Some people are gonna call all of this anticlimactic, and in some sense they’re right. Once episode 4 broke from the novel’s pattern and didn’t have Monkey die at the end of her episode, I figured they were gonna do one of two things:
- Diverge from the novel to allow for certain characters to become the “heroes.”
- Restructure how the events are presented to the audience so as to have everything come to a head during episode 6– effectively creating a mid-series climax.
1 may still happen (although I doubt it), but 2 certainly did. No need for a halftime show, because the last “two minutes” of the half definitely delivered something. Thing is, none of it led to what most would call thrilling, battle anime antics. Monkey and Rabbit fight, but it’s mostly Monkey on the defensive, swatting down zombie pigeons while looking for a chance to get Rabbit in a sleeper hold. Sheep’s showdown with Tiger is over in an instant, being resolved samurai movie style with a single running slash with Tiger’s claws. Horse is literally smoked out of existence when his echo chamber bunker (now tomb) is set ablaze and he asphyxiates.
Monkey received something resembling a hero’s death, but she’s brought down by her own brand of hubris. She assumes that everyone, even the most wretched, have a strand of humanity residing in them. And for everyone else in the tournament she would be correct. Chicken was a conniving backstabber, but Monkey was able to speak with her because she was human. The power of diplomacy only works when both sides comprehend the nature of discourse and finding common ground. Even those filled with blood lust and cruelty usually understand this on some abstract level, even if they never practice it. That’s how cease fires and peace treaties are created.
The thing is, when your enemy literally does not comprehend such concepts, like Rabbit, then peace is not a rational, possible solution. Monkey’s naiveté was born out of having hope for all people, because she believed everyone is human. Bluntly speaking, Rabbit isn’t, at least on a mental level. From what we’ve seen, Ox realizes this. He sees Rabbit’s abilities and immediately reasoned that he isn’t dealing with someone normal. He abandoned a rational approach– to team up with others– once he saw that something wholly unnatural was afoot. Despite his sign being that of a stubborn animal, he adapted. That’s why he’s still alive and Monkey isn’t.
It’s that same inability to adapt that leads to Horse’s demise, which is ironic because he is who he is because of his initial willingness to adapt. His background bit is another case of the anime expanding upon what’s given to us in the novel. A couple of lines about turning to bodybuilding and an embarrassing combat loss are turned into a training sequence somewhere between Rocky 4 and Dragon Ball Z. I was disappointed in the fact that the burly masked dude in that sequence was the dude who beat young Horse rather than Horse himself, because I was all ready to talk about how pre-Taisen Horse was more like a Jason-styled horror killer than anything, which would fit his massive body yet “silent” fighting style– all slash and kill and appearing out of nowhere without the apparent means to do so. That woulda been a cool touch to his character, but instead we get Super Saiyan Ivan Drago. I guess that’s cool too.
Despite that willingness to change himself, once Horse becomes his “new you,” he can’t possibly budge from that path. That’s the trick to the Horse, it’s willing to run and go to the extreme to do what it wants, but it refuses to be led. His fight with Ox essentially breaks him mentally. His invulnerability, to which he went to said extremes to achieve, is tested for the first time. He wasn’t killed in the exchange, but he may as well have been killed. Everything– from the characters around him to the events taking place– are telling Horse that he needs to change his path. Pure defense is not an option when time is a life-defining factor and when everyone else has the capacity to deal with said defense with their own offensive prowess. Just like he was young, Horse needed to change his ways, but because he’s already made such a change, he can’t bring himself to make the same decision again. And so it goes.
Sheep’s downfall is considerably more surface level than Monkey’s and Horse’s. He just assumes that Tiger’s drunkenness is a flaw and not something deliberate. He can’t fathom that someone’s strength isn’t obvious, and pays the price. He’s just an old man set in his ways, well past his prime, and despite being aware of all of that, he chose the wrong time to fall back on expectations rather than playing to his strengths.
And that’s been the common string between everyone’s death so far in Juni Taisen. Everyone makes assumptions– often based on the flaws inherent to their zodiac sign– and they die because of those assumptions. The characters still alive have yet to break from their inherent strengths– they’re thriving because they know themselves better than the others, and we’re getting to the point where the defeats won’t be so much about someone succumbing to their flaws, but true strength of character and genuine stakes. It isn’t so much that those who remain are “better” people, but they are the ones who have a better grasp of what makes them them— flaws and all.
Or Rabbit. There’s also Rabbit. Damn Rabbit.