The Massacre arc, as one might expect, lives up to its title in this, the concluding episode. But the feeling at the end is that the rules of the game have changed forever, and that there is indeed a way out of the darkness. If it indeed possible to find some kind of hope in the midst of death, Rika sees it at last.
The nature of hope in this show is a distinctly Buddhist one: an end to the constant cycle of reincarnation into a world filled with paranoia, horror, and death. It depends on one thing: the transference of memory from one life to the next. Rika of course sees the past lives relatively clearly, but it is only in this arc when the other characters do as well, and it is the key to the dramatic differences between this timeline and all the other ones. It’s the reverse of Santayana’s famous saying: “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is as simple as being able to learn from one’s mistakes, which humanity’s capacity for historically has been spotty, to say the least.
The end comes suddenly for the characters this time too, but now rather than wallowing in helplessness, they go down fighting to their last breath. I wrote in my first audio column that the manner in which people die is often a measure of their character, and the characters go down more or less heroically: dying for the safety and the sake of others, with only Satoko reverting to an earlier state of fear, though not for long. (I get the feeling the “broccoli or cauliflower” question is going to be very significant in a future arc, probably in a meal they eat.) The thing that everyone has acquired is a sense of purpose, as the final moments where everyone’s a ghost shows. Everyone has hope, with only Hanyuu the lone pessimist (perhaps surprisingly, given how utterly moeriffic she is). And I find it surprisingly, well, American in the way that it is her lack of belief and hope in the outcome that the other characters blame for their current doom. “If only you believed” is the hidden rebuke behind it, but it’s only momentary, because there is yet another chance for redemption. The cycle of rebirth is both a source of despair and a source of hope.
So, was this the best arc yet, as some have said? Well, it’s certainly the most different in both tone and plot to any yet, and despite its initially slow (yet necessary–y0u’ve convinced me of that) start, I’ve never seen any single arc that accomplished and explained so much. Almost too much at times; by the end, the sense of mystery that always drove the show more or less has been dispelled and replaced with a fairly run-of-the-mill government conspiracy plot. With one exception, what Rena says to Takano–“Oyashiro-sama exists”–though we are still not sure whether we can take it literally or not. A lot of things which we were inclined to take literally before have been shown to not what it appears, after all, which has been the lot of many religious beliefs in the modern world.
Finally, the stakes are now clear. We have heroes and we have a very clear villain, which is the necessary set up for a final confrontation. The show long ago ceased to be horror and much more a dark mystery, which makes its preemption due to Incident NICE BOAT all the more inexplicable; it has ceased being gory and horrific. School Days’ finale has it well beat on that front. Except for Rena’s hint, I’m not sure what else there is left to reveal that’s all that significant. But it’s been a satisfying and well-written ride on this longest of arcs and I look forward to finishing this show this fall!