Kaina of the Great Snow Sea
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea ?
Community score: 3.8
Kaina puts its best foot forward in this week's episode with a bracing dip into its titular snow sea. It's a (literally) cool scene showcasing the alien underwater world occupied by spiky, torpedo-like fish skirting through a lattice of giant tree roots. The strange imagery captivates, buoyed by strong background art, good composition, and the ethereal beauty of the accompanying soundtrack. This is the show at its smartest because the weird setting is the most compelling part of the story. A respite from the action gives the audience time to let those roots take hold of their innate curiosity. In-universe, it also gives Kaina and Ririha space to bond in a small but meaningful way as they both take in the sight of a depth that rivals the heights they just climbed down from.
Unfortunately, once they bob back up to the surface, the other facets of Kaina's narrative and presentation take hold, and they have a much weaker grip. The plot feels especially phoned-in this week. I'll have to see how it plays out to say for sure, but separating Ririha from Kaina so soon is an ominous development. Either they reunite again next week, which undermines the drama, or Kaina has to go on a long quest to rescue her, which would be built on wobbly motivational scaffolding, given how little time they've spent together. The scene with Yaona is also pretty egregious in how it turns so conveniently expositional. The writing barely allows Yaona a personality before it has him direct Kaina to his next objective. It's functional, but it lacks oomph. The opening scene, by contrast, wallops you with oomph.
The characters could also use a lot more oomph. Orinoga doesn't have a defining trait beyond being a knight. The king and queen of Atland are dull and stodgy. And while Yaona has some life in him, he needs room to stretch out. These, however, are side characters. Kaina and Ririha are the two people who need to carry the show, and I'm glad they show a bit more potential this week. I can't speak for everyone, but my opinion of Ririha jumped up a few tiers when I saw her regain consciousness and immediately stab the closest lackey. This is in contrast to the pacifist Kaina, who continues to express bewilderment at the whole murder thing, and that contrast is the best thing the pair has going for them at the moment. It's a perfect space for the show to question the legitimacy and usefulness of violence in a couple that inverts the stereotypical genders on the love-war axis. It's not much, and Kaina has yet to approach the subject with any thematic complexity, but it's something to watch out for.
Meanwhile, General Amelothée handily wins this week's talent show. She has the most badass design, she's the most proactive person we've seen sailing the snow sea so far, and when her visor is up, it looks like she has cat ears. She's not any more complex than the other characters right now, but she has a genuine stage presence. While this is partly due to Maaya Sakamoto having a fun time voicing her, I wonder if her charisma hints at where the story might be going. Valghia's nomadic warmongering has branded them villains, but the government of Atland doesn't look great after this episode, either. As Kaina questions the need for battle, the reason is the same thing plaguing his own village: a decreasing supply of clean water. This might be where the story's winds are blowing—Kaina and Ririha investigating the cause of the trees' decline, perhaps with some unlikely allies on their side.
The setting, at least, finds new ways to innovate while the story tries to find its grip. Atland looks great, as a vaguely Scandinavian port town built on the gnarled roots near an orbital tree trunk. I don't know if it's realistic to hope for at least one new set piece like this in each episode, but that would go a long way toward Kaina's appeal. There are places, however, where the anime's presentation holds it back. For instance, it's a small thing, but I'd love to know if the “snow” on top of the sea clumps together in unnaturally large orbs like that or if that's just an aesthetic compromise of the 3D modeling. I'm assuming it's the former because we've seen big round white clumps on the tree's branches, and the snow not being snow would fall in line with the uncanniness of the rest of the world. But it looks janky enough for me to question it, and I doubt that is the show's intention.
That's where I'm at with Kaina of the Great Snow Sea right now: strong setting, iffy presentation, and weak narrative. I don't mind a slow burn, but the story needs some pull from either its characters or its plot (or both). The foundation is there; this snow sea just needs to turn up the heat.
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. While he enjoys writing about cartoons, he is currently looking into becoming a post-apocalyptic bug hunter. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.
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