Here comes the hype: FALL 2009 HAS FINALLY ARRIVED! Kimi ni Todoke may be refreshing amidst the sequels and one-trick fanservice programs. Letter Bee may be interesting in its small, charming way. Trapeze may be hit or miss. But this show, this is the show that is worth talking about. It has ambition, from its subject matter, its storytelling, its characters, and design… It grabs me with both hands behind my neck and stares at me forehead to forehead.
It tells me in ragged and broken breaths… WATCH ME. I’LL SHOW YOU SOMETHING.
I feel that if this pilot episode had been but a one-shot film “No Longer Human: Kamakura’s Double Suicide”, I would have been quite satisfied. It’s pretty intense, and goes into the flesh of the characters, or at least the protagonist quite incisively even if it opens it up and leaves it bleeding at the end. This episode is crammed with failure.
“My life was shameful. To me, I was unable to comprehend the way a human lived.”
This is how our narrator (Youzo) introduced the narrative, narrating from the first person. This will be a refrain throughout the episode. The setting is the 4th year of the Showa Era (1926-1989), which should place it right about 1930.
We see a lady in a kimono dash off from a streetcar/tram and run to a bar where she apparently works in. The manager questions her in a dry voice: “Were you looking for your husband again.” She says yes. A lady by the bar says that it’s a useless attempt anyway, and exhales a puff of smoke from her cigarette.
Youzo tells us that the woman goes by the name of Mayumi, and that he later learns of her real name: Tsuneko. While she puts on a red dress with a billowing skirt and puts on rouge on her lips. He tells us h0w people called him the murderer of this woman.
About that time, he says, he joined this anti-social movement. It’s a curious name for such, which is perhaps a translation issue. The way the meeting the organizers conduct the meeting, it sounds more like an anti-government socialist movement. However, the movement is a con.
The orator is riling up the listeners with his anti-government rhetoric. “According to our inside sources, so far, over 100,000 people have lost their jobs! And the number is increasing everyday!: Then he provides an interesting claim:
“The number of prostitutes is increasing as well!”
But! But he repeats it, as if it were a cue for something, for someone.
And it was. Our narrator speaks up, claiming that his sister, his sister still in middle school was sold into prostitution to pay the family debt! And back on cue is our orator, who leads the by now instigated crowd of men to join the party, with a not-so-subtle request for financial assistance to fund their ‘movement.’
It’s a simple con rather well-presented by the show, and this is where the action picks up. The police breaks up the meeting. Their leader a gruff looking large man in a hat. We know this man is hardened, perhaps cruel because a kitten rubs against his foot as he bid his time before busting the meeting. He kicked it away.
We find out that our narrator is this young fop, the son of a congressman. He was studying in art school but joined the ‘movement’ for kicks, out of boredom — because he has no talent for art, and nothing good to do with his time. It had caught up with him and his father already cut him off financially. I gather that this was why he was using the movement to con the poor and rob them of their money.
He escapes by jumping through a window, and splits up with his partner (the orator in the meeting), who also takes half the last money from the congressman before he cut his son off. The refrain plays again:
“My life is shameful.”
He becomes disoriented and reveries about his past, how he told his father that he wanted to be an art student. The police officer is stalking him as he staggers in an alley. He makes a run for it in his geta slippers and manages to elude the officer momentarily. He finds himself in the bar where Mayumi who is also Tsuneko is working.
What happens next is a somewhat complex sequence wherein she spots him and makes him an excuse to get away from her customer (by telling him that he is her kid brother), and he then relies on her to hide and escape from the officer stalking him when he went into the bar — who happened to be a regular customer of Mayumi, who hates him for his arrogance.
Mayumi displays a near-instant attraction to him, perhaps due to something of younger-brother kind of appeal. Remember that she is married and showed seriousness in finding her missing husband. But perhaps she’s reached the point of resignation. Because she has sex with Youzo later at her place.
