RDG presents something of a dilemma. In an extremely odd decision, it seems that all the episodes are going to air on Niconico a full two weeks before they get a TV airing. That means a choice between watching them in Niconico’s usual horrid quality, or waiting two weeks and having to completely avoid discussions of the series (not to mention having blog posts be somewhat less than timely). I’d rather they go the route of Seitokai no Ichizon and just air a full season later on television (though I’m no fan of that either) but as is, two weeks is just long enough to tempt me to follow along on the webcasts.
As for the show itself, I’m happy to report that episode 2 is much closer to the caliber I expected when I had Red Data Girl pegged as one of my top picks of the Spring. I liked the premiere, but it was (probably by necessity) overloaded with exposition, and as a result got off to a rough start on the character front. Novels are not LNs and manga, and don’t always hit the ground running in anime-friendly form (which makes the seamless beginning of Shin Sekai Yori that much more miraculous) but usually hold far more potential for deep and complex development and consistent pacing. My only worry here is that RDG is a one-cour series, and seems to be a pretty involved and complicated storyline for that – but we’ll see what P.A. Works can do to work around that.
While we have our fair share of anime with Shinto themes (which is a plus in my book, though by no means a decisive one in itself) we have very few which focus on Shugendou – in fact, I can’t think of a single one off the top of my head where it’s more than a passing reference. It seems clear that RDG is headed that way, with the focus on Izumiko as a “vessel” – a receptacle for the mountain Goddess (Rie Tanaka) to descend to Earth. Yukimasa’s statement that “only women are capable of this power” was the tipoff that Shugendou themes were going to dominate the mythology here, and it’ll be interesting to see how far the novelist Ogiwara Noriko is willing to go with this theme – Shugendou was banned during the Meiji Restoration as primitive superstition in an effort to make Japan appear more modern, and many Shugendou holy places were forcibly converted to State Shrines. While no longer illegal Shugendou still has a slight whiff of the forbidden about it for many Japanese.
It would be a stretch to say that Izumiko and Miyuki suddenly became stellar leads in this ep, but their interactions held a lot more charm than they did in the premiere. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think – most obviously that he began to see that there was actually something to all of the talk of her unusual nature, and the fact that they both realized that they had something of a shared interest in standing up to the adults in charge of their lives. The plotline for the episode surrounds a trip to Tokyo where Izumiko plans to meet her mother, Yukariko, and at which she hopes Miyuki can persuade her to overrule Yukimasa’s intentions when it come to their schooling situation. The entire trip sequence is handled very well, doing an outstanding job of projecting just how isolated Izumiko is and how claustrophobic the world is for her. Normalcy simply isn’t an option when you can’t use cell phones or computers or ticket machines (I’ve yet to figure out where the cutoff is – airplanes and helicopters and cars seem to be fine).
What’s worse, Izumiko feels the presence of something or something(s) stalking her when she gets to Tokyo – dark, shadowy figures with a sinister presence that only she is able to detect. P.A. Works is proving themselves quite adept at handling creepy suspense and this episode is another example – director Shinohara-sensei makes great use of crowds to hide shadows and street lights clicking on and off, and as with Another the sound design is stellar and does wonders to heighten the mood of tension. As she and Miyyuki make their way across Tokyo in an attempt to meet her mother that’s seemingly destined to fail, the shadows move ever closer – finally catching up to the children as they shelter from a thunderstorm in the foyer of a modern apartment. It might seem a stretch to suggest that Izumiko would turn to Miyuki for comfort after the way he’s treated her, but under the circumstances it makes a good deal of sense – through no fault of her own she’s a sheltered girl with little in the way of coping skills or independence, and for all his negativity Miyuki does project a good deal of strength. It’s the first step on what looks to be a long – and hopefully not too predictable – journey towards a close relationship between the two of them. We’ve seen it countless times before so it won’t be original, but hopefully it will at least feel fresh.
I don’t know quite what to make of the scene where Yukimasa catches up to the kids at the apartment complex – I certainly don’t trust him, but he may be telling the truth that it was other, even more evil things Izumiko was sensing. What’s clear is that a chapter has been turned with the Goddess possessing her for the first time. This is a series that’s full of mysteries at this point – the nature of the Goddess, pretty much everything involving Yukariko’s unseen mother, the how and why of Izumiko’s involuntary Luddism, the odd behavior of Wamiya (who’s obviously interested in Izumiko as more than just a friend). The novels have all the time in the world to sift through them – P.A. Works has one cour. That’s worrying to say the least, but it’s already obvious that Red Data Girl is a different animal than the herd of formula series that make up most of the schedule this season.