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The true aficionados of gore within the Westworld fandom certainly enjoyed their first full immersion into Shogun World, the park teased in the first season finale. In “Akane No Mai,” directed by Craig Zobel and featuring a bevy of new actors including Hiroyuki Sanada (Musashi) and Rinko Kikuchi (Akane), the HBO drama’s universe expanded in its most colorful way yet, with previously unseen tones, locales, action styles and more making their debut.
Of course, Shogun World isn’t the first new park introduced in season two. It follows the arrival of The Raj in episode three, the same episode where Shogun World was teased oh-so briefly in the final moment. But based on the characters in the midst of the sword-swinging landscape — namely, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), now more powerful than ever — Shogun World is instantly the most important of the locations introduced in season two.
After the airing of “Akane No Mai,” HBO has updated its in-universe website DelosDestinations.com to share more information about Shogun World. For instance, this is how the site describes the park for “prospective visitors,” such as they are:
“Shogun World is an artfully-curated vacation destination inspired by Edo feudal Japan, where you can experience the full complexity of nature — beauty and danger, good and evil — in a place nestled from the passage of time. The rich seasonal bounties of Japan are all available to you, from the snow-topped coniferous mountainscapes to the bright autumnal koyo, from the regenerative fields of cherry blossom to the summer greenery along the coast.
“A warning to those seduced by our scenic environments: you will be tested in Shogun World as you have never been before. The hosts here are highly skilled: full of life and uncompromising. Navigating the brutal extremities of this world will require strength and discipline beyond the standard slash and burn, so first make the journey inwards and quiet the voice of self-doubt. Then be prepared to raise your katana and answer the call of limitless adventure.”
The diverse terrain has already been displayed, given the snowfall when Maeve and her party first arrive. There’s even a place called “Snow Lake,” which is apparently close to the access tunnels running through the parks; based on the name, visitors might want to bring a sweater if not a pair of snow boots. The “bright autumnal” aesthetic speaks for itself, seen in the cherry blossom trees throughout the village, and even at Akane’s teahouse.
The “uncompromising” violence was on full display in Shogun World as well, with hosts seemingly designed for evisceration and violence at such a grand scale as to be almost cartoonish in nature. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sanada describes the way action is depicted in Shogun World as a mixture between realistic fighting and a theatrical performance for the guests; “showtime,” as he calls it. It falls in line with some of the creative influences at play in the park, especially the filmography of legendary director Akira Kurosawa. Some of the acts of violence, such as Akane butchering the shogun, are even evocative of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1. Indeed, based on the ending of “Akane No Mai,” in which the shogun’s army comes storming at a sword-wielding Maeve, Thandie Newton’s host may be in for a fight that rivals the Bride’s battle against the Crazy 88.
Ninja assassins and cop-killing ronin aside, Shogun World and Westworld actually have far more in common than one might suspect. In the episode, it becomes clear that Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) and his narrative team lifted character types and storylines from Westworld and applied them directly to the universe of Shogun World. (“You try writing 300 stories in three weeks!”) As Hanaryo, Tao Okamoto’s snake tattooed warrior is clearly connected to Armistice (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), while Maeve and Akane share a similar connection. Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), meanwhile, instantly distrusts Musashi; that’s because he can’t shake the feeling he’s looking in a mirror.
With that said, perhaps the most instructive takeaway for the overarching mythology from our first full episode in Shogun World (Maeve’s power increase notwithstanding) centers on that idea of reflection. Season two has made a meal out of mirror images as a visual cue and also as an emotional theme — that stories shared between two seemingly disparate individuals can bring them closer together. In a grander sense, it lends credence to the idea that the series aims to bring humans and hosts closer together. In an even more specific sense, it bolsters a theory about the mysterious human-host hybrid that the late Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) instructed Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) to build. Doubling down on it now: The Man in Black (Ed Harris) will face off against his younger self (Jimmi Simpson) before the series ends, if not the season.
What are your main takeaways from “Akane No Mai” and the show’s first trip to Shogun World? Sound off in the comments section below and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more.
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