes to escaping prisons. Even though they were mainly depicted as incredibly lighthearted idiots who are characterized by one or two ticks, these ticks were turned on their heads this time around. That is, not only are they defined at just one thing, but they’re geniuses at that one thing in pretty surprising ways.
For example, Uno is the gambler who likes girls. We don’t get any girls except for head warden Momoko this time around, but he’s usually seen playing cards or something with his buddies. Just lighthearted fun, right? Not this time. The entire first half of the episode, Uno channels some seriously dark energy as he arrogantly hammers his opponents to their lowly place by telling them exactly how their body language gives away their intentions during a card game. Yet by the end, he transforms back into his regular self and states how he’s doing all of this just to play with his buddies.
Nico, on the other hand, has always been the kid who likes sports and anime. He sees this levitating qigong master and thinks it’s amazingly awesome. The entire last half of the episode is a tribute to old action anime as Nico shouts out quotable tidbits he’s always wanted to say and miraculously fires off censored versions of Gundam moves, Kamehamehas, and more. He’s still very childish, and looks puny compared to his more muscular friends, but this is all contradicted by his insane ability in fighting. Of course, the series reverts back to normal for him as well.
In the backdrop of these scenes, the guards are seen yelling competitive insults at one another and having their own spat. Hajime in particular has some particularly sinister moments where he still vehemently denies that he’s hiding anything about the inmates’ escapes. Contrary to the inmates, these scenes remain consistent in tone, with the guards simply facing off for, it seems, sport. Furthermore, even though they don’t capture the attention as much as the other battle scenes, they seem to be the ones progressing the story the most out of all of them—especially since each inmate’s chance at success keeps being cut short by their proclamations of wanting to play games or something like that.
So there’s still an imbalance, as I’ve been complaining about for a while, and in this episode it both works and doesn’t work. It may feel as if Nanbaka is just trying to hold onto the comedic premises it set during the first couple of episodes, but here they serve a deeper purpose than before. The comedic bits heighten the absurdity of the entire series, complementing the machismo, even intelligent at some points, competition occurring during the rest of the episode. This disjointedness feels a little strange at times, but it’s exactly what lets the anime explore different sides of a seemingly trivial and stereotypical characteristic—like what “being childish” might mean. The dynamic action scenes really help a lot. In short, we get more lovable and memorable (not necessarily more deep) characters, and definitely a much more addicting anime, but something feels off at times.
Other than that, I think this particular arc is full of pleasant surprises. One other thing I also find interesting is that whereas all three of his friends clearly won their respective matches, Jyugo was beaten down at his own. Yet he’s arguably their team leader. Since they’re known for breaking out of prisons, he’s definitely the best at that. He also knows all their quirks and seems to predict what they would do during the matches. But it’s still suspicious, since all of them now stand out on their own, the three much more than Jyugo since the tournament began.
What I’m worried about now is the end of this entire tournament. Sure, we’ve seen some pretty fantastic battle scenes and hateful arguments the last two episodes, and nice continuity between episodes, but each inmate just wants to win something silly at the end. I’m hoping that the finale of this arc doesn’t drop back to unexplained comedy as per usual.