This installment of the Garden of Sinners, which resembles Elfen Lied in some ways, continues the streak of solid storytelling and beauty–though with a darker edge than almost everything that has come before it. Definitely the most “R-rated” of episodes thus far.
In the space of 50 minutes, the story accomplishes with Fujino what the writers of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni did at its very best–make the viewer feel empathy for a bloody killer. It does so without descending into simple melodrama, the way many lazy writers attempt to do the same for villains only by giving a weepy backstory or trauma. That’s there for Fujino, to be sure–starting from the very first scene–but it is Shiki who helps add a layer of complexity. Shiki understands something of the pleasure of killing, as we were shown amply in the previous installment, and she recognizes the similarity within Fujino as well–she is a victim, but not a pure victim by any means. Fujino is not a pure psychotic the way Heath Ledger’s Joker was in The Dark Knight, nor is she only a victim lashing out at her attackers/rapers. She has a little bit of both, though often only at a subconscious level. It is more than a simple reaction to pain, as the relatively naive Mikiya supposes at first. If that were the case, it would be too easy.
Pain is, as the title implies, a key concept in the story. As someone who has temporarily lost her pain sensitivity, Fujino feels herself to be an outcast–and not without reason. Pain is the way we learn how to react as human beings: when not to touch the hot stove or the fire, or analogously, how to behave around other people. Without that, she is cast adrift, and it makes the reawakening of that pain due to her trauma all the more horrific for her; it is restored to her in the worst possible circumstances. At first glance, then, her assertion that she kills because she hurts makes little rational sense; in light of her suffering and her abnormal sense of pain, it makes a lot of sense. She somehow truly believes that killing will take the pain away, by removing its source (in this case, the unsympathetic louts who took her). When she oversteps to include random passersby, that is when Shiki says she “can’t forgive her.” Now Fujino is inflicting pain on others for no reason, other than a hidden satisfaction that she can do to others what others had done to her. Not that this happens without outward protestatition or even internal conflict. It is almost primal for her.
We learn more about Shiki, too, in her rather conflicted sense of ethics. She abhors Fujino because she detects Fujino’s sadism, something that Fujino is not even able to admit exists within herself (but Shiki does, regularly). I suppose it is only in the context of this story that her admission to Mikiya that she still bears some desire to murder him is taken as a sign of affection as much as bloodlust–but it is because Mikiya, to his great credit, is someone who has learned with both Shiki and Fujino how to allow them their pain while remaining a strong and consistent presence in their lives. He’s much more likable than your usual harem weenie, partly because his willingness to do this is intentional rather than haphazard or an accident of circumstance. It seems that we will learn more about Shiki in the next installment, and I look forward to seeing how Mikiya deals with her split personalities.
The storytelling continues to be straightforward, leading one to think that the first movie was something of a fluke. In fact, it is beginning to take on the feel of a very solidly written hour-long weekly TV drama, with different plots in each centered around the same group of characters. Anime almost never does that format, of course (Mnemosyne is the only exception I think of recently, and that’s an OVA), as the budget would be prohibitively expensive for TV; I suppose the “miniseries” is what this one falls under more than anything else. In either case, there is clearly much that can be done with these characters (I hear the novel was over 900 pages, so I’m not surprised), and it has already surpassed Tsukihime in my estimation as Type-Moon’s definitive work. Now I can’t wait for episode 4 to come out.