This week's episode of Yashahime is called “The Cat Juan at the Old Temple,” and it follows up last week's battle against Jakotsumaru by essentially repeating the exact same formula: Jyubei the Corpse Dealer doesn't have any useful leads on the Dream Butterfly, so the girls sort of wander their way into a supernatural adventure involving evil ghost cats and a very suspect priest who is making his home at an old temple. Turns out the titular Juan is possessed by an evil ghost cat ('m not spoiling anything – it's right there in the title, after all), and so Towa, Setsuna, and Moroha have to do their thing to battle the monster and save the priest. Moroha is 15 mon closer to paying off her debt, and all's well that ends well. Roll credits.
So “The Cat Juan at the Old Temple” is what most people would call a monster-of-the-week episode, being a mostly self-contained one-shot adventure that introduces a baddie for the girls to fight, includes a couple of token character beats, and then sets our heroines off on their merry way. Evaluating it strictly on those terms, it's perfectly fine. The army of ghost cats that the girls fight is honestly a step down from even last week's fairly rote foes, since it's just not very thrilling or entertaining to watch a bunch of slightly spooky-looking cats get beaten up over and over. The bakeneko are a mainstay of traditional yokai lore, though, so they're serviceable enough monsters for a show aimed at kids. The main bakeneko is definitely an improvement: it looks like an Evil Kirara, and put up a decent fight for Setsuna and Moroha.
Towa gets stuck dealing with Juan himself, and the fact that he got possessed by the bakeneko after just trying to do his job and perform the holy rites over its grave is an interesting enough development, though it makes the middle part of the episode a little bit of a slog, since even the girls themselves know that something hinky is going on with this sketchy-ass temple. Yet the show still has Towa go through the motions of getting trapped by Juan, acting shocked by this sudden but inevitable betrayal, and then needing Setsuna to intervene and save her, etc. Still, the girls all get the chance to use their respective signature moves, and Juan lives to retire from the life of a holy man, since, you know, he kind of sucks at it. Another successful monster corpse in the bag.
My problems with the episode lie less in how it handles its familiar formula, and more in how it fits into the jangly mess of a story that Yashahime has established for itself so far. First, there's the core issue of the girls still not feeling like the team of protagonists that the show needs them to be. Sure, they've begun to work a little bit better as a battling unit, and it is as fun as ever to watch Moroha act like an adorable little gremlin to her cousins, but their individual stories remain too rooted in convenience and assumption. As the audience, are we supposed to care more about Moroha paying off her debt in comically tiny installments, or in Towa's determination to restore Setsuna's dreams? Setsuna herself still only barely acknowledges her relationship/friendship with either Towa or Moroha, so she doesn't even get a plot thread of her own; she simply exists to motivate Towa, and both sister's involvement in Moroha's predicament feels like an alliance of convenience more than anything.
That wouldn't be a bad thing in and of itself, if only Yashahime didn't feel so noncommittal in every single decision it makes. All of Setsuna's character development has been in getting her to reluctantly give a damn about these two friends she's stuck with, which is fine, but repetitive. Towa's whole arc is kind of about needing to adapt to the demon-filled world of the Feudal Era without compromising her modern values and perspective, but it comes across as an afterthought. Moroha, as perfect as she is, doesn't even have an identifiable character arc at this point. She's just doing her thing, kicking butt and being a cheeky brat, which is delightful, but sass alone can't sustain a full season of television.
Even seemingly throwaway details contribute to this feeling of aimlessness. Take the bit with Moroha attempting to tease Setsuna by plugging one of Towa's Bluetooth earbuds in. Setsuna steadfastly refuses, because she has fully inherited the “grumpy dick” part of her father's personality, but then the show never revisits this moment in any way. I was expecting there to be a small scene where Setsuna gets caught begrudgingly enjoying the catchy idol music of modern Japan, as it would give her and Towa something to bond over, and we've already established that Setsuna likes music. Hell, I'd even take an escalation of the joke, where Setsuna goes to increasingly elaborate lengths to avoid being friends with Moroha (even though only an irredeemable monster would make such a decision). This would at least keep up with the running theme of the girls needing to figure out how to properly be a family before they can succeed in whatever it is their ultimate goal is going to be.
But no, we just get a random aside where Moroha tries to shove an earbud in Setsuna's ear, but doesn't. Dozens of hours of work are represented on screen in just this half-minute of animation, and what do we learn? Moroha is a scamp, and Setsuna ain't having it. Basically, what every other scene between Moroha and the other girls has established, to some degree.
There's more evidence of Yashahime's frustrating lack of focus too, like the whole joke about Juan apparently looking identical to an idol that Mei loves back in the Modern Era, which fails to land because neither the show nor the two Feudal Era natives are even that interested in the comparison to begin with. Regardless, you're probably thinking that this is an awful lot of time to spend on two minor jokes that don't even have anything to do with the story, but that's exactly my point. Outside of the completely generic monster-of-the-week stuff, these little moments are Yashahime's biggest opportunities to forge its own identity and get the audience invested in this story on its own merits. Instead, Yashahime continues to coast by replicating Inuyasha's most recognizable, surface-level tropes. If the show is going to succeed in the long term, we'll need more than cheap nostalgia and filler to get by.
Odds and Ends
• This week's Moroha Higurashi is the Queen of Yashahime moment has to be when she nearly kills everyone by shoving her ass in Towa's face while they're biking down a rocky slope. She gets extra points for her brazenly off-key singing, and the fact that the girl is obviously delighted to have friends to irritate for probably the first time in her life. I'm not kidding when I say that Moroha's presence makes Yashahime worth watching. If it weren't for her, not to mention Azusa Tadokoro's award-worthy commitment to making every one of Moroha's lines sound fascinatingly weird, I would be significantly less excited about the show in general.
• The English Dub for Yashahime's premiere is also out! I know I've railed on Yashahime for relying too much on nostalgia for Inuyasha's whole shtick, but it sure is fun to hear the old gang sounding pretty much exactly like they did back in the Adult Swim days (and Kira Tozer has always done a great job as Kagome since replacing Moneca Stori). Erica Mendez and Kira Buckland acquit themselves well as Towa and Setsuna with what little screen time they get, but (and I know I'm going to sound like a broken record here) I'm especially impressed with Morgan Berry's take on Moroha. She sounds exactly like I'd imagine Inuyasha's homeless, quasi-feral daughter to sound, and she even manages to echo some of Richard Ian Cox's snarly smarm. Great stuff.