by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
What Kemurikusa chooses not to show us reveals a lot about its priorities. I was surprised to see this episode begin with the gang already deep into enemy territory, just finishing up a tough battle. Visual cues like Midori's plucked-bare branches and the water level of their tank tell us that quite some time has passed since they left Island Seven, and everyone looks beat-up and exhausted. My gut reaction was that we skipped a lot of interesting stuff, but upon reflection I think this fits Kemurikusa's style of storytelling. Obviously this is an energy-saving measure—TATSUKI has proven that he can put together a good action scene, but their complexity means it surely takes longer to animate them than scenes focused on dialogue. But more so than easing the load on the production crew, Kemurikusa has always valued its relationship between its characters as paramount. Everyone's thoughts, feelings, and ways they take care of each other post-battle are more important than the battles themselves. It's speculative science fiction, but not so bogged down in its speculations that it forgets about the interiority of its characters, and this combined with its warmth is a big part of why I like Kemurikusa.
Wakaba has come a long way from being the mysterious boy the sisters tried repeatedly to kill in the first episode. He's basically a full-fledged member of the family at this point, pulling his own weight as they navigate through a labyrinth full of toxic smoke and evil robot bugs. Some of this seems due purely to the happenstance that he can detect the red roots better than the others because he can actually feel their warmth. Even Rin is able to tolerate him now, however, and while this is not going to stop the Rinas from dunking on him at every available opportunity, it's been nice to watch their friendship develop rather normally despite the extraordinary state of the world. He's also finally lost those vine bindings! This actually happened last episode, where it seems that he used them to lower himself down to Rin at one point, but it looks like nobody has bothered to replace them. It's an obvious symbol of his acceptance into their group, and I'm actually a little sad to see them disappear from his character model, just because it was kind of hilarious that Rin kept him tied up for seven whole episodes. Still, they need all hands on deck for this possibly final journey, and Wakaba is here to help. There's still a lot of things he can't do, and that's good—turning him into some kind of omnipotent savior wouldn't fit the story at all—but he's doing what he can, and that's enough. Rin's still not going to let him touch her leaf, though.
The real star of this episode is the tiny walking roomba dog and its family of many more tiny walking roomba dogs. Lo and behold, it finally comes back with the map that Wakaba asked for a few episode ago, which lets everyone navigate their way safely into some old train tunnels. I was taken aback by the map itself, which shows a complex network of giant roots spreading across the terrain, clearly visible from whatever satellite took this picture. It really drives home just how alien the world has become, and how huge and powerful the source of the red fog and bugs must be. None of this is commented on by the characters themselves, but that's the kind of understated worldbuilding I've come to expect from Kemurikusa. I also love that the little white robot develops its own personality, tagging along with Wakaba, asking questions, and even offering his own color commentary on Rin's standoffish demeanor. It's also cute as heck. The decision to have a voice actor sound out its little beeps when it walks and talks is brilliant, as opposed to just synthesizing its sound effects. It makes the tiny bug seem just as alive as everyone else.
Their tiny roomba friend leads them to a boat filled with its brethren, where we learn that they're basically refugees from beyond the mountain range hiding Island Nine. They came here to escape both the red smoke that corrupts them into serving whatever it is that poisoned the world, as well as the blue smoke we saw last episode, which similarly made some robots defend the big Kemurikusa wall Rin tried to smash through. Their “Captain” is surely long gone, but since the one has latched onto Wakaba, they're all insistent on following his lead instead. They also each possess a core leaf like the sisters, indicating that despite their robotic appearance and mannerisms, they are living things. They're frayed, however, and close to falling apart entirely, but not before they pledge to help Wakaba and the other get past the one red root blocking their way. Somehow they're able to stack on top of each other and merge into a giant pincer-wielding robot, which seems to suggest that tiny robots like these might be the building blocks for all of the other kinds of bugs the gang has encountered. More importantly, this turns the episode into a sad robot story, as they have one last struggle cutting through the root before emerging victorious, but with the last of their energy spent. I'm a sucker for a good sad robot story, and their cute little beeps as they thank Wakaba for giving them a purpose don't help soften the blow! This is the first real loss that he experiences, and while this is something the girls have sadly become accustomed to, it's a pain he has to learn for himself. Thankfully, he has the sisters to fall back on, and the leader of the robots is still with him, so he's able to turn that pain into a resolve that he won't let anyone else lose their lives.
This was yet another super solid episode of Kemurikusa, expanding both the breadth of its world and its heart through the high-pitched beeps of the cutest robot family I've ever seen. It looks like their journey might be taking them to Mt Fuji next, but this episode had its own gorgeous and ominous images. My favorite is the view of the mountain range with the red roots creeping down over the peak, glowing red like channels of hot magma. The outline of the story remains simple: a family goes on a journey to find a place to live in the post-apocalypse. All of the work that goes into making this world look so beautifully desolate and making these characters feel like relatable people with fears and desires, is what makes Kemurikusa such a joy to follow week to week. TATSUKI seems to have a weird knack for stories like this, and I hope he can keep it up during the last third of the season.
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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