Anime

Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 5: They’re Just Ears and That’s a Big Spider

Quick Summary

In Otome Yokai Zakuro episode 5, “Sticky Trap,” there’s a spirit who’s luring soldiers to their deaths, and the Ministry of Spirit Affairs is assigned to find it. Their plan is to monitor all of the guests at the evening’s big gala. All of the soldiers and local dignitaries will be there, and the consensus is that the malignant spirit won’t be able to resist the bait. After our heroes arrive, Bonbori, Houzuki, and Ganryuu Hanakiri begin their surveillance. Susukihotaru and Riken Yoshinokazura go off in another direction while Zakuro and Kei Agemaki begin to plan their approach. They’re interrupted by Lieutenant Hanadate, who wants to dance with Zakuro. Can Kei control his jealously enough to keep his eyes open? Are Bonbori and Houzuki really drunk? Who is it that attacks Riken and Susukihotaru — at the same time Zakuro faces her own battle?

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

What’s in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: Such Diminutive Shoulders

Kei didn’t fully understand what he was doing for Zakuro when he confronted the brutes — until she showed him. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

I don’t know about you, but this scene felt almost too real. It had all the hallmarks of re-presenting a disturbing reality in a fantastic setting, so on one hand, we could see the situation from a different angle. On the other hand, we could feel the emotions in a fresh, untainted way.

This scene hurt.

Zakuro had just finished dancing with Lieutenant Hanadate (09:37). She was still breathless, and the experience was so new to her, she was almost in a state of euphoria. The last thing she expected were two officers to confront her.

They had the kind of leer only present on men who are having less than pure thoughts — and intend to act on them. They started talkimg about how her ears were “very peculiar” (09:47). When she inquired after their manners, one of them immediately acted to put her in her place: “You can tell that she isn’t human.” In fact, the two of them turned it into a joke, complete with cruel laughter. Then one of them moved to touch her ears to check if they were real. She balled her fist, ready to defend herself.

Then one of the brute played the social convention card. “If you make a scene, Spirit Affairs will look bad” (10:08). “Come on, they’re just ears,” he added. “Don’t get so upset.”

This was not a battle Zakuro had trained for. It might be one of the reasons she hated the Jesuits. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

She felt trapped. She was dedicated to Spirit Affairs, yet she didn’t want either of them to touch her. For the first time since we’ve met her, she didn’t know what to do. Zakuro, the Half Spirit who could easily (and literally) rip these two men into tiny pieces, stood trembling, her eyes closed, as one of them reached for her.

Announcing his arrival with a loud step, Kei turned on every instant of training and experience he’d ever had as an officer and the son of a famous general. “Excuse me,” he said (10:25). “Did my partner offend you in some way?”

Zakuro looked as shocked as they did. Both of the brutes knew they were now at a serious disadvantage. Kei was almost transfigured. He oozed political savvy and, even better, political power. As clumsy and brutal as the two had been, Kei was smooth, calm, and collected. And very, very dangerous. They immediately tried to laugh it off and left.

Zakuro was as shocked as anyone. This was Kei? The same Kei who had covered before Mamezou in the first episode? The same Kei who was now not only acting — but was actually — strong and in command? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Even as Kei tried to apologize to Zakuro for looking away, she started pounding on his chest with both fists. It was almost comical how he complained that she was hurting him — until she threw her face into his chest and sobbed (11:06).

He placed his hands on her shoulders, his gentleness almost as complete a contrast to the grasping paws of the brutes before as can be. He reflected that she was so powerful, yet she was trembling. “With such diminutive shoulders…”

Then he put his arms around her and held her.

I’ve written more about this moment than I do about most episodes. I’m going to write more about it in the Thoughts section, below. You can take that as a sign of how much this moment affected me.

Moment 2: Tag Team Singing

These two are ridiculously supportive of each other. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Bonbori and Houzuki are, in general, just fantastic together. They complete each other sentences. They both seem completely in love with Ganryuu. I know that I wondered before if they were just playing with him. But after they saw he could tell them apart without effort in episode 2, I think they started really liking him. Despite how fussy he could be. Or maybe because of it.

In this episode, we learned that they can use rose pedals to track people’s movements. There’s a catch, though. They need to keep singing, or the spell fails. To provide cover, they pretended to be drunk (11:56). That way, people just assume they’re inebriated and ignore them.

Okay, they’re really drunk, but they’re both a happy and in control sort of drunk. I think that’s the best kind.

At one point, Houzuki has been singing awhile, and she finally had enough of Bonbori flirting with Ganryuu. Practically in tears, she said she wants to switch.

