What’s it about? Hyoudou Shinsuke is a wandering ronin in a Sengoku-era Japan divided between monsters, or katawara, and humans. One day, he happens upon Tama, a fox spirit katawara with a love for humans. Wanting to create a better world, she and her stepbrother Jinka travel the land searching for evildoing humans to either convince to abandon their ways—or, failing that, get rid of them. What an opportunity for Hyoudou to learn to be a better warrior!
Around the minute and a half mark, as a beautifully animated fight scene played itself out before my eyes, I thought to myself: Thank goodness, a Mizukami adaptation that isn’t dogshit! After Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, I was genuinely worried that his work was cursed, doomed forever to be adapted into productions with no budget and even less artistry. Being wrong, I breathed a sigh of relief.
That was also the only breath I took this whole episode.
I kid, of course. Mizukami’s works have always felt a little too fast-paced for me, as they frequently drop you in a world where the utterly bizarre is just considered part of normal life and then immediately jump into madcap action. Sengoku Youko is no exception. Hyoudou Shinsuke, our point of view character, falls face-first into three different fights over the course of the episode, during which he learns about Jinka and Tama’s morally righteous quest to purge humanity of evildoers. For an anime that is slated to run for 3 cours over 37 episodes, it is surprisingly swift.
It is somewhat hard to judge the show right now, because at this point, the characters have extremely simple motivations: Jinka and Tama want to rid the world of “evildoers,” and Jinka wants to become the best warrior there can be. The black-and-white morality of Jinka and Tama’s worldview would normally be a major turn-off for me–I find it extremely difficult to relate to characters who are mostly defined by a sense of moral righteousness, much preferring knotty and complex protagonists. Hyoudou’s backstory is similarly underwhelming–kids bullied him saying he couldn’t be a samurai’s son, let alone a samurai, so he wants to prove them wrong and is thrilled at the prospect of learning to kill katawara and prove himself.
Now, this all feels very boilerplate battle shounen to me. However, the interaction between these two parties hint that they might challenge each other to grow. Hyoudou expresses shock at the naivety of trying to “talk sense into” a bandit camp with a lame lecture on morality; given he is the audience surrogate, it is likely we are supposed to be with him in his befuddlement. On the other hand, for somebody so dedicated to the warrior’s path, Hyoudou seems extremely dysregulated when he’s actually in battle, and spends much of the episode actually cowering watching the fighting from the sidelines. Tama is easily able to read Hyoudou’s goofy inner monologue, guessing at his hackneyed motivations to learn to fight katawara and mocking them. It seems like the show is largely self-aware of the cliche and naive aspects of its protagonists’ ideologies—whether it turns that self-awareness into a meaningful critique and investigation is another matter. Given the reputation of Planet With, I have strong hopes.
It’s worth noting that the series is fun. The animation is steller throughout, and the comic timing, character dynamics, and overall vibe of the show is quite enjoyable. I love watching Hyoudou and Tama banter back and forth, and Hyoudou’s haplessness is a constant source of comedy. I want to see more complexity in this show’s moral vision, however, and would like a little bit of time for the characters to process everything that’s happening. With somebody like Mizukami as the writer, I want to think this show will give us something more to chew on thematically–and, unless the fast pace turns me off completely, I will likely be there when that happens.