Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood ?
With that, we've reached the end of Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood, and the end of Sawa's journey of…revenge? I guess we can call it that, though the finale of this series goes far out of its way to muddy the waters when it comes to what exactly our heroes are fighting for, and what could possibly be waiting for them on the other side. This is a purposeful obfuscation, so it isn't exactly a failure on the show's part that Sawa's quest ends in the way it does, but there's always that matter of intent versus execution. On paper, does the story of Joran tell a complete and cohesive tale? I'd say so, if you're willing to squint real hard every now and again to see the proper shapes of all the pieces in play. In execution though, I'm wondering if this finale isn't just a bit too anticlimactic for its own good.
Here's how it goes down: Sawa goes off to kill the shogun, so she can secure a peaceful future for Asahi, Elena, and the newborn Satsuki. On her way, she's picked up by that murderous crow demon that killed Mokoto, and here's the first of the final “twists” of the series: It was Jin, all along! Not much of a surprise, but fitting enough, I suppose, and the battle between Jin and Sawa is the last real action scene we get of the whole series. This is where Jin reveals that he has always only ever been out to protect Sawa, and that he intends to kill the Shogun so Sawa doesn't have to. He does, and in doing so he learns that the shogun is nothing more than a frail old man, ruining his homeland in a desperate bid to cling to life. This is the second “twist” of the finale, and easily the weakest, since the shogun was hardly ever a character to begin with, and Joran never did a good enough job handling the side of the story that focused on Japan's political upheaval. Jin and the shogun both go out in a literal blaze of glory.
Finally, we have Sawa's ending, which you might label as the “final” twist of the series for the sad and somewhat ironic way it plays out: She's stabbed in the back by Rinko, the one foe that Sawa afforded any mercy. Since no good deed can go unpunished, apparently, Sawa makes her way back to Asahi and dies peacefully by her side. Roll on snare drum, curtains, and all that.
It's the kind of ending that is solid enough for me to take without any grumbling or complaints, but it sure didn't get me to feel all the feelings I think it was going for. Jin and Sawa's final fight was decent enough, but nowhere near as impactful or entertaining as last week's fight against Rinko, so it really just boiled down to an extended argument over who gets to kill the shogun. Asahi made a big to-do over how much of her life was spent flailing violently in the dark with no answers to speak of, so it is sad to see her get killed when she is so close to her happy ending, but only on an abstract level. Maybe if the show had cared less about building up pointless mysteries and more about giving its characters time to simply be, this tragic conclusion would have hit harder, but there's something missing here that keeps it from fully landing, in my mind.
Except for the very end. In the final moments of the series, we flash-forward to Asahi's seventeenth birthday. She's grown into a beautiful young woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Sawa herself, and glimpses into her diary entries show that she, too, carries a lifetime of questions and anger on her shoulders. Little Satsuki is with her too, and just in case the idea wasn't clear enough, the words “History Repeats Itself” are seen scrawled in Asahi's journal before Sawa's crow lands on her shoulders, her eyes glowing a deadly, icy blue.
Was Sawa's fight to give Asahi a peaceful life a futile one? What sorrows and struggles have turned Asahi into someone who would need the dark powers of the Karasumori clan? Are we meant to see Asahi's path as a tragic one, a redemptive one, or something in between? If Joran were a more complete story, and had a better grasp of its themes and character development, we might have a better ability to come to some of these conclusions ourselves. As it stands, this epilogue feels a lot more like sequel bait than I think was intended, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued.
Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood was always an anime that was more entertaining than it was good, and it struggled a lot in recent weeks when it became clear that the show never really had much to say, despite all of the effort and time it put into trying to say it all. Maybe a second go 'round with Asahi as our heroine would give the series a chance to find its voice, and a story that truly felt vital and worth telling. If this one series is all we get, though, I won't say that it was time wasted. A lot of unrealized potential, maybe, but we still got to see a spooky skeleton/witch/demon lady kill monsters with her sword, and she had a cute daughter to protect while she was at it, so I think I got my money's worth, at the very least.
Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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