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Kaina of the Great Snow Sea
Episode 9

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea ?
Community score: 3.7

The Valghian vanguard carry catapults and some sorely needed momentum to this week's installment of Kaina of the Great Snow Sea. Ironically, after weeks of wheel spinning, now this episode feels like it's being pulled in too many directions at once. Taken as part of the bigger picture, this episode also doesn't move the needle forward as much as I'd like either. The moment-to-moment action, however, is welcome improvement that brings more of the offbeat Tsutomu Nihei flavor I want out of Kaina.

Focusing first on the kids' table, Kaina and the royal siblings finally find and read the ancient tapestry. There are some good bits in here, like Kaina not recognizing the upside-down kanji. Speaking as someone who's probably about on his level when it comes to reading Japanese, even the slightest aberrations in position or font can completely screw with my pattern recognition. More to the point, the deteriorating kanji brings to mind issues like the long-term storage of nuclear waste and how we might be able to pass down warnings about it thousands of years into the future. It's a more complicated problem than you might expect. I like, too, that the trio voices both their doubts and their convictions toward this plan to stop the war. It was a long shot to begin with, and that was before the introduction of an impassable oceanic trench. It would be weak writing if the narrative didn't address the odds and optimism inherent in this Hail Mary. Emotional vulnerability makes these characters seem more like real people, and that's a quality Kaina's been lacking.

The setting developments are neat too. We still don't have much of a clue regarding what snowfoils are or how they work, but now we know size matters. I'm realizing, based on what we saw with the raft last week, that snowfoils must be able to propel themselves as well. The trench problem also answers my question of why nobody had sought out or found the great spire tree despite it being so presumably hard to miss. This furthers my suspicion that the Snow Sea isn't a “sea” in the sense that we know it, since our oceanic trenches don't make the water surface above them impassable. I've seen speculation that the Snow Sea is actually a high-density gas, which would explain things like the lack of expected underwater physics and the fact that people don't seem to get wet in it. It's an interesting theory to keep in mind.

We don't get very far with Kaina's discovery, however, because the episode spends a lot of time jumping in and out of the Valghian bombardment on Atland. We see rumors of the great spire tree spread among the Valghian refugees. Orinoga leads a small splinter group with the intent of taking control of the fortress. Amelothée feels torn between her duty to the military and her past as a futile protector of her people. And the Admiral says a bunch of supervillain dialogue and launches a giant robot. That's a lot of competing storylines! Thankfully, Orinoga's and Amelothée's paths intersect, and I imagine we'll see their relationship grow more complex. Now that we know Amelothée used to be royalty in another country that was subsumed into Valghia, her feelings towards subduing another nation in their name have to be pretty darn charged.

I suppose it would be hypocritical of me to complain too much about a busy episode when I've been lamenting Kaina's lethargic pacing. And I'm certainly not going to complain about the introduction of a mech superweapon from ages past. Not only does it echo the Giant Warrior from Nausicaä, its stark design and ancient crustiness play to the art style Tsutomu Nihei is best known for. On a tangential note, this is the second winter seasonal I've reviewed in a row that has featured a big rusty automaton controlled by a cartoonishly evil villain, with the first being last year's Sabikui Bisco.

Actually, screw the tangent, I think Sabikui Bisco is an instructive reference point for where Kaina has been falling short. The two series don't have much in common besides my aforementioned point and being part of the same post-apocalyptic milieu. Bisco, however, still stands out in my mind thanks to its effervescent personality and madcap energy. It had two leads with genuine chemistry. It took us to neat places that served as memorials of the old world, and it showed us how humanity and society had adapted to their new one. Kaina's been okay on the worldbuilding front, but it lacks the vim and vigor of Bisco's story and characters. It's tepid compared both to other Nihei works and other Polygon productions, so I don't think it's for a lack of trying. I hope this week's episode is a sign of a stronger third act, because I would love to see the series fill in some of its unfulfilled potential.


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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