What an odd show this is, in so many ways. I don’t know how many people are watching it, and when they are if they are (pageviews for it at this site are pretty high, in fact). Between the Niconico issue and the relatively tame first episode, I know a lot of possible viewers were lost – and that’s a real shame because with each passing week RDG makes a steady climb in my esteem. When the season started it would probably my #1-A pick alongside Attack on Titan at #1, and before it’s all said and done it could end up being that good (and it has the best ED of the season, by a good margin).
Some of the strongest praise I can give this episode is that it looked absolutely fantastic, even in the usual sub-standard Niconico release. I can’t wait to see it in two weeks when the full HD version comes out, because it’s full of gorgeous scenery, lovely character shots and some very clever filmmaking. P.A. Works visual style is a singular thing, not quite like anything from any other studio. There are those that are more impressive in terms of detail (not many) and fluid animation, but there’s an aesthetic to what P.A. Works does that’s quite unlike anyone else. If I could put it into words – not an easy thing to do – it somehow feels as if it’s the animation equivalent of Mono no aware, that peculiarly Japanese term that’s something close to wistfulness but far, far more complex.
I must confess that Red Data Girl isn’t acting much like a huge story that’s being compressed into 12 episodes – and that’s both a great strength and a major worry. While a great deal is undeniably happening in every episode, there’s no sense of frenetic pacing or panic storytelling – the whole enterprise has a cinematic style that’s somehow reminiscent of a large, majestic animal languidly striding from place to place – lots of ground is being covered, but there’s no sensation of hurrying. This episode was the perfect embodiment of that, spending most of its time in quiet conversation that packed far more significance than the behavior of the characters would have you believe.
I suppose the best metaphor for that were the scenes on the Shinkansen, carrying Izumiko, Miyuki and the Souda siblings to their family home near Nagano for a stop on the way to a Seitokai Executive Committee retreat. Even as the train sped along at 300 KM/H Izumiko and Mayura calmly made what seemed like small talk while Miyuki and Manatsu dozed. There’s a truly wonderful moment when Mayura begins to tell Izumiko about her brother Masumi’s death just as the bullet train enters a tunnel, and the bright sunshine and trees disappear as the exterior of the train is shrouded in darkness and all that’s visible is the reflection of the characters in the window glass. In addition to the symbolic accuracy, anyone who’s been on a high-speed train will appreciate just how perfectly the scene captures that moment, right down to the way the sound of the train seems to bend as it enters the tunnel.
The scenes at the Souda home are another example of the way a quiet, pleasant atmosphere belies the importance of what’s really happening. In effect, as we soon find out, Izumiko and Miyuki have been brought to the place to be measured up by the father of the family, a college professor. The mother, Mayura tells us, is “normal” – as in unable to see Masumi or presumably anything else in the spirit world – but the father is clearly both interested and deeply involved. Ironically it’s not just the father taking the measure of the newcomers but Masumi too. When Izumiko gets drunk from eating too much fruit salad laced with liqueur – much to Miyuki’s panic – she passes out, to wake up in the middle of the night. She sees Masumi outside and while the others sleep, floats down from her window to speak with him – and he tells her that she’s the first one that can see him without the help of his siblings. Masumi is smiling during this entire scene, and Izumiko is still pleasantly buzzed, but we’ve seen how Masumi is distinctly not human in his perspective – and there’s something vaguely menacing in his joking about “hitting on” Izumiko, and about how they might be right for each other. Watch this one closely.
The remainder of the episode takes place in Togakushi, the holy mountain that’s home to the Togakushi Shrines and to the Seitokai retreat. Irrespective of content P.A. Works once again shows their wondrous ability to be great advertising for tourism – just as they did for Yuwaku with HanaIro and Enoshima with Tari Tari. The mountain landscapes, the shrines, the stairways and trails, the detail of the shukubo temple lodge where the kids stay – it’s all utterly captivating. But not so much so that it overshadows the importance of what’s happening there. The first item of interest is a confrontation between Mayura and committee member Akinokawa-san, who accuses her or trying to use the retreat – taking place alongside the History Club’s – as a way to gain influence over the Executive Committee. turns out that the “SMF” Miyuki mentioned to Izumiko is actually the Mayura fanclub, for which the History Club is just a front. And despite her denials, Mayura admits to Honoka that Akinokawa’s insinuations are 100% accurate.
There’s still a fair bit of mystery to all this, though Mayura does reveal the practicals to Izumiko. It amounts to a battle between Mayura and Takayanagi, of which the ExCom and Murakami Hodaka (creepy Kabuki guy) are “judges” – with the winner becoming a World Heritage Candidate. I don’t know exactly what that means in the context of RDG – World Heritage candidates are usually places of cultural and historical importance, not people – but it’s clear that Mayura has pretty much been playing Izumiko all along, keeping her close to see if she and Miyuki represent a threat to her as another potential competitor. She shows her cards at the end of the episode, summoning Tengu in an apparent attempt to force Miyuki to show whether he’s been sandbagging when it comes to his spiritual powers.
Looking back on all that, it strikes me as even more remarkable that all that was fit into one anime episode and it felt as serene and measured as it did. RDG has really broken out – the plot was always interesting but it’s reached a new level of intrigue, the supporting cast is excellent and the two mains are both developing as far more engaging leads than it looked like a few weeks ago. Izumiko is emerging from her shell more and more, revealing endearing quirks, and Miyuki’s anger looks more and more like the helpless rage of a boy with a strong sense of justice who’s seen that the world itself has no such sense. As those around them one by one reveal that their loyalties are first and foremost to themselves, Izumiko and Miyuki will surely realize that the only ones they can trust are each other, and that will bring them closer and closer together. I don’t for the life of me see how all the fascinating threads the series has already woven can be tied together in six more episodes, but if any show can do it RDG looks like it might just be the one.