Bonbori agreed (12:55)! The promptly switched roles.

Those two are just so great together.

Moment 3: In Trouble with Bonbori

Houzuki desperately wanted to save Bonbori. She just as desperately wanted to protect Ganryuu so Bonbori wouldn’t be angry with her. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Did I just say they are so great together? They are — and this moment proves it even more.

Bonbori, Houzuki, and Ganryuu tracked Rangui to her room on the second floor. Ganryuu showed just how impossibly naive he is when, after seeing desiccated corpses dangling from Rangui’s spider webs, he asked her, “Are you one of the spirits who’s against the new calendar? This is wrong! If you disagree with government policy, you should go through official channels…” (17:44).

Dude. Seriously?

Enraged by his “misguided lecture,” she transformed into a gigantic spider and launched her attack. Bonbori and Houzuki, experienced in dealing with spiritual combat, tell Ganryuu to step back. He tried to protest that he didn’t want to hide behind a woman, but one of Rangui’s legs nearly skewered him. It was clear he was way out of his element. So Houzuki embraced him and surrounded the two of them in a whirlwind of flowers. Bonbori went on the attack, and for a little bit of time, she held her own. But she was lessened without Houzuki beside her, and they were both lessened without Zakuro.

Bonbori’s strength was halved without her sister beside her. She was still unwilling to abandon her determination to save Ganryuu, despite the strength and fury of her foe. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Ganryuu was almost frantic. He begged Houzuki to let him go so he could fight beside Bonbori, but she refused adamantly.

Distraught, Houzuki said that if she lets him go into danger, “I’ll get in trouble with Bonbori” (20:30). Houzuki was also in agony as her sister stood against Rangui alone. Yet, they both wanted to protect Ganryuu (who, in my notes, I refer to as The Littlest Soldier).

I’ll tell you this for free: I was immensely relieved to see Zakuro arrive in full combat form. For a minute there, I thought Bonbori was a goner. Despite that, seeing them so much in sync over protecting the man they loved was awesome.

Thoughts

Of course, Zakuro did not go quietly into the changing room with the Jesuit dress to prepare for their mission. Bonbori and Houzuki were their usual effervescent selves, delighting in the new experience of wearing such finery. Even Susukihotaru, with an approving look from Riken, wasn’t exactly against wearing such a dress. Zakuro, though, was absolutely opposed.

For the briefest of instants, Kei appeared nearly cool. Of course, the instant faded quickly… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

She was embarrassed when Kei saw her, and she made a comment along the lines that he probably thought she looked silly. “You’re a lovely girl by nature,” he said (05:43). For an instant, I thought he might actually compliment her! Then he added, “t’s just, you tend to behave in an unladylike fashion…”

He deserved the Jesuit high heel she drove into his foot.

Fortunately, he redeemed himself in my first favorite moment, and I’d like to ask your opinion of my reaction to that scene. Because there’s a part of me that’s taking myself to task for liking it so much.

Back in my junior high and high school days, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (okay, they’d been extinct for a good 10 years…), I used to really like the idea of the knight riding in to save the damsel. Then she’d be so grateful she’d, like, date him and stuff. But as I got into college, I met a lot of resistance to that kind of idea from the women-folk I talked to. At first, I didn’t understand it. Who wouldn’t want to the object of affection like that?

Well, the lesson I learned (and that my wife and daughter have reiterated more than once!) is that no woman wants to be treated as the “object” of anything. The whole damsel in distress model is broken. It presupposes that a damsel needs to be saved; that she has no hope of saving herself. In other words, the idea perpetuates a negative stereotype. And I hope by now we know just how dangerous stereotypes are!

Zakuro, as a rule of thumb, looks remarkably un-damsel-like. There’s very little in her that needs rescued. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

What am I to do with my reaction to my first favorite moment? Do I have to chide myself and dismiss that beautiful moment as a failed cliche that actually degrades the very characters it seems to uplift?

Nah. Let’s look at the moment in context. This is the fifth episode. In every single episode until this one, who was the strong one? Who was the brave one, who was the one who saved the day? Zakuro. Even among the soldiers, she was clearly the strongest. In the fight inside the cave in episode 3, Zakuro was the one who destroyed their enemy. Kei even lamented that he felt like she was always saving him.

In this episode, when the two brutes threw social convention at Zakuro to paralyze her, they were striking at one of her most profound weaknesses. She was aware that she had a responsibility to the Ministry of Spirit Affairs, but concepts like social acceptability were not her strength. So, for the first time in the series, she froze, unable to defend herself.

