To recap: we've met Arata #1, a bullied teen in Tokyo, and our unlikely hero. As Arata laments a friend’s betrayal and wishes himself somewhere else, an Arata in another world wishes the exact same thing. The two are Freaky Friday’ed into each others’ lives and bodies - - their switch setting off a chain of events and sparking an age-old prophecy to boot!
Arata #2 is a warrior in Amawakuni, an alternate universe of sorts where gods live among humans in the form of powerful swords known as 'Hayagami.' Only a chosen few known as the Sho can wield the Hayagami, and these Sho, known as the 'Twelve Shinso,' rule over the individual twelve kingdoms of Amawakuni. But above the Twelve Shinso resides Princess Kikuri, who rules over all of Amawakuni. When one of the Shinso tries to assassinate the Princess, he frames Arata #2 for the crime.
As Arata runs into the mystical Kando forest to escape, he is lifted out of his body and catapulted into the “real world” - - and Arata #1 (referred to from here on out as "Hinohara," for clarity’s sake) ends up in Amawakuni with a huge mess on his hands.
You got that straight?
At the end of the pilot, Hinohara discovers that he is, in fact, a Sho. Thus, he can call on the power of Kamui. He also learns that the Princess has used all her power to keep herself alive, but only just barely. She's trapped somewhere between life and death, and... I’m sure you can put the rest together. The princess appears to Hinohara and tells him he is destined to take back the power of the Sho from the corrupt Shinso, and restore balance to the Force! (I mean... Amawakuni).
Hinohara is accompanied by Kotoha, a young healer friend of Arata’s. As the two are captured by Akachi, the raven-haired evil Shinso, they begin a journey to fulfill the Princess’ final wish - - to unite all the Hayagami and keep her kingdom out of war. From a public trial to the penal colony of Gatoya, Hinohara and Kotoha discover more and more about the power of the Hayagami, and Hinohara’s destiny. Though the Hayagami come in the form of swords, they can be housed in the body of a Sho (by way of a golden, shimmering light, natch). A Sho can also submit his Hayagami to another Sho - -thereby giving him the power of multiple gods.
You still keeping up here?
Throughout their adventures, the two meet a collection of friends and foes, from the scrappy prison boys Kanate-San & Ginchi-San, to the terrifying Warden Tsutsuga of Gatoya. As they try to find their way back to the capital to save the Princess and unify the Hayagami, Hinohara learns more about the strange world he’s suddenly fighting for.
There’s no omniscient narrator here, so the audience follows along the show’s multifaceted history alongside Hinohara. The Amawakuni universe is well thought-out and incredibly detailed, but not so much that you’re ever confused. Each episode offers another glimpse into the Hayagami mythology, peeling away pieces of the mystery at a satisfying pace.
Though Hinohara takes himself very seriously as a bitter young man who’s been betrayed by all of his friends back home, THE LEGEND OF ARATA does not. Side characters maintain just the right dose of humor throughout the bloodshed and drama - - enough to keep it light without ruining the gravity of the situation. Whenever the show flashes back to Arata, in Hinohara’s body back home, he’s often portrayed as someone who’s gone a little insane. He rambles on and on about hunting, doesn’t recognize his family or friends, and spends his time up in the trees.
So far, Arata been less of a focal point in the narrative, but it seems likely that he and Hinohara will join forces down the line… or, at the very least, meet again.
Amidst the Shinso politics and Hayagami adventures, THE LEGEND OF ARATA has an underlying message about trust. Hinohara’s pain from a friend’s betrayal colors all his interactions in Amawakuni : from accepting his burden to saving those who trust him to understanding the Shinso who’ve lost their way due to their own experiences with deceit.
In fact, the difference between Hinohara and Akatchi lies in the way they each receive other Shinso’s Hayagami. Where Akatchi steals their godly power, Hinohara is entrusted with them. It’s all about trust, baby... and everyone is hopping on the "trust Hinohara" train.
By the end of episode six, Hinohara is solidified as a worthy hero, Akatchi has performed some villainous atrocities, and the mission to unite the Hayagami is crystal clear. There’s still more to be learned about the Shinso’s agenda, and the power of the Hayagami... but so far, THE LEGEND OF ARATA has proven itself to be a smart, engaging new show this spring.
Rachel Heine is an anime novice, film buff and food blogger based in Los Angeles. She writes and edits for arts & culture online magazine, Buzzine, and runs her own personal blog at PopandSizzle. Follow her Twitter: @RachelHeine