Oh boy. I tried to like this show. I really did. Amazing character designs, decent clashing of different political philosophies in a literal battle setting, and plenty of animal tropes relative to the Chinese myth that started the calendar cycle that we know today. But where this gritty battle royale of our zodiac warriors looked good from the surface, the anime itself? Let’s just say that I’m disappointed.
As someone who only watched the anime and couldn’t care less about the entire genre of letting random people kill each other while some corporate organization profits off of it, I will do my best to pull some critique out of my ass about what this series meant to me, regardless of how much it under-delivered. And once we’re all done with this, I’ll reveal who my favorite of the zodiac warriors was.
So grab your best gear, choose your favorite faction, and watch out for SPOILERS AHEAD! We’re gonna do the “Cha Cha Slide.”
Jūni Taisen –Zodiac War is about a contest held every 12 years, where one member of each of the zodiac clans assassinate each other. Each clan carefully selects one person for the contest each year as per the tradition, and the winner gets one wish granted, which as far as I’m concerned, can be literally anything.
The 12 clans of Jūni Taisen are a one-to-one match with the animals of the zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar. And in case you ever forget that order, no worries. The anime’s ending credits illustrate all 12 of the warriors in descending order of whatever animal they represent.
Totally aside: Do As Infinity’s “Keshin no Kemono” is by far my favorite thing about this show. That… probably doesn’t reflect well on my opinions about everything else when an outro song overshadows everything else.
I honestly think this is a really great setup. To see the zodiac animals, anthropomorphized, and duking it out purely for our satirical entertainment, I might prefer something like that over the moé version we got a couple years before! Where did this one fall short?
Who fought in this thing?
Seriously. Given the 12-episode run of the series, we’re introduced to each one of the characters, only for them to get killed by the end of that episode or in the following one, and for the most part, every one of these deaths were very anticlimactic. And it wasn’t like we didn’t know who was going to get killed next. Aside from the snake guy getting chopped off (literally) before the tournament began, every warrior was killed –predictably– by their descending order in the zodiac.
It was almost as if none of the players in this anime really mattered to the plot, unless it was for exposition or some meta commentary about fatalism (yeah, we’ll get to that). But if that’s the case, then why bother playing with the audience by giving everyone a really brief backstory like we’re supposed to care about their dreams and values?
To me, the only character who really got a complete, resolved story arc was Niwatori, the warrior of the Rooster. Born and raised a trickster, Niwatori never trusted anyone but herself, used everyone else to her advantage, and stopped at nothing to get what she wanted. Truly a classic case of sociopathy, and by all means, I’d hate her just as much as I hate birds in any other context.
But when Niwatori comes into contact with the pacifist Sharyu, everything about her worldview shattered! Someone in the mindset of what I’ll just call the worst case of radical individualism will always butt heads with one who cares more about harmony among others. Sharyu’s intentions confused Niwatori, so much so that she had been completely debilitated in how to fight for her own life, which you know, is kind of the point in these contests.
And yet, the moment Niwatori knew that she was going to die, she considered all of her options one last time, given all the information she knew about every player, and if there was any one thing she couldn’t stand for, it was becoming the puppet of someone else’s control. Usagi’s, to be precise. Niwatori wasn’t going to let anyone else besides her get the satisfaction out of her death, so she called upon her bird minions to eat her corpse.
Truly, a poetic death in a series full of anticlimactic ones.
The only real character development we see for any of the warriors involved comes from their set beliefs, based on their histories shown in flashbacks, and while I would love to talk more about each one of them, the anime’s short run time only dives into each philosophy at the surface level. I was honestly wishing there was more of that, granted that Jūni Taisen probably doesn’t care too much about its own philosophy. This is where the climax of the entire series comes into play for the rest of us who actually care about the plot, in the form of the Rat clan’s Nezumi’s final wish.
Unlike some of the other unique abilities that each warrior has in this series, Nezumi’s cannot be seen by anyone else other than him. For any given situation, he can envision 100 ways in which he will die before he finds the one way he can most likely avoid death. It’s definitely a useful ability, considering how every other player goes out with a whimper.
But having won the tournament, Nezumi is only left with the crippling anxiety of what to do with his one wish. You know, that thing that everyone else was fighting for so much?
And indeed, this is definitely a colossal burden on someone like Nezumi, who kind of comes across as a nihilist throughout Jūni Taisen. He doesn’t really care about anything, and survived, if anything, on a whim. It’s at this point that Nezumi considers the wishes of literally every other player in the tournament, revisiting those 100 realities where he somehow interacted with each warrior and died before he could get to the end (yeah, not gonna lie, the ending is really convoluted), only to realize that every one of these wishes would end in some terrifying consequence. And with all that information overloading his brain, he finally makes his wish.
The philosophy of Jūni Taisen, if there even is one, comes across as an anti-philosophy. It communicates to me that everything in life is going to turn out bad anyway, so it’s best not to think about anything whatsoever.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of moments in my life where I need to be reminded that I overthink too much, or that any attempts at making any critiques will lead to nothing. That’s a philosophy that is often attached to Buddhism, and who knows? Maybe Jūni Taisen has a message that fits in alignment with that teaching. But one thing that nags me most about whatever direction this anime has is in the primary theme itself: the Zodiac.
The Zodiac is more than just a comprehensive list of animals and years associated with a lunar calendar. It is a symbol of history in cycles: events, fatally or otherwise, that are repeated over and over again with each generation as time passes. With each action (or in this case, wish) comes consequences. And many of which do have terrible ramifications. But to ask an individual not to do anything about such situations because it is fatal? Somehow I don’t think that’s the best course of action, even for a series that is kind of forgettable plot-wise.
But maybe that is the point. For everything that you do, there will always be a consequence, and a bad one at that. But just knowing that should not deter you from your dreams or goals, because even if it’s fatal, you are still free to make choices that are guided by what’s most valuable or meaningful to you. Despite the lack of input from every character in Jūni Taisen, each one still fought for what they believed was right, even if that meant their eventual deaths would mean absolutely nothing.
So with that, I conclude my review on which of the zodiac warriors I believed made the strongest case as part of this cyclical contest. Who had the best intentions? Who is waifu material (wait, what)?
Well it probably doesn’t matter at this point, but I’m gonna go with Ushī of the Ox clan. Having been the runner up only bested by Nezumi at the very end, Ushī was kind of a mystery player from beginning to end. Clearly he had a great deal of experience as a warrior than anyone else, yet never really revealed how much he knew except through others like Tora, I guess. But if there was anything that I found most peculiar about him was that he had a very staunch outlook on battling, with just the right amount of tact for others, yet still understood that his own life was more important. And come on, who can say “no” to that ikemen physique and his long, dark hair?
And… he’s a Kantian. Damn it why did I pick him?
So if you’re looking for an anime where zodiac warriors participate in a battle royale with surface level philosophy that I admittedly pulled out of my ass just now, watch Jūni Taisen –Zodiac War.