Episode 9

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Kemurikusa ?

The little robot makes a ^_^ face. There's other stuff that happens in this episode of Kemurikusa, but the most important thing is that Shiro turns around, flips its little screen up, and beams a ^_^ emoticon at Wakaba. It's the cutest darn thing I've seen since meeting Shiro's entire family of happy beeping Roomba bots last week, and it's another perfect encapsulation of what I love about this anime. It scratches the same itch as Girls' Last Tour, with its weird yet cozy slice-of-life angle on the post-apocalypse. Kemurikusa has more forward momentum than Girls' Last Tour, but it's still never afraid to take a break and let its characters do cute and goofy things. I just hope Shiro learns to get along with Rin before she ends up using it as target practice.

This moment brings some levity to the strange and almost menacing visage of Island Nine, which again delivers sights that the gang has never seen before. The red fog still wisps around and hisses below, but instead of solid land, a network of large blue structures weaves towards a mountain looming in the distance. Incidentally, the mountain is lifted high off the ground at its base, supported by these same blue structures as if they were scaffolding. They remind me of the hollowed-out cell walls you'd see if you looked at cork or mycelium under a microscope. Whatever it is, it looks natural in a way that lends to the uncanny spectacle of an entire mountain floating in the fog. Wakaba speculates that maybe this structure is present underneath all the islands they've been to, which would explain the structural instability and earthquakes they've experienced. The world is returning to nature, but they're caught in the crossfire of what kind of natural order it will settle on.

The gang's latest impasse is yet another wall. It's far from the first one they've encountered, and when they're up on the mountain they can see some of the previous islands and barriers they've crossed. Kemurikusa tends to be deliberately fuzzy about its geography, focusing more on its individual locations than making them fit together, but it does make sense that these walls were built to keep something from spreading. As we've been getting closer to the source, the landscapes have just been getting stranger and stranger. This wall wouldn't be a problem for Wakaba to open if not for the giant Nushi dwelling in it, showing that the corruption is getting strong enough to infect these defense systems directly. Aesthetically, this is another strong moment for Kemurikusa, with the translucent blue of the wall slowly taken over by the menacing red fog of the Nushi, and glowing red veins creeping over the top of the wall like an infection. Rin and the others realize they won't be able to pass if they can't take the Nushi out in one blow, so they hole up for the night in the ruins of a rest stop nearby.

A short but sweet scene ensues as the sisters check in with each other, make sure they have enough water, and encourage each other to rest. Their journey has been a hard one, and it's immediately obvious how much they relish a break like this, even if someone like Rin is too stubborn to admit it. Wakaba, meanwhile, is still self-conscious that he can only contribute as a strategist at most, so he decides to go back to the wall and rack his brain for a solution. This leads to the centerpiece of the episode, which is his meeting with the other two presumed-dead sisters, Ryo and Ryoku. It becomes interesting, to say the least. Ryo, to Wakaba's chagrin, turns out to be just as eccentric as her sisters, and she apparently got the First Person's sense of smell. I'm also now realizing that Ritsu got hearing (hence the fox ears) and Rina got taste (hence her eating everything in sight). Ryoku got sight, but she says she gave it to Rin, which is strange but not as strange as the revelation that Ryo and Ryoku are sharing the same body.

I appreciate the way Kemurikusa will turn even the most unsettling aspects of its world and characters into gags that exist primarily to dunk on Wakaba. Ryo's body begins to melt and turn grey, which would be horrifying if not for the bounciness of the soundtrack, and then the short and bespectacled Ryoku shows up so she can yell at Wakaba for reading her diary. This is definitely a big moment as far as Kemurikusa lore and worldbuilding goes, but the goofy nonchalance of its execution makes it feel endearing instead of expository. It also works well from the perspective of characterization, because Ryoku and Wakaba immediately bond and nerd out over their mutual curiosity about the world, exchanging information and theories about what they think is going on. Ryoku is more tunnel-visioned than Wakaba—for example, she can't understand why the First Person would have ever deleted something they wrote—but I also like her perspective. She doesn't care about where any of them came from; she only cares about the world as it currently exists and gathering as much information about it as she can. These aren't mutually exclusive questions, but the point is that her priority is the future, not dwelling on the past. They talk about the world being intentionally designed this way (makes sense, given the Kemurikusa are as technological as they are natural), and about the secrets likely hidden in Rin's memory leaf. While not made explicit, it seems that Ryo, Ryoku, and Riku were all somehow preserved in this single body and leaf, so they did “die,” just not completely. They also might only exist in Wakaba's head, but that's a last-minute revelation I'll leave for future episodes to address.

Hallucinations or not, Ryo and Ryoku conclude that the only way to stop the Nushi is to hit it with a piece of Midori's core. Because Midori is so precious to Ritsu, there's an implicit suggestion that Wakaba might have to trick her or go behind her back to use it, but instead he's adamant about asking her directly. Similarly, he balks at the idea of accessing Rin's memory leaf without her permission. While that example might be primarily out of self-preservation, it emphasizes that Wakaba respects Ritsu and the others as his friends, even if he's not quite ready to tell them he's seen their dead sisters. Rin protests, but Ritsu gives a wry smile before breaking off a piece of Midori's core branch. This is a small moment, but it's a great example of how Kemurikusa can utilize its 3D rigs and minimal animation to craft a potent emotional statement. I feel both Ritsu's resolve and her sadness. Thankfully, their plan works, and they're on their way to their next destination, even if loss and sacrifice continues to follow them. Wakaba, however, not content to merely strategize, also hops into the fray and grabs hold of the Nushi to stop it from retreating. It's not the first reckless thing he's done, but he's definitely been impacted by the loss of the Roomba bots last episode.

The gang's journey continues, as Kemurikusa continues to explore its world and its characters with equal parts slapstick and sincerity. I also want to say that I've been tickled to see its average episode ratings rise as the season progresses. This show was always going to be a difficult sell based on its animation style alone, but I'm glad to see more and more people warm up to one of Winter 2019's hidden gems.

Rating: A-

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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