I really apologize for the lateness of this post, since this series seriously deserved to have a post written about it right as the episode came out. I was on vacation, and when I came back, I decided to watch the Summer anime first because I didn’t want to watch this series then hold the first few episodes of the Summer season animes to this standard. And wow I’m glad I waited because if I had watched this first, all the Summer animes would have initially seemed like total trash to me, which would not be a good thing. But anyway, I have no doubt that I’d label this series as one of my top series this year, and among my top series EVER. This anime features one of the most coherent narratives I’ve ever seen, and marches at top speed toward the conclusion. Yuasa-sama and Tomihiko-sama, you are gods among men.
But there is a reason for my fanboying, and without a doubt this final episode was the strongest that I’ve ever seen in any anime series I’ve watched. Watashi’s struggle is concluded in a wonderful fashion, and there’s enough information packed into this single episode to just blow me away. Before I start though, an apology from me for writing such a stupidly long post. The visual imagery was just too powerful for me to ignore.
As the episode starts, we see Watashi fighting what appears to be an epic battle between himself encased in an iron shell and these shadows that appear around him. I viewed this scene as a visual metaphor of Watashi’s problem. His battle is mental. He has his own perceptions of the world around him, and he refuses to let anyone else enter his iron shell. That’s his problem. He had this grandiose dream of the ideal campus life throughout the series, but that was a mere mental construction. He never once looked around him to see the value of the life that he was living at that moment. His own perceptions of the world warped it in his eyes, and that’s why we see people like Ozu and the Fortune Teller have just completely warped features. He perceives Ozu as acting like a Youkai, so he is a Youkai in appearance. He sees the fortune teller as this strange foreboding character, whose only purpose to him seems to spout nonsense. Her long nose, to me at least, is reminiscent of Pinocchio, which is fitting considering that Watashi dismissed whatever the fortune teller says as just lies to extort money from him.
And yet, Watashi soon realizes that despite his iron shell, he’s really just a small, naked man.
Can he really be human if he rejects the world and the people around him? Of course he can’t. As we’ve seen with Watashi’s travels in the “Tatami Galaxy”, he’s devolved into literally nothing. All he does now is travel the Tatami rooms and eat, drink, urinate, defecate, and sleep. As he yells out his wish to return to times gone by, his normal catch phrase, “Who is to blame for this?”, is notably missing. He’s realized that it’s all down to him.
As time reverses, it goes straight into what was originally the ED of the series, but has now become a strange, blue monochrome OP. The color of choice? Blue. The traditional color of sorrow. A side by side comparison of the new OP and the ED from previous episodes reveals three major differences: 1) The color scheme is monochrome and reversed. Everything is now in tones of blue, but what was originally white is now a dark blue, and what was originally black is now white. 2) The new OP is flipped horizontally. 3) A door opens in the Tatami room at the end of the new OP, signaling a way out of this nightmare. This new OP is a true inversion in every sense. I really wish that the OP and ED were translated, but plugging the lyrics for the old OP into Google Translate gives me a rather garbled message, but it appears to be optimistic. Interestingly enough, the OP song seems to present the message that Watashi should be following, but I’ll need a more legible translation to confirm. When I plug the old ED into Google Translate, it gives me something about linguni… And I’m serious about that. One of the lines translated as “Linguini horny girl”… Yeah that’s a total dead end… I pray that someone translates the OP and ED soon!
Anyway, the new OP is a wonderful inversion of what originally was a message of despair. Originally, we connected the old ED with a sense of finality, that Watashi still had not recognized how to escape his situation. Yet this new OP, although melancholic throughout with its blue tones, opened that little door at the end.
Finally, Watashi would realize what he had to do to escape this hell hole: Grab that Mochiguman!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As is the standard for each Yojouhan episode, it must start off with a metaphor. The metaphor of choice? One about the evolution of the Tatami mat through the ages. The 4.5 Tatami mat is apparently the latest in the evolution of the world, although where the single and 4 Tatami mat configuration lies in that evolution remains a mystery.
Yet as Watashi travels the Tatami rooms, his attention is inevitably drawn to not his own life, but the people that his other selves associated with. At this point, the episode descends into some recap of some of the people involved in Watashi’s life, and that only emphasizes his own loneliness even more. Yet by trying to piece together these people that he barely knows, he makes an extremely important realization – that people have more sides to them than just one. It’s an important distinction for Watashi to make, primarily because he’s mostly been looking at many people in just one dimension. For example, he perceived Ozu as a Youkai and nothing more, but he soon realizes that Ozu has a girlfriend, and has deep emotions too.
