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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 12

Episode 12: CATCH THAT GIRL! (ANO ONNA O NIGASU NA!) ****1/2

Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

Enjoying some sweets from a street vendor, Koroku spies a young lady snatching a man's wallet. He retrieves the stolen item but the girl has friends. Koroku easily overpowers them in a display of skill. The group then enjoys a meal together where the young thieves disclose their names-- White Fox Hanji, Flying Squirrel Omitsu (Hanji's sister), Goblin Minokichi, Red Ox Ushimatsu; all of them are orphans from the Joshu countryside. Hayate Kid is, unsurprisingly, napping in the tree next to them. He shows them how a professional thief does his job. The wallet lifted from Tomoeya Tokubei (the man in the street) contains a handprint on a piece of paper. The handprint of one of O'oka's 26 conspirators.

Later that day, Orin and Okei are enjoying some noodles together when Orin sees a man facing her direction from outside. She of course assumes the man is vying for her attention despite him reading a book. She instigates a meeting with this man by dropping a hairpin. He is looking for the bathhouse, Fujino-Yu having heard he could find Hiraga Gennai there. He tells Orin he was told to "Ask old lady Orin". This doesn't sit well with her and she asks Shinpachi for his opinion on how old she looks...that is if she can detain his attention gaping at the naked women passing by him in the bathhouse. He responds, "It depends on who's looking".

Saike Shuin (the man who met Orin in the street) has his meeting with doctor Gennai over a good meal. Gennai is curious why Saiki is interested in mining techniques. He explains that his school, the Shuin Academy, takes in poor orphans and outcasts in the hopes of turning them into respectable individuals. He can't do this without money and that's where the mining comes in. Returning to Yamabiko with the handprint, the Shadow Warriors match it with the copy they already have in their possession. Whether or not the man Omitsu robbed is one of the 26 is unknown to them at the moment.

At another location, Omitsu runs into Tomoeya, the man whom she stole the wallet. Tomoeya snatches her away to rape her. Luckily, her brother and his friends enter and threaten him. Expecting their trap, he in turn has set a trap for the young thieves. Tomoeya is more concerned by the missing handprint than he is the missing money. While a group of men beat up the three boys, the evil Tomoeya rapes Omitsu.

Hayate Kid shows up in time to stop the beating of Hanji and his friends but not to prevent the rape of Omitsu. Just as Koroku shows up, Hayate Kid makes his exit yet again as quickly as he came. Koroku swears to get revenge on Tomoeya Tokubei for his crime. Koroku attempts to sneak into Tomoeya's home but falls into a trap. Meanwhile Saiku Shuin is having a meeting with the nasty Tomoeya. He says he wants half the gold mined by Saike's men.

It's here you see the first indication Saike isn't as noble as he professes to be. Tomoeya's men enter with the captured Koroku. They prepare to slaughter him when Saike stops the men. He wants the young Iga and agrees to Tomoeya's demands. Saiku frees a stunned Koroku. The teacher asks Koroku to "Come to my school in Shibuya. There are many others like you". The impressionable young ninja agrees and brings along Omitsu and her ragtag band of youthful pickpockets. Koroku tells his less than enthused friends, "Something good is bound to happen!", not yet knowing they are walking into a trap.

Upon reaching Shuin Academy, Saike endears himself on the gullible minds of the young men and women he has cajoled into his presence. The plan is to clear land in the Koshu Mountains for an as yet unknown purpose. Observing Koroku sparring with the other young men of the camp, Saike sends for him to ask for his assistance in an urgent matter. He wants Koroku to murder Tomoeya Tokubei. He seems perplexed at first, but when Saike states, "We fight for justice!", it recalls what Shinpachi and the Iga have stood for since the Dark Shogun tried to have them wiped out. So he goes along with it and carries out the murder without question. At the same time, he has taken revenge for his girlfriend, Omitsu. The sinister Saike watches the deed and rushes over to Tomoeya's corpse and searches his body, but doesn't find what he's looking for.

