Joran The Princess of Snow and Blood starts with a bang—or should I say, a burn—of blue flame, no less. A beautiful woman recites an incantation as she faces down a monstrous beast, and in a moody swirl of blue, black and white, her transformation sequence explodes across the screen. It looks and sounds painful as half her face is stripped back to a screaming scull, laced with dancing blue flames—the same shade as her now glowing sword. One thing is clear: this ain’t no magical girl anime. Yukimura, whose real name is Karasumori Sawa, is a Changeling, which means that she can combine magically with an animal (in her case, a white crow) to gain superhuman abilities. She is indeed the Blue Flower of Carnage, as the episode title claims. Over the rest of the episode, we learn that Yukimura has adopted a little girl, Asahi, and is raising her as a younger sister, but that she doesn’t really know how to interact with the child or, well, anyone for that matter. She is reserved and serious in the extreme, shooting down potential suitors and more aggressive advances with practiced ease. She runs a used bookstore, but this is cover for her clandestine work for an as yet unnamed group as a killer of monsters. She is ostensibly part of a team: Kuzuhara, their director; Tsukishiro, a cheery master of infiltration; and the seductress Hanakaze, who seems also to be the concealed weapons expert—and a creative one at that, if her umbrella-crossbow is any indication. (Also, I still don’t know where the blade she takes out her first victim with was hidden.) But in practice, Yukimura prefers to work alone, and Tsuki knows to play to this strength. Their assignment this episode is to prevent a political assassination by a new type of Changeling, a plot hatched by the arch villain, Janome. Ultimately, it is Yukimura who takes down the monster (with whom she shares a surprising connection), but she is injured in the process and ends the episode resting feverishly in her futon. But wait! Why is Asahi holding a knife as she weeps over her onee-chan?! Wha—Noooo! *Cliffhanger.*
The art is stunning. Let me just repeat that. It is stunning! Yukimura’s daily life is depicted in rich tones with assertive linework that lends a degree of determination and firmness to her visage and delicate frame that point to her hidden strength—both physical, when in her transformed state, and emotional. She is, after all, on a quest to avenge her brother, who shared her (literal) blue blood and was likely killed for being a Changeling. The art style shifts for the transformation sequences and subsequent battles, with the energetic raw linework and visible paintbrush strokes of the backgrounds lending the animation such dynamism that it makes you want to pick up a 10B pencil and start carving out dark confident lines of your own. The plot, characters and setting—1931 Japan, but where the Tokugawa era of the shoguns and political isolationism persists—are fairly dripping with intrigue. A wall has gone up in the middle of the city, Berlin-style, to protect a valuable resource, and it is prompting all sorts of protest and unrest—even the pigeons signal their disdain for the Emperor (someone wash down that statue!). Revolt is brewing, and Changelings and assassins are to be found on both sides. I have so many questions after this episode—not the confused kind, but rather the engaged kind that stem from a ridiculously rich, detailed bit of worldbuilding—that I will be tuning in again. And not just to see Ghost Rider in a yukata…
Joran The Princess of Snow and Blood can be streamed on Crunchyroll.
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