At its core, this show is no different than “Future Diary” or “Eden of the East”, where a group of people (in this case, twelve) are brought together to slug it out for domination in a single-night event. Thus, we have “Juni Taisen” (“12 Wars”). There are twelve ruling families, each one a representative of the Chinese Zodiac.
Every twelve years, the families send out their best candidate for these wars. These are, for all intents and purposes, deadly mercenaries, who have no trouble in killing people. For this go-around, which is the 12th version of it, a city of 500,000 has been emptied. I don’t mean everyone was asked nicely to go to Tokyo Disneyland for the day and they can come back later. I mean, all 500K have been (probably) killed and their bodies removed, leaving behind a desolate landscape where the combatants can ply their deadly trade. At least I think that’s the case. It’s merely hinted at about the citizenry and how would you clear out a city the size of Sacramento or Fresno? Or keep people from coming in? Logistics, logistics, logistics.
The cast, starting at the 2 o’clock position (as that is the start of the Chinese Zodiac), we have:
Tsugiyoshi Sumino (Nezumi): Rat, killing all (yes, each one of them kills in a specified manner or reason).
Eiji Kashii: Ox, killing systematically.
Kanae Aira: Tiger, killing in a drunken rage.
Usagi: Rabbit, killing psychotically.
Nagayuki Tsumita: Dragon, killing for money.
Takeyasu Tsumita: Snake, killing for money. These two are twins.
Yoshimi Sōma: Horse, killing silently.
Sumihiko Tsujiie: Ram (or Sheep), killing deceptively. He is a previous winner of this.
Misaki Yūki (Sharyu): Monkey, killing peacefully.
Ryōka Niwa: Rooster (or Chicken), killing by pecking.
Michio Tsukui: Dog, killing by biting.
Toshiko Inō: Boar, killing bountifully. Her mother won this the last time it was run.
Not seen is the emcee in this murderous escapade, Duedeculpe, who will not only grant the winner’s wish, but also runs the betting pool on this. These faceless VIPs bet on who they think will proceed and the eventual outcome, but the ranks have to be winnowed first.
Now, everyone will get their backstory, so we learn how they got here. We also get to see their special powers and abilities. I mean, it’s not just a dozen rotten eggs clustered together to duke it out. To make things more interesting, each of them swallows a massive jewel, which is also a slow poison. If you decide to sit and hide, you will die on your own. This is also how you prove you killed someone, as you carve the gem out of them. And this all has to be done before 12 noon on December 12th (yeah, all those twelve references got tiresome. Would it help if I had Size 12 shoes?)
It was an intriguing series, although the last two episodes got confusing, as you didn’t realize what the winner’s special power was or how it worked. And the very last episode is the winner struggling with whatever wish they desire. Now, if you can get past the floor-sopping amounts of blood in this show (no one merely ‘dies’; it has to be spectacular), there is a compelling tale to be told, as we learn the deep and complex reasons that these folks were chosen to participate in this trial and what they hope to get from it.
You see a variety of planning and strategy….which doesn’t always work and not everyone is showcased at the same time, so one person may make the scene in Episode 6, even though you briefly saw them in the beginning. In one sense, this is like “Survivor”, in that you have to make alliances that you will eventually have to break (although it would be better if it was broken for you.)
It plays out rather strangely, as everyone’s ego has to be presented. Really, I know these people are the best in their particular sign, but they are sure annoying about it, especially Rabbit. Despite the rather ‘been there’ thoughts behind it, they do play it out with a lot of tension and uncertainly. I did enjoy the final episode, as our winner honestly does not know what they want. This is just as fraught with peril as when they fought. It does take a little bit to get started, but once it heads out, it is very involving and you actually find yourself rooting for certain players to win and others to lose.
In a larger sense of the word, the series has concluded, but we would have another go-around in a dozen years and who knows, the winner for this one may come back. But, for now, it is over.
I would also say that it would stand up to binge watching, as you can play out the evening in ‘real time’, as there would be nary a time to rest and catch your breath. Just make sure it isn’t your last. My partial hesitation is that you really want to take this all in, but it’s OK to go for it in bits and pieces.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 7 (The ladies are a bit too flirty)
Plot 8 (Strong and consistent)
Pacing 8 (Firm and deliberate)
Effectiveness 8 (Good use of back stories)
Conclusion 9 (It reaches a real end, but could be revitalized)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Bingeability 10 (Its very nature demands it)
Overall 8 (A bit too talky in parts)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. What do I wish for?