Nanbaka Episode 24
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Every fight-focused arc on Nanbaka feels like it drags on forever. The first-cour final arc, focused on Jyugo's past and powers, was some of the best the show had to offer, but whenever the show focuses on combat, like in the New Year's tournament, it dies on the vine. Jyugo's arc proves that it's not because Nanbaka can't handle drama or juggling tones. So what is it? I think I've finally figured it out.
I normally love campy, colorful, bishonen-filled anime with big overblown battles. One of my all-time favorites is JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, which is built on this appeal. Nanbaka's problem is that it doesn't know how to blend the camp with the serious stuff. Instead, it separates these modes into their own moments or even distinct storylines with almost no overlap. Much of the camp in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure comes from having characters react completely seriously to something patently ridiculous, like a villain turning his hand into a squirrel.
Nanbaka's abilities are never quite that silly. Sure, some of them are weird, like Jyugo's ability to morph his limbs into weapons, but not every weird thing has inherent humor value. If you've watched enough anime, the kinds of powers on display in Nanbaka might not be that unusual to you. So the show's treatment of its battle scenes is no different from any other action-focused anime. It leaves its humor behind in those moments and takes them seriously, expecting the audience to do so as well. However, it mostly just leaves us feeling like we've seen all this before. Nanbaka is nothing special when it comes to combat scenes, especially since its animation leaves much to be desired.
That's not to say that it doesn't try to inject humor into these more serious moments, but they're mostly separated; I'll give two examples from this week to show what I mean. The episode opens with Mitsuba complaining about no one coming to rescue him and throwing a fit. This is one of its best jokes in the last several episodes, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. Later, Samon and Hajime are stuck in adjoining cells, talking to each other. This devolves into a goofy argument, with their speech bubbles popping angrily out of each jail as the camera focuses on the space between them. Both of these examples are separate from the main conflict, literally confined to their own scenes. They feel like total distractions, brief bursts of comic relief, not integrated into the drama at all. Because of that, they fail to elevate the combat scenes. They just give us something else to focus on for a moment.
Perhaps that blend works for some people, but for me, it just serves to illustrate how dire each part is on its own. I enjoyed the Mitsuba gag, but Samon and Hajime's argument is something Nanbaka has done a million times already. It wasn't that funny the first time, and now it feels tired. As for the dramatic elements, they remain uninteresting outside of our connection to these characters and our memories of their sillier moments. Nanbaka even falters at sustaining the character connections it's established. Not only does it focus on increasingly marginal players, it keeps dodging the revelations we really want. What is Enki really up to? Nanbaka has still barley hinted at this, with only a few episodes left to go. Instead, we keep learning more about what we already know: Jyuugo is different from normal humans.
Nanbaka seriously needs to figure out how to merge its elements better. In the Jyuugo backstory arc, its ability to shift between different emotions was excellent. In this episode, it just highlights the weaknesses of both. I'm not saying Nanbaka needs to be like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, which is inimitable, but it could take a page from its book in how to blend the silly and the serious. That's what this arc needs—not separation, but integration. That's how you move from mere silliness into high camp.
Nanbaka is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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