Before we get started, I just want to note that I’m going to try a different style of reviewing for this review. Instead of a more free flowing review like my previous review, I’m going for a more structured format. That being said, the review will be split up into 5 different sections: Animation, Sound, Characters, Story, and Enjoyment. Sorry for those who don’t like structured reviews, but there’s a lot to cover in this series, and I feel like this helps me to organize all my thoughts. So let’s get this show on the road.
Like many of the older and maybe some newer hardcore anime fans, the first season of Utawarerumono from 2006 is one of my favorite series that I’ve ever watched. The characters, music, setting, and story were just so gripping and enjoyable that it shot up my list of iconic anime to at least the top 20 (that’s out of at least 800 completed series mind you). Utawarerumono will always have a special place in my heart, so when I heard that the sequel was getting an anime I was excited, but cautiously so. I knew that Utawarerumono was originally a visual novel and that Itsuwari no Kamen was its sequel, but to me, I did not see why a sequel even had to be made. The first one ended almost perfectly so was there really a reason to make a sequel? Well, for the most part, Itsuwari no Kamen convinces me that it was.
Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen is the sequel to cult classic and critically acclaimed, Utawarerumono. It takes place presumably many years after the events of the original series since a character from the previous series makes a cameo and she is many years older than she was during the events of the original series. Even without seeing cameos, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t too difficult to surmise that the series was taking place in a more advanced era than the previous series. This isn’t to say that they’re suddenly using guns or carrying around smartphones, but that there is much more order than in the previous series. Itsuwari no Kamen takes place in a different region of their world, in a country called “Yamato” which is an obvious nudge at it being a semi-replica of Japan.
The story starts in almost the same exact fashion as the original series with a man waking up with no memory of who he is on a snowy mountain. Suddenly he starts being chased by something and he is saved by someone who turns out to have ears and a tail. From there, the nameless protagonist is introduced to the world, given a name, makes new friends, and gains a place in said world. The only difference in this scenario is that the main character in Itsuwari no Kamen, Haku, doesn’t have a mask on his face all the time, but there will be more on that later.
Even in the original, animation was not one of the stronger or more note worthy areas. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing in the same way Ufotable’s animation works are or even Kyoto Animation’s works are. The animation was plain but consistent, which is not necessarily a bad thing especially considering some of the low quality animation that’s being churned out in recent years.
Since it’s much easier to judge an anime on its animation quality by looking at battle scenes, let’s do that. Itsuwari no Kamen’s true battle scenes were limited, but well animated. I say limited because more than not, the characters are just so overpowered that it becomes a one-sided battle. These kinds of fights are not only short but have certain characteristics to them such as action lines transitioning into some huge area of effect attack or every enemy in the vicinity falling down simultaneously.
It’s difficult to blame the animation studio for doing this because animating scenes this way is one of the more effective methods for showing massive differences in strength and it saves money/time. Even so, it gets pretty repetitive after a while because whenever there are battles, you can be sure that there will be at least one of these scenes sandwiched in there before a boss fight happens. But these boss fights, as quick as most of them are, are actually very well animated. Their movements are very fluid and easy to follow unlike many action anime which tend to try to blur movements and make it difficult for the viewer to follow.
In addition, thanks to some great backgrounds, each one on one fight in Itsuwari no Kamen feels very unique, memorable, and that much more epic. Backgrounds in anime is something that a lot of people take for granted, but even something as cliche as the sun rising can change the tone of a fight instantly. If you look at the above gif, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is some beautiful scenery that they drew for this fight. It’s so picturesque and mesmerizing, but not too much to take away from the fight going on. The scenery used in Itsuwari no Kamen is often used very well to complement each scene and invoke the correct emotions from the viewers.
Did I mention how damn good the lighting is in some scenes? Seriously, sometimes Itsuwari no Kamen looks like it really is one of the best animated things out there, but other times it just looks so average. But when they get it right, they really get it right. Scenes like the two above are just some of the many beautiful scenes that are littered throughout the series. White Fox really knows their shit when it comes to animation and it’s pretty clear when you look at these scenes. But it’s not always this pretty looking otherwise I’d have given it a score higher than a 7. Itsuwari no Kamen is inconsistent in its animation quality, having some really beautiful scenes, but then having the rest look very average.
Daily life scenes are the easiest to pick on. These scenes just feel so bland and sometimes just poorly done. There are times when the character designs feel very off and times where they don’t move as fluidly as they should be. Since the majority of the series is daily life/non-action, these scenes take the brunt of this criticism. While the animation is still mostly above average in quality, these dips in consistency make it difficult to give the animation higher than a 7,
Oh boy, the sound section. The sound for Itsuwari no Kamen was without doubt the best part of the entire series. First, I want to compliment the series for its soundtrack. There were a lot of great pieces that I’m finding myself listening to again. I especially am grateful that they brought back my favorite song from the original, “Kimi ga tame.” Granted, it was an instrumental version of the original song, but hearing it in that capacity was chilling especially given the situation it was played in. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on the interwebs, but just believe me when I say it was such a treat to hear a remixed instrumental version of it after all this time.
