The meaning of the term “popcorn entertainment” has taken on new dimensions for me ever since the pandemic hit, and I was deprived the regular pilgrimages to my local Cineplex that had become such a fixture in my life. I promise, this isn't going to become another op-ed about the woes of pandemic life that has been sneakily Trojan Horse'd into a review — I'm not talking symbolically, here. What I mean to say is that what I missed the most about movie theater experience was, very literally, the goddamn popcorn, what with its perfect crunch and oily aroma, and the intoxicating mixture of salt, fake butter, and abominable science that make for that iconic “popcorn entertainment” flavor.
One of the first things I went out of my way to figure out over the last year was how to make that popcorn, seeing as it was essentially the communion wafer that demanded a place at my heretical altar of multi-media idolatry. (It turns out, the secret is a specific kind of processed salt called Flavacol, plus a healthy baptism of “Movie Theater Butter” oil that is almost certainly a Class 1 Carcinogen). The point is, I'm not exaggerating when I say that there is a genuine, personal value to be found in the objectively disgusting mix of chemicals, oils, and plant-based cardboard puffs that come part and parcel with the act of sitting down in front of a big screen and watching people with magic powers stab each other in the face…or whatever your chosen method of worship may be.
Shit, maybe I am speaking symbolically, after all. Either way, this whole digression is meant simply to contextualize my feelings about Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood, which is a deeply silly cartoon about murderous shapeshifters and nefarious government agents that wage war in an alternate history Japan that is filled with monsters, spies, mad scientists, and some kind of science-fantasy super chemical/stone/thing that hasn't been all that well explained. For God's sake, its episodes have titles like “Confidential File 623: Daybreak", and this week's story is all about how Asahi, an orphaned Japanese girl, had her life get flipped-turned upside down because a lovesick double-agent told her to take a minute and sit right there so he could explain how Asahi could fake a woman's death with some magic pills and escape the long, bloody arm of the Shogun's revenge. That's just…delightful. Utterly delightful.
It is also, as it happens, far and away the most straightforward story Joran has told thus far. If anything, the biggest gripe I have with “Daybreak” is that it takes a scenario that we could have gotten summed up in just a few minutes, and stretches it out to fill the majority of the episode. We already knew that Makoto gave Asahi the pills to “kill” Sawa with, and it was obvious that Sawa wasn't really dead, even before we see the flashback where Makoto tells Asahi as much. In keeping with the trickster's love of Shakespeare, the pills Asahi used were very much akin to what Friar Lawrence gave Juliet when she needed to do a little death faking of her own, though it works out much better in Sawa's case. Y'know, since a series of contrived shenanigans don't result in Sawa dying horribly just a few minutes after waking up.
If anything, the elaborate detail that the flashback goes into make Sawa and Asahi's plan less convincing than if Makoto has just stopped at “These pills will make Sawa seem dead. Dig her up when the coast is clear and be on your way, eh?” I'm especially stuck on the fact that Asahi only had three hours to spare from the moment Sawa kicked the bucket to when she woke up in her freshly made coffin. I get that Jin probably wants to take care of the issue as quickly as possible – it isn't like Sawa has anyone beyond himself and Asahi who will even know Sawa is gone, now ¬– but three hours? The only way that I buy Sawa getting into the dirt that fast is if Jin suspects something is up already, and is either encouraging Asahi and Sawa to escape, or allowing the scheme to play out for his own ends.
Speaking of Jin: What's up with the guy? We see him brutalize the doc that helped Makoto earlier, which makes enough sense, but he also puts an equally deadly smackdown on the two loyalist guards who were beating up on a pair of graffiti-spraying anti-Shogun civilians (that sick rifle reversal was cool as hell, too). The only character development we've gotten for the guy across six episodes is that he's sneaky, and that he's dangerous, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see how is arc plays out. At least Sawa and Asahi get to run away and start a new life where they know each others names and don't actively try to murder other people and/or each other anymore! Until next week, that is.
Is Joran good. As of this sixth episode, I'd say that it is, in the exact same way that greasy multiplex popcorn tubs are “good”. Sure, they have no nutritional value whatsoever, they'll probably shorten your lifespan in the long run, and it's way to easy to binge-eat your way through a whole tub without feeling an ounce of shame. Joran's just like that: Shallow, shiny, lizard-brain tickling entertainment that will go straight down your gullet as it clogs up your arteries, and that's exactly what I like about it.
Odds and Ends
• I liked Sawa's trippy little death-dream, where she got to shoot the shit about boys with Makoto and Elena. It was nice to get more of contextualization for the trio's tenuous friendship, even if it's all in Sawa's head. Plus, seeing Elena's cute little baby makes her loss (which definitely feels for keeps, now) hit a bit harder.
• What's Makoto's deal when he's losing it in the forest, by the by? Did he take the blue blood formula, and is now beginning to turn? It feels like we missed a scene, though I could just be completely forgetting something obvious.
Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.