It’s not unique to anime, but anime is one of the most obvious examples of just how important premiere episodes are. I fear that Red Data Girl may be the case of a show that never really catches a wide audience because it didn’t put its best foot forward. No doubt there are people who simply don’t care for it period, but I think first impressions can be very hard to change – and it’s impacted not just RDG itself but the way Miyuki is perceived as a character. This first episode of this series was easily the weakest and that – along with the puzzling airing schedule – may be too steep a hill for it to climb.
For my part, RDG continues to be a very interesting series – almost cinematic in many ways with its broad sweep both in terms of story and look. I’m never utterly captivated by it in the way I am with a show like Shin Sekai Yori, but I’m bought in to the plot and I’m starting to like the characters more and more. We ended last week on something of a puzzle – just what was up with Masumi Souda, the “girl” we saw at the end of that episode, being played by Kimura Ryouhei? As is so often the cast Occam’s Razor held the answer – he was a guy in a girl’s uniform. Or, more specifically, a spirit – that of the surviving Souda siblings deceased brother.
While the explanation for Masumi’s appearance was rather straightforward, the character himself – and the confrontation with Takayanagi – was full of surprises. In short, this spirit is a complete badass who released the spirit bindings on Takayanagi’s puppet and generally kicked its master’s ass. After Masumi utterly humiliated him Takayanagi is now supposedly “meek as a lamb”, though I suspect it’s more likely he’s seething and plotting his revenge – but it’s Masumi who seems the most interesting. Clearly loyal to Mayura and Manatsu, yes, but both a frighteningly powerful entity and one with a capricious nature and sense of humor. He’s not someone I would be wanting to piss off.
With that incident settled things seem to be progressing rather nicely between Miyuki and Izumiko. They’re getting along better than ever and he’s about to share his observations about a group called “SMF” when Yukimasa shows up as a “part-time teacher” and seemingly sends them back to square one. Yukimasa is obviously not someone we’re supposed to like, but boy, is it working. He immediately settles in on verbally abusing his son (I guess the physical abuse is for special occasions), calling him a “page boy” and unfit to look after “The Princess” when in fact, he’s been doing a pretty good job. Miyuki immediately – and unsurprisingly – flies into a petulant rage, and later tells Izumiko that she shouldn’t talk to him, because he doesn’t want to be seen as Yukimasa’s ally.
This exchange tells us a few things: obviously, that Miyuki is still extremely immature and full of anger. But also that his real problem is and always has been with Yukimasa, not Izumiko, and it was because Yukimasa ordered him to watch over her that he objected in the first place. Yukimasa’s real agenda always seems shady to me, but on a visit to Takao-san (a lovely place barely an hour from Tokyo that feels as if it’s in a different country) he tells Izumiko that his main purpose – and that of Houjou Academy – is the keep the connection between humans and the Gods alive. For those who can communicate with Kami are becoming rarer and rarer, and once there are none left the Gods may choose to no longer tolerate the existence of humanity.
That will require a bit of fleshing out, to be certain. But for now, the plot turns to two new figures – Student Council Vice-President Kisaragi Honoka (Sarah Emi Bridcut) who always wears a boy’s uniform and has her hair cut short, and the “Shadow President” Murakami Hodaka (Ishida Akira). A strange one indeed, that one – from a family of famous Kabuki actors, he proceeds to paint makeup all over Izumiko’s face and when she removes her braids, The Goddess once again possesses her. She addresses Hodaka as if he’s been around for Centuries, and tells Miyuki – who’s shown up despite his pledge not to speak to Izumiko after hearing who she was meeting with – that she has a special assignment for him. His job is to “Keep me from being created. Izumiko must not become the Goddess, lest the humans perish – for that is surely what I would do.”
There was a massive amount of plot generated in that episode, but to a surprising extent it didn’t feel rushed at all. It seems certain that events must be moving much more quickly than they do in the novels, but RDG is a pretty coherent narrative – indeed, the plot is one of the more compelling of the season. The characters aren’t engaging at that same level, but things are definitely moving on that front too. The supporting cast is excellent, and the post-credits conversation between Miyuki and Izumiko is probably my favorite shared moment between them in the series so far. As Miyuki opens up about his insecurities he’s become much easier to empathize with, and as we see more of Izumiko we realize how modest and understandable her dreams really are. They’re both obviously caught in something much larger and their own concerns are likely to be a continued casualty of that, but the relationship is starting to turn into an interesting one that looks capable of holding down its place at the center of this story.