Voice acting was consistently on point. I really do have to give props to the cast of the series because they really made the series come to life despite the majority of the series being daily life scenes. Let me just say that Taneda Risa really came into her own as Kuon in Itsuwari no Kamen. She really single handedly made Kuon the best character in the entire anime. This isn’t to say that the other performances in the anime aren’t good, because they are. Everyone is able to match their character and make them feel more realistic, relatable, and interesting.
The music for the anime was actually done by a fairly inexperienced team of people. Each one of them only has one or two series under their belt and most of them were the same ones. Despite that, the music still turned out very well, more than not matching the scenes and making them feel more immersive and emotional. The only draw back is that while there was really no problem with the music, it wasn’t really anything special. Nothing about it was really stand out or iconic like the music from the original series.
The best music came from the openings and endings. All the songs were sung by suara just like in the original series and it’s definitely better for that. I typically don’t watch the OPs and Eds of anime but I would always make it a point to watch the ones for Itsuwari no Kamen. They were not only addictive but really did their job in being introductions and enders for the episodes. These songs were definitely some of the best I heard from the two seasons it spanned over. Unfortunately, I can’t find the video for this song, but oh well. You can take a listen to my favorite song from the series below.
This is without doubt the weakest point of Itsuwari no Kamen. If you’ve seen the original Utawarerumono, you’ll remember how big that reveal was at the end. It was basically the same level as the original Planet of the Apes but Itsuwari no Kamen’s reveal of that very same secret was so underwhelming. You can chalk that up to the creators thinking that most people who’d be watching this series would be people who already watched the first season, but let’s be real. This series came out 10 years after the original one, so it’s difficult to imagine that there are many people who remember the original, so at this point, they’re basically catering to a new crowd. It’s very unfortunate that the biggest twist in the series was so under emphasized and was overall less impactful than it was in the original series.
You’d think that the fact that they’re actually living on Earth would be a bigger reveal than the way they did it. I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to affect the characters too much because none of them really understand what the concept of Earth is since Haku doesn’t have his memory of when the Earth was still run by humans and the other characters have been living in this new world forever. But it’s really not about their reactions so much about the reveal and its impact on the viewer. To really have an effect on the viewer, they should have focused on it a bit longer than they actually ended up doing. Instead it ended pretty abruptly with them going back to focus on some bigger events that happened in their world.
Besides the big reveal of the secret, Itsuwari no Kamen also screws up with the execution of the story. It was given 25 episodes, but most of the series felt like filler because it was so slow placed. The first half of the series was mostly just introducing characters and building up Haku as a character. The second half was more rushed as they tried to fit wars, conspiracies, deaths, and other twists into it. This discrepancy in pacing shouldn’t happen in a 25 episode series. They had more than enough time to evenly spread out the events to make it feel more evenly paced. There really was no reason to stretch out the beginning as long as they did.
One of the things they tried to explain but took too long to do is why Haku isn’t wearing a mask like the previous main character, Hakuoro. For those who saw the previous series, you’ll remember that at the end, Hakuoro transformed into a massive being with great power. Well, now all the generals of the Emperor have those masks because it turns out that Haku and his brother (the Emperor) made them. The reason Haku doesn’t have a mask is most likely because he and his brother are the last true humans and Hakuoro was a test subject. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that Hakuoro was found in a gown that seems to signify that he was a test subject. In contrast, Haku seems to be wearing a gown for medical patients implying that he was a patient rather than a test subject. At the end of the series, he starts to wear Oshutoru’s mask in his stead, but whether or not he can actually use the power of the mask is unknown.
The title of the series is “Itsuwari no Kamen” or “The false masks” (I know they say faces, but literally, it means masks), so it makes sense that they focus more on the masks, but that isn’t until the end of the series. Most likely, this is because when they say “false faces” they mean it in a more metaphorical sense, trying to hint at the betrayal that happens near the end. I think this is fine, but the betrayal really only comes into play in the last few episodes, so it might have been more beneficial of them to set it up more rather than just goof off for most of the series.
In general though, Itsuwari no Kamen really botched reveals. They barely set up for the big reveals, so when it finally happened, it just felt extremely sudden and random. One such example is Kuon’s power. People kept alluding to, “Oh man, if Kuon were serious, she’d level all of Yamato.” But until then, there were actually zero signs or indications of Kuon having any powers besides physical strength/martial arts abilities that she developed from living back in her home country. It wasn’t until the last few episodes when she unconsciously unleashed a huge power that wiped out a hail of arrows along with the people who shot them in an act of self defense. Even after that, there’s zero follow up on it, making it seem less significant and integral to the story which just isn’t the case. Kuon much like Haku is a complete enigma and the power she released was a big part of that. It would be ok to not explain it further and keep it a mystery if and only if there was more build up and follow up afterwards. Unfortunately, the anime fails to do either of these two things and it just feels completely random and like another generic deus ex machina.
