by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Well, I was wrong about Wakaba's robot buddy coming to help him, but I hope that isn't the last we've seen of that helpful little waffle iron. I was right about our hooded friend being related to the sisters, and in this case she seems to literally be their presumed-dead sister Riku. This, combined with the strong implication that their other sisters are still alive as well, adds another layer of mystery to Kemurikusa—not so much because Riku's actually alive, but because she explicitly doesn't want her sisters to know. Up to this point, the show's character interactions have been driven by their earnestness, so the introduction of duplicity marks a turning point, especially because now Wakaba is caught up in the lie—and this episode makes it clear that Wakaba is absolutely horrendous at lying.
Mysterious motivations aside, Riku brings a delinquent-esque charm to Kemurikusa's band of rogues. Her scene with Wakaba is a big deal from the perspective of the wider narrative about Wakaba investigating the fate of the world, and another more typical post-apocalyptic story would have framed this dramatically. Kemurikusa, however, continues to stick to its understated way of focusing instead on smaller character moments in spite of the strange and often morbid circumstances of their interaction. Riku, for instance, reveals that she has a sense of touch, which indirectly tells us the other sisters don't have one. There have been similar hints dropped prior to this, and it seems like if the sisters are indeed fragments of the First Person, they each inherited a few aspects of them but not the whole picture. That's a neat idea, but I like the way Kemurikusa plays it for laughs, as Riku reminisces on the life-affirming part of pain while immediately recruiting Wakaba to scratch her back. The show is confident enough in its plot and lore to let these simmer in the background in favor of fun interactions between eccentric characters. That was a big part of Kemono Friends' appeal, so I'm glad to see it here too.
Riku also functions as an impromptu mentor to Wakaba in the ways of the magic science leaves. They apparently have multitouch, and Wakaba just needs to be shown once before he's off and running with his curiosity again (after Riku tries to zap him again with her electric powers, of course). Despite my earlier compliments, this is actually where Kemurikusa slows down and dumps a lot of information on the audience as Wakaba scrolls through the journal entries on the big rectangular yellow leaf. It's not the most graceful way of getting this across to the audience, but it's a pretty short scene, and it's aesthetically appealing too. I like how the entries written by another one of the sisters (presumably Ryoku) are in this childlike hiragana script, so the entries written by the First Person are immediately identifiable by their use of kanji. Probably the most important piece of information dropped is the existence of something called a “memory leaf” that likely contains answers about what happened to the world and other humans. Wakaba, however, is more interested in learning about who wrote these entries, and this scene similarly plays into Kemurikusa's larger thematic concerns.
The search for meaning and purpose is a common thread in post-apocalyptic stories. It's something people worry about a lot in the pre-apocalypse as well, but in the wake of a large-scale collapse of society, these questions seem all the more pertinent and dangerous. After all, what meaning can there be if the world's ending anyway? It turns out that the sisters actually do have a purpose behind their creation, but none of them know what it is. We don't know either, because the First Person deliberately scrubbed it from their records, and like Wakaba, I'm filled with curiosity over what it could have been. As an audience, we want our heroes to have meaning and purpose. We want them to struggle against the world and save it in the end. But what if that's not important? Something made the First Person give up on their plan and instead tell their fragments to live freely, and that's what the sisters and Wakaba have been doing since. Their only motivating factor so far has been finding more water so they can continue to live. There hasn't been any talk of fixing the world, and Wakaba's the only person who's been curious about the way it used to be. Maybe these things don't matter. Maybe simply surviving and protecting each other is purpose enough when the world is this harsh. Since we're only halfway done with the season, I expect Kemurikusa to develop a larger narrative, but I appreciate how this first half focuses on the small-scale drama of survival.
After Wakaba is reunited with the sisters (and brutally tackled by a Rina), their journey through Island Six continues mostly through a series of still images. Kemono Friends used this trick a lot too, presumably to conserve animation power within its relatively small team. I'm forgiving of it again because the show's aesthetics are more than strong enough to carry it, and there's something pastoral about the scenes of urban decay encroached upon by fluorescent leaves. In the end, they appear to reach their destination as well, where the large dried-out roots of a Midori-like tree weave their way to a large lake with a gigantic tree behind some non-red fog. This is preceded by some words of warning on Wakaba's leaf pad about “unsafe” Kemurikusa, so I doubt their journey is actually over. Nevertheless, this is a powerful scene full of awe and relief to mark the show's halfway point.
Kemurikusa develops its mystery a little less gracefully than usual, but otherwise it continues to be smart about letting its characters and aesthetics drive the story forward. I hope these are qualities the anime doesn't forget as it teases at further complicating factors, like whatever the presumed-dead sisters are doing in the shadows. Given the reputation of TATSUKI and his crew, however, I'm excited to see what awaits this trolley car full of lovable weirdos.
Kemurikusa is currently streaming on Amazon.
Steve is a friend who's good at watching anime and can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.
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