Somali and the Forest Spirit
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Somali and the Forest Spirit ?
Somali's been in danger before, but never in Danger. Golem's always been right there to help her, and even if he wasn't there was at least someone nearby who could affect a timely rescue. This time, however, Somali may really be in trouble, because the danger comes not from a natural source like illness or a not-fully-sentient monster, but from a thinking being, and that being's thoughts are that she can use Somali to save her companion.
It is kind of surprising that it's taken this long for anyone to act on the fact that Somali's a thinly-disguised human. (The oni figured out her true race, too, if you recall.) Given that most of the people Somali and Golem have been interacting with are equally animal as human(oid), you'd think that someone would have smelled the difference by now with their enhanced senses. This episode does offer a reason why that hasn't happened, although I'm not entirely sure I buy it: Uzoi the harpy could tell Somali is a human and not a minotaur because she specifically smells the same as her companion, who is also human. That seems to imply that without actual contact with humans, most people don't know what they specifically smell like, so Somali wouldn't raise any flags. Since I'm pretty sure she doesn't smell like a minotaur, that's a bit of a thin explanation, but it does serve its purpose as a means to introduce both the first actual person to want to harm Somali and a second human into the show.
That human is clearly in a lot of trouble, too. While it wasn't hard to guess at his humanity from his initial appearance – his mask is even less effective than Somali's hood at looking like a real face and his neck is clearly visible at the seams, to say nothing of his obvious boots with talons sewn on – it is shocking to see the flowery growths marring one side of his face. When he coughs, it becomes obvious that the growths extend down into his lungs, and the bits of them on his hand make me wonder whether these are plants or feathers. If it's the latter, he may well have caught a harpy disease that his human body can't handle, which would explain even further Uzoi's determination to kill Somali to cure him, because that would imply that she feels some sort of guilt over his illness. (Although really, all she needs is fear of losing someone she loves.) But even if those are petals he's coughing up, he's a very sick man, and Uzoi's desperation is easy to understand, even as we have to worry that he's got something Somali could also fall prey to.
While the actions of this episode feel fairly mapped out from the moment we see that the man is ill, it is a stand-out in terms of the voice acting. The main cast continues to be excellent, but what brings this up a notch are the non-verbal noises that we hear – Kikila's sobbing truly sounds like a child in a full-on meltdown and the coughing makes your chest hurt just to listen to it. Those aren't always easy sounds to pull off, and these are so believable that it really makes the episode more immersive. There's also a change up in the color palate for part of the episode, with Somali and Golem's entry into the desert bringing warm pinks and oranges to replace the cool blues and greys of past weeks. The animals of the new landscape are also markedly different, with the sandshark and the sand seals making it clear that this is a very different ecosystem than the forests where the show previously took place.
At the end of the day, though, I feel like this episode and next week's are gearing up to be a parallel to what might eventually await Somali and Golem. Uzoi's older male companion is dying. She's willing to do anything to stop that, but he doesn't want her to. In the end, she may not be able to save him and will instead have to watch as he fades from existence. With Golem's days numbered, this could very well be a fate that he and Somali will face as the series ends. It's not an enviable one. But it may be one we have to watch play out more than once as the cycle of lives rolls on.
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