WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood, "Confidential File 101," now streaming on Crunchyroll.
Set in an alternate Meiji Era where Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa remained in absolute power thanks to the invention of an energy source called “Ryumyaku,” Joran follows the exploits of the Tokugawa black-ops unit, Nue. The group works to quell any insurrections that threaten the Shogunate. Sawa Yukimura works as one of Nue’s executioners with the intent of finding the man who slaughtered her family as a child.
In the series premiere, Sawa resides in and owns an old used bookstore in town, a cover for her government work. Helping her around the house is Asahi, a young orphan Sawa took in, yet doesn’t seem particularly close to. Sawa spends her mornings tending the shop, buying assorted used books from passersby. Though typically reserved, she briefly converses with a kindly patron who seems to take an interest in her, though Sawa is just as detached with him as she is with Asahi. This holds true with her Nue persona as well, as she seems to be dead-set on exacting her revenge.
Sawa, alongside her Nue coworkers Makoto and Elena, are tasked with thwarting an assassination attempt on the Shogun, set to happen during an event celebrating the completion of Tokyo Castle. Their handler, Jin, reveals that the instigator leading the charge has ties to a terrorist named Janome – the very man who orphaned Sawa when she was a child.
The trio infiltrates the party, and upon identifying their target, move in for the kill. Makoto and Elena make quick work of the conspirators while Sawa attempts to ambush any stragglers on the other side of the castle. As she approaches a collapsed secret tunnel, she is attacked by a tiger beast, prompting her to undertake a similar transformation. Though Sawa’s powers aren’t fully explained, they seem to function like the tiger beast's, with the exception of Sawa being much more stable mentally while she fights.
The two go head-to-head, but the tiger beast seems reluctant. As she gets closer to it, Sawa realizes that the tiger beast is the man from the bookstore. It is suggested that he has been transformed against his will, shedding light on how Janome functions in his terrorism. This revelation causes Sawa to hesitate, and the beast-man takes the opportunity to wound her. Despite his efforts, Sawa easily cuts him down and puts him out of his misery. Sawa's reluctance shows and the brief moment of guilt she lets slip after the fight suggests that Sawa will be more than just a one-note, revenge-driven character throughout the rest of the series.
The trauma of killing him sticks with Sawa and triggers a nightmare that night, flashing back to Janome killing her family when she was a child. Asahi looks over Sawa with a sad expression on her face before pulling a knife on her.
Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood’s first episode introduces audiences to all the key players, and while not going too deep into the series’ lore, gives enough information that you can get a solid understanding of what’s going on so far. As is the case with any series premiere, more exposition is needed in order to get a full grasp on the complete narrative. Until then, the unique art and premise is more than enough to keep things interesting until the pieces start moving.