Also for the first time in the series, Kei was in his element. Raised as the son of a military officer, he had learned all about the nuances of command. He seemed particularly good at the “I’ll be polite because I can destroy you at my discretion” sort of exchange. With a few words and impeccable body language, he routed the two brutes with seeming ease.

For maybe the first time since entering the Ministry of Spirit Affairs, Kei was able to use his natural charisma, military training, and upbringing to fight on a battlefield that was his home turf. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Far from being the white knight riding in to save the day, Kei finally got a chance to act as Zakuro’s peer. He got to ask the question, “Shall I stand on your right or left in this battle?” Usually, he got to watch from behind as she saved him.

It’s on those grounds that I say I loved that scene. Kei finally got to prove himself as someone worthy to stand beside Zakuro. He finally got to show that he was someone she could rely on. Someone whose strengths complimented hers. Someone who brought everything he had to a fight to defend her — just as she had brought everything she had to defend him. That was the moment in which they truly became partners.

Want to know something cool about it? The brutes had tried to trap her with social artifacts. Their attack was clumsy, but it almost worked because she was inexperienced with such things. Kei used exactly the same kind of weapon against them with such expertise and confidence that they didn’t stand a chance.

Irony can be fun to watch.

What did you think of Rangui’s spider form? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 5: They’re Just Ears and That’s a Big Spider

  1. This isn’t a classic White-Knighting moment. I wish I remembered the show a little better, but there was also the shadow of Hanadate (the perfect equality-offering gentlement) hanging over the entire episode. I’m not sure about this anymore, but I think the impression I had was that Hanada made Kei feel insecure, but also suspicious, and that he was doubting his suspicions on account of his awareness of his insecurity. (That’s what my interpretation was, if I remember correctly, and not what the show actually said.) So when you look at this scene, Kei was diffusing the situation in the way he would. Hanada might have taken the soldiers to task to make an example: I think there was still a clear dividing line between the politically suave approach and the more private, lived approach at that point.

    And if you see things from Zakuro’s point of view, that sort of diffusion was actually better for her. Definitely in the moment. They threatened a scene, and Zakuro was terribly aware on what ground she was here. When Kei shows up and refers to her as his partner and takes joint repsonsibility (knowing pretty well that there’s nothing to take respnosibility for) he re-frames the situation to let’s see you make a scene. This is stepping in and offering support. You’re absolutely right: he’s in his element here. The soldiers are using etiquette against Zakuro, and so he’s reflecting etiquette back on them.

    There’s a small chance that the soldier (or at least one of them) have learned a lesson, but it’s very small. The diffusion of the situation is good for Zakuro, but it doesn’t – on the whole – reduce the likelihood that something like this will happen again. This is why the shadow of Hanada hangs over the scene: lasting change needs people like Hanada, too. And from an inspirational perspective it’s all too easy think that that sort of action is what’s really important. But effective politicians are often calculating rather than sincere. And this is where the personal and the political splits off:

    From Zakuro’s perspective: With Hanada, there’s this vision of a better future. It’s a taste of what equality might feel like. It feels… euphoric in a way. But with Kei, there’s a lived history: something more down to earth and more comfortable. If you dream for a better future, you need both. But meanwhile you live in the present and the latter can get you through your days much better. He calls you his partner, and he doesn’t make a scene, which allows you to recover. The writing is this series isn’t groundbreaking but it’s smart.

    The scene definitely plays with the White-Knight trope, but it’s framed through the difference beween Zakuro and Kei’s growing relationship and Hanada swooping in for the rescue. And this spills over onto the social critique level: a lived, clumsy compassion vs. a polished, inspirational behaviour. The former isn’t goint to instigate any change, but without it the latter remains empty grandstanding. If inspiration is to bear fruit it needs soil to grow in. And this again reflects back on the romance tropes. In a way, a white knight does it to get votes, you might say.

    Well, I’m going by memory. I did re-watch the show once, but that’s also quite some time ago now, so I’m a bit vaguer than usually aspire to be. That’s sort of just based on what memories your post roused (including the screenshots).

    1. “but I think the impression I had was that Hanada made Kei feel insecure, but also suspicious, and that he was doubting his suspicions on account of his awareness of his insecurity.”

      I think what happened in this episode supports your interpretation. At the very least, it doesn’t contradict it.

      I like your analysis of the three viewpoints, as it were.

      “his is why the shadow of Hanada hangs over the scene: lasting change needs people like Hanada, too.”

      I think I get what you’re saying. I often wonder how to change the hearts and minds of people like the two brute soldiers. Telling them off won’t work; out maneuvering them won’t work.

      How do you get a bigoted person to not be bigoted?

      Thanks for the analysis — very interesting to read!

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