by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Kemono Jihen ?
After a couple of truly harrowing episodes, it's really nice of Kemono Jihen to give us a bit of a breather. There are still a few ugly moments – the kemono being taken care of this week calls herself “Katanashi” and she rips bits and pieces of women's faces off in an attempt to build herself a human face – but mostly the episode is devoted to the addition of Shiki's sister Aya to the gang and Aya and Kon fighting over a totally oblivious Kabane. Given how the poor kid was raised, it makes sense that he (and Kon, for that matter) would have zero clue about romantic love, but everyone's reactions when he names Inugami as his boyfriend are still priceless.
Aya is probably the most important piece of this episode. She's spent all eight years of her life thus far being treated like a wind-up doll by Akio, who dressed her in frilly pinafore dresses and used her as a healing object that he could wind up and let go whenever he wanted to. Given that he did seem to have some love for Shiki, this says a lot about how far he'd fallen, because there really weren't any moments in Aya's recollections when she remembers him treating her as a person, much less his niece. He may have had her preserve her mother's body, but it was Aya's initiative to hide her so that he couldn't use her anymore, which again speaks volumes.
And while Aya and her mother are now free and back with Shiki, It's clearly going to be a process. With many thanks to my new favorite character, tiny old veterinarian Ohana, Mom's now awake, but it's going to take her a while to get back on her feet. That means that Shiki's going to stay on at Inugami's, which is frankly more likely to be comfortable for him, since he's just had a number of beliefs he held shattered. One of those is definitely the idea of having a cute little sister, because the minute she's out of the woods, Aya undergoes a complete personality and style change. To say that she's precocious may not be doing her justice, but this kid has had enough of being controlled and is ready to take charge of herself, eight years old or not. And if that isn't bad enough for Shiki's mental well-being, she promptly confesses her feelings for Kabane and demands to become his girlfriend. (Not that he knows what that means.)
The rivalry between Aya and Kon forms the backbone for this episode's lighter heart, and if it's a little tropey, that's okay because it offers a welcome respite from the darker themes of the previous weeks – and probably of next week, which looks like it's going to get into Akira's missing twin brother. It's also not without its solid core, which helps to keep things from feeling like too abrupt a shift; Kon, abandoned by Inari, has very little understanding of what it means to care for or be cared for by someone, and all she knows is that Aya's possessive act around Kabane makes her angry. Kabane just knows that he doesn't want to hurt Kon, even if he's not sure why she's hurting, so there's a poignant undercurrent of children trying to figure out what it means to love and be loved that works with the rest of the series as a whole.
That's also part of the kemono storyline for this week, with the katanashi. She's attacking human women because she's in love – with a young man who works at one of the nearby boutiques in Harajuku. She's trying to create a human body for herself so that she can meet him face-to-face, which seems like a very yokai sort of reasoning. (As far as I can tell, she's a combination of kuchisaki-onna, the split-mouth woman, and wauwau, a woman-faced demon with a body of hair.) That only Aya is able to solve the problem by making her a body out of healing spider silk speaks to her role as the most emotionally intelligent of the trio – and the way that she had to grow up far too quickly because of Akio.
But let me end on the most important thing: did you notice the names of some of the stores in the Harajuku scenes? Égg and Jesus Crêpes are hands-down my favorite weird anime store names since Tomato House in Nazca.
Kemono Jihen is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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