However, my biggest complaint about the series is the constant, huge disconnects and shitty transitions between some of the episodes, especially the last few ones. There were so many times that episodes started with seemingly no connection to the previous one and it just left me so confused. I had to go back to watch the previous episode to make sure that I didn’t miss anything and it always turned out that I didn’t. Sometimes they would try doing the trick where they show you one thing and then reveal later that it’s actually another thing.
For example, the very last episode started with Oshutoru and Nekone meeting up with Kuon and the rest of the gang. Kuon’s happy to see them but she can’t seem to find Haku. They explain to her that Haku died which makes absolutely no sense from the previous episode because it ends with them heavily alluding to Oshutoru dying. This kind of story telling is not always bad, but in this case it was, because what’s the point of fooling the viewer at this point? What’s the point of starting the episode like that when it was already blatantly obvious that Haku wasn’t the one who died at the end of the previous episode. At this point, it’s just confusing because you’re left wondering if you missed something in the previous episode or they just goofed.
This is only made worse because this isn’t the first time that transition between two episodes is poorly executed. There were several other episodes that just left me confused because while the episode ended one way, the next episode began completely differently. For example, the invasion of Tsukuru was so poorly executed. The previous episode was the one where the Emperor dropped the bomb shell about them being on Earth and Haku being his brother. After that Haku’s overwhelmed and he ends up talking to Kuon and they have a little heart to heart. After that, the ED plays and then the final scene is one of the generals talking to another country’s council asking for the location of a tomb.
First, the location of that place is barely mentioned, so when they mention in the very first few minutes of the next episode that they’re going to invade Tuskuru, you’re kind of left wondering, where the hell is Tuskuru and why is it so important. Second, in that same episode, there was literally zero reaction from Kuon and yet, the episode becomes about Kuon’s conflicting feelings about going up against her home country. Now hold up a minute. They barely mentioned her being from Tuskuru. In fact, I didn’t even remember she was from Tuskuru until they mentioned it in that episode. But still, it didn’t really set in because there was literally no reaction from Kuon, she just kind of popped in and then disappeared.Usually, if you’re trying to show that a character is conflicted, you show that character conflicted. Itsuwari no Kamen pulls a tell don’t show and suffers for it.
How are you going to have a full episode about someone when you can barely even explain why the viewer should care? Also, the entire episode is basically a waste because they don’t even talk to Kuon until the end, so it becomes less about Kuon and more a comedic episode about them trying to coax her out of her room. At the end of the episode, she comes to terms with the invasion and decides to participate as well, but honestly, they could’ve done without this entire episode and it still would have been the same. This is what I mean about the anime being very disconnected and having poor transitions. They have problems storytelling and linking characters and events together especially when they have to try to bridge the events of one episode and another together. This kind of disconnect is really unforgivable especially in a 25 episode series like Itsuwari no Kamen. Their method of storytelling was very inappropriate for the series and detrimental to the general enjoyment as well.
Kuon da bess. That’s it.
(Actual character section)
Just like its predecessor before it, Itsuwari no Kamen boasts a large, diverse cast with each character having their own little quirk making it easy to not only find a favorite character, but feel like the cast is actually more human (well, as human as they can be anyway). It really is really remarkable how Itsuwari no Kamen continuously built up its cast to very large numbers, but even so, no character felt unoriginal. On the contrary, every one of the cast members felt distinct and memorable, which is a very huge feat for a series especially for one of the longer ones.
Unfortunately, even if the characters are very diverse and unique, it doesn’t necessarily change their quality. One of the characters I had a problem with was the main character, Haku. Let me just preface this by comparing him to Hakuoro from the first season. Hakuoro was a very clever man, but not the most lively kind of guy. He didn’t talk much and instead let his achievements speak for themselves and consequently gain the respect of everyone he interacted with. In contrast, Haku is more of a free spirit who’s always looking for a reason to slack off. Similar to Hakuoro, he gains the respect of others through his smarts but unlike Hakuoro, his lively personality also draws people to him. My problem is how they tried to characterize him as some kind of tactical genius just like Hakuoro was. He was clever, but he was no tactician. People kept looking to him to make some big, strategic plans, but I never really got the same feeling I did from Hakuoro that Haku was actually a born tactician like him. It never felt like there was a reason why they should rely on him so much.
