I almost feel lost even trying to begin this post, because there’s so much happening both intellectually and emotionally that I’m trying to sort out. No other series this season has been able to do that to me, for better or worse.
In the end, it seems that Kanba and Shouma shared the same fate – indeed, that fate was sealed when they shared the apple. They’re Superfrog – they are the scorpion who died so his body would bring light to the darkness. Most of all, they’re Campanella and Giovanni, reunited in the end. The symbolism that was so elusive and mysterious for much of the series was almost shockingly literal at the last, perhaps a small token of gratitude from Ikuhara to his audience for sticking with him through all the meanders in this river. What remains unclear to me, though, is why Shouma and Kanba had this fate thrust upon them. Indeed, in the end, I think Ikuhara has painted us a picture of a fairly nihilistic universe that’s devoid of justice – though at the least, not of hope and kindness. In point of fact, I think it should be pointed out that this is very much the sort of universe Kenji depicts on Night in the Galactic Railroad.
The conventional approach to situations like this is to ask, “Did I like the ending?” but to be honest the question feels shallow and pointless to me. I can react to it viscerally – it moved me deeply, but didn’t leave me feeling satisfied. I can tackle it intellectually – it was fascinating, and I’m going to be up late thinking about what it all means. But in the final analysis, I can only think what I think and feel what I feel. Somehow, this has left me empty. Giovanni and Campanella shouldn’t both be dead – it feels wrong to me. It seems off that Shouma should have to share the same fate as Kanba, despite the way they lived their lives so differently. It seems off that the two of them should have to accept this punishment for an action taken when they were children, and never really explained in context. Maybe I really was hoping for justice from Ikuhara, though I knew that to be a foolish hope. I certainly didn’t expect everyone to come out of this alive, but I didn’t expect everyone in the story to have a happy ending except Shouma and Kanba. I feel as if somehow Ikuhara has drawn an equivalency between them that I don’t think exists. But then, they’re his characters so by definition he’s right and I’m wrong.
This ending is not without its redemptive qualities, that I won’t deny. But in “Night” it’s ultimately Giovanni’s resolve to live and to seize the opportunity to help others that’s the lesson of Campanella’s sacrifice – really, this is as if the story had ended with Giovanni walking home from the river and throwing himself in front of a carriage to save another boy, and dying in the process. It’s feels wrong to have Ringo and Shouma torn apart, though his sacrifice was certainly noble. As I read the situation, Kanba and Shouma’s fate was sealed when they ate of the apple (where did the apple come from? Himari?) Shouma sacrificed himself to save Ringo, and Kanba to save Himari – but Shouma, in a sense, also gave his life for Kanba, as he returned the apple – the life force – that Kanba had given him when they were children in the box. So Shouma tells Ringo he loves her, but he dies, leaving her alone – apart from Himari, in any case. It really appears as if instead of Giovanni and Campanella, we have two Campanellas. Except that one of them lived his life selfishly and took the lives of others, though his fate was the same as the one who lived his life selflessly.
At the very least, Penguin #3 made sure Himari was aware of her brothers’ existence on some level – though how much of a kindness that is, I’m honestly not sure. And Sanetoshi’s worldview was soundly rejected, as Momoka trumped him once more by somehow getting a message to Ringo with the true phrase needed to transfer fate. Where Sanetoshi may have been right that there was no justice, he was wrong in thinking that all mortal life was ultimately futile, and that no matter what we do we’ll never escape our boxes. Yuri and Tabuki did, and in their way so did Masako and Mario. Himari and Ringo live on as a sort of blessed existence, reborn out of an act of sacrifice and left in their own way to fill the Giovanni role, except that they don’t even really know that Campanella ever existed. That, in its way, is one of the saddest elements of the ending for me.
Ultimately, it all comes down to how you view Kanba and Shouma’s fate, I suppose. You might make the case that for all his sins, Kanba was redeemed for the act of kindness in sharing the apple with Shouma all those years earlier. Perhaps the “reward” they were given as children who died for love is some sort of Christian redemption, as espoused by the tutor in “Night”. Perhaps they’ve been exempted from the perpetual cycle of rebirth and been allowed to advance to the next stage of existence, and that death truly is “where everything begins”. Or perhaps their reward is simply that they’re to be together again, whether in the purgatory of the galactic railroad or in another mortal incarnation. This is Ikuhara, so I suppose the ending is whatever it is you take away from it – and that’s largely a measure of what you brought in the first place.