Image source: avex pictures on YouTube

We got two see the first two episodes of upcoming fall anime Juni Taisen. It’s brutal, violent, and all kinds of messed up.

At its most basic level, Juni Taisen is a death game anime like the Fate franchise or Future Diary where a group of people battle to the death and the last person alive wins some amazing prize. In this case, said prize is simply to have his or her “wish” granted.

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To start, each of the 12 fighters swallows a poison covered jewel. At the end of a 24 hour period, the poison will kill them. However, should one person collect the other 11 jewels—by cutting them out of the 11, naturally—they will be proclaimed the winner and gain the prize.

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Each of the twelve people in the killing game represent an animal of the the chinese zodiac: dragon, snake, goat, rat, tiger, ox, rabbit, horse, wolf, monkey, rooster, and boar. These people come from a wide array of backgrounds—from rich heiress to psychotic murderer—but all are more than willing and able to kill. Moreover, each one has their own specific skills that give them an edge—be that an immense knowledge of the killing arts or straight-up magic.

But what makes Juni Taisen different from other anime with a similar concept is the way in which the story is told. In a very real sense, there is no “main character” in Juni Taisen—there is no one single person we are following through the conflict and empathize with as the “hero” of the tale—though you wouldn’t know that at the start.

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In the first episode, we are entirely limited to Boar’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts alone. Through Boar’s monologue, we learn her backstory, personality, and true thoughts about the tournament—thoughts that even occasionally flood over the other characters’ dialogue in an unending torrent.

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However, the second episode puts us in the head of Wolf instead (though we do get two brief scenes of Horse’s thoughts as well). Like with Boar, this is used to show us the dichotomy between Wolf’s thoughts and actions—revealing his motives to us alone.

And this is where the Monogatari connection becomes most apparent. Juni Taisen is written by the same author as the Monogatari franchise—a series known for it’s complicated wordplay and detailed internal monologues. With the use of these tools, we get to know the viewpoint characters well and in short order, keeping the story at a brisk pace.

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But just because we are only able to hear the thoughts of one or two characters per episode (a trend I suspect will continue), this doesn’t mean we don’t get to at least see what the other characters are up to. The key difference, however, is that when it comes to the non-viewpoint characters, we are left to judge them based on their actions alone—watching what they do and grasping at whatever information about them comes up in the various conversations we hear.

It is in this way that each character becomes an intriguing mystery all their own.

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It should be mentioned that, if there is one thing that is important to note from the first two episodes, it is that the anime is more than a little violent and psychologically disturbing—and not just in the actual killing game itself. The backstories for the various characters (if Boar and Wolf are anything to go by) have no problem going full tilt into the realm of ultraviolence as well.

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All in all, the first two episodes of Juni Taisen: Zodiac War set up a story that has plenty of action and ye olde ultraviolence. But behind the battle is a set of complex characters—each a mystery in their own right, crafted through an excellent mix of dialogue and internal monologue. If you like death game anime or the Monogatari series, this is definitely one you should try.

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War will begin airing on October 3, 2017. It will be viewable and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

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