Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu Episode 11
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Katsugeki: Touken Ranbu ?
Once again, the world is burning around Izuminokami. But this time, it's personal, as his oldest and closest comrade challenges him to either betray their mission and master or kill the friend he thinks of as a brother. Horikawa is committed to saving Hijikata. Even if he doesn't intend to do so by altering the flow of history on a large scale, only by showing Hijikata an alternative path, his insubordination still renders him a defector – someone Hijikata himself would punish gravely.
According to Mutsunokami, Horikawa is trying to save Hijikata at least oartly for Izuminokami's sake, who he saw shedding so many manly tears. But when Horikawa himself is claiming his actions to be for Izuminokami, it feels like he's got more on his mind than the simple equation of saving Hijikata and sparing his captain some pain. So if Izuminokami killed Horikawa for betraying him and their mission, who would he be loyal to at that moment – Saniwa or Hijikata's memory? When Izuminokami refuses to accept his old Shinsengumi coat along with Horikawa's invitation to join him, things get pretty symbolic, but from Izuminokami's point of view, isn't he acting as Hijikata's memento by not abandoning his orders?
Izuminokami's way of honoring the Shinsengumi vice-captain is at the heart of what Horikawa confronts his captain about. The price of Hijikata's loyalty was choosing to die for a lost cause. At least that's Izuminokami's version and the official one Hijikata left history with, along with that photo we know him by today. He was a proud warrior until the age of the warrior ended. But to his greatest regret, Izuminokami wasn't there when this warrior died, and perhaps Horikawa has a different version of the story to tell, one where Hijikata also expressed some sort of regret that Horikawa wants to spare him. To learn the truth, we would have to go into the Battle of Hakodate, and given that that's the title of next week's episode, I'm pretty optimistic that some light will be shed on Hijikata wanting to be saved (or not) or regretting his unrelenting stance (or not). I'm also pretty optimistic that Izuminokami hasn't killed Horikawa just yet.
The confrontation between Hijikata's swords is a climactic moment, so how does it all come together? Unfortunately, it's not quite as emotionally rewarding as it could have been, despite a lot of dramatic music and Mutsunokami's slow-motion run that came slightly out of nowhere. I liked how we already got some brief, foreboding sword close-up shots between Izuminokami and Mutsunokami long before there were any enemies or Horikawa in sight, establishing a certain uneasiness early on in the episode. Tension then ramps up through a direct shot reverse shot between Izuminokami and Horikawa's weapons.
The whole scene is shot and framed like a duel, Izuminokami on the right and Horikawa on the left, surrounded by flames and debris. Long shots dominate, reinforcing the emotional distance between the two of them. Sadly, those same impersonal shots also separate us from the characters. Even though Horikawa is presenting his resolution emphatically, the emotions can never close the gap, and until he rubs in the fact that Izuminokami wasn't there when their master died, Izuminokami seems almost resigned to what's about to happen, his face devoid of much expression. Subtle facial expression hasn't been a strong suit of this production's animation, but I still wished that my emotional participation wouldn't be made quite so difficult.
The moment Izuminokami finally does explode in rage and fear is visually interesting, not because of any fancy animation, but because we temporarily cross the axis between both characters, with Horikawa walking towards Izuminokami right to left instead of left to right, deliberately altering our perspective to highlight the end of the conversation (in case watching him put down the girl wasn't obvious enough). It's enough for Izuminokami to lose his composure, a neat way of using cinematic tools to further the storytelling.
What's the rest of the Second Unit been up to while their captain is busy decapitating their rogue comrade (or not, hopefully)? Everyone's full of support. Even Konnosuke has reached a point where he's more concerned about "his" unit's wellbeing than the mission of babysitting Ryōma (which, by now, has just become an excuse to keep them in this time period and provide Horikawa with the necessary background of conflicting loyalties). Tonbokiri's pledge that all of them have their captain's back was accompanied by lovely (and melancholic in its epicness) music that also worked well for Mutsunokami's last look back at Ryōma. While the dialogue isn't particularly inspired (too often consisting of characters wondering out loud where Horikawa might have gone), pretty in pink Tonbokiri sure cuts a fine figure amidst all those plum trees.
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