I bought the Juni Taisen novel last week and sped through it in two days. It was a breezy, fun read, and helped further my impression that the “light novel” thing is just old school pulp fiction repackaged for a different market.
That’s a compliment, both towards the trend in general and towards Juni Taisen in particular.
So far the anime’s following the book chronologically. Which is to say, it’s following the book chapter by chapter for the most part, showing us events that happen in later chapters if it makes sense time-wise. Episodes 2 and 3 give us glimpses of Ox and Horse’s fight, something that isn’t shown until one of those character’s respective chapter despite happening during the time period covered in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the book. The same goes for the scenes where Monkey and Rat are together before Chicken comes across them. It’s a minor difference that doesn’t actually change anything.
The real difference so far is in how the anime embellishes the backgrounds of the focus character in any given episode.
All of that background stuff we see about Boar in the first episode? It’s literally extrapolated from a single line of text in the book.
Originally, her sister, five years her elder, had earned the right to participate in the Twelfth Zodiac War, but in the culmination of a twelve-year plot, Toshiko killer her sister and claimed the invitation for herself.
We never find out the how of that plot in the book, just that it happened. The anime spent nearly half of its first episode on this one line. I gotta wonder if this was deliberate. Did Nisioisin hold back background stuff in case an adaptation came around? Or maybe it was all in some notes and wasn’t deemed necessary for the book itself, only to be used in the anime? Or maybe none of it was there until they decided to make the anime and rolled with it then? I wouldn’t be surprised by any explanation. But yeah, these sorts of embellishments are making this a pretty interesting adaptation, since we’re getting new info along with a fairly “faithful” retelling of the story.
The same goes for this particular episode. The details of Ryoka’s blank slate origin are the same– she was found in her apartment, her family most likely slaughtered by her hand for the abuse she’s completely blocked out, and later taken in by the Niwa clan to be a soldier. We learn of her lack of direction and knack for using her relative meek appearance to deceive others into underestimating her, but we see all of this through her inner monologue and narration. The anime does this as well, but we also get to see it play out much like Toshiko’s origin story. Ryoka betrays comrades, turns the tables by pleading innocence and claiming it was another attacker, all to get the glory and the kill for herself. She’s the most deceitful of all the characters to date. Boar was all surface level arrogance, and it was only Dog’s talents that were hidden, but Chicken deliberately plays off of her perceived weaknesses.
And that’s what leads to her death.
Ryoka’s strength is her weakness. Her cockiness comes from knowing her limitations and using them to her advantage. So when she deceives Dog into giving her his One Man Army toxin, she’s effectively doomed herself by losing that weakness. She doesn’t know how to react when she’s stripped of the things that lead to her humiliation. She’s not a natural-born slayer like Ox, so when she gains that level of competence, it’s not only wasted on her, it also keeps her from her true potential as a warrior. Her instincts are overridden by the instincts of someone far more capable. She buys into Monkey’s hopeful rhetoric, an ideology she’d normally find disgusting, and she buys into the idea that she can go toe-to-toe with Ox.
Chicken struts her feathers and gets her head on the chopping block, plucked and pecked to death. It’s another ending fitting of the character’s respective Zodiac sign. If anyone so far has “deserved” to get it, it’s been her.
Also: Between the opening massacre, the way Ryoka uses her birds as a flying garbage disposal, and her own eye-plucking death at the hands of Ox, this was an especially gory and visceral episode. Good stuff, man.