Today marks a turning point in what I’ll be doing with reviews on Art In Art Out. Movies will now appear here as wildcard reviews while I’m at least doubling the amount of anime that I’ll be reviewing consistently (See the April Update for more information). We’ll start with a brand new anime that premiered on Tuesday last week on Crunchyroll because, as before, reviews go up when everybody can watch the program. Much like my Laid Back Camp Reviews, there will be spoilers ahead. So, this is Joran: The Princess Of Snow And Blood. Let’s get started.
We start with the waves of the sea. The lips of a woman utter, “You, who would violate the foundation of what makes a man, dwell now in the blue that surges within!” as her long hair comes undone from any pins and ties that held it up. The Blue that surges within appears in the form of a transformation, as the young woman’s arm gives rest an albino crow that turns into blue fire, consuming her and making her into a more powerful being with a mouth comparable to a Titan in another anime. She then clashes swords with another swordsman, a shadowy figure who stands at least a few heads above her height.
And so our setting is provided after this. The year is 1931, the sixty-fourth year of the Meiji Era. The fifteenth Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, continues to wield absolute power. And it is thanks to a monopoly over the ‘special natural resource’ known as “Ryumyaku” (which translates as “Dragon Vein” and it appears in Final Fantasy 14, Naruto and Fire Emblem, among other stories). There is a resistance to his authority. But it is usually folk putting up graffiti that says “Down With Toku”. However, there is secret police. Or specifically, executioners in the government’s pocket, blending into the background, known as Nue. With some members even running Normal businesses, like Morning Dew Used Bookstore. Owned, run, and lived in by Sawa Yukimura, an executioner who is the guardian of Asahi Nakamura, an orphaned girl everybody thinks is Sawa’s younger sister.
As our main character in the show: Sawa, the woman with the albino crow – is further presented to us through her daily life with Asahi. In this instance, Asahi cooking dinner and asking if Sawa wanted a carrot or daikon that evening (While Sawa reads). Asahi is still learning how to cook and be more lady-like. But it is also clear that Sawa wants the girl to be happy. The tradition of receiving that by marrying well instilled into the situation. To which, Asahi remarks that she doesn’t want to get married.
That morning a cheerful man in a light coloured suit arrives while Sawa is enjoying old book smell, to tell her that he is going to Paris and playfully offers to marry her. She declines while offering him information that we know is truthful, but he does not. During the next few minutes, we receive more information on Sawa’s bookshop. Which is this: It buys more books from customers than it does sell them. The man left his book about Paris to sell and have the money to treat Asahi to some candy. But when a young boy arrives with the children’s book Fight Against Fate Or Brent Brompton’s Delusion (a real children’s book published in 1920), it tells us that nobody is buying books and others are broke and hungry. Which then makes us glad that Sawa has a little side business. Or are we?
Sawa goes to a Nue meeting that evening. She meets up with Makoto Tsukishiro (a Bandoneon Performer by day) and Elena Hanakaze (A novelist who is also a lady-of-the-night while being an executioner). They meet up with Jin Kuzuhara, the wolf-eyed leader of Nue, in an underground war room that reminds me of the scenes where James Bond gets his Gadgets for the movie. Their mission is then given to them – to prevent an assassination during the ceremony of Tokyo Castle’s completion.
A lot happens during the next ten minutes. Asahi finishes making dinner and waits for Sawa to come home and eat it. Until then, she dances to some cheerful music. ‘Music that happens to be playing in a ballroom where the Nue members are blending into the background while conversations include epidemics, doctors and quarantines…too soon? It just reminds us of everything happening right now. One thing I will say, and this is for the voice-overs. I am happy that they got folk who have a good accent and pronunciation when speaking English dialogue. They spot their target, Janome, who has many fingers in many pies and is also a successful smuggler. Makoto and Elena get the battle started, using Ryumyaku-infused weapons, including an umbrella crossbow (which looks Amazing), a grenade that looks like a perfume bottle, and a sword that looks and acts like a lightsaber with a glowing blue finish. With these weapons, the monster comes out of hiding before escaping. The smuggled goods are investigated and happen to be contraband rice – nothing special. Makoto blows it up as they leave and then remarks that there are many tunnels. Two come from the Castle, with one having tight security and the other approached by Sawa. ‘Bringing us, seemingly, full circle to the beginning of the episode.
Sawa transforms into her Ryumyaku-empowered form. Which makes her look like her clothes are made of feathers (It reminds me of Teela Na, The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull in He-Man). Her eyes also glow bright blue, like the green of SOLDIER’s eyes in Final Fantasy VII. She insists to the beast that this is just business. However, when she realises that the beast is the cheerful man in the white suit, it becomes a more difficult battle – especially when she sees him in pain. After defeating the beast-man, we get a Haiku: “Amidst the pitiless white snow, a fleeting dream is scattered, the path back leads only to Hell, I have no regrets”. Syllable-wise, in terms of Haiku rules, it fits in Japanese, but not English. We then get Sawa’s real name: Sawa Karasumori. How this information plays out remains to be seen. But we do know she is out for revenge. After this, Tokyo Castle is finished and given the ceremony. The albino crow is flying, and then the reveal of what we can assume are Sawa’s ‘real family’ or enemies. We know that there are people who can transform into beasts that are looking for her. They acquired the Tokyo Roster to find her (assuming she is from their ‘tribe’ perhaps). And we also know from a prologue scene that Sawa’s older brother was killed by one of those beasts when she was a young girl (or was he?) which, gives her the goal of revenge, though we don’t see the killer’s face. Our episode ends on a cliffhanger. As Sawa sleeps through a nightmare, and Asahi kneels beside her…bringing out a big knife.
So far, I have found this show enjoyable. I’m getting hints from various other stories and characters from other places here. Sawa reminds me of Lady Snowblood, and Nue, in particular, the chemistry between Makoto and Elena, reminds me of the Avengers (The British one. Not the Marvel Comics one), and there is a hint of Buffy with Sawa being a potential demon hunter. So I feel a reason to keep going. Despite being set in the same time period, my experience with this anime so far has been nothing like Woodpecker’s Detective Office – to which we can rejoice.