Soon after this realization, Watashi makes the simplest and most crucial of gestures.
I will put everything that I’ve been up on this shelf, and once having put it all aside, I won’t dare to take it down again.
It wasn’t a groundbreaking moment in the episode, but it felt vital to me because aside from being a literal gesture of moving on, it’s a move that shows just how Watashi has moved on past this sort of superficiality that previously guided his life. Watashi realizes that he doesn’t really need “things” to craft his own identity, and that his identity lies in his actions. The extent to which he rejects any sort of materialistic medium like the Mochiguman suit or the Honwaka honey is clearly evident in this episode, as we’ll see later.
This next part of the episode really resonated with me. Watashi’s next desire is just to eat rice. It’s such a simple desire, and one that many of us partake in everyday. As of now, we consider rice as part of our everyday, and we don’t really appreciate that fact. We might say that rice just has a bland taste, but going back to what Watashi said in the earlier episode, “The only reason why I never left the 4.5 Tatami room was because I always had the option of going outside.” We never really value the everyday until it’s taken away from us. Just like Watashi never really valued the fact that he did participate in 8 different club activities and could romp with Ozu. A world where he can do all these things – eat rice, eat Neko Ramen, hang out with Ozu, participate in clubs. This world is
Watashi now realizes the value of Ozu. He originally dismissed him as the bane of his existence – someone who was always to blame for his troubles. And yet, he lived his life to the fullest while he was with Ozu. He was never bored, and he certainly never had a dull moment while he was with Ozu. The culmination of his moment of recognition is in this statement:
“Always dreaming of the unrealistic, I never looked at what I had right around me.”
With that realization, he mind turns to the final person that he has interacted with: Akashi. She is the culmination of his thoughts, as he comes to terms with the fact that he is truly in love with her. I find it wonderful that the reason why he fell in love with her was because of her smile. He fell in love with something so grounded in reality and so sincere, not with the “raven haired maiden” as he constantly pined for in previous episodes.
With that in mind, he finally grasps the Mochiguman, and takes the first step he never took. But far more importantly than just taking that first step, he steps with conviction. I find it fitting that the scene where Watashi returns the Mochiguman to Akashi is a repeat of episode 1. First, it gives a sense of closure and completes the circle, but more importantly, we can instantly compare the two scenes and see just how far Watashi has come since his initial step. In episode 1, he tried to take that first step, but ultimately never did. In episode 11, he demonstrates just how powerful his regret and desires were.
Once Watashi grasps the Mochiguman, he returns to reality. The train comes rushing by, and as the moths awaken from their slumber because of the motion of the train, Watashi is able to escape from his two month journey in purgatory. One interesting thing to note is that the breeding ground for all these moths was in Watashi’s room. That room of his is Akashi’s anti-thesis. As long as he lives in such an incompatible atmosphere with Akashi’s true self, he can never truly unite with her. The single Mochiguma in that room of his is the key for Akashi to get over those moths, but it was basically a captive – trapped in that world that Akashi fears the most.
It’s when Watashi escapes the Tatami Galaxy that some of the most poignant visual imagery comes into play. As Watashi takes his first breath of air from the real world and starts walking into the crowd, he’s overcome by the many rapidly changing colors of the world around him.
These rapidly changing colors are a signal of both the beauty of the world, and also the merging of the parallel possible worlds. Watashi has recognized both the true beauty of the world and the meaninglessness of trying to achieve that “rose colored campus life.” The true beauty of the world lies in the fact that everyone has more sides to them than just that one. In each possibility, they can take on a whole different personality, and the beauty of the world lies in that each human being is the sum total of the choices that he or she made. It’s nothing to fear. It’s just wonderful.
I find it interesting that this entire ending scene is set on the night of Kyoto’s Gozan fire festival. Gozan is set on the final day of O-bon, which is the festival in Japan to honor the dead. Gozan is meant to send off the spirits of the ancestors that have come to Earth for the O-bon festival. Yet the time when all these events take place, is immediately after the fire of the first character, Dai or “Great/Large” in Japanese, is lit. I would tend to believe that this fire is meant to call the ancestors to the first mountain. The best place to see the Daimonji is on the banks of the Kamo River. It’s almost a kind of match made in heaven, as the spirits of the ancestors watch the scene down at the banks of the river, of bonds being made and of this one man’s great catharsis. I think it adds to the power of the scene even more. Truly beautiful.
