Western calendars are so dull. I think it would be much cooler if we switched over to the Chinese system. We could then name the years after awesome animals! To coincide with the upcoming year of the dog, I have decided to review Juni Taisen: Zodiac War. Based on Nisio Isin’s novel, this twelve-episode anime is currently available to watch on Crunchyroll. I would best describe the series as a Fate like battle royale, where various warriors compete for the prize of any wish they desire. Rather than being based on historical figures, the cast of Juni Taisen are styled after the critters that make up the Chinese zodiac. Sadly we missed out on a sexy bunny girl. The rabbit fighter is a barely clothed male psychopath!
Every twelve years the Zodiac War is waged. This event allows the wealthy elite to wager on the outcome of a contest, which pits the planet’s twelve mightiest mercenaries against each other. Just like a Scottish swordfight, in the end there can be only one. Each competitor is forced to ingest a poisonous gem, at the start of the competition, so fleeing the brawl is not an option. To avoid a toxic demise one needs to exchange eleven gems for the antidote. Easier said than done though, because rivals are naturally unwilling to surrender the gem stored within their gut. You want to disembowel me for a Gem… that’s outrageous truly, truly, truly outrageous.
At first I thought the series would follow the pacifist Monkey and dozy Rat. The pair appeared to be the good guys, as they banded together to determine a way of ending the conflict with zero casualties. Juni Taisen however is an ensemble piece that shares the spotlight between all of its characters. Each episode focuses on a particular combatant. Viewers see the instalment’s protagonist scrap in the present, and glimpse into their origins courtesy of flashbacks. It’s an effective way of fleshing out the cast, without sacrificing action. The narrative however falls into an Akame Ga Kill cycle. Whenever someone is humanized, via backstory, you can practically see their death flag being hoisted up.
My rating for Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a four out of five. If the series were just eleven episodes long it would be a contender for best anime of 2017. The cast are a diverse bunch and the action is top notch. Unlike the Monogatari franchise, which is heavy on dialogue, you cannot accuse this Nisio Isin adaptation of being slow paced. When the warriors clash it’s exciting to see who will triumph. Some characters outwit their opponents with subterfuge and others rely on brawn. The special techniques on display include Snake’s power of flight, Horse’s impenetrable defence and Boar’s Tommy Guns (which have infinite bullets.) I wonder if she stole said weapon from the Resident Evil 4 merchant.
The thing that prevents Juni Taisen from getting five stars, from yours truly, is its ending. Some people might consider the finale to be clever, as it illustrates how someone’s biggest strength can also be their biggest weakness. For me however it was anticlimactic. We witness such a high death toll just for things to play out like that? Given how serious and grisly the preceding episodes were, the story’s resolution comes across as a bit silly. My misgivings with the conclusion aside, I would still rate Juni Taisen as an excellent show that animation fans will enjoy. In hindsight, given that the series was produced during the year of the rooster, I should have expected that they would “cock” up the last episode.