Shikabane Hime: Aka ended last week, and Shikabane Hime: Kuro continues the story this week, but it would be hard to tell the difference just by watching the opening credits. The sequence is virtually the same except for the last shot showing the title of the series, with Aka replaced by Kuro. And just as they used the letter 赫 meaning “illuminate” for Aka and not the one for the color red, this season uses the letter 玄 meaning “mystery” for Kuro and not the one for the color black. But plotwise, there should be a huge change as the previous season had Keisei and Ouri was mostly an observer, while this season Keisei is no longer with us and Ouri should be taking on an active role.
The first episode, “The Path to the Light”, starts off with a clandestine meeting between a high-ranking official of the Kougonshuu and Sadahiro. It has been half a year since the death of Keisei. The high-ranking official is one of the anti-hime faction, the one that wants to get rid of the shikabane hime, and wants Sadahiro and Akira to discretely eliminate Makina. It can’t be done openly as the other faction that favors the continued use of shikabane hime opposes any such action.
Akasha is having his own discussion with the Seven Stars, although they’re only six with the destruction of Kowaku. The Seven Stars want to attack the Kougonshuu so that they can free Makina from destruction. It’s rather hazy what their motivation is, though, as I’m not sure if it’s because they want Makina alive for their own enjoyment or if there is something special about Makina that they want to use. The way they talk about it suggest both possibilities. We also learn that Hokuto had become a shikabane after being born for the sole purpose of being killed, although I’m not sure if it’s because she was killed shortly after birth or if she was destined as a human sacrifice from the moment of birth. For her, everything living is foreign. Hokuto also shows a bit of interest in Akasha since she always sees him with tears flowing from his eyes in her weird way of seeing the world, which probably implies something about Akasha’s motivations.
Meanwhile, Makina has been cooped up and restrained for half a year now. She is trapped by the memories of Keisei and has yet to fully accept Ouri as her contract monk, which has some rather unpleasant side effects as Rika and Saki find out after scaring the guarding monks into letting them in. The curse that is upon Makina stems from her attachment to Keisei, and it attracts “shiryou”, remnants of souls that are still attached to this world but failed to become shikabane, i.e. ghosts, which feed on what animates Makina as a shikabane hime. This gives them enough strength to give Saki a hard time, as the waters that drain strength from Makina also weakens her, and needs to be bailed out by Kamika. Outside, Takamine reseals the cave that is restraining Makina as a rather cheery and otaku-ish female is supposedly watching discretely, although Takamine tells everyone else that she’s not an enemy when her presence is discovered.
Back in the normal world, Kasuga Nozomi is paying a visit to Ouri’s apartment to check whether he’s back. And not surprisingly, there’s no sign of him having come back since he disappeared six months ago. She’s not the only one worrying about Ouri, as Inuhiko Mizuki also comes by at the same time. Mizuki seems to have the wrong idea about the relationship between Ouri and Nozomi as she notices the lunch that Nozomi had made for Ouri and playfully talks about how she couldn’t believe Ouri would disappear like that and leave behind a huge pair of breasts that he could play with. Despite her denial, Nozomi’s feelings for Ouri might be rather stronger than I would have expected, considering that she made lunch for someone who has been missing for half a year and not likely to show up anytime soon. Mizuki’s joking does bring up a terrible memory for Nozomi, though.
At Goryousan, we see what Ouri has been up to. He has obviously been training as a Kougonshuu monk, but at this moment in particular he’s trying to train himself to see bonds between himself and others. It’s not working too well, as he’s kicked in the face by the rabbit he’s hopelessly practicing it on. Ouri has a familiar face to keep his sanity, Takamasa Sougi who had also come to Goryousan to train. Without Sougi, Ouri would have probably gone stark mad or become an otaku extreme over the past six months by the antics of his teacher, Umehara, who is an even greater otaku than Keisei was. Despite his pervertedness, or maybe because of it, Umehara is a capable contract monk who has the rare capacity to support two shikabane hime.
One of Umehara’s shikabane hime is Fresh, who is as much an otaku as Umehara himself, although the two can have even more passionate arguments than normal Makina and otaku Keisei would have had over conflicts on two-dimensional vs. three-dimensional or doujinshi vs. figurines. In fact, Fresh is a foreigner who had died in a plane accident on the way to Akihabara: somehow the thought of an otaku shikabane rampaging around Akihabara in search of anime goods is just too funny. The other shikabane hime of Umehara is Touma, who is away on a vacation of sorts and seems to strike fear in her contract monk. Fresh is the unknown female that was peeking outside Makina’s cave, and she has brought news of Makina. Hearing the state Makina is, Ouri decides to go to her despite his own meager state of training.
At night outside of Makina’s cave, the three monks that stand in guard are ambushed and killed by Akasha. But before he can break the seals containing Makina, he is attacked by sniper fire from Akira and Sadahiro. I’m not sure if the pair came to fulfill the high-ranking officials request from the beginning of the episode, but they fight against Akasha now that they’ve encountered him. Surprisingly, Akira is ambushed by another shikabane during the fight, which turns out to be one of the monks that Akasha had killed. His hatred of shikabane hime is his obsession that turned him into shikabane, and he breaks into the cave containing Makina. Akasha uses this chance to summon the Seven Stars, who would not have been able to easily reach Makina by themselves because of the Kougonshuu seals.
Inside the cave, the new shikabane approaches Makina intending to destroy her. His hatred stems from his belief while living that shikabane hime interferes with a person’s ability to release all attachments to the world, which would be an impediment to his reaching heaven. He’s taking his time with Makina, which gives a new arrival a chance to ambush him. Ouri had finally arrived and jumped to get the shikabane away from Makina. Ouri is no match for the shikabane, of course, so he can’t keep it away for long, but the souls fueled by Makina’s anguish repels the shikabane, in effect buying them some time. But unlike the monk turned shikabane, Ouri has his head screwed on straight, since he is the sort that does not artificially discriminate between the living and the dead, and as he is finally able to sense the bond between himself and Makina, their memories of Keisei become a unifying force that has lifts Makina’s curse and has her fully accepting Ouri as her contract monk, instead of the obstacle it had been. After Makina makes short work of the shikabane, she finally apologizes to Ouri for not being able to protect Keisei, something she had been wanting to do for a long time.
The first episode of Shikabane Hime: Kuro ends here, but there is still the six shikabane of the Seven Stars to contend with outside, so there is going to be no rest for Makina and Ouri.