by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Kemono Jihen ?
If there's one thing the kids under Inugami's care don't need, it's another adult willing to play fast and loose with their safety. And yet, that's just what they get when Kabane moves the boxes piled in front of a back hallway door this week and is snatched by Mihai the vampire. In his defense, Kabane wasn't actually going to open the door he'd been warned against; he was just trying to get a better clean in the hallway. It was just his unfortunate luck that Mihai took advantage of the moment to make him his sla—uh, waitperson.
Mihai is an interesting juxtaposition to the other kemono introduced this week in that he's a recognizable type of monster. Not only is he a vampire, but even his name speaks to the origins of what pop-culture thinks of as the vampire legend: “Mihai” is the Romanian version of the name “Michael” and all of Mihai's past aliases started with the word “Transylvanian.” We don't see him sucking blood (instead he eats canned tomatoes), but that's okay, because the other kemono that comes in absolutely sucks, and I mean that in two senses of the word. They're also likely to be entirely fictitious, although that's by no means certain – there's no such yokai that I could find called a “kanonba” (which looks like a woman with a grotesque mosquito head), but that doesn't mean that such a creature doesn't exist somewhere in mythology. (As of right now I'm betting more on a combination of the Japanese amikiri, an insect yokai that cuts mosquito netting, and the Zulu Mamlambo, who eats brains.) But regardless of their mythological veracity, the kanonba in this episode are the perfect combination of gross and terrifying, transforming their human faces into those of mosquitos in an instant so as to suck out the brains of their victims. The kids stumble upon them while investigating the abrupt cessation of employee suicides at Bugbite Technology, because the sad truth is that a company that sees sixteen worker suicides one year and zero the next has probably just found a way to stop reporting the deaths rather than having fixed the problem. Or, in this specific instance, has contracted with evil yokai to simply eat the brains of dissatisfied workers so that they can keep on working without those pesky thoughts and feelings.
What's perhaps more telling isn't the fact that the kanonba exist and are working at Bugbite, but that one of them mentions that if they actually kill one of the workers, Inari won't be happy with them. That implies that not only is Inari fully aware of what's going on, she tacitly approves of it as long as there aren't humans dying. This in turn implies that Inari is in control of the kemono population of the city and that she sees humans as acceptable losses as long as they can keep working in her interests. Did she set the mosquito women up at Bugbite? That seems very possible since they basically say that the CEO doesn't know what's really going on, and it also means that Inugami's business may not just be working to protect people from kemono, but to specifically keep Inari's fingers out of the various pies that keep the city (and its people) functioning.
If we factor in how she treats poor Kon, Inugami acting as a guardian for stray children takes on even more importance. When Kabane bumps into Kon in the park after Inugami frees him from Mihai, she reveals that Inari has kicked her out – Kon arrived home with the fake head (or maybe glamoured head would be a better phrase) just to find Inari already had another kitsune there to replace her and wouldn't even look at Kon. The girl has not proven herself useful to Inari, and therefore she no longer has need of her. That Kon sees this as her having not been a good girl speaks of the emotional abuse Inari has subjected her to; she believes that failing to complete the impossible tasks Inari set her is her fault, and if she had just been better or smarter, she would be worthy of Inari's affection. It's a pretty classic line of abuse, and if you didn't hate Inari before, there's a good chance that you will now.
Mihai may also be wearing out his welcome in Inugami's back room, although he does have the tanuki over a barrel given his lack of technological skill. But Mihai seems to be subjecting Shiki to danger just for giggles and he's in real trouble now that one of the mosquito women has seen through his camouflage. It's an effective use of our first unfinished storyline, and we'll just have to hope that Kabane's khoular body renders him as immune to brain-sucking mosquitos as it does to kemono ticks.
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