If we switch to talking about Haku’s leadership qualities, I can accept that he grows into it as the series progresses. He starts out as a guy who uses his wit to try to shirk his duties and then slowly becomes more and more involved with the world, gains more responsibilities, and then when Oshutorui dies, him taking over for him was the biggest sign that Haku had grown as a character. But until that point, it never felt like Haku was growing as a character. He always felt like that character who was just looking for a reason to slack off work and that honestly did not make him that attractive of a character because it just got old really quickly with the amount of times they kept shoving it into the viewer’s face. It isn’t until Haku witnesses the destruction that Vurai caused that Haku began coming into his own as a more proactive character, but that takes about half the series to get to. Even then, it’s still a bit of a wait for Haku to really start to step up. This really sets the tone of the story because he’s the main character. Because of that, the series never felt as serious as it should have in certain situations which is detrimental to the enjoyment of the show.
The saving grace was the synergy between the characters. The chemistry between the characters made the more lighthearted and comedic scenes much more enjoyable. Even though I wanted more serious scenes, I was still very content with just watching the more laid back scenes of character development and comedy. This is all thanks to the synergy between the characters and the writing that accompanied them. With every comedy there has to be a good cast of characters who connect with each other as well as the audience. Itsuwari no Kamen’s cast of characters ended up being one of the reasons why it was a relatively enjoyable series to watch.
One final criticism I might give is the “romance” between Kuon and Haku. You never feel like there is a romance but they always heavily imply it even though the characters themselves say that there’s nothing between them and that they see each other more as family. The relation between those two is very unclear and even after Haku “dies” it remains unclear. They obviously care for each other, but other than that it never feels like there’s a real connection with each other. Haku just feels like the stray cat that Kuon picked up sometimes. There are rare occasions when they interact with each other and you can feel that they’re close, but nothing really else to indicate as such. I think they should have tried to make their relationship a bit more clear especially to strengthen Haku’s “death” episode. Because I liked Kuon as a character, I felt bad for her when she found out Haku was “dead” but I didn’t feel bad for Haku having trouble lying to Kuon about him being alive. If they developed their relationship more, that final episode would have a much bigger impact on me, but because they didn’t it just felt really lack luster and unimpressive.
My enjoyment of the series mostly stemmed from the daily life scenes. Seeing the characters interact with each other was always fun to watch even though there wasn’t always too much going on. Most of the series was just spent on the characters developing their relationships with one another and then there were some great episodes that really showed who the characters were. Unfortunately, the rest of it was just poorly executed or needlessly drawn out making it sometimes difficult and frustrating to follow. It was even more disappointing as an Utawarerumono fan because it just never felt like a true sequel to the original. I can forgive the anime for feeling different than the original because it’s set in a different region and in a different time than the original and has a new cast, but I can’t forgive it for being overall less interesting than the original Utawarerumono.
Gone is the adventure of exploring the world and instead they end up staying in one place for the most part and then briefly go to other countries. Even so, you never get the feel of how big the world is even though it’s technically our own planet Earth. It’s like playing Assassins Creed 4 but instead of an open world, you’re limited to fast travel between certain areas and even then, you still have restricted areas. The world felt so closed when it should have felt very open because unlike the original, this cast of characters is actually capable of traveling across the seas and reaching new areas that were never seen before. Despite that, the areas they go to are not very diverse.
Basically, it ranges from mostly desert/barren wastelands to snowy mountains and then sometimes lush forest areas. Given the amount of places they go to, this small range of environment is kind of strange in my opinion not to mention that the amount of time they spend in these areas is usually very short before they go back to the city. I found it difficult to get excited for anything because either it fell into the same habits and began repeating the same routine over and over again or it would suddenly switch to serious mode for a bit and stumble a bit when doing so.
The serious parts were mostly when they went to war and the way they waged war was pretty uninteresting. Their wars were basically just dynasty warriors: anime edition. There were generals that ripped through armies and then fought each other for longer, stretched out one on one battles and then Haku would just be skirting around the sidelines thinking up strategies to turn the tide in their favor. Battles then became less about the actual fight being interesting but the ethics and reasoning behind them. Of course, some fights were just plain epic, but others were just a means to an end with the end being justifying one’s beliefs.
Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen was an enjoyable ride but far from being a great anime not to mention it was especially disappointing from a fan’s perspective. Most of the anime was poorly paced making it confusing to follow and just overall softening the potential of the anime’s impact especially on a fresh audience. Even though the cast of characters, above average animation, and great sound made it much more bearable to sit through, it still fell short of not only expectations but of standards that would make it be called a good anime. Itsuwari no Kamen is not a must see anime for newcomers and it’s barely a must see for anime. It’s mostly a disappointment that just happens to be overall better than the run of the mill anime. The next season of Itsuwari no Kamen probably won’t be coming for a while because the next visual novel has yet to come out, but hopefully when it does, it will fix its shortcomings and become one of the iconic anime of its time.