In Otome Yokai Zakuro episode 4, “Timid Distance,” Kushimatsu once again decided to sideline Zakuro and Kei Agemaki, while the rest of the team went into the field on a mission to examine a strange artifact. They traveled to a store, where the human proprietress, Orikata Aya, happily employed a spirit named Mugi. As Orikata brought out the artifact in question, a sword with a deep purple hilt, wrapped in what looks like felt, Susukihotaru almost passed out. Alarmed, Riken Yoshinokazura caught her before she could hurt herself. Just what kind of sword almost made Susukihotaru almost pass out without even touching it? What tragic secret was Mugi hiding, even if she doesn’t know it? And what effect will the sword have on our heroes, particularly Susukihotaru, if just getting close to it affected her so much?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What’s in This Post
3 Favorite Moments
Moment 1: Zakuro and Kei on Different Pages
As Dawnstorm and I discussed in the comments for the previous episode, Zakuro has some of the best expressions. This is her non-judgemental inquisitive look. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Kushimatsu once again didn’t want Zakuro to go into the field, so she said she and Kei needed to rest after the danger in the cave (from the previous episode). As the others prepare for the mission, Zakuro and Kei were walking near the courtyard when Kiri and Sakura ambushed him and asked him to play. He wasn’t completely terrified at the sight of them. He’s making progress!
He told them he needed to train a little more first, and as they danced around his feet singing some kind of little-kid training celebration song, Zakuro noticed a far-away look in his eyes (03:27). He muttered something about needing to “at least” be able to protect himself.
I get where Kei’s coming from. I’d probably have the same perspective that he does. Zakuro, though, sees him very differently than she did in the first episode. I’m not sure she realizes that yet. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Recalling him saying something similar after they had exited the cave, she gave him an inquisitive look. He didn’t notice. He was walking away from her.
“What a silly thing to worry about,” she said (03:33) in a whisper. Kei didn’t hear her.
When Kei looks at himself, all he can see is his fear of spirits and his failures to fight at the same level as Zakuro. When she looks at him, I think she’s starting to see a man who’s conquering his fears, one at a time. And a man who, in spite of his fears, does everything he can to help her. I think the most interesting thing in this scene was how non-judgemental Zakuro was towards Kei. It’s starting to be a habit!
Moment 2: Susukihotaru Take a Single, Cautious Step
Susukihotaru is such a dear, sweet soul. Seeing them slowly growing closer together is a “some faith in humanity restored” moment. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
I really like how gently Susukihotaru and Riken’s relationship is growing. He’s this huge, hulking soldier, and she’s this introverted half-spirit, yet they seem absolutely perfect for each other. They got a lot of moments together in this episode, and this is my second favorite. My favorite is Moment 3, below.
As they walked down the street, probably thirty meters in front of Ganryuu Hanakiri, Bonbori, and Houzuki, Riken became aware that Susukihotaru constantly stared at the ground in front of her feet. Looking around, he saw dozens and dozens of people giving her, a half-spirit, disapproving looks. Quietly, he asks her what’s wrong, even though he can see it with his own eyes. I think he wanted to give her a chance to voice it.
Riken couldn’t even fathom what she meant when she asked if she or her power made him feel uncomfortable. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
She said she’s scared to look at humans (05:00). With a decisive look in his eyes, he positioned himself in front of her as her shield. He said he’ll be happy to walk in front of her.
“Such a broad back…” she thought (05:20). So far, this is a beautiful, romantic moment. Then the show gave us something delightfully unexpected. Susukihotaru takes a tiny but important step out of her shell.
“U-Um… Have you ever felt uncomfortable about us? About our power?”
He didn’t really understand the question. I think it’s because he never felt in the least bit uncomfortable around her or any of the half-spirits or spirits. She withdrew the question, but the cool part was that she asked it in the first place. I can their relationship is a healthy one because it’s helping her be strong and realize who she is. I have a soft spot for that kind of thing.
Moment 3: A Simple Gesture of Understanding
Such a simple gesture. Yet, for the two of them, one so packed with meaning. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
You know, I should review something really over the top bloody like Elfen Lied or Claymore after I finish this series. With all of the romantic mushiness going on here, you’re going to think I’ve gone soft!
Or maybe I should just say the heck with convention and embrace the beauty in these moments of honest affection.
