In Taboo Tattoo episode 9 (called The Past), Justice Akatsuka accepts Wiseman’s offer to dive into the memories of Brad Blackstone (a.k.a. BB). Once there, we get to see BB meet Cal Shekhar, Iltutmish, and even Princess Aryabahta for the first time; we get to see the lengths to which BB is willing to go to learn how to destroy tattoos; and most chilling of all, we get to learn the horrifying secret behind Aryabahta and her powers.
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
At the end of the last episode, Wiseman made an offer to Akatsuka: get in the machine and relive the memories contained in the fragments of BB’s soul. Those memories not only illuminated the past; they might foretell the future. He agreed.
Having just defected from the United States Army, BB has to prove himself to Princess Aryabahta and her people. By fighting Cal Shekhar to a standstill, he proved he had the skills. Now, he has to prove his loyalty.
He meets Varma, who’s not very good at hiding his mission of spying on the princess on behalf of the king. Yet, the goal isn’t to thwart her. Why not? What is BB — and Varma — missing? Does the princess know about their dual allegiances?
Cal tells BB that he’s free to move about the castle, with one exception: the research facility. Of course, that’s the one place he now wants to go. What terrible secret will he find there? How will he react to a full understanding of the scope of the king’s actions — and the princess’ response?
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
What Happened (Spoilers!)
Wiseman offers to put Akatsuka into the machine that’ll put him in touch with the fragments of BB’s soul that remained after last week’s battle. Akatsuka, unsurprisingly, accepts.
His first vision is of BB proving himself against Cal shortly after he deserted the United States Army. He fights her to a draw, and Aryabahta announces that he made it onto the team. She also makes it clear she’ll frown on any acts of treason. Which is to say, she tells him she’ll kill him if he betrays her.
As he’s scouting a secret installation on the royal grounds, he notices that the king’s lover, Varma, has followed him. Initially concerned that Varma might be trying to thwart him, BB learns that Varma’s actually spying on the princess on behalf of the king. The two decide to work together, but the installation’s guardian drives them away — form now.
The two make it back to the king and report. BB discerns that the king is well aware that his daughter’s plotting against him, but he’s not interested in stopping her. The reason perplexes BB: the king feels guilty about something he did to her.
Later, Varma and BB decide to try to penetrate the secret installation again. This time, after having figured out that the guardian’s tattoo’s trigger was leaves, BB was able to defeat her with Varma’s help. BB used his tattoo to quickly tunnel hundreds of meters below ground. They burst into — a room full of girls playing video games. Before they could react, one of the young women introduces herself as Kujuli, the princess’ older sister.
Glad to have guests, Kujuli takes them on a tour of the facility. They end up in a room filled with huge vials that hold the bodies of young women. All of them look like Aryabahta. They, like Kujuli and the other girls in the facility, are products of experimentation on a clan related to the tattoo’s ruins. The king orchestrated experimentation on a vast scale until the entire clan was wiped out. Only the princess was a success. The few who survived like Kujuli are confined to the underground installation.
Before he can ask why she’s helping them, Kujuli confides that she doesn’t despise humans like her older sister does. She hopes there can be some kind of reconciliation, and she entrusts that mission to BB. As he finishes copying some data from the computer, some of Kujuli’s sisters manage to let Cal know about the intruders.
Varma does not survive the escape.
BB confronts the king with his new knowledge of the genocide. The king does not deny it. In fact, he says his greatest mistake was loving his daughter instead of seeing her as a tool. Disgusted, BB reminds the king that Varma bought this information with his life. The king helps BB escape the kingdom in penance.
Unfortunately, the princess and her Brahman guards are waiting for BB. Just as he’s about to escape, the Brahman captain envelops him with an attack that looks like a brown Borg cube.
What I Liked
Akatsuka could have turned down Wiseman’s offer and walked away. That would have been the end of the show. Instead, he decided to stay and fight. It was kind of nice seeing him take such an active roles for a change. It’s important for the hero to actively choose his destiny.
We learned that the United States is behind in the tattoo arms race because their ruins lacked some key inscriptions. While I think the detail should have been revealed sooner, at least it’s an interesting detail.
