Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Juni Taisen: Zodiac War ?
The ninth episode of Juni Taisen was bound to be better than the last few simply by virtue of it not putting its focus on Horse or the Serpent brothers, and thankfully it delivered on that expectation. This is still a bad show, and I don't think I could qualify this episode as being particularly good, but it does at least have some moments of fun and excitement, which is more than Juni Taisen has been able to provide in a while. It partly achieves this modicum of entertainment value by focusing on a character whose backstory isn't completely pointless, and partly by leaning so hard into some production limitations that it actually ends up circling back around to looking decent again.
The change-up in animation choices don't really factor into things outside of the episode's first two minutes and its final five; the other three-quarters of the episode focuses on Tiger's backstory, and it looks just as cheap and ugly as anything else the show has delivered since its fourth episode. While it's strange that the episode named for Rabbit would end up being Tiger's turn at the POV wheel, you won't find me complaining, because her flashback is the first one since Rooster's that even approaches feeling relevant and meaningful. Tiger's inherent likability is most of what made this segment work for me, but even the crappy animation can't take away the genuine excitement her action beats elicit throughout the flashback (though it definitely dulls their impact). Plus, there is something genuinely haunting about watching this dehumanized soldier transform into something truly animalistic, crawling on all fours through pools of blood, her glassy eyes seeking nothing more than fresh meat for the taking.
Juni Taisen always becomes its own worst enemy though, ruining the emotional impact these scenes could have with lousy writing that insists on butchering any nuance the material might have had. So much of the time, Juni Taisen seems convinced that its audience won't understand its messages unless things are completely spelled out for them, even though the actual ideas the show is playing with feel at most like the lame quotes you might find in the loading screens of an old Call of Duty game. When Tiger utters such pearls of wisdom as “If human beings went extinct, would Earth be better off?” and “When I'm drunk, I don't have to think about anything!” Juni Taisen begins to feel more and more like fan fiction written by a teen who has absolutely no knowledge of either warfare or alcohol. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Ox's episode consisted of nothing but him and Tiger screaming the lyrics to Edwin Starr's “War” at each other for a half-hour.
The stuff that happens before and after Tiger's flashback proves more narratively interesting, as Ox and Tiger finally finish the fight against Rabbit's corpse-puppets that they started an eternity ago. Juni Taisen is no stranger to sprinkling a dose of CG animation throughout its episodes to spice up its action scenes, but this week is especially bizarre in that a vast majority of the present-day material is conspicuously animated in CG. This is less a case of using 3D animation to support 2D art than flat-out changing the show's animation style three-quarters of the way through the season. Now, usually the rubbery textures and wonky framerates of the CG models would be an instant “nope!” for me, but shockingly enough, it works to Juni Taisen's advantage this week. Ox and Tiger's takedown of the Serpent Bros. corpses is the most fluidly animated and well-directed fight we've gotten out of the show in months, and Tiger is more expressive here than she ever got to be in her own flashback. It's no Land of the Lustrous by any means, but it's the first truly solid scene Juni Taisen's produced in what feels like forever, and it even makes me wish that the production staff had relied on CG more from the beginning.
So is this episode of Juni Taisen an improvement? Absolutely. The Ox/Tiger team-up was fun, and I'm certain that a necromancer like Rabbit has a few more tricks up his sleeve, even without his body, so next week at least has the potential to keep up this entry's momentum. But even if the series finally managed to dole out one good scene and a handful of okay ones, this episode is still marred by the clumsy animation, inconsistent direction, and embarrassingly bad writing that has unfortunately come to define the show. Until Juni Taisen delivers an episode that's more than just 25% entertaining, my expectations remain steadfastly lowered.
Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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