It’s the moment Seoul has been waiting for.
After Han delivered a savage beating to Yoo in his last match and Jin successfully fought his way back into the tournament, an air of uncertainty and anger sets the stage for their showdown.
The two men, both unsure of where their friendship stands and determined to achieve victory, enter the ring and take their stances as the final round of the regional tournament begins.
At the first ring of the bell, Han and Jin near instantly find themselves at each other’s throats, with Han’s fists flying against the flurry of Jin’s feet as the two men proceed to exchange blow after solid blow.
However, both men find themselves preoccupied with their respective fears, as Jin is still upset at the brutality displayed by his friend and Han finds himself in turmoil over the worsening condition of his friend, Woo Seung-Tae. These fears direct the fight away from a playful exchange of special techniques, resulting in the two fighters engaging in a raw, bare knuckle brawl.
But Han’s heel turn may not be as villainous as viewers had first imagined. In a series of flashbacks, audiences learn the full extent of an offer made to Han shortly before his fight with Yoo. Park Mu-jin informs Han that, if he can emerge as the tournament’s grand champion, the God of High School organization would treat Woo with the same nanotechnology used to heal and monitor the tournament’s competitors.
When Han informs Park that Woo will not last until the end of the tournament, Park instead asks Han to simply win the Seoul preliminary, resulting in the cold determination seen from Han in the last two episodes.
Meanwhile, as the furious battle rages on, a well-rested and fully-healed Yoo begins to check out of her hospital room when her tournament-issued bracelet informs her that there is another person with nanomachines in the vicinity of the hospital.
Yoo discovers that the individual is none other than Woo, and upon making her way to his hospital room, discovers that he has lost his battle with cancer. At that same moment, Park approaches the ring to inform Han of the unfortunate news.
Stunned, Han can do nothing more than flashback through the highlights of his friendship with Woo, from their first meeting when Woo saved Han from a beating at the hands of a gang of thugs to his constant teasing that Han has no other friends but himself.
Feeling the will to fight leave from his body, Han begins to lose his grasp on the battle with Jin, as his hot-headed opponent begins to easily break through his guard and wail upon the broken man. The atmosphere of the arena quickly changes from excitement to concern as Han continues to receive one decisive hit after another.
That is, until a familiar voice rings out from the stands. Having rushed over from the hospital, megaphone in hand, Yoo appears to deliver words of encouragement, and a note of support from Woo, to Han.
After a brief moment of stalling from Jin, allowing Han to read over his friend’s last words and realize that Jin and Yoo have truly been his friends this entire time, the two resume their battle filled with more determination than before.
What follows is a beautifully animated and intricately directed fight scene that ultimately ends with Han falling to a dragon-shaped energy kick from Jin, solidifying the young taekwondo practitioner’s position as the champion of the Seoul regionals.
After last week’s curious and somewhat boring diversion into Yu’s sham marriage ceremony, The God of Highschool returns to form with an exciting and emotional conclusion to the tournament’s preliminary competition.
Unsurprisingly, given that the focus of this episode is the long-awaited and tension filled match between Jin and Han, the fight scenes featured in “ronde/hound” are once again some of the best across the entire medium.
Not only is the action itself beautifully animated, with each blow given the proper weight and fighters shown bouncing around every dimension of the ring, but the physical progression of the fight also mirrors the progression of Han’s emotional state.
Beginning with a cold and technical exchange of blows, before moving to see Han lose his will to fight after receiving word of Woo’s death, and ultimately ending with a dazzling display of respect and technique, the final round of the Seoul final is easily one of the best moments of action in the series.
The secondary focus of this episode is the further exploration of Han’s backstory, this time following his actual friendship with Woo. Though the beginning of their friendship is stereotypically shonen, with Woo doing his best to prove to Han that he doesn’t need to be a tough loner to survive, the juxtaposition of these scenes with those showing the heartbreaking effects of Woo’s death on his friends and family drive home the very real, sudden anguish felt by those left to carry on without him.
The impact of the episode’s final shot, wherein Han places a note upon Woo’s grave informing him that he is no longer ‘alone’, would not have been possible without this exploration of his friendship with Woo.
As always, the series’ art direction once again steals the show. As mentioned above, the gradual progression of each fighter’s mindset and abilities provides a strong visual parallel to the events of the episode, while the animation itself is smooth and well-choreographed.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight of this episode is the gorgeous watercolor fight between Han and Jin seen at the conclusion of the episode, as the scene’s softer color palettes, ‘paper’-like texture, and sumi-e ink brush style effects all serve to reinforce the natural and free-flowing nature of a battle between two fighters who wish to see the VERY best from their opponent.
Despite this high praise, the episode is not without its flaws, particularly in regards to its placement in the anime’s narrative. With the further focus on Han’s motivations and the high-level of fight production seen in the title match, this episode’s natural continuation of the story seen in Episode 3 makes the detour to Yoo’s wedding seem even more out of place and jarring.
One wonders if the story would have been better served by focusing on a single character arc at a time instead of diverting its attention amongst the cast.
ronde/hound sees Crunchyroll make a reassuring comeback from the questionable production values seen in last episode’s matrimonial detour. The series’ thrilling fights and episode-specific visuals continue to impress, with the watercolor flourish given to the last battle standing as one of the best style choices seen in the series thus far. With mysterious new players arriving as the next round is set for the God of Highschool tournament, viewers should feel confident in reserving their front row seats to the next match.
- The parallel visual/narrative progression of the fight
- The water color finale of the fight between the two protagonists
- Han’s rejection and subsequent acceptance of his friends
- The episode’s odd placement in the overall narrative