An inferno of burning cherry blossoms in a public park, a white wolf, and murderous bandits from a past age; these are just some of the dangers that Hikaru must face in her quest to find her older brother Raiko.
Raiko disappeared a year ago while investigating a series of mysterious events in present day Tokyo. Hikaru, in company with her brother’s friend Watanabe and the other lodgers in the apartment building she inherited from Raiko, have been trying to find out what became of him, helped only by some photographs he took. A man in a black coat has been shadowing Hikaru, intervening to help at crucial moments, then disappearing again. She feels a deep connection with him – yet has no idea who he is. She is also certain by now that he knows why her brother disappeared.
Act 18 starts with the arresting image of one of Tokyo’s down-and-outs peeing into an ornamental lake in Ueno Park. Suddenly he sees the famed cherry blossoms catching fire and runs away, terrified. The burning cherry trees and lotuses haunt Hikaru, as she dreams that her body is being consumed by flames. Just before she wakes, screaming, she spots the man in the black coat coming to her rescue. Finding out from Urabe (the fortune teller) that cherry trees and lotus flowers can be found in Ueno Park, Hikaru goes to investigate. When the man in the black coat appears and warns her to stay away, the terrifying events from her dream begin to occur in real life. Only now do memories of her earlier existence in Heian Kyo begin to return, adding to her confusion.
In Act 19 Tsuna and Hikaru go to investigate the appearance of the legendary White Dog of Shibuya. What is the connection between a Basho haiku, the White Dog, an ancient shrine to the gods of prosperity and the inexplicable problems with all the ATMs and credit card readers in the area? Attacked by the White Dog – a form of werewolf who only appears at the full moon – Hikaru is rescued by the man in the black coat.
Hikaru and Tsuna often argue fiercely with one another, but it’s not hard to sense that there’s a genuine affection underpinning their relationship. So when Hikaru sees Watanabe uncharacteristically smartly dressed in a suit, she and Sadamitsu shadow him. He’s meeting up with a pretty young woman and an older man; could it be that Tsuna and the young woman are planning to get married? Hikaru, unsure of how she feels about this possibility, yet wanting the best for Tsuna, goes to Azabu on a search for a gold star that Urabe has told her will grant wishes.
But Tsuna’s life is in danger when he goes to Ikebukuro on Raiko’s trail. Hikaru has cooked a special dinner for his birthday, but when the big man doesn’t return, she’s afraid he might have disappeared, just like her brother. Clutching her pendant, she calls for the man in the black coat to help her find him. He tells her that the time distortion affecting Tokyo is getting worse; Tsuna has been thrown back two hundred years to the time when Ikebukuro was a forest. Together they pass through the distortion, only to be attacked by wolves and murderous bandits; can they rescue Tsuna and get back to the present day in time?
If, like me, you’ve developed an affection for Hikaru and her companions, you’ll really want to see what becomes of them in twenty-first century Tokyo. You’ll appreciate the sense of building tension as supernatural events occur at key points in the city and occult elements from the ancient era bleed into contemporary life. Events in Heian Kyo ended in flame and destruction; it’s impossible not to wish for a happier ending, although by the end of Act 21, the outcome is still far from sure. But by the time you’ve watched this episode, you’ll have discovered the true identity of the man in black!
Several episodes of the Tokyo arc are named after stops on the Yamanote railway line: Ueno; Shibuya and Ikebukuro; only Act 20 is named Azabu, an area of Tokyo near the Roppongi Hills. The backgrounds have been so meticulously researched, photographed and painted, that watching ‘Otogi Zoshi’ can feel at times like being taken on a tour of Tokyo. But, thanks to the voice actors (both Japanese and US) and the intriguing story, this fifth disc is well worth watching.
With a genuinely likeable, believable heroine and an intriguing storyline, ‘Otogi Zoshi’ continues to appeal. (And at the time of writing (January 2008) I can’t help noticing that Amazon has reduced ‘Otogi Zoshi’ to a very attractive price.) Go on – treat yourselves!