Good fantasy franchises never die, even if the evil world-devouring monster does. After the defeat of the terrible Orochi snake-beast, the Yamainu is suddenly a secret agency that no longer has a mission. Most of them will simply transfer into the Meiji-era Japanese military, but that will not be an option for the broken and dispirited Tenka Kumo. It will be a time to remember old battle and envision what could be in Tetsuya Wakano’s Laughing Under the Clouds: Gaiden Part 1 & 2, which screens in select cities starting this Friday (Saturday and Monday in New York).
It is difficult for wheelchair-bound Tenka Kumo to enjoy the peace. He was once considered one of the Yaimanu’s most promising members, but he resigned to participate in a highly questionable human-Orochi-fusing experiment. Nevertheless, he is still beloved by his two younger brothers, whom he has cared for after their parents were murdered by Fuuma Ninjas loyal to Orochi. Tenka’s brothers will learn about his very first mission from his old Yaimani comrades-in-arms and maybe help him reach some closure.
The second part of Gaiden focuses on the inner politics of the Fuuma Ninjas, which is kind of gutsy, considering it is basically a doomsday death cult sworn to serve Orochi. That sounds bad, but things are even worse under the current leader, who is tearing apart the clan with his ruinous ceremonies. Technically, Shirasu and Ichiu should not be alive to watch their fellow ninjas senselessly killing each other. There is a strict policy forbidding twins, but Shirasu and his parents have secretly hid Ichiu for years. Unfortunately, he is overdue to participate in the ceremony, in which initiates are invariably forced to assassinate a close family member.
Given its valedictory nature, Gaiden Part 1 will probably be best appreciated by franchise fans. Still, there are some nice action sequences and Yutaka Yamada’s sweeping score is absolutely beautiful. On the other hand, Part 2 stands alone quite easily and it is unusually dark and challenging for an established shonen property. The life of a Fuuma Ninja as Shirasu knows it is bitter, harsh, and wastefully cheap. He is sort like what Naruto might be, if he served the dark side of the Force.