Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood is a series that grabbed me by its premise – what appeared to be an alternative universe take on Lady Snowblood with some steampunk and supernatural trappings. While the show went off on its own directions from that elevator pitch, it did build up some goodwill that kept me engaged, even with some missteps at the start of the third act. So, the show wrapping up its run with a spectacular face plant was immensely disappointing. I will be getting into spoilers for that ending below the cut – because it strongly tainted my response to the show to an extent where I can’t really talk about my reaction without it.
The premise of Joran is that our protagonist, Saya, is from a village of people with blue blood who can spirit link with animals, turning them into very powerful warriors. Saya’s village was (she was told, wiped out by the organization of a mad scientist named Jarome who is seeking to use the blood of the people of the village to make a drug that he can use to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate (which has extended into the 20th century). Saya is then raised by an agent of the Shogun to be one of his assassins and secret police, to help him kill dissidents against his regime, and this should eventually lead her to Jarome.
However, as happens when dealing with police states in fascist military dictatorships, there is betrayal and plotting going on behind the scenes, and what Saya has been told about her village’s fate is not the truth.
The show’s animation is generally very solid, with occasional bits of going off model during action sequences for the sake of more fluid animation – which I’m very much fine with. The characters are also very well written, but when they fall down, they fall down hard, which leads to the problem’s with the show’s ending.
The penultimate episode ends with a coup underway against the Shogun, and Saya heading off to storm the castle, something that could lead to her death – but doing so knowing that to make sure that her adoptive daughter and one of the members of her organization who got out can be safe. The final episode then proceeds to take away all of Saya’s agency. It gives what should have been Saya’s triumph to a male character. The show then tries to create a moment of tragic pathos out of that, but considering that the character is depriving Saya of her agency – it fails in that respect. Then, on top of that, as Saya returns home, watching the castle consumed in flames from afar, she’s stabbed in the back by a character who she spared in an earlier episode, causing her to bleed out as she returns home and dies with her adoptive daughter. Finally, the show ends with a “The Next Generation” sequel hook stinger, which – after all of that, is just infuriating.
After all the goodwill that the show had built up over the previous 11 episodes, to utterly screw up the conclusion in a manner that actually feels pretty misogynist is infuriating – and the next time I see these writers on an anime original series again, I’m going to wait until it finishes before I watch it.
Joran: Princess of Snow and Blood is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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