I freely confess I’m not super-impartial when it comes to Kemono Jihen. When a manga you love makes it to the screen, it’s quite a thrill to see all the faces from the page come alive. All the more so when it’s not an extremely well-known one (this series is somewhere in the middle), and you get the added punch of having people discover something you already knew about. Of course that makes the pain that much more grievous when the adaptation screws it up, but happily that’s not the case here – and the early signs (view counts, manga sales) are that viewers are responding.
Make no mistake, Inari-sama (Hanazawa Kana) is a player in every sense of the word. She’s one of the biggest wheels in Tokyo, using her mystical wiles to bend the police to her will, and she and Inugami have a long-standing relationship that’s complicated to say the least. And he sends Kabane – in the company of Shiki and Akira – off to pay his respects to her now that he’s a part of the agency. He gives the lad a good-luck charm to take with him and sends the boys on their way without much show of concern.
Upon arrival they hit a stone wall, until Kon (Hanamori Yumiri) arrives at the lobby and informs the desk sergeant that Inari-sama wants to see Kabane – and only Kabane. Inari refers to Kabane as half-khoular (a term I had never heard before this series), and marvels at this lifestone. She then promptly has Kon cut off his head and stick it in a box (so the body won’t regrow), and crows about how if she can make copies of the lifestone, the need to coexist with humans will be eliminated. She then orders Kon to deal with Kabane’s friends and veritably floats from the room in a cloud of triumph.
Hanazawa Kana is one of the three casting choices for this series (Hanae-san is another, and we’ll meet the other one next week, probably) that I wasn’t thrilled with when I learned of it. And I’m still not (I had something more along the lines of Sakamoto Maaya in mind, but you can’t have everything). Hanazawa is a little too “Team Rocket” for the role, in my view – which is great if you’re Team Rocket (which has some of the best seiyuu in anime history), but that’s not how I envisioned Inari. She’s basically fine, though – certainly grating, as Inari is meant to be – and Hanamori Yumiri is a better fit as Kon, who’s as important as Inari in her own way.
It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Kon isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nevertheless she’s a single-minded (adoration for Inari-sama) and dangerous opponent, and after her rather transparent attempt to impersonate Kabane implodes, she decides she’ll just have to kill Akira and Shiki. Careful observers will notice some interesting stuff going on during this fight, which is a teaser for the sort of exposition Kemono Jihen likes to execute – it doesn’t hold your hand and use it to spell everything out. Shiki’s uses his thread Hisoka-style to steal Kabane’s head back, and this is where the tide in the fight turns.
What’s most important in this whole sequence is the way the major characters act during and after it. Even disembodied Kabane remains unflappable – Shiki and Akira are more freaked out about his situation than he is. He fails at fist-bumping too, once he puts Kon down and regrows his body. Shiki is clearly beginning to realize just how exceptional Kabane is – though he’s obviously not the first one to do so. Inugami is likewise not freaked out by this entire incident – indeed, he acts as though he pretty much expected everything that happened to happen. That goes right down to giving Kabane a fake lifestone for Inari to steal (unlike Akira, I’d rather not know just where he was keeping the real one).
One might assume that after she tried to kill his new boy, Inugami might be angry at Inari. Instead he seems pleased that he’s gotten one over on her, and put her in his debt (in a way). Inugami is cool as the other side of the pillow, and clearly harbours no illusions about just how unpredictable and dangerous Inari is. The roots of this relationship clearly run very deep. Unfazed by all this, then, Inugami orders a welcome party for Kabane, and even manages to teach Kon some manners when she follows the group home to try and complete her mission. Inari isn’t someone you’d want as an enemy to be sure, but it’s pretty obvious that you could say the same about Inugami…