Considering the subject matter, which has a pretty high “ick” factor for me, that was a really excellent final episode.
This series has always been awash in contradictions, and the finale was consistent with that, right up the end. In an episode full of fairly graphic sex between siblings, it managed to be serious, dignified and full of suspense. A great deal of credit for that has to go to the BGM, but the writing plays a big factor, too.
I’ll make no apologies for it – I’m not a fan of incest in a serious anime. I do believe that what Sora and Haru were doing was wrong, and further, that Sora isn’t an especially considerate or giving person. For all that, this last episode did a fine job of helping us feel the pain they were feeling. For Sora, it’s simple – she’s been living in a sheltered fantasy world for her entire adolescence, with Haru as the only focus. She can’t understand why things aren’t as obvious to Haru as they are to her. For him, things couldn’t be less simple. He’s both rational and a functioning member of society – things Sora is not. Haru is both intellectually and emotionally horrified by what he’s doing with his sister. Yet he’s also a sexually charged teenager, and is truly in love with his sister. As Nao says, you can’t choose who you fall in love with.
So we’re left with a finale sense with pain and uncertainty, with recriminations and anger and despair. Haru wrestles with his inner conflict, perhaps even tries to push Sora away by forcing himself on her. Sora agonizes that he won’t shut out the world and his place in it to devote himself entirely to her. Kazue judges harshly, and the hard practicality of being orphans intrudes as a lack of funds – perhaps conveniently for Haru – might force the twins apart. Through all this, it’s Nao who shines. It always seemed very possible that she – despite having the most legitimate grievance – would be the most understanding. She loves Haru, but she also loves both siblings as true and dear friends. She understands loneliness and being scorned better than anyone in the group, and she feels the pain Haru is suffering. She wants them (especially him) to be happy. Though she didn’t “win” in the romantic sense, Nao transcended the limitations of her hard life and was truly noble in the end.
So as for the big question – did they live, or did they die? There’s ample evidence to support both theories. My first reaction was certainly to wonder how they’d been saved, given that – as far as I know – neither (definitely not Haru) could swim. After that moment, I ended the initial viewing believing they had lived, perhaps saved by Akira (she did notice someone outside the house). We do in fact see the pair saved from drowning by Nao in the omake ED, which has already proved to be full of stealth spoilers. They apparently live in the VN. And there’s the text. Ah, but the contrary evidence is compelling. No date on that text. No one else on the train. No answer to the “Are we alive?” question. A shredded bunny in the house, an intact one on the train. So which is it?
The best – or at least most elegant – theory I’ve seen espoused is that both are true. In a series full of parallel universes, perhaps one “end” was when the twins were silently sinking into the dead trees, together in death. Everything afterward was an alternate ending – and ending where Sora could swim, or Nao or Akira made it in time to save them. I think the director was trolling the audience a bit – intentionally dropping conflicting hints in an effort to leave things up to interpretation. Perhaps more importantly, in both ends Haruka and Sora are together – whether in death (“In solitude where we are least alone”) or abroad somewhere, building a new life. It was a very effective final episode, either way – suspenseful, painful, challenging and thought-provoking.
So what of the series as a whole, then? As I mentioned, the theme for me was contradiction. It was one of the most graphic series I’ve seen in terms of teen sexuality, much more so than typical “ecchi” shows. Yet YnS was also subtle, serious and strikingly morose at times. There was little joy in most of the sex – it was raw and powerful, but driven for the most part by pain. The central relationship is itself a contradiction. A strictly taboo affair, unacceptable to society – yet deeply heartfelt and born of a lifetime of devotion. The pain of loving someone you’re not supposed to love was depicted brilliantly in Haru’s struggles, especially in the finale.
In many ways, this was a beautiful series. The character designs were striking, the animation fluid and the backgrounds detailed and rich. The music was spectacular – a character in and of itself, acting to raise what could have been puerile material to the status of art. The omakes were a nice touch – unusually detailed and even featuring a fully produced second ED, the absurd humor provided a stark contrast with the show itself. And I would credit this series as doing a better and more interesting take on the omnibus format than Amagami SS. While in that show it was largely a gimmick, here it served the larger story, helping to reveal facets of Haruka and Sora’s character, each preliminary arc a different window into who they were. The Nao arc, especially, flowed seamlessly into the Sora arc – there may not share an exact continuity but the emotional tenor of the two is in perfect concert.
While not a classic in my book, YnS is certainly a novel and well-executed show. I’ve not seen anything quite like it, and in the end, after seeing it compared to so many different shows in the beginning, the closest comparison I would draw is to Sola. YnS has the dark, emotionally profound quality of a Naoki Hisaya work, and some of the themes of the two shows are similar – the line between love and obsession, devotion and possessiveness. But in the end, Yosuga no Sora stands on its own as a true original – maddening and inspiring, sometimes laughable and sometimes heart-wrenchingly profound. Whatever you think happened at the end, there was an undeniable poetry to it – an elegant simplicity where Haru and Sora weren’t judged but simply presented in their fragility and flawed devotion. As with the ending itself, the viewer must decide what to feel about their choices.