After the concentrated intensity of episode 7, the writers smartly decided to largely lay off the emotional intensity (save for one final scene near the end, though it hardly comes as a shock). Too much drama can be bad for the viewer as well as for the soul.
Once again, this episode concentrates primarily on the Miyako-Hirono-Kei triangle and Renji-Chihiro once more, with Kyosuke only showing up as a cameo of sorts. Chihiro gets more screen time, though, and we hear some crucial parts of her novel and at last see what, I suppose, she must face in the mirror every morning. She is in an active, if losing, struggle to keep the happy memories she has, and I can tell her guardian has typical fatherly anxieties about it.
On the Hirono-Kei-Miyako end, I suppose I’m a little surprised that in a way things have returned to “normal” to a certain extent. It’s a false normalcy, of course; at any moment, things could get far nastier, like the opening pre-credits scene which counts as a continuation of the deep cruelty Kei displayed at the end of the previous episode. (Complete with some excellent connecting water imagery.) My suspicion that the mysterious nun-like girl who shows up from time to time is at least an angel is bolstered during the beautiful, melancholy scenes where Miyako imagines her world in a ruin and she speaks to her to let go of the past, assuring her that as long as she keeps the memory of tenderness, she can go on. The angel is wrong, of course, and Miyako understands this–such memories, in fact, can trap you for the rest of your life rather than comfort you. Memory is not altogether a good thing. And the superficial calm that has settled over the three (symbolized by how chipper Miyako sounds over the public pay phone near the end) is liable to be blown up at any moment precisely because all three of them are living after the memory of the nasty stuff that just happened in the past few episodes.
Chihiro’s storyline continues to impress me as we delve deeper into the desires and feelings that her novel expresses. The wedding imagery, of course, is an outworking of her budding attachment to Renji, and I found it very interesting that if you pause on the screenshot of the text that is briefly shown of her novel (11:23 in the Conclave-Mendoi fansub), it is all about the protagonist’s first period: “It meant that she had become an adult–seemingly, she was ready to bear a child. She was a human girl after all.” Being, mentally, only 12 years old–a fact hammered home to us by the end–her sexuality is still not complete, and this is perhaps evidenced when we see her faint just as she is about to touch Renji’s hand. (It’s her turn now, after the way Renji freaked out when she asked for a kiss last time. And also considering the fact that they have kissed before, but she most likely does not really remember.) Wedding, menstration–just add moon imagery and the Ayanami Rei comparisons will be complete!
Renji is once again largely reduced to a passive observer, whom Chihiro has to encourage to follow his dreams to become a novelist (it’s true, by the way: 90% of writing a novel in particular is about discipline and doing it, not sheer talent. I was sorely tempted to tell Renji when he said that he’d like to be a novelist but hadn’t ever written anything and was already on the verge of giving up–dude, I finished my first novel by the time I was your age. Writers write! But I egotistically digress), and is later looking on the morning trauma when Chihiro’s brain resets. I’m beginning to become frustrated by how little we still know about him as opposed to Hirono, Kei, and Chihiro herself.
There are some remarkably lyrical moments in this episode that are worth noting. I have already mentioned Miyako’s mental projections of the ruined city. There is also the Tenmon violin piece that occurs around minute 14, as Hirono, Kei, and Miyako settle back into a semi-normal routine: he draws, she relaxes in his presence as a “little sister,” and she is left alone again. That the color palette is reminiscent of sunset is telling. It may be the last peaceful moment they will receive. I can see things going downhill for all of them shortly.
This episode is an example of how to do a (relatively) calm episode and not succumb to filler syndrome. It is not optional viewing if you have made it this far, in short. But I can’t wait for this story to end. I’m sure there are going to be fireworks.