Later, after learning what Koroku has done, Shinpachi beats him claiming he had not found evidence that Tomoeya was one of O'oka's men. By killing him outright, Koroku spoiled the Iga's plan of uncovering the origin of the handprint. Having broken the Iga code, Shinpachi casts him out. The others beg Shin to reconsider but he refuses. Koroku runs away in shame with Otoki close behind him. She tries to talk him into coming back and apologizing to Shin. He also refuses stating, "I'm sick of orders and codes!!" Already seduced by Saike and his Shuin school, Koroku runs off to rejoin his new friends. Sometime later, Saike meets with Gennai to discuss a possible gold vein running all the way through the Koshu Mountain region and into the Sado region. Gennai suspects Saike is involved in criminal activities. This is confirmed when Uta follows him and listens in on a meeting with Shiina second in command, Anabuki Samon.

Samon says that O'oka is dissatisfied with the Koshu mine due to the inferior quality of gold coming out of it. Saike responds that he may have located another vein...he now has plenty of workers. Upon reaching Shuin Mountain, Koroku and the others make the shocking discovery that their destination is not the paradise promised to them. It's a slavery camp that forces the young people to work in the mines. Koroku attempts to rile the workers into revolting as a means of escape. Some of the guards enter and manage to smooth over the young men by giving them free reign in the women's encampment. Seeing an opportunity to get away, Koroku and Omitsu manage to break out of the camp. They are caught soon after and tortured. Assured of execution the following day, Omitsu and Koroku make love as the sun dips below the mountains.

Meanwhile, the Shadow Warriors are not far behind. Uta and Otoki manage to penetrate the Shuin Mountain camp to free all the young slaves. Uta tells Koroku the plan and that the chief is nearby as well. The band attempt an escape the following morning but are thwarted by Saike and some riflemen. Just as Saike is about to have Koroku shot, the Shadow Warriors show up racing down the Mountainside. They engage the villains in a fight. The captured workers also join in the fracas. The last two miscreants, including Saeki Shuin, are intercepted by Shinpachi. He allows Koroku to slay Saike for revenge.

The battle over, Koroku's newfound friends head back for Joshu. Omitsu says goodbye to him and says she will wait for him in Joshu should he decide one day to go. Seeing Shinpachi and the others approaching over the hill, Koroku begs for punishment. Shin says, "Of course...when we get home...over a drink or two!" Back at Yamabiko, a distraught Orin rushes into the restaurant and heads for the table where Shin, Gohei and Koroku are enjoying a meal. Upset that he had left for a time without telling her, she cries out how lonely she was. He says he had business in Koshu and that there's a shortage of women there-- "Ten men for every woman", a statement that arouses Orin to a fit of heated delight.

Episode twelve is without doubt one of the more talkier episodes in the entire run of KAGE 2. It is also one of the most dramatic and startling shows. It has an enormous amount of underlying meaning geared towards the rebellious youth and the repercussions that result from turning a blind eye to wisdom; instead embracing the folly of power and greed. For the character of Koroku, he is lucky to have such an understanding "father" in Shinpachi, the leader of the Shadow Warriors. Director Yuji also handled the excellent episode seven which featured a number of stand out dramatic moments and character changes. The same applies here with the complexity of Koroku creating a parallel with the younger generation in modern society that speaks just as loudly today as it did back in late 1981 when this show first aired.

Yuji proves himself a most capable director in the same company as fellow KAGE 2 director, Ota Akikazu. Although a talky program, there is a lot of interesting character interplay going on. The final fight is also one of the best of series two and it sees the return of the camoflauge ninja costumes. This is Hikaru Kurosaki's (Koroku) show all the way. The entire episode revolves around him and his struggle to choose sides. He has two "fathers" here, Shin and this new individual who saved his life and promised him dreams of untold happiness free from worry and strife. The parallel between Shin and Saike comes when the cruel Saike asks that Koroku murder Tomoeya for him stating that "We fight for justice", the mantra of the Iga and words heard from Shinpachi's own mouth over the course of the series.

A fascinating episode and a highlight of series two only slightly mired by some rather silly moments of improbability. The comic moments with Kiki Kirin as Orin are, as always, a pleasure to watch. The funniest bit involves Orin trying her best to get Shin to embrace her "youthfulness". And of course, as per most of series two, the show capper features another comedic exchange with Orin. This time, a deceptive line to draw her attentions away from her libidinous desires with Shinpachi. After the credits, the preview for episode 13 promises the return of Misato.

Continued in Episode Thirteen: THE TERRIFIED WIFE!!!

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