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Sengoku Youko – 07

I knew what was coming this week, of course.  But when you’ve read a really great manga that doesn’t do anything to lessen the impact of moments like this.  If anything it amplifies it, taking you back to the moment you first experienced them, and adding the additional layer of motion, music and the human voice to the equation.  That’s only one of many to come, some even bigger, but this was without a question the first real climactic moment of Sengoku Youko.

Life and death is very much the theme of this episode, and Mizukami explores it in many and myriad ways.  The heroes are welcomed into the stone-men village by its elder (Gendou Tessha), though the appeal of the hospitality doesn’t match its sincerity.  Meanwhile Yazen is debriefing Douren and Jinun (there’s a very nice afterword to this scene that was sadly cut, but c’est la view).  Yazen scolds Douren for being too “flexible” in his ways, but it’s clear that the big man has no intention of being anyone but who he is.  Yazen sends him on his next mission – this time he’s to be the one to try and take down Jinka Yamato.  But he won’t be going alone.

The siblings and company have picked up another stray – a very pregnant woman (Yuzuki Ryouka) who was trying to travel back to her home village “three mountains over”.  They take her under their protection to rest, and Shinsuke resumes his sword training (on the head of the village elder, who complains about the racket from his upstairs neighbor).  Shakugan follows him and gently inquires as to why Shinsuke is so desperate to become strong, to which he replies that “the weak have no right to exist”.  He recounts to her the story of his childhood training, apparently with the ghost of a dead samurai warrior.  He also bemoans the fact that everyone in the party has proved their strength except him.

Shinsuke has proved himself to Shakugan’s satisfaction.  Kagan – uncharacteristically assertive – makes that clear enough.  He also offers to give Shinsuke some advice on wielding Arabuki, to wit that he must learn to think of the demonic sword as a person.  Kagan’s words just give Shinsuke that much more reason to want to grow stronger.  As for Jinka, his impulses are clearly convinced over the mother-to-be.  He acts to protect her, giving her a potion to make her see the rockmen as humans, but he maintains his desire to cut his ties with humanity.  A katawara, of course, lives many times the span of a human (as last week’s episode reminds us).  And a human like he is would be certain to leave Tama all alone far too soon.

The arrival of Douren – with Resshin in tow – shoves all those concerns off to the side.  The elder instructs his villagers to have their guests hide, but the mother is going into labor and they realize that they’d be found eventually.  Again, the only option is to face their enemy.  And the difference between Douren and Resshin could hardly be more stark, nominal allies or no.  Douren wants only a mano a mano with Jinka, with their fists doing the talking, and instructs Resshin to stay out of the way.  But for Resshin, everyone connected with Jinka is the enemy – and fair game.  Even a pregnant woman (and the manga makes it more clear than the anime that Resshin is fully aware that his “enemies” include one).

Douren and Jinka are miles above anything the current Shinsuke could aspire to, that’s painfully obvious.  But Resshin makes this everyone’s problem, and Shinsuke is again unable to offer much help.  He moves to take out everyone that Jinka is hiding with a massive boulder, forcing Shakugan (and Kagan) to act.  It takes all their combined powers to hold the rock at bay, and Shinsuke is unable to find the real Resshin among his army of shikigami avatars.  Douren has honor – Resshin clearly does not.  And he runs Shakugan through with his blade even as she continues to try and hold the boulder at bay.  Shinsuke draws Arabuki, but the results are familiar, and all seems to be lost.

Even as new life is coming into the world, Shakuyaku and Kagan are giving theirs in order to protect it.  Douren prevents Resshin from finishing off a senseless (distracted by Resshin’s attack on Shakugan and caught by Douren’s blow) Jinka, but he’s too late to do anything for Shakugan.  Their final act is to become one, providing a literal shield for the two infants that will ensure that their names are not lost to the world.  It’s a very poetic moment, no question about it, and the most interesting aspect of it is Jinka and Shinsuke’s reactions.  For the first time we see Jinka shed tears, and whether it’s for the human or the katawara is a moot point – they acted as one, in doing so putting the lie to Jinka’s belief system about how the world works.

For Shinsuke, this is yet more reason to hate himself for his weakness.  He couldn’t even sacrifice himself in the moment the way Shakugan did, and the fact that she was a person who loved him just makes his perceived failure that much more aggrieving.  Both he and Jinka now face a crisis of self-identity, and in a world which has no intention of granting them the breathing room to do so at their own pace.

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