To borrow from my post on Red Data Girl #6, this anime reminds me of a “large, majestic animal languidly striding from place to place – lots of ground is being covered, but there’s no sensation of hurrying.” RDG continues to canter along at its own pace – which, when looking back on an episode after it ends, reveals itself to have been a blistering one. Yet as I’m watching it the series still feels as if it’s very much taking things slowly. There’s plenty of time for the characters to talk to each other in realistic terms about the unusual events taking place – the moments of action tend to be brief, but intense.
This episode started out with one of those moments, though the rest of the episode didn’t take its cue from it in terms of subject. So far, RDG has rarely gone where I’ve expected it, and I was expecting things to rather come to a head between Miyuki and Mayura after she set a pack of wild Tengus on him (not really, as it turned out). Mayura didn’t do a whole lot to endear herself to me with this incident – not just the rather terrifying “test” she set up for Miyuki, but with her reaction afterwards when Manatsu scolded her for it by asking if she expected to be forgiven and all this laughed away because she’s a girl. “Of course not.” she answered haughtily. “Because it’s me.”
To be blunt, I generally detest people like that – and with her relentless climber mentality and personal fan club, Mayura pushes a lot of my buttons. But as is often the case she’s essentially a weak person (though not in terms of spiritual power) acting strong to cover it up. I’m still not sure exactly what happened in the Tengu incident – indeed, there are many events in this episode whose truth is elusive to spot – but it seems Masumi (who may have developing reasons to dislike Miyuki – Mayura better tread carefully here) was a willing participant. In the end it seems that Izumiko was at least as upset as Miyuki about the whole thing, because she was worried that if Miyuki were injured it would be her fault because of the careless comments she’d made to Mayura.
Whether Miyuki would have been quick to forgive Mayura is hard to say, but we’ll never know because of a phone call which effectively hijacked the ep and took it in a completely unexpected direction. Manatsu’s beloved horse Tabi (because it looks like he wears tabi socks) is very ill and Manatsu rushes home to tend to him, leaving Masumi to impersonate him in his place. There are lots of interesting ramifications and repercussions here as it relates to the odd nature of the Souda siblings’ relationship. People have believed for Millennia that there are unnaturally close connections between twins – and triplets – and it’s clear that the complex web that ties these three together is a thing of formidable power. Mayura mentions that her brothers used to “balance each other out” while there’s no such person for her – when one brother is happy, the other is sad. And if that’s true it’s certainly no surprise that Masumi seems as blissfully happy as he does at playing the role of his brother, because Manatsu is dealing with heartbreak back at home.
It’s not as though things are perfectly normal back at the camp – indeed, during a committee meeting Kisaragi does a Kagura dance that banishes Masumi (as Manatsu) from the room, forcing Miyuki to play along at pretending it was a stunt – which I assume means Kisaragi knows who Masumi really is. But the main action is back at the stables where Tabi is dying and Manatsu is suffering through it. Miyuki and Izumiko follow (unlike Manatsu who’s apparently able to step through some sort of dimensional portal, they have to take the bus) to check up on him, as Masumi urges Mayura not to go herself. Again, the weird nature of the sibling relationship is key here – we’re told that Masumi can only exist (or at least in our plane) if his living siblings have “the same will”, which Mayura elaborates to mean that she often has to let Manatsu have his way in order to avoid conflict.
Tabi is the only horse to be named in an OP this sequence this season (and for many a season) so it was quite a surprise to hear he’d passed during the night. Manatsu’s smile through the pain act is pretty heartbreaking – Ishikawa Kaitou is having a terrific season all told, and he’s spot-on here – but while his pain at losing a companion he loved is genuine, this is clearly more about Mayura than Tabi. Again, these scenes are rife with elements that aren’t fully explained or obvious in their own right – what does Manatsu mean exactly when he says that he and Masumi understand that Mayura can’t stay with them her entire life, bur she doesn’t? Or more ominously, “Humans can decide when to end things, without waiting for their natural end. I felt like this might be a good time to end it. While I still have the ability to decide.” And what happens, exactly, when he seems not just to summon Tabi’s spirit, but to materialize it, hop on-board and disappear into the trees?
What’s seemingly unambiguous is the text he sends Mayura later – “It might be best if I become like Masumi. That way, I can probably stay with you.” This is a strange relationship – Mayura is jealous of Masumi seemingly caring more about Manatsu’s feelings than hers, but she herself seems to care more about her living brother than her spirit one (and is that wrong?). Perhaps it’s nothing more than the fact that impending adulthood will shatter the fragile framework that allows the triplets to bend reality to be together, something that Manatsu feels he can prevent if he becomes a spirit himself, and there’s no longer any risk of a divergence of wills. In any event I would never have guessed in a year of guesses that this is where this episode was going to go, or that it would be as emotionally riveting as it was – it’s the strange ability Red Data Girl has to defy narrative expectations over and over without seeming unfocused, and to move the story along in massive leaps seemingly without being in a hurry to do so. I really can’t begin to guess what the next episode might bring, and I’m just fine with that.