I’m probably jumping the gun here just a little bit, but I’m totally gonna say it. I think Juni Taisen was made just for me. The first episode almost perfectly tapped into my psyche and delivered to me something purely of my subconscious. If I were tasked to make a show about assassins and stuff fighting each other, I may not make something exactly like this, but it’d be damn near close. It’s easily the best first episode of an anime I’ve seen since, well, probably Ga-Rei: Zero. Hopefully it won’t take a mid-series dip like Ga-Rei, but given the cast and the premise, I doubt that’ll be the case.
The gist of it: a bunch of assassins, killers, and other assorted mercenaries and “people of action” participate in some bloodsport ritual combat thing every 12 years. Each of these people are from a clan/organization/something themed after one of the twelve Chinese Zodiac signs, and, for at least this contest, they take on a guise also themed after their respective animal. Only one of them can win/survive, and that person is granted one wish, in addition to living beyond the tournament. This time around, the contest is taking place in a city that’s been evacuated (or something far worse) by whatever shadowy organization is behind the titular Juni Taisen. The participants have so many hours to kill one another and claim the poisoned jewel each of them have swallowed. Whoever has claimed all of the jewels by the end of the allotted time wins. If time expires, anyone still alive will eventually die via poison, assuming said poison hasn’t already done its job. It’s somewhere between Smokin’ Aces and Battle Royale, and it’s a beautiful set-up.
If the first episode’s format is an indication of the general direction of the series, I really liking it. We follow Toshiko, the representative of The Boar, as she makes her way to the contest. We see the initial meeting between all of the contestants through her perspective, along with her ongoing comments and criticism. We get some obvious unreliable narrator stuff going here, since she clearly admires some competitors and despises others. While this is going on, we get flashbacks showing us how she got here. Those flashbacks involve some obvious “raised to be a killer” situations mixed in with a genuinely devilish development that paints Toshiko as a seriously deranged person. It isn’t simple revenge or pettiness, it’s the absolute destruction of someone on a spiritual level. It’s kinda awe-inspiring to see this horrific act play out.
So yeah, that’s a really cool format. We get to know characters while they get to show off their skills and participate in crazy super powered assassin combat. We get into her head and into her action at the same time, without either aspect slowing down the other. If each episode is structured like this, where everything progresses at this sort of speed and with this relative deftness, that would be perfect.
Then the actual battle gets going and damn, it starts off beautifully. The above pic gives away the first showdown, but it doesn’t play out how you’d expect based on anything you see. It isn’t a twist so much as it’s an awesome development that adds to the whole mystique and mythos of this thing.
Rabbit doesn’t just have a totally radical character design, what with his Chippendale meets Playboy Bunny attire and dual-wielding machetes, he’s a legitimately awesome character. Toshiko’s pretty cool too, but Rabbit is… wow. Keep an eye on this dude, he could be an all-timer. A lot of the other character designs are awesome too (Ox’s matador attire rocks, and I’m also digging Tiger’s punk rock Josie and the Pussycats look), but Rabbit is downright inspired, and his actual character rises to meet his look.
And I have to agree with Toshiko. I don’t like Monkey either. She’s too nice. What a repulsive woman.
It feels good to be excited about a new anime. Been awhile since one’s grabbed me like this from the get-go. It got me to re-up my Crunchyroll account. I hyped, y’all.