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Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 12: Over the Rainbow and a Higher Cause

Quick Summary

In Otome Yokai Zakuro episode 12, “Looming Crisis,” Kei Agemaki, with the help of his friends, convinces the Lords A and Um to send them to the Village of Oracles, but only after Kei said he was tired of not having done anything to be worthy of Zakuro. Once there, Kei found himself separated from the others, until he came face to face with Tsukuhane, Zakuro’s mother. She gave him a weighty message for her daughter. Meanwhile, Bonbori, Ganryuu, Houzuki, Riken, and Susukihotaru interrupted Omodaka’s ritual just as he was about to kiss Zakuro. As a gesture of thanks, he unleashed the supernatural power of the village against them. Can they survive the onslaught? If they do, what other misfortunes will he throw at them?

Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.

What’s in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: An Unwilling Enemy

The fox spirits were in such agony that they begged our heroes to kill them. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

You know how in supernatural-themed shows, when the bad guy’s wizards or shamans summon a demon or other mystical creature? Pretty stock thing for a show to do, isn’t it? One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Otome Yokai Zakuro is how it takes those tropes and gives them a little twist.

Bonbori, Ganryuu, and the others (except Kei!) interrupted Omodaka’s ritual just as he was about to kiss Zakuro. In retribution, he ordered his minions to attack. Using paper charms, they enlarged the fox spirits that had been present for the ritual. Now much larger even than terrestrial elephants, the fox spirits attacked. Ganryuu and Riken were barely able to hold them off with swords. Bonbori, Houzuki, and Susukihotaru used their enchanted branches. It became clear, though, that the fox spirits were stronger and would eventually wear them down. Omodaka took the unconscious Zakuro and retreated with Byakuroku.

This is where it got interesting.

The fox spirits’ plight broke Susukihotaru’s heart. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Susukihotaru noticed that the female fox spirit attacking her was actually crying (06:51). None of the fox spirits wanted to fight, but their magical handlers compelled them. In fact, they came out and literally begged the Ministry of Spirit Affairs members to kill them to put them out of their misery.

Two things stood out to me. First, the fox spirits acted and sounded as if they were in mental anguish. My breath actually caught in my throat! I think that knowing Kushimatsu as well as I did deepened my empathy. Fox spirits are kind and gentle. I really didn’t like seeing them treated like this.

Second was Susukihotaru’s reaction. She was heart-broken! She almost couldn’t speak because of her anguish. By this point, I was really dreading this fight. Certainly, I still wanted our heroes to advance. Heaven knows Kei will need their help! But the cost was going to be uncomfortably high.

Moment 2: A Brilliant Tactic

Susukihotaru thought that Riken was going to take the same approach that I thought he was going to take. Riken, though, was way ahead of us… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Susukihotaru understood the situation. She knew that they had to stop Omodaka and save Zakuro — and themselves! Yet, even to save her own life, she couldn’t bring herself to try to kill the rampaging fox spirits. Riken stepped up, and echoing the sentiment Kei told the Lords A and Um, he said it was time he shouldered some of the burden that the half-spirits had been carrying. He went so far to say that if he couldn’t step up, then he (08:20) “have no right to be with you.”

Of course, I assumed he meant that he would kill the fox spirits to spare Susukihotaru and the others from the trauma. But he had remembered something that Kushimatsu had told them about fox spirits: Namely, that the fox spirits were helpless against the Village of Oracle’s magic. So instead of attacking the fox spirits, he attacked the handlers. They were so pathetic that he only had to use the hilt of his sword.

His tactic worked. As the handles fled in terror, the fox spirits reverted to their original form and stopped their attacks. The show could have just given us a violent battle, which would have dramatically satisfying. Instead, it gave us something different, and I appreciated that.

Moment 3: A Mother’s Love

You know when people say that perception is reality? I’ve never really been able to accept that. I mean, look at what happened to Omodaka when he acted on what he thought he saw instead of confirming it! Facts are always better. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

You know what makes a tragic situation even more painful? Discovering a misunderstand that, had it been corrected, would have eliminated the tragedy altogether. We learned of one of those in this episode.

Kei stood between the still unconscious Zakuro and Omodaka. Before he had found his way to Zakuro, Kei had been in the presence of her mother, who had given him a message to deliver. Omodaka was going on and on about how Zakuro got everything good in life, including trustworthy friends and, most important of all, her mother’s love. From his perspective, his mom had even been willing to kill herself to prevent being using to the village — or to Omodaka.

“… Why must she hate me so?” he lamented (16:51).

