There is a very strong relationship between love and worth. We can’t feel like we’re worth anything as people unless we are loved, because we’re simply not made to be content with ourselves. The characters in this episode learn this in the starkest, most harrowing, and heartbreaking way the creators of this show can muster. It is the artistic and emotional high point of the best show of Fall 2007.
No, I can’t forget this evening
Or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that’s just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
I can’t live if living is without you
I can’t live, I can’t give anymore
The old Harry Nilsson song succinctly sums up both Miyako and Chihiro in many ways, and their desperation for connection and love. But first, some more artistic analysis.
I loved the discussion about endings and playing God as a fiction writer. Renji, despite the fact that Chihiro rightly calls his critical faculties into question when he describes a terribly sad girl as “cute,” seems to understand that the choice that Chihiro’s protagonist (ie., herself) faces at the ending is either a succumbing to fantasy or a triumph of the imagination and an overcoming of her loneliness. The dilemma becomes even more acute because Chihiro clearly sees the difference between her trapped life symbolized by her image of the sheep chained to a post, and the fact that as the creator of her novel and the sole protagonist of her fictional world, she is at the same time a god. It is perhaps the first time she has felt like she was able to change anything in her life, by changing the words and the descriptions, and most importantly, to be able to choose an ending and its meaning. It doesn’t get more existential than that, and Chihiro knows that the ending must be chosen carefully, because it determines the entire meaning of her story.
To choose a sad interpretation of the ending is terrifying to Chihiro. It would be to admit that she (God of her world) is toying cruelly with her protagonist in the shape of the story–and, since the novel is really about her, that whoever created her is also playing cruelly with her, that the only way the sadness of her circumstances can be overcome is to succumb entirely to fantasy and to believe that one is whole and happy when one is really broken. It is a terrible irony, and a glimpse into another reason why people may choose to create–to exercise the dominion over the creation in some way that in “real life” is impossible. A response to helplessness, a cry for life, and to figure out why things are.
And now even Renji, who has been a content cheerful observer to this point, is no longer exempt from the pain himself. Something makes him literally see red, a scene I found shocking for its suddenness and ferocity. In fact, I’m still not sure whether it works or what to make of it. Unlike with the other characters, we have been given few hints that Renji has suffered greatly in the past or has anything that would trigger such an emotional tailspin. Is it his incestuous, Oedipal mother? Is it the very noticeable fact that he lacks a real father other than Kazu, who barely qualifies? Is it because he had a nasty breakup? The scene is, in fact, very Anno-esque, reminiscent of the scene in Karekano that takes place
His final thoughts are telling, and a perfect transition into the second half of the episode: “I hope she doesn’t write it down in her diary.” He is hoping, in short, that her memory of the event would be erased. And to be erased from the hearts and memories of others is what Miyako, the focus of the second half, fears the most. Her part is difficult for someone who has experienced that kind of desperation, even if in milder manifestations, to watch. It is one of the most emotionally raw scenes I’ve seen in anime in a good long while, perhaps since Evangelion.
Miyako’s section is done in intentionally sketchy, half-finished artwork. It, too, is reminiscent of some later episodes of Karekano.And in this case, it’s a function of the artist rather than a lack of budget: Miyako feels as if she is literally fading from existence and fears nothing less than total invisibility in the hearts of those whom she loves, beginning with her estranged parents. The colors and the lines that give her meaning are disappearing. All that she feels is left of her are words: the words that slowly accumulate until they drown out even her silhouette as she leaves 99 messages for Hirono on his cell phone, as she spills the heart that is, more than longing for love, simply asking for an answer. Any answer. At this point, though, for Miyako, she hardly even sees Hirono; she sees instead her abandoned parents in the way he seems to be treating her, and like so many traumatized children, she blames herself for what happened. This is not love, per se, at least not in the boyfriend-girlfriend sense. This is primal human need. Babies who are not held by their mothers can literally die.
Is she possessive and dependent? Yes, very much so. To a rather sick extent? Yes. But in very recognizable ways, not to mention all too common ones. Many people walk into relationships expecting the other to fill an emotional void–an absent or abusive parent or sibling, or to make up for some immaturity. The relationship is viewed through that lens rather than seeing the partner as a whole and different person. Kei obviously does this by calling an unrelated guy “onii-chan,” and now we see that Miyako is seeking the acknowledgment that her parents eventually denied her. These are not healthy relationships in the least, and it’s now very obvious that whoever Hirono “chooses,” there will be disaster waiting. The episode is a terribly literal example of that old song by Harry Nilson I quoted above.
The credits begin, appropriately, when the messages end–and we are given a gut punch of cruelty in the post-credit scene with Kei. She has made good on her threat. She has done what Renji actually wishes for that one bad moment; she has erased someone from memory. It has come full circle, and the full significance of the episode’s title–“…”–becomes clear.
I realize this was more analysis than review. But I have nothing else to say about this episode except that any episode, and any show, that makes me wonder about all this out loud must have tremendous merit. Ray always jokes about how everything with me is about Evangelion, but after this point, even if it doesn’t follow through with it, ef has already done for the eroge adaptation genre what Anno’s masterwork did for the giant robot genre. It has taken stock character design, stock situations, and squealing voices and somehow transmogrified it into something of both artistic and emotional power.
Perhaps the bloggers are right. SHAFT is the new Gainax after all.