Or — why not both? Now I’m hungry for tacos…
My third favorite moment takes place after the cursed sword possessed Susukihotaru and made her try to kill Riken. Even as the attack happened, he knew what what was going on. He didn’t blame her at all. I mean, not even a little. Susukihotaru, though, was wracked by guilt. Her face was an anguished mask as she bandaged his hand.
What made it worse was what she sensed when she touched his hand. “I could sense your concern for me,” she said in tears (17:31). “More kindness than I could bear…”
Susukihotaru almost couldn’t bear the guilt of what she’d inflicted on Riken. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
He casually acknowledges her power in the same tone and manner he would have used if she had said that she could read Latin. There was absolutely no fear or loathing or discomfort in his reaction at all.
Her tears starting to flow even more heavily, she tried to apologize. Seeing that his words weren’t having the effect he’d hoped, he calmly assessed the situation. Then he gently placed his hand on hers (18:42).
“As you may have noticed,” he said, “I’m a man of few words. I would appreciate it if you could read my mind. That way, you’ll be able to know how I truly feel.”
Are these two perfect for each other or what?
Contrast is a great dramatic tool. Am I the only one who thought that combat-mode Susukihotaru looked terrifying? Beautiful, too. Her appearance, her attitude, even the way she moved screamed danger. Good thing her opponent was a professional soldier like Riken. It’s easy to see how how the people the sword previously possessed were able to kill so many people.
Talk about if looks could kill… It was almost like watching the Star Trek original series episode named Mirror, Mirror. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
The theme of discrimination and its effects were part of this episode, and it was subtle and heart-breaking at the same time. We watched scenes that made it obvious, like the one I referenced in my second favorite moment. We also saw the flashback scene when Susukihotaru touched Mugi’s comb. We got to see some man who obviously hated spirits enter Mugi’s home and slaughter her mom as she tried to protect her daughter.
As horrible as it was, it was pretty standard stuff. The same kind of thing we’ve seen fiction present to us dozens and dozens of times before. A single presentation should have driven home the point: Any form of bigotry or dehumanization (even in the case of spirits) leads to misery. Demagogues who try to pull those levers should not only be removed from power, they should be barred from ever holding any political office again. Ever.
But as a people, we don’t learn.
How can a scene like this be seen as anything but wonderful? Yet there are those who would think nothing of harming either of these people. We’d benefit as a species by more often recognizing and rejecting that kind of power. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
This series, though, decided to try to add something to the debate. Little Mugi didn’t remember much about her mom’s death. But when she saw Susukihotaru attack Riken and then turn the sword on her, she began to have flashbacks. She remembered the sword. She remembered her mom physically putting herself between Mugi and the murderer. And she remembered her mom’s dead body. This was after Susukihotaru had tried to put a happy face on the memories by telling her that if she were good, her mom would come for her.
Toward the end of the episode, as the team from Ministry of Spirit Affairs was about to leave, Mugi approached and asked Susukihotaru to visit again sometime. She was smiling and happy.
“Guess what?” she asked (19:42). “I’m going to be a good girl, so Mommy won’t be disappointed, wherever she is. Okay?”
Even standing beside Riken, a source of her strength, Susukihotaru was stricken. She knelt in front of the little spirit girl. For a moment, she couldn’t speak, but she finally choked out, “You’re a good girl.”
Mugi knew. She remembered. The tear in her eye proved it. She nodded and said “Uh-huh,” but she, too, was too emotional to say much.
Mugi shouldn’t have to be this brave. She should be able to just be a little kid who loves her mom. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
This was this series’ gift to us: another face of the cost of bigotry. The tears in the eyes of the survivors. The anguish that’s left behind. The emotional healing that may never come despite whatever bravery the survivors can bring to the table.
Mugi’s too young to have to deal with that. Mugi’s mom was too young to have to deal with that.
No human (or sentient being) is old enough for that kind of depravity. Yet, here we are, in a political environment where dehumanization not only happens, but is an official tool of statecraft.
This theme is why I love Shikabane Princess, Concrete Revolutio, and this series. We really need to take responsibility for each other. We really need to come together to face the real threat: human stupidity, whether it comes in the form of bigotry or demagoguery or any other form of cruelty. Until we do, I’m afraid Mugi’s experience won’t be unique. And that’s a shame.
What did you think of Susukihotaru and Riken’s relationship in this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!
Other Posts about This Series
Other Anime Sites
This Site (Crow’s World of Anime!)
- Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 1: Prepare to be Bewitched
- Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 2: Crimson Brilliance
- Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 3: Tragic Past
- Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 4: Timid Distance
- Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 5: Sticky Trap