April 12th, 2016.
Sinking the Hook:
I’m going to start by what I didn’t like about this episode, move to what is unlikeable on first glance, and then move onto the positive. But bottom line, I’m still liking this show quite a bit.
Ok, what I don’t like is that this two part premiere sort of failed as a premiere. It succeeded in establishing the spy story genre, in telling us a “Cold War story” (because it is, regardless of the fact that it’s taking place in 1937), where the people in charge are less trustworthy than the spies, including the enemy spies, and are there really any “friendly” spies? Anyway, it’s unclear whether this will be the tale of Sakuma joining the spies and changing as a person, or the tale of how Japan’s corrupt military and spies clashed heads, or whether each story will revolve around a different main character, with Sakuma’s story being told first. Does it go for any particular story, or is the atmosphere and the background it gives to that era the main dish it will serve? Frankly, I don’t have a clue, and for a 2-part premiere to leave me at this point is a bit disappointing. Then again, that’s what you get when you watch shows as they air, rather than have someone tell you what sort of show it is after the fact (like the fact Samurai Champloo is almost entirely an episodic travelogue, not a plot-driven show).
Then we go to where it started “Hmmmm…” and ended “Oh,” but I’m still not sure I’m sold on it. It’s about how the situation with Gordon was resolved. I really did expect some words between Sakuma and the other spies, which weren’t there, we’re not even talking about whether the other spies could’ve solved the “mystery”. Sakuma figured out where the ciphers were hidden, but presenting him as cool really isn’t the point. This isn’t a shounen. And even in shounen battlers, fights really aren’t about the fights, but about what is at stake.
And what is at stake here? What’s at stake is Sakuma going against the ingrained belief of the Imperial Portrait being sacrosanct. The real Military Police bowed to it after they finished their search. And even after Colonel Mutou heard where the ciphers was, rather than say “Good job”, he was aghast at the idea of it being defiled. No matter how much people seek to cover their asses in the military, or meddle in politics, or abuse their subordinates, some things are not to be done. Some things are not to be even thought. And Sakuma being able to think and act on them is what this “conflict” is about.
The spies lack honour, which is why Sakuma branded them “cowards”. But it is this cowardice that allows them to go against propriety and tradition, and to be willing to profane the image. So is this bravery, or cowardice?
Then we move to how the view of things keep shifting. Miyoshi seemed a bit surprised and hurt when Sakuma turned him down. Is this because everyone wants to be appreciated, and feeling someone turn down their appreciation of you stings? Or is it, because Miyoshi realizes Sakuma still didn’t necessarily figure it out, that even going out to town isn’t just done for fun, but as part of their training?
And if we continue with the chain of thought of misdirections, you will note Yuuki did not say he didn’t expect Sakuma to track down the geisha house and find out that Mutou had been indiscreet with classified information, but only that he’d manage to find this proof about him. And Sakuma’s mind is now in “the right place”, when he was told that the mystery man didn’t carry a cane, or have a glove, he didn’t think “That’s not Yuuki,” but rather, “The Yuuki I see is an illusion.”
And Sakuma is living the same contradiction as Mutou, where he lives for the country (or the Emperor), but he’s forced to consider politics and engage in them, as they engage him. The theme of mistrust of the top is a common refrain in anime, but also a common refrain in Cold War spy stories. Who’s Sakuma to trust?
And let’s close with another question – what was Miyoshi appreciative of? Of Sakuma actually being willing to die for his honour? For figuring it out? For actually going against propriety? So many possible things.
And this was a very pretty and very symbolic shot. Standing in the shadows of tradition, looking towards the light of mistrust, as the military goes backwards.