The last episode of Shikabane Hime: Aka left Keisei and Makina in a rather precarious position, with Ouri used as a "tool" to kill the former, allowing him to simply wander in and stab Keisei without any trouble.
Thankfully, this Contracted Priest is made of sterner stuff as well as being as prepared as a boy scout, which allows him to break Shichisei's control of Ouri. This only seems to be a temporary reprieve for him though, as before he knows it he's been attacked by the Betrayer Priest and had an eye pinched (no really, I kid you not), while his terminal condition is equally affecting Makina's own fighting abilities. However, Keisei's preparations and willingness to give up his own life to save those close to him grant him the power to finish victorious, but in doing so paying the ultimate sacrifice. What does this mean for Makina? Well, she's going to need a new Contracted Priest, and fast. I wonder who that could be...
I've talked before about how I've been slowly but surely warming to this series the longer it's gone on, but this particular instalment is the one that seals the deal for me and propels Shikabane Hime: Aka up the list of series that have impressed me of late. Quite simply, this is a masterful twenty-odd minutes of anime. Of course, plenty is made of the action on show here, from the sutras used by Keisei through to Makina's raw, brazen fighting style, but this is juxtaposed beautifully with the emotion that comes from Keisei's death. Even with Ouri more or less kept out of the loop during these scenes as he remains unconscious, the final exchanges between Keisei and Makina were surprisingly powerful and moving - Action-led series such as this tend to enter the realms of cliche when it comes to the death of a major character, yet there was something sad yet beautiful about it here that very nearly brought a tear to my eye. I have no idea how this particular plot point was handled in the manga, but all I can say is that it was a brilliantly written and animated scene here that simply worked perfectly. With that in mind it was almost a shame to see it return immediately to more action straight afterwards, as it would have been a perfect point to roll the end credits, but oh well, you can't have everything.
I have to confess that this is probably one of the best individual episodes of anime that I've watched in a fair while, that blended action, excitement, tears and sorrow into an almost perfect package that was eminently watchable and engaging, and really marks out the continued improvement of this series. My only worry is that after hitting this peak it may sink under the pressure of having to continue this run of form, so let's just hope the final episode of this series doesn't disappoint, and sets us up nicely for the beginning of Shikabane Hime: Kuro.