Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion ?
I hope you're ready to watch the good guys lose, because it's season finale time for Angolmois. With Kuchii busy sinking to the bottom of the sea, the remaining Japanese fall to the Mongol forces one by one. A flashback finally brings us the full story behind the repeated image of Kuchii's daughter pledging to defend a tree sapling, and this memory is apparently enough to snap Kuchii out of his nautical slumber. He steps back onto the island for one final fight against one of the Mongol generals, then disappears into the forest. The Mongols move on from Tsushima to their next target, and Teruhi regains consciousness to find the island mostly deserted apart from the bodies of the deceased combatants. She runs into Kuchii, along with a handful of civilians, and that's reason enough to declare that Tsushima isn't lost yet.
Compared to the rapid-fire pacing of last week, this episode's last few death scenes carry a little more emotional weight. Angolmois has mostly narrowed the cast down to people who already have established backstories and/or motivations, so these last few characters are able to spend less time explaining their state of mind and more time expressing their emotions and rattling off some final words. Teruhi's retainers and bodyguards get more compelling exits than I would have expected from their limited roles in the series, and the relationship between Amushi and Sana finally delivers on its dramatic potential. The one glaring omission here is Onitakemaru, whose demise happens off-screen and is only reported after the fact by Mongol general Ryuu. This is definitely a disappointment, as Onitakemaru was exactly the kind of character you'd want to see go down fighting. Sure, he got a bit of screen time last week, but it feels like we've been cheated out of what should have been a memorable scene.
Of course, Kuchii inevitably makes it back from the ocean with some help from his giant shark friend, which opens the door for one last fight. From a visual standpoint, the duel between Kuchii and Ryuu is reasonably impressive, featuring solid animation and some fluid swordplay from both characters. Apart from the totally ordinary lighting and color palette, it ranks among the best fight scenes in the series in terms of pure action. Unfortunately, it's let down on the thematic and narrative end of things, most notably by the fact that Ryuu is largely irrelevant as an antagonist. Outside of a brief appearance during the night raid, his role in the story so far has been essentially nonexistent. That means there's little reason to care about him one way or another; he hasn't been set up as an arch-rival for Kuchii, and what little he has to say in this episode isn't terribly interesting. He's just a big, tough dude for Kuchii to beat up on, and his relative insignificance in the larger story makes him a poor choice for the hero's final opponent.
In between all the shouting and dying, Angolmois takes some time to ponder the meaning of its story and themes. Between the flashback to Kuchii's former household, the reappearance of the revenge-seeking boy, the lines that Kuchii and Ryuu exchange during their fight, and the final conversation with Teruhi, some connecting threads begin to emerge. Like his daughter's insistence on protecting the tree or the boy's quest to kill him, Kuchii's fight on Tsushima is a futile show of resistance against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent. Losing to the Mongols was always going to be a question of “when,” rather than “if,” and so the series needs to find some meaning in his efforts beyond the simple binary of victory or defeat. Angolmois ultimately settles on a simple message of doing your best regardless of the circumstances, if only to be able to tell yourself that you did everything you could. Coupled with a reprise of the “if one person survives, we win” idea, this allows the series to offer its characters some measure of success despite their military defeat. How satisfying that conclusion actually is will likely vary from one viewer to another, but from where I'm standing it kind of works. It does feel like the show really has to stretch in order to find that morsel of satisfaction, but at least it doesn't try to gloss over the outcome. Sometimes you just get your butt kicked despite your best efforts, but that doesn't mean your efforts are devoid of value.
The quick pace of the previous episode does pay off a little in this finale, where character deaths and other significant moments are given a little more room to breathe. It does still feel overly compressed, though, with Onitakemaru's off-screen death being the most obvious case of important things getting left by the wayside. We get one last good fight scene, even if it is against a somewhat irrelevant bad guy, and the script does what it can to offer the audience a satisfying conclusion despite the historically inevitable outcome of the battle. Neither impressive nor disappointing, it gets the job done with the narrative tools that are available to it.
Overall, Angolmois has been something of a mixed bag for me. It definitely burned through its best material in its first few episodes, but I have to give it credit for maintaining a consistent level of storytelling quality for most of the season. It did a reasonable job of presenting some common genre plot points, and some of the mid-season antagonists were given far more depth than I expected. The protagonists were likable enough, and for the most part Angolmois managed to make a losing battle interesting to follow from both a strategic and a human perspective. Despite all that, I'm left with the nagging impression that a twelve-episode anime series might not have been the best way to tell this particular story. A more tightly paced movie could have made the battle more compelling as a standalone piece, and a longer series could have done a better job of putting it into a big-picture historical context. As it stands, it feels like we've just gotten the beginning of a much larger story, and while it's a pretty good beginning, it needs to be followed by a middle and an end.
Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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