August 13, 2009

Kaze No Yojimbo #25: So Long

2002 episode
directed by Hayato Date
written by Katsuyuki Sumisawa and Satoru Nishizono
based on the film YOJIMBO by Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima

(1961 film)


From my review of the previous episode, I made it clear just how damn disappointed I was in what appeared to be the climax. They went for big action instead of deep characterization, but with such week animation, they never had a chance of pulling it off. Certain revelations were already obvious and a few potentially major confrontations severely fumbled. But it ended. Most of the major plot threads and character arcs were brought to a fiery conclusion. Where could it possibly go from here?

Well, surprisingly, it gets better.

Much, much better.

I won't go into all the details so as to not spoil anything, but the majority of the episode takes place on a lakeshore as various members of the cast show up to shoot things out and clear up the few remaining threads. While there's a twist involving the wife of old-blood politician Tanokura that never completely sells, everything else is staged to perfection, with some characters redeeming themselves, our calm hero George finally unleashing his pent up rage, and a brilliant revelation throwing everything for a loop and leading to a damn rousing battle in the woods.

And then there's Rin, the sadistic member of the Ginzame cartel who just loves finding news ways to play with that revolver of his. Things have been coming to a boil between him and George as we've painfully waited for these two skilled warriors to clash. I thought we gotten it last episode, with a disappointing bit of poorly animated stumbling, but the creative team completely redeemed themselves here, putting the two into a standoff which, while going off in a completely unexpected direction, is more than worthy of the pair. And bonus points for slipping in references to both the original film and Kurosawa's sequel.

While the previous ep was severely done in by obvious cuts to the animation budget, I'm guessing that was all so they could double their reserves here. This truly was the most beautiful episode of the series, with cleanly illustrated characters, striking shot setups, astonishing character animation (the way some transition from one emotion to another is just beautiful), and the entire climax takes place during a thick daytime snowfall, adding a stark beauty to the tense confrontation. It really did feel, appropriately, like a moment staged by Kurosawa and shot by Sergio Leone.

And then we all come to the ending. I'm sure there will be some left disappointed by the ambiguous fates of several characters, as they never do give us a clear idea of where they go from here, but we are left with a sense of growth, a feeling that they're already moving on from these recent events and now have a chance to make something of themselves. We'll never know because, just like our hero, our business here is done and we're already booked for the next train out of town.

Though it wrapped up beautifully and there are moments within the broader series where it rises to greatness, I'm still not certain whether I should recommend the show. If you're willing to sit through the frustrating stretches so as to better appreciate the points where it shines, then, yes, give it a go. For most people, though, I can see why the series has slipped into obscurity. If it weren't for my dreaded obsessive completism, I sincerely doubt I myself would have made it past the first few episodes.

(series trailer)

(opening titles)

(anime news network)
(internet movie database)

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