by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Kotoko finally reunites with her boo Kuro, although this moment is complicated somewhat by third wheel ex-girlfriend Saki, and the steel-slinging ghost fourth wheel Nanase. It's also, frankly, complicated by Kotoko herself, who acts predictably petulant in the presence of both Kuro and Saki together. However, this is the Kotoko I've come to know and love, and although her gremlin-like tendencies are often played for humor, this episode does dig into the reason why she and Kuro are still together.
Kotoko has said as much herself in previous stories, but the core binding thread between her and Kuro is their shared inhumanity. Saki herself is proof that it's difficult if not impossible for Kuro to function in a normal, intimate relationship. Thankfully, the show is quite sympathetic to Saki in that regard—she's been able to talk about her former relationship in her own terms, and she's the sole human anchor in this week's action scene. She's the only person who reacts to Kuro's “death” in an understandably frazzled way, reflexively reeling at the sight of his mutilated head despite the fact that she knows about his immortality. In contrast, Kotoko's measured reaction to the scene appears cold and even a little inhuman. This again reinforces the point that her induction into the world of the yokai took from her as much as it gave.
The same is true for Kuro, who gets some backstory courtesy of Kotoko's own explanation. Of course, hers is a secondhand account, so it probably doesn't contain the whole truth, but it certainly illuminates a lot about Kuro's present state. My previous assumption was that, like Kotoko, he had somehow stumbled into this world, perhaps eating the yokai meat as a kid due to some mistake or misunderstanding. Turns out this was only half true—he didn't intend on becoming what he did, but it was an entirely deliberate calculation on the part of his family. I think the episode wayyyy undersells the trauma of learning that your grandmother was willing to sacrifice your family members, including you, as a means of predicting the winning lotto numbers. The sight of her stabbing her grandson does not flinch in its portrait of abuse, but the relative swiftness of this flashback doesn't lend itself to a look at Kuro's own interiority. Again, though, we're only experiencing this information through Kotoko's understanding, and it's very likely that Kuro keeps a lot from this time period to himself.
The fight scene between Kuro and the Steel Lady is unremarkable in a cleverly intentional way. Kuro spends half of it stumbling around and generally looking like he has no idea what he's doing, which is a believable portrait of an average dude in his twenties with no combat training. I don't mind when fantasy stories bend logic to let their protagonists become preternaturally gifted in the martial arts, but I can also appreciate In/Spectre's more grounded approach. Plus, it makes sense; there's no reason Kuro would learn to fight properly when he already has two overpowered weapons at his disposable: immortality and precognition. It kinda sucks that he has to die for his foresight to kick in, but he's obviously used to it by now. And when he does gain the upper hand, it's not by any fancy footwork—he just grapples Nanase and unceremoniously breaks her neck. Overall, this scene works as a good object example of marrying story and animation in a way that works without needing to be flashy about it.
After Nanase runs off seemingly unperturbed, the rest of the episode sees our awkward trio catching up and elucidating some more details about what makes the Steel Lady unique. The banter between the characters remains great, and it helps propel another dialogue-heavy installment, but the nonverbal cues between Kotoko and Kuro are also fun to watch. Despite their visible aggravation with each other, there's an intimacy to their pokes and prods that betrays their mutual affection. Kotoko's clinginess sends a deliberately theatrical message to Saki, but Kuro too finds himself pushing Kotoko's buttons figuratively and literally (he, like Saki, has by now intuited that Kotoko's weakpoint is located in her hat). I do think it's a shame we no longer get Kotoko and Saki interacting alone, because their increasingly (and begrudgingly) affectionate relationship was a delight to watch unfold. Kuro's presence means their dialogue largely reverts back to jabs concerning their past and present relationships with him, which feels like a step backwards.
The big answer we get this week about the Steel Lady's origins is more or less what I expected: she's a tulpa born out of the internet's speedy and thorough dissemination of rumors and hearsay. I like that this is presented as a “whisper down the alley”-esque phenomenon that's been with us since time immemorial, only to be exacerbated to unforeseen levels of awfulness by modern technology. It's an ever-timely cautionary parable about how the internet can and will ruin everything. It also means that no amount of neck-snapping is going to do them any good, so the next logical step appears to be overwhelming the Steel Lady rumor with an even more compelling one of their own. That means their investigation is far from over.
I was honestly expecting this arc to wrap up this week, but I can't say I'm mad about it extending into at least one more episode. In/Spectre manages to shake things up a bit with an action scene, but its main draw continues to be strong characters and a distinctive voice. And to that point, I really have to credit Kotoko's seiyuu Akari Kitō for the subtle inflections of eloquence, charm, and pettiness she's able to infuse into her long and loquacious speeches. It's almost like she's making up for the lack of spoken dialogue she had as Demon Slayer's Nezuko, and she's been killing it. In/Spectre as a whole makes a lot of little correct decisions that so far have added up to a thoroughly enjoyable experience each week.
In/Spectre is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve loves two things: writing about anime and retweeting good Fate GO fanart on his Twitter.
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