And so, Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood has taken one final step in Sawa’s journey before it comes to an end, and “Case File 701, Past and Present” comes with all of the drama, action, and “twists” you’d expect. I put “twists” in quotes there because, while “Past and Present” does contain one major revelation that is probably intended to be very surprising, I feel like most of us watching could have called it from a dozen miles away with our eyes closed, and at least one arm tied behind our back. That isn’t a great place for a story so close to its grand finale to be, but does that mean that this penultimate episode is a total wash?
No, not at all. In fact, it is one of the most consistently entertaining and well-structured episodes we’ve had in a few weeks. After taking some time to not kill Jin for murdering her family, because “yadda yadda, he’s really trying to protect her, or whatever”, Sawa is sent out a secret exit and spirited away by none other than Elena Hazakze. As we’ve already known for a few weeks now, Elena is very alive, very pregnant, and getting Sawa to safety is the last job before Jin lets her off the hook for good. I like this development, both because it’s cute to see Sawa and Elena being friends, and because slaughtering a pregnant woman for cheap drama would have been a bit tasteless even for a show as pulpy as Joran.
This also leads to a cool fight between Sawa and Rinko, who is perfectly happy to swig down a bottle of booze and bring Sawa back to the Shogun so she can have all of that blue blood sucked out of her, slowly and painfully. The animation is just a touch sloppier than some of the cleaner cuts we’ve seen in the past, but the choreography kicks ass, with Sawa flipping and dodging about as Rinko whips those metal lashes all over the place. It’s a lengthy and creatively-staged fight, even if it is pretty pointless on a narrative level, since there’s no way Rinko is going to win. Sawa does spare Rinko’s life though, demonstrating her commitment to sparing her foes that leaves even Elena impressed.
Killing is apparently off the docket for the show, too, since once Elena brings Sawa back to the bookshop, we learn that – surprise, surprise – Asahi is still alive. This comes courtesy of that doctor that Jin was seen bribing in snippets of past episodes, and…sure, why the hell not. It’s not a good twist, but to Joran‘s credit, it only plays up the shock of the reunion from Sawa’s perspective to show how much she loves the kid, and not because Joran seems terribly impressed with pulling off the world’s most obvious fake-out.
We also learn that Tokyo has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since the Ryumyaku started running out and the anti-government forces took the chance to run amok in all of the chaos. Those details would mean a lot more if Joran had ever bothered to properly integrate Ryumyaku and the anti-shogun dissidence into its narrative, but those details have only ever felt like window dressing, so it’s all too easy to brush all this exposition off without a second thought. It’s a little harder to brush off Elena giving birth to her baby right there on the bookstore’s nasty-ass floor, but you’d still be surprised at how casual it ends up feeling, all things considered. It’s like the show figured that the baby served as a good metaphor for…something, and that they couldn’t very well bring Elena back without shoehorning a childbirth scene in before the end.
Despite my gripes with this episode, though, the show still manages to cheat its way to some emotional payoffs by the end. There is an excellent scene right at the end where Sawa shows Asahi her mother’s old, empty journal, and promises to begin Asahi’s schooling so they can both share the diary and write in it every day. Then, when she’s alone, Sawa reflects on the danger that Asahi has been in all this time, which causes her to break down weeping. Then she silently stands and sharpens her blade one final time before heading off to the shogun’s tower. I won’t say that Joran has earned all of this last-minute pathos, but it doesn’t seem to mind exploiting the hell out of it anyways.
With only one more episode to go, I am admittedly eager to see whether Sawa will live to get her happy ending or not. Plus, there’s bound to be at least one more good fight before the curtains close for good, which Joran has always been good for. And who knows? Maybe the show still has a twist or two hiding up its sleeves that will be worth all of the shit that Sawa had to go through just to get to this point.
Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood is currently streaming on