Aoi Bungaku provides an immediate contrast to many other shows. We have a sex scene, where actual sex happens. It’s not that there weren’t any awkward moments between Youzo and Mayumi that one wouldn’t find in an innuendo-laden fanservice show, but Aoi Bungaku so far doesn’t deal with innuendo and fanservice. It’s straightforward:
Here be sexual tension. Involving adults, it leads to sex. Here’s some sex.
Perhaps its audience will be an older set of viewers, because this kind of depiction doesn’t directly appeal to a giggling 9-12 year old male; even if there was a flashback scene wherein You-chan as a very young boy is surrounded by giggling women, and is suggestive that they showed him something sexual.
In any case, the narrow escape from the police leads to sex:
“Somehow your chest gives off nostalgic smells” Mayumi says to him while on top. “It’s paint smells, of an art student.” He responds.
This is an interesting thing. Not only is the sex scene sexy for animation, it’s made more so how the attraction between them, the getting to know you part of the relationship — accelerates during the sexual act, with subdued bedroom voices that add to the sexiness of it all. “So are you becoming an artist?” Mayumi follows. “I have no talent.” Youzo confesses.
A picture frame is lying face down. It tells me that they’re fucking in Mayumi’s place, and that her husband would be in that framed photograph. She admits as much later, acquiescing to failure in their post coital tenderness. The talk moves to quitting, to giving up on art school, on looking for a missing husband. “He’s a convict” she says, asking Youzo ”Interested?” No, he isn’t, and says as much.
And he says some more:
Joining the movement is just for showing off. Honestly, I have no interest in it… because there is no progress in drawing. Plus, isn’t the anti-social [movement's] behaviors an art itself?
More failure, and I find it delicious how Mayumi calls him out: “Liar, don’t try to act cool.” His inauthenticity is plain, and it’s good that the show knows it to be so. But there’s compassion too. Mayumi gives him some:
I understand. You think there’s something wrong with this world. You think your way of life is strange.
Now I think this dynamic would be interesting enough: an older, wiser, and more worldly woman showing a younger pretentious man how things really are. But what interests me further is Youzo’s reaction. He doesn’t really react to her — not in a way she can see in the darkness. He let’s the ash from the tip of his cigarette fall on his chest as he lies on the mat withdrawing inward to his thoughts.
Women, these creatures… why do they always use the meanings of the world to explain things? Why can’t they learn to accept reality? …At that point I want to kill that woman.
He tells her how there’s no way for him to go further as well, how life itself has failed him. I find it interesting how Youzo rejects what could be wisdom, and what is clearly compassion; and wishes to outright kill its source. At the same time he’s been acknowledging his failure as a human being. This creates an interesting profile: a failure that retains contempt for others:
The individual thinks of himself so highly that his declaring himself a failure cuts down so many others as even greater failures. After all, if he could fail so hard, how could anyone else not fail? He acknowledges again, this time to Mayumi: I’m ashamed. Of what? she asks. Of being alive. A short pause, then her response: “Me too… I’m tired.”
A set of stares are exchanged, then a chorus: “Let’s die together.”
Their death trip treats us to a rather beautiful sunset commute by railcar by the sea, a walk through some billowing sand, a dinner of seeds in a cave, and a double-suicide by the ocean cliffs. This time she echoes his narration. “If I can be reborn, I wish to live more like a human.”
She asks him to come push her soon, and he does so immediately. He is a murderer now, even if only in his mind. What follows next is to jump… to join her in death. And we find out that he does. But he comes to fully in a hospital, to the reality that he has failed at dying, but has ended up a murderer. In his mind he can see her looking at him, floating from the surface of the sea looking down… which would mean that it was him who was at the bottom of the sea.
Sometimes dialogue is powerful because it is about something [->]
Love for the episode, noting the inference re You-chan as a child centerpiece of an orgy (Sapphire Pyro 2009/10/11)
Low prospects for the popularity of the show, but an acknowledgment of its potential (psgels 2009/10/11)
Someone wanted and expected darkness, and got some (Crazyyanimegirl 2009/10/19)
Youzo compared to Yagami Light in terms of character design (tsuiteru 2009/10/12)