Kei had learned a lot from Zakuro’s mother. I think profound empathy was one of those things. Though he was already pretty good at that! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Grimly, Kei said he was just like she had described him. “Your heart aches and trembles,” he said (16:56). Kei then explained to Omodaka what he had learned from Tsukuhane. Namely, that she had decided that she would cooperate with the continued mistreatment of the half-spirits, including the creation of more of them. Once that decision was made, there was only one thing left that she wanted to do.

What that was would turn Omodaka’s world upside down.

Kei said that at the end, her “only wish was to be with the child from whom I’d been separated” (18:07). She had never hated Omodaka, even after he’d ratted her out to the village chief. She had always loved him, and when she saw the end of her life approaching, she wanted to spend her time with him.

He had been making decisions based on an utterly wrong perception. And now he had to pay the emotional toll.

That’s tragic. Mostly for Tsukuhane, but also for Omodaka. And it worked perfectly in this context.

Thoughts

Do you remember in previous episodes where Zakuro, in either a vision or a dream, had seen the only remotely human-shaped, shadow-like creatures who tried to climb the tree she was in? The series started with her being terrified they would capture her. A few episodes ago, we learned that those creatures were actually male half-spirits. Instead of being something to fear, they became creatures to pity.

Zakuro came to a new and deeper understanding of the male half-spirits. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

In this episode, as Kei and Omodaka strove against each other with words, Zakuro experienced another vision. This time, she was on the ground. Looking at the male half-spirits as they swarmed the tree she had been in, she saw that they were weeping.

“I apologize for being frightened,” she said (13:04).

How that vision matured throughout the series was itself something I really liked. It’s almost like the show’s main theme started out hazy and indistinct, but over time became more clear. But like Riken’s approach to addressing the threat of the fox spirits who had been compelled to attack, the show tagged on another detail that got me to thinking.

In her vision, the male half-spirits dissolved, leaving a pre-pubescent Omodaka kneeling next to the tree. He, too, was crying. Zakuro, in a soothing voice, told him to stop. She didn’t attack him in his diminished stature. She tried to soothe him.

Think back to the majority of series — heck, the majority of stories — that you’ve experienced. Generally speaking, action builds to a burst of violence like a major battle. The good guys are generally the victor, and the episode or story ends.

I can’t find the original article, but a couple of years ago, I came across an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, an amazing speculative fiction writer. Her idea was that this kind of reliance on violence skews our view of the world. Why does a story need to end in a burst of action? Why does a conflict need violence to be resolved?

Byakuroku realized the futility of violence as the answer. Faced with the choice of engaging an apparent enemy in a pointless sword fight or actually trying to help someone she loved, she chose the latter — despite the obvious risk. That’s every bit as dramatic as a sword fight! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

She wasn’t saying that there can’t be drama. After all, the essence of fiction is that the protagonist wants to achieve something, the antagonist wants to achieve something else, and they have to go through each other to do it. But it doesn’t mean violence is the only way.

I did find an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin that talks about the same idea:

To quote from the interview:

We can’t restructure our society without restructuring the English language. One reflects the other. A lot of people are getting tired of the huge pool of metaphors that have to do with war and conflict. The “war against drugs” is an obvious example of this. So is the proliferation of battle metaphors, such as being a warrior, fighting, defeating, and so on.

In response, I could say that once you become conscious of these battle metaphors, you can start “fighting” against them. That’s one option. Another is to realise that conflict is not the only human response to a situation and to begin to find other metaphors, such as resisting, outwitting, skipping, or subverting. This kind of consciousness can open the door to all sorts of new behaviour.

https://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/pschmid1/engl5H/leguin.interv.html

This episode showed us two examples of “new behavior” that went beyond mere conflict. The first was Riken not attacking the fox spirits. In fact, he didn’t even have to attack their handlers. The mere threat of violence was enough to make them run.

Zakuro’s vision showed her a different perspective of Omodaka — a more in-depth and intimate portrait. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The second was the combination of Kei and Zakuro attempting to reach Omodaka with empathy. They wanted him to stop hurting. Instead of beating him into submission, they invited him into a healing conversation.

I like a good ending fight. Look at the formula for the original Star Wars. But I also like stories that go beyond those tried and true formulas to give us something new. In this case, that something new is right up against the limits of our our culture. And by “our,” I mean both Japanese and Western cultures. We expect that fight. There’d better be a very good reason not to have it, or the writer risks violating the genre’s tropes and angering the viewer.

In this case, though, I think there was a very good reason. And I think it’s an approach worth celebrating!

What did you think of Kei’s meeting with Zakuro’s mother? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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