4 out of 5
Hijikata tracks down another tattooed prisoner, leading to one of Noda’s more visually complex concepts: the prisoner, an old man, has visions that “glitch” into images from his past, as an assassin. He recontextualizes what he sees to match this frame, and through this, Noda gives immense depth to the character very concisely, essentially telling a whole tragedy within a single chapter. It’s quite brilliant.
The majority of volume 16 is given over to Immortal Sugimoto’s idea for alerting Asirpa that he’s still alive: getting his name in the paper by joining up with the circus. This idea… doesn’t make much sense, and its possible effectiveness is pretty much downplayed by Noda immediately after the arc concludes, but it’s so damned entertaining throughout that it gets a pass. It’s a comedy arc, in which Sugimoto and Koito battle for top billing; Tanigaki forms a bond with the young dancers in the circus, sweating in his outfit to keep in step; and Cikapasi seems to develop an odd affection for watching Sugimoto hurt himself. Much ridiculousness, visual wizardry, and plenty of laugh out loud moments.
We then shift over to Kiroranke and Asirpa, traveling in the snows of Karafuto and getting a lesson on Ainu culture there, and its focus on reindeer. Kiroranke drops that this seeming side trek is actually quite purposeful, and then a shot rings out, aimed at their party…
Allowing for the indulgence of the circus bit, volume 16 is all goodness: story momentum, and pure entertainment.