And as Watashi sees the five people with whom he could have had a truly wonderful life with, he sheds tears. And as he yells out Ozu’s name, the moths come flying in.
Beautiful visual imagery here, as Watashi runs not only to save Ozu, but also to save Akashi. As he runs towards his companions, he takes on the clothes of four of his “club possibilities”: The biker, the member of the Secret Society, the Honwaka worker bee, and the White Mochiguma. Yet all these “clothes” that Watashi wears completely sheds away, and Watashi then runs naked to Ozu. It’s a symbol of both rebirth. He sheds these clothes that hid his true self. His “iron armor” so to speak, and he’s reborn as a pure human being – someone who is true to himself and actually, physically human.
And now Watashi does the impossible.
Jump something like 10 meters to where Ozu is. The insane jump is very reminiscent of Mind Game, and it’s the much less exaggerated way of saying that with a true mental conviction and with true effort, you can overcome anything. A lot of animes like to shout that message through dialogue, but this scene just made me dislike that kind of cliché even more, considering just how masterfully Yuasa conveyed that message with no dialogue and seven seconds of a naked man doing the impossible.
As the moths envelop them, Watashi and Ozu fall down into the river, and while Ozu pleads with Watashi to let him go, Watashi refuses, saying that they’re connected by a black thread of fate. The role reversal here is clear with Watashi now the seme and Ozu the uke (I’m sorry, Chronolynx’s Uraboku post suddenly popped into my head) Watashi taking on Ozu’s self-confident role and Ozu taking on a much meeker role. I think this reversal is extremely appropriate, as it’s a signal of just how they’re dealing with their problems differently. Ozu is now the one trying to escape and Watashi is now the one who is living his life to the fullest, thus the seeming reversal of their personalities.
Watashi now takes the first step in his relationship with Akashi. He places the white Mochiguma into her hand. And as she relates the story of how she got men’s underwear instead of her White Mochiguma at the laundromat
It’s such a subtle image, and one that reveals far more than at first glance. The fortune teller stands in the clock tower, tending the cats. It’s as if she was the one pulling the strings – the one reversing time, the one who switched the Mochiguma with the underwear… It’s certainly an interesting thought, and it’s the final mystery of the show, and one that’s never really explained. I’m fine with that though. The emphasis of this final episode is not on solving all the intricacies of the plot; it’s on Watashi’s own catharsis. Though something interesting to note here is the clock that apparently reads 9:00 pm. The Daimonji is supposed to be lit at 8:00 pm on the night of Gozan, but the fact that the clock reads 9 is such an interesting testament to how much time has passed. Interesting detail, though I’m not sure what importance it holds.
Watashi now invites Akashi to Neko Ramen, and it’s certainly an indication of how far he’s advanced. The shop itself is like Watashi’s escape and his refuge from society. He goes there alone pretty much every single time, with only a few exceptions at various points in the show. The fact that he brings Akashi there is an indication of just how much he trusts her and is in love with her. The fact that basically everyone else is there as well is an indication of how Watashi is now indiscriminate when it comes to the people that he interacts with. He has Akashi, and so nothing else really matters.
There’s not too much to say at this point as the episode basically winds down from here, but a few things to note: Watashi moves into a 6 Tatami room as opposed to a 4.5. I think it’s significant because of the number of people that Watashi now has in his acquaintance. The part of the episode after we know that Watashi moves into the 6 Tatami room involves six people: Higuchi, Hanuki, Jougasaki, Ozu, Akashi, and Watashi. It’s rather fitting that he moves into a room with a Tatami mat for each of them. Plus it has a bathroom, which is useful for obvious reasons… But as Watashi and Akashi go to meet with Ozu in the final part of the episode, Watashi takes on Ozu’s appearance as he says:
And thus the new ED plays (the old OP). Fitting if the lyrics truly are a message of optimism as Google Translate says it is.
Sigh… Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is over… It was a wonderful ride, and I don’t think I did it enough justice with this one post. It’s time to say goodbye to the best anime of 2010. A series about the struggles of one man to overcome his blind idealism and to treasure the everyday that is set in the most common everyday setting there is… When will we have another show like it again? I hope soon… And now I fear that I’ll be even more annoyed at all the Summer 2010 animes… This is definitely a show that I would encourage everyone to watch. I think it’s definitely the one of the most accessible Yuasa works I’ve seen, and I’m sure that everyone can relate to Watashi, one way or another. I have no idea how to stop writing for such an epic show, so I’ll just stop it like this… Beautiful series.