BB protests that he’s against killing the US military dispatched to investigate the Kingdom’s tattoo ruins, not because they’re former colleagues, but because he doesn’t believe in wanton killing. Cal seems to almost sympathize, but disagrees with her sword (killing the incapacitated soldiers). The princess ordered that they kill all enemies.
Seeing the princess takes political steps to gain control over the parliament added depth. Until now, it almost seemed like she strong-armed her way into power. Given her capabilities, I could buy that, but seeing how she carefully laid the ground work first, I found it not only believable, but enjoyable to watch.
BB used his powers of observation to figure out that the secret installation’s guardian used leaves as her tattoo’s trigger. He used that knowledge to defeat her. Nice to see tactics in action!
Kujuli knew right away that BB and Varma were spying for the king. She seemed to have all of the princess’ intelligence, but none of her rancor or guile. I like her; I hope she doesn’t come to an untimely end.
Seeing all of the sisters in their liquid storage chambers was chilling. It reminded me a lot of the Sisters from Toaru Kagaku no Railgun S Episodes, which will eventually end up as as a Caw of Fame entry. I wish I could dismiss this as a literary device, but there are too many examples of humans experimenting on other humans. This is the stuff of nightmares, and I think Taboo Tattoo could have been epic had it tackled this as its core theme.
Kujuli did not hate humans like her younger sister; that’s why she helped BB and Varma. At the same time, the other sisters tried to thwart them. That little bit of conflict gave the sisters an added depth.
Speaking of the sisters, when Kujuli used her rope technique to “bind” the two who tried to attack BB and Varma, the shot was (I hope intentionally!) reminiscent of rope bondage. I had to laugh when Varma, appearing to be impressed, said, “Stylish!”
I guess if one’s trapped underground, one has to improvise entertainment!
Kujuli told BB that she and the other sisters were connect to the princess. That means Kujuli’s hope was one of the options within the princess’ heart. I hope that’s foreshadowing. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
Portraying the king as a misguided idiot with believable motivations helps me buy into the princess’ insane plan. He said his mistake wasn’t that he used Aryabahta as a tool, but that he loved her as a daughter. That, plus the fact BB had to remind him that Varma was dead precisely because the he supported and loved the king make it easy for me to despise the old man. I can’t see what the princess is doing in a positive light, of course; but I can better understand it now. And I can’t believe that I’m saying that about this show after last week’s episode!
What I Liked Less
We saw Cal and BB interact, but I didn’t see any hint of what would apparently blossom as Cal’s love. That would have made their fight in the last episode more powerful, since this show apparently likes to provide motivations and inspiration after the fact.
The Guardian of Samsara seems to have been wasted. A tattoo user who’s deaf and blind is fascinating! Though, she can seemingly see under certain conditions. Her tattoo’s catalyst seemed to be small leaves; that’s interesting, too. Maybe she’ll play a role later in the series, but for now, the plot seemed to squander an interesting character.
Kujuli looked so much like Aryabahta that I was a little confused at first. I had the same issue with several of the girls in the underground complex. I get they’re all related to the princess, but I would have preferred some kind of differentiating factor — different hair styles or something would have helped!
It’s amazing how a character’s motivation can change how I perceive the character. If I had known why Princess Aryabahta was so bent on remaking the world, I would have seen her less as a caricature and more as a wronged, driven antagonist. Why didn’t the writers show me this before now? Why is this a flashback in episode 9 instead of the series’ foundation in episode 2 or 3?
So, now I understand why Aryabahta is so broken, sexually opportunistic, and angry. MyAnimeList.net says that the season has 12 episodes. So, that means at the 3/4 point in the plot, we finally have a basic understanding of the antagonist’s motivations.
What’s next? Will episode 12 show us Bluesy Fluesy’s first days in the Army?
Maybe flashback to the first time Akatsuka met the now-deceased Tōko Ichinose to drive home his motivations?
Maybe go back farther to show the formation of the Earth’s atmosphere and how aerobic respiration plays a part in motivating the human race — to breath?
Yes, the show frustrates me. The animation’s gorgeous. Some of the characters have such great promise! I want to know more about Bluesy, especially given her injuries. Now I even want to know more about the princess and her cause, as flawed as she is in her interpretation of what constitutes a valid response to injustice.
So why’d it wait 9 episodes to get down to business? The show’s almost over, and now it decides to get interesting?
Do you think this is a case of better late than never? Or is the series a lost cause at this point?