Episode 10 of Shikabane Hime: Kuro, “Beyond Hell”, begins with the aftermath of the previous episode, with planes crashing all around the city with a horrific number of casualties. And with the huge number of meaningless deaths, there’s also a large number of shikabane arising. With the Seven Stars having gone missing, the Kougonshuu shifts their focus from the assault on the Seven Stars to dealing with the new shikabane.
With the large number of shikabane, it’s also a chance for many of the shikabane hime to kill 108 shikabane. A member of the anti-shikabane hime faction even worries that each shikabane hime might end up destroying more than 108 shikabane, but Takamine points out that this is precisely what the shikabane hime want. Interestingly enough, a couple members of the anti-shikabane hime faction have a guilty look at Takamine’s comment, which may suggest that they know some terrible secret behind shikabane hime that the contract monks are not aware of.
In private, the couple of high ranking members of the anti-shikabane hime faction talks about Akasha’s target, which they reveal to know as not being the Kougonshuu headquarters itself. They will be heading to another location that is Akasha’s real target, and Sadahiro and Akira are supposed to stop not only Akasha from gaining access to the location, but also to stop any shikabane hime or contract monk from approaching.
In the devastated city, Ouri and Makina save the kids and manager at Ouri’s old orphanage from a zombie attack (well, actually a shikabane attack, of course). Their next destination is Joubou, the purification chamber, which was where Makina was restrained for half a year from the end of the previous season to the beginning of this season, since that is where Makina senses that Hokuto is heading towards to. One might recall that the Joubou was rather filthy for a purification chamber, as we are reminded by the anti-shikabane hime faction members that arrive at the place, where they drain the filthy waters to reveal an underground entrance.
Meanwhile, Akasha, Hazama, and Hokuto are arrive at the Joubou, where they encounter Sadahiro and Akira, who prompty deal a great deal of damage against Hazama. Akasha attempts to convince Sadahiro to let them pass by talking about the past, where we learn about Akasha’s final battle against shikabane alongside his shikabane hime. It was a trap by Hazama, who had gathered over a hundred shikabane against the Kougonshuu. Being one of the stronger ones, Akasha’s shikabane hime managed to destroy over 108 shikabane even after being bitten into half by Hazama.
But the fate that must have been awaiting a shikabane hime that destroyed over 108 shikabane must have been terrible enough that Akasha would think it better to destroy his shikabane hime rather than let her suffer, and Sadahiro and Akira are also very much aware of this secret as their knowledge forced them out of the mainstream of shikabane hime and contrack monks, becoming a pair that hunts humans. Akasha and Sadahiro obviously have different approaches to how they deal with their knowledge, though. But Sadahiro and Akira are forced to let Akasha and his companions to pass when Makina and Ouri arrive.
Sadahiro and Akira reveal that they are supposed to prevent not only shikabane from entering Joubou, but also shikabane hime and contract monks. They reveal themselves to be assassins for the Kougonshuu that eliminated dozens of humans that attempted to reveal the existence of shikabane to the public or even use the power of shikabane for themselves. The secret concealed in Joubou is so terrible that they would actually prefer to be assassins rather than dwell on the secret. Sadahiro and Akira obviously do not wish to hurt Ouri or Makina, but they will if they have to, which is amply demonstrated when Akira shoots Makina as she jumps over them and runs into Joubou. But Ouri’s sadanjutsuhou has become even more powerful as it is now ranged and even stops the bullet shot towards Makina.
Sadahiro and Akira are still a somewhat conventional contract monk and shikabane hime pair, however, as Ouri’s claim that he will protect Makina is answered by Akira’s retort that it is the shikabane hime that is supposed to protect the contract monk. Ouri’s answer is that he has an obligation to Keisei, who had saved him and died protecting Makina, and he follows Makina into the Joubou after hitting a sadanjutsuhou against Sadahiro. Sadahiro could have easily moved out of the way, however: it seems that Sadahiro and Akira are hoping that Ouri and Makina might find a third answer to whatever secret is hidden in Joubou, one that is different from Akasha’s or Sadahiro’s.
At the center of Joubou, the second highest ranking member of the Kougonshuu is awaiting with a single subordinate the arrival of Akasha, Hazama, and Hokuto. The priest invokes his sadanjutsuhou, which generates an area that would purify all stains, which would make contract monks, shikabane hime, and shikabane powerless. But Hokuto jumps through anyways, which seems to worry Hazama but not Akasha. I would have thought that Hokuto being effectively pure death would mean she would have passed unimpaired, but it turns out that Akasha found another use for the religious text that the Seven Stars stole from the Hoshimura family: wrapping scripture around Hokuto’s body shielded her, similar to what Keisei had done on several occasions.
After Hoktuo kills the priest, Akasha tells her to destroy the casket in front of her. This reveals a mummy inside which screams after being impaled by Hokuto (it even seems to bleed). This affects all the shikabane hime: it is as if they have all lost their contract monks at once. For now it is a momentary power loss, but it might not be long before they lose their mental balance as we had seen happen with Minai.
I am quite liking the story telling in this show. On one very shallow level, it’s a simple good guys versus bad guys story, with shikabane hime fighting against the undead. But on another level, there are no bad guys: all the characters seem to have good intentions or are mentally incompetent, making many of the characters more tragic rather than evil. The only exception to this that I would grant is the head priest of the Kougonshuu for a couple of reasons. He is ultimately responsible for whatever terrible secret that underlies the shikabane hime and the lie that destroying 108 shikabane lets them go to heaven. And shikabane seems to be a purely Japanese phenomenon: it would be totally implausible for the entire world to be ignorant of the existence of shikabane in that any other organization in the world would have to be just as zealous of keeping shikabane secret from the public. If this were the case, then maybe it is the Kougonshuu itself that is the reason why shikabane arise.
In any case, there are going to be a lot of unhappy shikabane hime turned shikabane in the next episode: the unconventional relationship between Ouri and Makina may be the only hope to avoid a nihilistic ending for many of them. For that matter, Keisei’s graduating class seems to have turned into quite a group of troublemakers: Keisei himself defied the conventional roles for contract monks and shikabane hime, Sadahiro ended up being an assassin for the Kougonshuu, and Akasha ended up killing his own shikabane hime and betraying the Kougonshuu (not to mention the huge number of deaths to follow). It makes me wonder if the three represent three alternative responses to whatever secret may lie behind the shikabane hime.