Utawarerumono: The False Faces
by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Utawarerumono: The False Faces ?
Community score: 3.9
In a questionable lapse of judgment, Utawarerumono decided to put the mild momentum it had worked so hard to build up on hold this week for a new character introduction (or two) backed by dated, lame, tired old comedy hijinks. Yay?
I understand the decision to take a little break for silliness here, but it couldn't have come at a worse time for me as a (re)viewer. The previous episode ended with the first inklings of intrigue that perhaps not all is right in the grand country of Yamato, and this episode almost seems like it's going to follow up on that conflict before pulling a cruel bait-and-switch to lukewarm gags. Ukon (General Oshutoru) says he'll be going outside the capitol on an excursion and wants to swear Haku and Kuon to secrecy as his confidential home base agents. (Haku finds this unearned trust suspicious, but Ukon says that he considers himself an "excellent judge of character." Right, I'm sure that's the reason. Not, you know, the fact that you two jokers have the same face or anything.)
So what unspeakable missions will they be executing for the general in his absence? Well, they're on standby right now, which gives Kuon the excuse to work Haku to the bone. Ukon only gave them a vague instruction to keep the peace and improve the well-being of the capitol's denizens, until he gives them further orders upon his return. So the entire first half of the episode is spent with Haku whining about odd jobs like cleaning out gutters and completing text after text of calligraphy from sunup to sundown. (He may be smart, but he's still illiterate! Kuon wisely assumes that he'll need to be able to read and write if he wants to serve the general properly as a tactician or an envoy or whatever Ukon has in mind for him.) With no forward story momentum, no matter how small, this first half of the episode dragged my "Haku sure is a lovable slacker!" sentiment down into "Haku is kind of a whiny sadsack" pretty quick. Look, I get that he's a delicate flower who hates manual labor, but halfhearted jokes about his NEET condition in a fantasy setting do not a compelling episode make, especially now that we know both the general and the emperor want him in their court.
Fortunately, the second half of the episode improves Haku's mood (and my perception of him) when Kuon finally gives him a day off. He admits to himself that the free day feels much more freeing after he's worked so hard for it, but he would never admit that to Kuon, lest she put him right back in the saddle again. It's a nice little moment of character growth. If Haku's going to lead the country into war, even as a tactician instead of a fighter, he'll have to be a lot more motivated than he started out. Unfortunately, the second half of this episode also heralds the introduction of a new character and her incredibly played-out schtick, making it somehow worse than the tedium that came before.
In the most trite '90s anime harem plot to ever squirt out on the screen, an incognito foreign princess sprints through the marketplace pursued by her flustered bodyguard, and charms/browbeats Haku into helping her escape her "assailant." (In all fairness, what the hell is this bodyguard doing firing actual arrows at the princess in a populous city, while wearing a mask no less? There are better ways to get her to slow down and stop being so spirited! No wonder bystanders think this "good guy" is trying to kill her!) This is Princess Atui, a lop-eared-bunny-girl and "the daughter of Soyankekuru, the Ouro of Shahhoro," if that means anything to you. (It's just another stop at Nebulous Fantasy Proper Name Junction to my ears, but the first Utawarerumono series also had a rabbit kingdom, albeit of the longer and smoother-eared variety. So maybe this is a variation on that with a tinier and fluffier flavor!) Her pursuer is Kiuru, a wolf-boy assigned to Atui's protection by Ukon, a good friend of Nekone's, and an obvious archer class in the war-to-come. I'm not sure what Atui's role is meant to be yet. Will she be a fighter? A mage? A wall? All I know is that there had to be a better way to introduce her to the story than this.
After giving Kiuru the slip, Atui spends the rest of the episode on a date with Haku where she's totally not falling in love you guys. You see, she came to this city to find romance, hopefully with a mysterious figure the people are calling "The Righteous Man," who does good deeds in the name of General Oshutoru without asking for anything in return. (GEE I WONDER WHO THAT COULD BE.) Atui's character seems like she's been cobbled from various harem tropes without much consistency. She's rambunctious and wants a whirlwind romance, but she gets deep-blush flustered by anything even remotely suggestive, like a brush from Haku's hand or crossing their arms to eat skewers. Okay, so she's all bluster and no muster. That's not funny or unique, but I guess it might make sense, until the instant Kuon shows up, whereupon Atui asks Haku if he's been getting busy with the little cougar and if he can share the details. What?
As an unfortunate side effect, this all makes Haku look incredibly stupid and oblivious, which is the exact opposite of what we need to buy the role he's quickly adopting in this story. Ugh. Bury this lazy, boring non-comedy in the cold, cold ground. The only joke that works in all of this is Kuon and Haku's reaction to being called lovers. Instead of the stereotypical "uwah~!", we get an immediate nonchalant denial from both of them. "Oh him? Oh her? With me? Hell no." This makes me root for them to actually get together all the more.
Eventually, all misunderstandings are cleared up, we have two new additions to the party, and nothing else of value was gained, so let's hope for a less flimsy episode next week. I guess it becomes more interesting when you think about Ukon putting all these events in motion for completely unknown reasons. What the heck is he doing? First he shoves a princess into everyone's lap, pursued by a woefully uninformed bodyguard, and then he spreads rumors of Haku like he's some kind of mythical creature, calling him "The Righteous Man" when he hasn't even done anything yet! Something is rotten in the state of Yamato, and the sooner we learn more about this guy calling himself General Oshutoru the better.
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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