Warning: Contains spoilers! Many, many spoilers!
Hardly any sparkles, toned down and musing—the use of color and the lack thereof to emphasize how Jyugo feels when by himself versus with his friends was probably the best part of the episode. To me, Nanbaka’s animation has always been one of its best points, and there’s no exception here.
My primary complaint is that this episode felt like a completely different anime. I get it. This episode served—finally, I might add—to show us the main storyline. But it didn’t watch like Nanbaka, the sometimes comedy and/or sometimes action anime. I thought this episode was overly dramatic and confusing, casting aside its main storyline only to pick it up again at the very end. The only funny part was a sort of awkward giggle at the absurdity of the entire thing. Then again, Nanbaka HAS been attempting to show that it can straddle more than one genre. So it might be completely serious this time, but previews seem to hint it’ll be (almost!) back to comedy mode next episode.
Most of this episode featured Jyugo, who’s woken up and is chained in a prison cell, talking via walkie-talkie to the dude who could throw around fire like no one’s business in order to reveal who the guy who put the shackles on Jyugo is. He can throw fire because of that guy, too, so at least two people are searching for him.
In the middle of this sequence, I became pretty interested, almost ready to cast off my previous doubts about the last couple of episodes. Affirming hints sprinkled through the last few episodes, we finally see proof that the guy in charge of the guy who put shackles on Jyugo (you read that right) is a guard at Nanba prison. We also find out that these superpowers are due to technology, not really magic. For example, other dude’s ability to control, not just make, fire only came when his formerly “only freakish” fire powers were greatly amplified instead of removed by shackle guy. After his powers were awakened, he was cast away because he was just a data point for shackle guy. Also, three points of irony: guy who put shackles on Jyugo actually has shackles on himself, and fire guy wants Jyugo’s shackles to uh, get closer to shackle guy, and fire guy finally has his old wish of not actually being able to control fire and join normal society right, thanks to the scientists at Nanba Prison, when he wants to actually use it to kill shackle guy.
Then Hajime starts to talk. If you just cover up the subtitles and imagine him speaking with a steely tone and merciless eye, it looks like he means real business. He does, but what comes out of his mouth is a little weird. The argument becomes: “Jyugo, you don’t really want to find the man with shackles. You actually lack greed and don’t want anything, but the man gave you an objective. There was no other point but that it gave you something to do.”
Jyugo realizes that Hajime’s right.
After some more back-and-forth, Hajime gives Jyugo a choice to get anything he wants because they won the tournament. Hint hint: in five minutes, Hajime will no longer be in charge of him. Remembering his friends, Jyugo pleads with Hajime to give him another chance. Good choice, boy, Hajime nods. A shadow of a cool moment seems to pass, as Hajime says that thing won’t be the same again. He will not hesitate to break Jyugo’s bones and crush him if he tries to escape.
Wait, what? What about this entire storyline that’s waiting to be unearthed, which you just poignantly told through an emphatic walkie-talkie interview? I cared about fire guy, man. And there’s a mad scientist on the loose; you can bet that I’d be on board with that. You’re telling me that Jyugo doesn’t really care about this?
It’s a little confusing and took a few rewatches for me. Jyugo mentions that the others were happy and smiling when they wanted something. He became dependent on them for happiness, but that’s not him. In short, he wants to want something too, and face all these challenges head-on. His motivation to pursue his goal is renewed. And with his warning, Hajime is motivating him to actually do something about it. At least, that’s what I got.
The flow of logic still isn’t quite up there, but I stopped a few minutes ago because, like Jyugo and his “lack of greed” (anime’s words), I didn’t want to bother. I’ve also watched it a few more times than I was planning to (read: only once) to try to iron out all the kinks, and I still haven’t figured it out. I’ve done that before with other series, as a compliment, but that was definitely not the case here.
I’m not sure how Hajime arrived at his analysis that Jyugo doesn’t care about anything, given that Jyugo did seem pretty expressive during the interview and didn’t let on that he didn’t care at all. It’s a huge jump in thinking and didn’t make sense after the horrific story that had just been revealed, and the attitude that both participants had towards it. It felt more like a “Get Out of Jail” card in Monopoly to bounce it back to its equilibrium comedy state than a proper development of the story.
Anyway, at least we got to see some character development out of Jyugo, both from his actions and the fact that they took out all the sparkles and color when focusing on him. Also, even with all my confusion, this episode got me interested in the storyline. It does look promising, but I just don’t think the execution’s there. Considering past transgressions, will they actually explore it? If they do, will it be worth it?