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Peacemaker Kurogane - 21 - 24

It has been a long time since I've watched this series. I will probably never forgive Gonzo Animation for what they did to at least three of the manga they adapted for the tiny screen. But in many respects, Peacemaker Kurogane was still the best adaptation they ever did. I gave up on it, two years ago, after a slew of filler episodes and the mismatched plot destroyed my faith in anything by this company, indeed, any swordfighting drama, for a good long time. Even so, the filler episodes made sense, and the characters never stepped out of context like other more unfortunate adaptations, Chrno Crusade and Fullmetal Alchemist being the first two that spring to mind with a vengeance. And ultimately, it will be this series that reminds me why my first love is swordfighting drama, and why even now, it is this genre that keeps me watching.

The last four episodes of PMK, will, ironically, be right where the story picks up from the manga again after I originally left it. The Shinsengumi descend upon the Ikeda-ya, and in one fell swoop, prevent the Ishin Shishi from burning down Kyoto. Episode 21 is the run-up to this battle, with Tetsu freaking his head off from an encounter with Yoshida. Tatsu is more than happy to keep his brother indoors, away from the bloodshed, though Susumu eventually emerges to beat some sense into Tetsu for staying away.

Episode 22 is the attack on the Ikeda-ya. It features swordfighting so beautiful, it made me cry. This is the best episode in PMK. I've always considered the most marvellous subject suited for the animated medium is the swordfighting drama, because there really is no better way to illustrate the fluidity of flying swords, or shinobi dancing in the moonlight. Episode 22's swordfights at close quarters, in the cramped confines of an inn's darkened corridors are just everything I have ever loved about swordfighting shows. The fights are gritty. The slashes quick and bloody. The gleam of swords soaked in blood, caked in shadow, with the figures of Okita and Kondo crouching in the doorway -- I can't begin to enunciate how gorgeous the animation is here, how profound the way the wind rushing through the leaves outside match the grim meeting of steel and flesh, or expressions on the characters' faces as they turn into demons. And the shinobi danced in the moonlight, with their beautiful, beautiful claws drawn.

I was waiting, from the first episode I saw so very long ago, for the fight between Okita Souji and Yoshida Toshimaru. Watching them fight is like watching two elegant predators tear each other apart. Watching the one fall was heartbreaking, as it should be. But without it, there would not be an even greater battle. An even more important fight, more desperate and more predatory. Yoshida's insanity here, with his sword arm hacked off, fighting to the last sword's edge between his teeth, is beyond words. It is nightmarish, and yet, desperately graceful in spite of itself. He was fighting to the last drop of blood in his body. This scene encapsulated for me the entire hopelessness of the Ishin Shishi in that battle, how little could be accomplished even by fighting to that end.

Episode 23 is the final exchange between the "dogs" of both sides, Susumu and Akesato. It's interesting how they seemed to accept their stalemate. Akesato's hatred of following orders comes to a head, which alongside Yamanami Keisuke's complete withdrawal from battle, signals one of the most important turns in the manga. Susumu technically already had his revenge. While he did not kill his sister's murderer, he appeared to have fulfilled her last wishes by staying a shinobi. The fight with Akesato, therefore, is for him almost an unecessary score for him to settle. As it turns out, he didn't have to.

The clean-up also begins inside the Ikeda-ya. In a moment begging for extreme pummelling fangirlism, Hijikata rushes the ailing Okita into his arms -- hey, I'm not made of stone -- and after the completely satisfactory bloodshed of the last two episodes, I must say, it was awfully nice. The appearance of Tetsu here, and Hijikata's acceptance of him as a servant, was worth the laugh. Tetsu's exchange with Susumu, at the end of this episode, was a great show of the friendship they grew over the course of the series, as opposed to the friendship Tetsu effectively left bleeding with Suzu.

Which brings me to one of the most disturbing scenes in the manga, excellently animated, that also appears at the end of this episode: Suzu's ritual ablutions and collection of his master's head. This scene, the mirror of Yoshida's death, is at once simple and loving, but also viciously cruel -- certainly, made more so by knowing how Suzu continues his master's cycle in the later manga. This was worth seeing.

Watching the end makes me a bit sad that it's over. And that, I think, is the point of a good show.


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