by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
I respect you guys enough that I've been careful about not inundating these reviews with weed jokes, which has been particularly difficult considering the series is full of magic green leaves that grant their users superpowers. However, it has recently come to my attention that a perfectly acceptable translation of Kemurikusa (煙草) would be “smokegrass,” “smokeleaf,” and yes, even “smokeweed.” In light of this revelation, I would like to congratulate TATSUKI and the rest of the production crew for making Winter 2019's dankest anime. That's quite the feat, considering that Virtual-san Looking is concurrently airing.
What really pops for me this episode is how strange and captivating Kemurikusa's vistas have become. Its aesthetics have been a consistent strength, and I honestly think it exhibits some of the best art direction of the season, but Island Seven ramps up both the beauty and the intrigue. It started with last episode's cliffhanger, where the quiet grey vision of the giant tree in the distance reminded me of my favorite moment in the Dark Souls series—the awe of entering Ash Lake for the first time. Whereas that location held a kind of prehistoric mysticism, the looming Midori tree is a monument to the post-human. As the gang walks the lengths of its trunk-like roots, vestiges of civilization—street lights, bent signs, crumbling overpasses—can be seen poking out of its bark. Later, the ruins of an entire village can be seen nestled in the base of the tree, with entire buildings fused into the wood. It becomes difficult to discern whether the tree grew around these urban remnants, or whether the tree itself sprouted them. With things like stairs and an entire torii gate perched all-too-perfectly on a branch, it seems more likely than ever that civilization coexisted with these plants for some time. The burning question, of course, is how all of that disappeared.
I like urban decay as an aesthetic. There's a reassuring memento mori-esque quality to it, a reminder that there's nothing we can build that won't eventually give way to rot and vegetation. No matter the magnitude of harm we bring to this planet, there will be something alive on it that will outlast us, so there's always the hope of a kinder inheritor. This fatalistic environmentalism is the only comfort I can muster when I think about how the world is going to change in my lifetime and beyond, but Kemurikusa's environmentalism contains much more humanism and optimism. These last fragments of humanity show selflessness at every turn. They protect each other, but they also listen and encourage each other. They split their water, their most precious resource, evenly between themselves and a tree. It's not just that they've learned to coexist with the life around them—their survival depends on this coexistence, which they're constantly grateful for. Even if the rest of the world is covered in a lifeless miasma, their small but sustainable existence is a light in the darkness.
It appears for a moment like the gang has finally found the peace they've been looking for. The final roadblock in their way is a thick wall made out of fused Kemurikusa, which lights up like a security system when Rin and the others try to break through by force. Although the characters don't really comment on it, we learn that the wall is an outgrowth of the tree itself, protecting it from the hazards outside. The robots seem to be part of the same defense system, as the wall is able to reprogram them into attacking its intruders. Thankfully, Wakaba's Kemurikusa prowess lets them pass through, and inside it's an unusually quiet scene with not a speck of red fog to be found. Midori-chan's mom stands tall in the center, and inside she gathers a large pool of clean water. This is the haven they've been searching for, and Ritsu starts crying when she thinks about finally being able to settle down and no longer worry about losing any more of her family. It's a touching scene full of the familial warmth that makes Kemurikusa such a joy to watch, and I'm filled with a desire to see these characters safe and happy. Of course, it's only episode 7, so there's one tiny snag; just beyond the border wall is a huge colony of red bugs devouring what's left of the giant Midori tree. Left unchecked, they will break through the wall and destroy their new home.
The transition from the grey silence of Island Seven to the red fury of the bug colony is a striking one. The scene riffs on Nausicaä, with the huge bugs acting like actual insects, swarming together and biting through the tendrils of Midori's mom that stretch outside the wall. The sheer numbers are too much for Rin and Wakaba to handle alone, and although Wakaba is able to identify their source, a slithering red root, it regenerates as soon as it's attacked. There's some kind of anti-Midori presence at the center of whatever is poisoning the entire world, and now it's at their doorstep. Rin despairs at the thought of having to retreat from heir new haven, but what follows is another touching scene as her sisters encourage her to think about what she wants to do for once. There's a wry morbidity to the way they frankly talk about possibly dying (Ritsu's “If we die, we die,” and the Rinas' vocal assurance that Wakaba will definitely be the first to go), but it's tempered the love they have for each other. They're in this together until the end, whatever that is. Ironically, it's likely that the mission the First Human had for them was attacking the source of the red fog and bugs, and this is probably also what their presumed-dead sisters are going after. What's important, however, is that they're doing this not because of some predestined mission, but because they want to support each other and live peacefully like an actual family.
Kemurikusa sets up what may be the gang's final journey with a striking episode full of the wistful vistas and weird charm that have come to define the anime. We also finally get the tiniest hint of actual compatibility between Rin and Wakaba. Apparently, she used to be a lot more curious like him, before the world's hazards forced her to take up the burden of protecting her family. It would've been nice to get this information several episodes ago, but if the show continues to pursue a possible romance between Rin and Wakaba, at least it will be based on more than just the fact that he's literally the last boy on earth. On a more positive note, the scene of Ritsu flexing along with Midori-chan is one of the greatest things I've ever seen animated, and it's arguably enough cause for Kemurikusa's canonization on its own. Helpful Bot lives too! What a good post-credits stinger. I don't know what's in store now that the gang has entered the enemy's lair, but I have every confidence that Kemurikusa will continue to be a delight to watch.
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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