Donten ni Warau, or Laughing Under a Cloudy Sky, is a quirky short series (12 episodes) about three brothers who help transport prisoners to a large island prison, and who watch over it and the local village and surrounding area. The series takes place in the early Meiji era. The three brothers are Kumou Tenka, the oldest, Kumou Soramaru, the middle child, and Kumou Chuutaro, the youngest.
The boys’ parents were murdered before the series start and Tenka has kept the family together and raised and watched over the two younger boys, with help from a white haired former ninja named Kinjou Shirasu. Tenka found Shirasu injured and took him in. Shirasu keeps house and cooks and generally takes care of the Kumou brothers since his ninja clan, the Fuma, was destroyed around the time the Kumou brother’s parents were murdered.
Tenka believes in laughing at life’s problems, even when the sky stays cloudy, which it always does at the Kumou house due to its proximity to the prison lake, which also happens to be where a demon dragon is sealed.
The main plot line of the series is that an evil dragon demon (the Orochi) is working on breaking free of its seals and being reborn into the world. The Kumous, along with a special police force called the Yamainu, exist to prevent the Orochi’s rebirth. The Orochi selects a human as its vessel and begins its rebirth by growing as part of and eventually taking over its human host. Tenka was a member of the Yamainu but left them, ostensibly to raise his brothers when his parents were murdered.
Once the characters are all introduced, the plot twists and slightly more than half way through the series, Tenka is shown to be the Orochi’s vessel and is executed by the government. The series is tragic as hell for a couple of episodes as Soramaru and Chuutaro struggle to deal with Tenka being executed and having to take over his position while they’re really still too young for it.
Just when you’re getting used to that, it’s revealed that actually Soramaru is the Orochi’s vessel rather than Tenka. And Shirasu is actually the head of the Fuma clan. Not only did Shirasu murder the Kumou parents, but he has been plotting the whole time to aid in the Orochi’s rebirth. And oh yeah, Tenka isn’t dead. Tenka wasn't executed after all. He looked like the Orochi's vessel because he has Orochi cells growing in him. When his parents were murdered he was injured and he agreed to become an orochi-cell experiment in order to save his life, in order to stay alive for his brothers’ sake.
So in the end the meek and mild ex-ninja Shirasu betrays everyone to loose the Orochi on the world. However, working together, the brothers and their various friends and compatriots manage to defeat the reborn Orochi because the Kumou family swords are spelled to be able to cut the human vessel loose from the Orochi and make him able to defeat it. Shirasu doesn’t take well to losing, and throws himself off a cliff. Everyone else though lives happily for as long as they have left, including the still-dying Tenka, the shikigami created to help contain the Orochi and her one-armed human lover, the various Yamainu members, the younger Kumou brothers and the half-ninja girl who betrayed her Fuma clan for the love of Soramaru.
See? Quirky. It also takes the time to give back story on essentially all the characters, despite only being 12 episodes long, which is quite a feat. I began watching this because I like the manga style (and style like the manga style better) and although I’d say it’s not a great series, it was interesting enough to keep me watching.
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