This show never stopped being really good, and I think I should say that up front. I’ve commented often on it’s weirdly discordant nature, which is one of the best things about it. But what Sankarea did this week was recapture something of the first few episodes that had been lost in the last couple. I think there was an element of sadness this week, and warmth too – qualities I felt the show had even in its weirdest moments early on, but which seems to get buried under the massive amounts of wrongness and creepiness lately. I never stopped being totally fascinated, but I didn’t love it quite so much as I did – and the way I did this week.
There’s much that could be said about this episode, and where it seems to be taking the series. I can’t help but contrast this series with Tasogare Otome x Amnesia, another manga adaptation by a former SHAFT director (Oonuma Shin). One thing I think is clear is that Hatakeyama Mamoru is quite simply proving himself to be a better director – this is certainly the better show – but most tellingly, where Shin seems to be merely aping the Shinbou style and indeed subsuming the essence of the story beneath it (which is the biggest danger with Shinbou himself) Hatakeyama-sensei is evolving the style and moving past it. It’s not even relevant that this is a DEEN show anymore, because it doesn’t look great for DEEN – it looks great, period. Hatakeyama is incorporating some of Shinbou’s camera moves and framing of shots, but he’s letting Sankarea be itself – it’s as if he’s taking the best of the SHAFT method, and Shin is simply co-opting it’s most intrusive elements.
For me, the moment when Rea crawled into the temple gyoen and started munching hydrangea was a welcome relief. I don’t know whether this was manga-faithful or a rare misstep by Hatakeyama, but the scenes with Rea losing herself went on too long and took on an air of grotesquerie. They were creepy and disturbing by design, no complaints – but it was enough. Fittingly it was Babu who showed her the way when the normally clever Chihiro never could make the connection – “lesser” animals always seem to have better instincts than people. This allowed to series to at last move back onto more solid ground, where the intentionally disparate tones seem more in balance. I think the quieter interaction between Chihiro and his family is an underrated strength of Sankarea, and we finally got to see some more of that. And it was certainly welcome to see Rea behaving like “herself” again, whatever self that might be – at least until the very end of the episode.
One aspect I really enjoyed this week was watching Furuya-san, Mero and Wanko react to Rea’s presence in their own ways, filtered through the lens of what it made them think about Chihiro. I can only assume that Furuya-san thought the obvious when Chihiro told him Rea couldn’t go home because of her “situation”, and that he needed to “be responsible for her”. No father could be happy to think that his son had gotten a girl in that kind of trouble, but his reaction was not anger or judgment – perhaps this is a time when having a Buddhist Priest for a father is a good thing. He even seemed pleased to see Chihiro taking responsibility, as he clearly views him as a somewhat frivolous boy (and who could blame him?) For the girls it’s very different. Mero acts like the older sister in many ways, and it’s obvious that she worries about her brother’s weirdness and that she loves him dearly. Her take on Rea’s presence seems to be that it’s refreshingly “normal” for Chihiro, but also a sure sign that he’s growing away from her at last, and that their shared childhood is coming to an end. I really like Mero and I really like Iguchi Yuka’s performance – I wish she was a little more prominent in the eps themselves and not just the previews.
For Wanko, it seems hardest of all to accept what’s happened – and not only because she’s the only one besides senile Jogarou-san that knows the truth. She wears her feelings for Chihiro so much on her sleeve that even he’s clearly aware of them, and their relationship is an odd mix of awkwardness and familiarity because of it (and seemingly will be in focus next week). She can be violent and highly irritating, but she does seem to have a good heart – she’s keeping Chihiro’s secret and helping out with small things like clothes (but drawing the line at undies). It’s a shame she clocked Jogarou with the flower pot just as he was about to deliver some very important information, though. The old fellow was cogent long enough to deliver some ominous tidbits – namely, that the potion doesn’t prevent decay, only delays it. Exercise, hydrangea and cool temperature can help – but only so much.
That sets us up for a return to the mode that’s closest to Sankarea’s true heart, I think – tragedy. It’s been so many things in six episodes, but fundamentally the series is about what Chihiro said himself while watching Babu and Rea munch hydrangea – “Looking at them makes me kind of sad.” Me too, Kid. Rea is a sweet girl who’s life was made hell by a sick and controlling father, and sought out death as her only escape from him. That sadness permeated everything in the early eps of the series, and it’s never totally gone away. Babu is still adorable and Rea still has a sense of herself, but what’s happened to them isn’t natural, and it can’t be permanent – it feels more like a chance to say a long goodbye for both of them, and a chance for her to at least briefly understand the feelings of life with a warm and loving family. I don’t know what’s going to happen with her ominous blood-licking, or with her lunatic father, still observing her – but in the end I don’t think the story will be about that. I think rather than violent or horrible, it will go in the direction of wistful and plaintive – and that even in death, Rea will at least be free of the weight of her father’s domineering presence and rise above herself, literally or figuratively. Sankarea never stops being strange but it can also be beautiful, and that’s what I hope to see in the end.