Episode 7

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 7 of
Urahara ?

We all know from Puella Magi Madoka Magica that even the most well-intentioned magical girls can become the very creatures they combat. This week, URAHARA reveals its own nearly identical twist. As Rito, Mari, and Kotoko mourn their loss of humanity paired with some ill-timed artists' block, “Sakuramochi Blues” gets at URAHARA's most meta exploration yet: what does it mean to be creative? This is a question for our heroines as much as for the audience. Knowing that this show takes direct inspiration from other media, especially Harajuku fashion culture, is URAHARA creative or merely derivative? And why couldn't it be both? Through its heavy use of fragmented manga-like paneling, this deconstructive episode meanders through some tough questions every artist has asked themselves.

Misa-chan and Fried Shimp are not only rooting for the other team—they're on it! It turns out that they're Scoopers too, and soon Rito, Mari, and Kotoko will join them. It seems that eating pieces of defeated Scoopers was a really bad idea, even if they did turn into yummy sweets. Bummed out by the news, our trio attempts to create as usual, but they're all experiencing artist's block. It could be a coincidence, or as Kotoko suggests with horror, “Maybe we never were creative.” As evidence, she points out how their work follows what's trendy so they can get more social media followers. Rito pipes up with a very relatable creative quandary: “Is it really that bad to copy and study the things you admire?” Anyone who has written fan fiction or drawn fan art might wonder the same thing. Emotionally distraught and unable to agree, the three girls go their separate ways to privately rehash the conversation for the rest of the episode. It gets a little repetitive as they flat-out repeat their lines, but the story does some interesting stuff as it goes.

Since episode one, URAHARA has relied on manga-style splitscreen paneling to tell its story. This episode ups the ante, visualizing the girls' concerns through increasingly fragmented panels. It wasn't until Mari threw her iPhone across the park, splintering the screen, that I realized what this creative choice reminded me of. By portraying the girls as just a fragmented eye or ear or mouth heightens this episode's feeling of isolation and detachment. This is the first episode in which the girls don't reunite to fight, marking a shift for URAHARA.

We also have the kind of character building that I'd been craving, with deep dives into Kotoko and Mari's childhoods. (I still wish they would tell us how they all met!) Overall, it's a real downer of an episode as everyone considers what it means to be creative. On a meta level, we see obvious glimpses of URAHARA's own inspirations—like the Crunchyroll Expo poster that represents the show's producer. Signs for the Harajuku fashion brand WEGO remind us that URAHARA could never have existed without drawing from the neighborhood's existing creativity, which itself could be considered a Scooper on its own, drawing talent from aspiring designers all over Japan and the world. Paired with today's Madoka Magica-inspired plot twist, URAHARA is blatantly advertising that it is a derivative production in many ways, but isn't everything? It's asking us to accept it as a creative work anyway and I do accept URAHARA, flaws and all.

Rating: B+

URAHARA is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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