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Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai (YATAGARASU: The Raven Does Not Choose Its Master) – 04

I hadn’t noticed that Yatagarasu director Kyougoku Yoshiaki was a key animator on Seirei no Moribito. But it’s totally fitting. I can’t say Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai is on anything like that level – almost nothing is. But it’s clearly cut from the same cloth, in the same way something like Akatsuki no Yona (Pierrot) is. Smart, dignified, epic and personal at the same time. Stories which embrace fantasy as a vehicle for exploring human nature and court politics. This is among my very favorite sort of anime, make no mistake about it. That we see it so rarely these days just makes me appreciate its rare appearances that much more.

Yukiya is a smart boy, no question about it. But it’s becoming increasingly clear to him that he’s in way over his head here. Both as regards Wakamiya’s situation, and the Crown Prince himself. The movement against his ascension, orchestrated by the Empress, is pretty much out in the open at this point. Her lackey Shoin (Mori Nanako) tells a secret meeting of the Imperial Council that his selection as heir was “flawed” and should be revisited. There’s no question in anyone’s mind what the impetus behind all this is – what’s not clear is whether anyone on the council is inclined to push back seriously against it.

Wakamiya is not about to let this meeting go on in his absence. The Empress’ (or Natsuka’s) muscleman Rokon (Shirokuma Hiroshi) – we saw him menacing Yukiya and his brother in the cold open – is guarding the (locked) door. But locked doors are nothing to a true Kin’u, and Wakamiya lets himself in. Shoin panics, seeing the situation slipping out of her control, while Wakamiya and Natsuka verbally joust with each other. Meanwhile the current Kin’u looks on in silence from behind the bamboo blinds – that is, until Wakamiya rather shockingly confronts him.

The Crown Prince’s behavior here is less shocking when one considers that the provocation was intentional, an effort to draw the traitors out into the open. Still, calling his father a “stopgap” is pretty inflammatory. In effect the son tells the father to stand (well, sit) down and let him take over the big chair. The Kin’u flies into a rage and then has to be helped from the room (it’s been clear for a while that he’s in some sort of physical decline). Natsuka accuses his brother of needless cruelty; Wakamiya suggests that Natsuka should take the opportunity to kneel and swear fealty to him. Natsuka does, though his true position in all this remains quite obscured for me.

Despite Shoin’s protestations, none of the other Lords seem inclined to act against Wakamiya here. Northern Lord Genya, however, does challenge the prince on whether he actually intends to take a bride. Whether Genya knows the reason why Wakamiya refuses to visit the Sakura Palace is unclear, but the Crown Prince swears that yes, he does – he will ascend to the throne in a year and take a bride before that happens. It’s mission accomplished for him – he’s stirred the pot sufficiently to goad his enemies into making a direct attempt on his life.

That attempt comes after another visit to the pleasure quarter, where Wakamiya has rented an entire brothel for Yukiya’s welcoming party. While in fact a lord in his position might well choose to have a key servant of Yukiya’s age ushered into adulthood this way for reasons of removing a potential source of distraction, this is clearly being done for show – the prince wants his presence to be much-discussed and commented upon (though he might just enjoy seeing the discomfort Yukiya feels in this situation too). Again, it’s mission accomplished – an assassination attempt comes on the way home, at which point Sumio intervenes and shows why he’s Wakamiya’s only bodyguard.

This all proves a bit too much for Yukiya, who has to be carried home after a very trying evening. But Wakamiya is unconcerned. In fact, he makes it very clear to Yukiya that he values him highly – that he’s “worth 100 men”. He passed all the tests the prince tasked him with – he ignored the dying plants and followed instructions, he got all the work done and left Wakamiya’s work for himself. Most importantly, the Crown Prince senses the boy is loyal – the “one in one thousand” at the court who won’t betray him. He offers to make Yukiya his kinju – his chief aide in all matters. And while Yukiya is flabbergasted and attempts to decline, Wakaamiya employs his usual methods to make sure it’s an offer the boy can’t refuse.

This is all, in a word, great. It’s the clear best episode of the series despite the first three being excellent. The exposition flowed naturally and without verbal explanation. We’ve came to understand the situation in Yamauchi, and Yukiya and Wakamiya are incredibly interesting and complex personalities – and having lost their mother to the cruelties of court politics is something that binds them together. Wakamiya is indeed no saint, as Yukiya says. But he’s so isolated and the system so rigged against him that it’s hard not to admire his courage in being willing to take it on. It seems a huge mountain to climb with only one man and one boy at his side (though there are surely other allies in the shadows), but the prospect of watching his struggle play out is the most exciting of the season.

The post Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai (YATAGARASU: The Raven Does Not Choose Its Master) – 04 appeared first on Lost in Anime.

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