Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War ?
One of the complications of reviewing television on a week-to-week basis is that the story has to be digested piecemeal, with the larger shape and focus of the narrative obfuscated from view. In a more episodic or arc-based series, this doesn't present much of a problem. Juni Taisen is a completely different case, being an adaptation of one novel that follows multiple character threads in any given episode without coming to any firm conclusions, which makes its individual episodes play fast and loose with traditional television episode structure.
This episode doesn't necessarily do away with any of Juni Taisen's storytelling quirks; we spend time catching up with Monkey and Ram while also introducing and developing Horse. But there's an uneven quality to this style of plotting that I still haven't come to terms with, and it definitely affects my enjoyment of the show. Now more than ever, I imagine that this issue would be remedied by being able to binge-watch the series all at once, instead of having to break up Juni Taisen's singular story into a dozen weekly morsels. Diving right back into Ram and Tiger's fight is a clumsy and awkward introduction to the episode after a week away, while having it play out just moments after Episode 5's ending would've made that transition go down more smoothly. It feels wasteful and inefficient to spend only a couple of minutes on Monkey and Rabbit's conflict over three consecutive episodes, but I can see it being much more satisfying when taken in over the course of a few hours instead of a few weeks.
If there is anything that makes this week's dive into the Zodiac War more successful than last week, it's that the episode makes up for the dearth of action and bloodshed we've had for the past couple episodes. The Zodiac Fighters all have interesting visual designs and abilities in theory, but I've honestly found them to be quite boring as actual characters. A lot of this has less to do with their value as individuals in the ensemble and more to do with the burden of the show's formula. The order in which these characters are being killed off is not much of a secret at this point, and once you catch on to the pattern, a lot of wind is taken out of the plot's sails in terms of suspense. After a few deathless episodes may have left room for doubt, this episode goes out of its way to reinforce that pattern, killing off three of the Zodiac fighters in exactly the order you might expect.
This devotion to formula means that viewers should have a very good idea of who the winner of this tournament will be. At the very least, the deaths this week are visually engaging though not narratively satisfying. Ram and Monkey don't have long before they're felled by Tiger and Rabbit respectively, but their fight scenes are the best action beats the show has delivered since Rooster died back in episode three. Tiger especially proves her worth, becoming the most interesting member of the cast now that Rooster and Monkey are both dead, with her charming take on the drunken style of fighting. The way she clawed Ram's guts out with a single swift strike is the perfect example of economic and visceral action at work. Her fight with Ram only lasted a moment, but it's the most entertaining and visually impressive moment we've seen in weeks.
Rat also acquits himself well here; scenes where he's casually playing games on his phone while tormenting Horse demonstrate a personality that has a lot of promise to carry this show through its back half. Ironically, Horse was the weakest link of the episode, despite being the focus of the week's flashback session. His character somehow became less interesting when we learned more about him. He's a soldier who was traumatized by a terrible defeat on the battlefield, so he used science and pure masculine determination to make himself inhumanly buff. That's about it. I'll admit that having to work around his impenetrable flesh with suffocation is a clever idea, but it doesn't make for the most riveting climax either visually or narratively. His one big fight with Ox was mostly off-screen too, so it's a shame he was dumped with an equally lame death.
Overall, Juni Taisen continues to be a very mixed bag. For every charming personality or visually arresting action scene it dishes out, there's an equally boring stretch of plodding writing or anticlimactic plotting to contend with. It's an aesthetically pleasing machine that's working with a dozen intricately moving parts, but its good ideas are often overshadowed by uneven execution. A series about a bunch of ridiculously outfitted Zodiac furries murdering each other with magic powers should be the most entertaining series of the season, but the jury is still out on whether or not Juni Taisen will be able to finish out the fall without losing steam altogether.
Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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