Metaphors can be taken too far, I know, but they are useful in trying to illustrate a point, and so I’ve found it with RDG. A couple of weeks ago I noted that this series struck me a large, graceful animal that managed to cover great stretches of ground without seeming to be in a rush – and the very next week we were treated to an episode about a horse. As I’ve thought recently about the series and reflected on some of the comments from here and elsewhere, RDG also conjured up the image of a serpentine – moving this way and that, twisting and turning, never going anywhere in a straight line and finishing somewhere quite different than where you expected. So in that light it only fits that this week’s episode centers on a snake.
I’ll say up front that I don’t claim to know exactly what happened in this episode. Call it a strength or weakness, but Red Data Girl is definitely a show that doesn’t like long explanations – the plot is a stream-of-consciousness affair, almost requiring the audience to work backwards from where it ends up and try to make out what’s just happened based on what they now know. I like that air of mystery it brings to the table, and the unhurried way it goes about exposition and everything else – but it’s not a series that ties up its threads in a neat little bow every week, that’s for sure.
A couple of things can be stipulated to, not least of which is that this is a series that takes its Shinto/Shugendou mythology quite seriously and treats the subject with a lot of respect and historical accuracy. The Kami in question in this ep – Kuzuryuu – is a very real part of Shinto legend with close ties to Togakushi Jinja and a very important place in the ascetic practice of the Yamabushi mountain monks (of which Sagara is one). The name literally translates to “Nine-headed Dragon God”, and the worship of Kuzuryuu can be traced in a fascinating and well-traveled path all the way back to the ancient Hindu God (Buddha himself was born to the Hindu faith in India) Sheesha, a 1000-headed snake.
None of that tells us exactly what the relationship between Masumi and Kuzuryuu is, of course. As near as I can guess, one of Kuzuryuu’s many heads (9 or 1000, it’s a lot either way) somehow became Masumi. Perhaps in the same way Wamiya was given form by Izumiko’s thoughts, Kuzryuu gave Masumi form from those of his siblings. In any event it seems that Manatsu has the same heart defect that claimed his brother, and has harbored feelings for a long time that he would inevitably meet the same fate. Yet when Izumiko entered into Masumi’s alternate dimension (or whatever you wish to call it) and Masumi told her that Manatsu was behind the “Celestial Rock“, there seemed to be a moment when the boy and the spirit switched places – it certainly became clear that it was Masumi’s “full form” that was behind the Celestial Rock, and waiting to get out.
What did each of them, Manatsu and “Masumi”, want? Did Manatsu want to somehow lock himself in his current form via death, and stay with his sister in the same way Masumi has? Did Kuzuryuu want to claim Manatsu as a sacrifice the way he may have claimed Masumi a decade earlier, and make his escape? In any event, Izumiko’s presence, and certainly her Kagura dance, seems to have empowered the Kami to break out from his prison despite Manatsu snapping to his senses. Sagara manages to ferry Mayura across the divide into Masumi’s space, and temporarily stop Kuzuryuu’s advance (and sprout wings, prompting a very amusing double-take from Izumiko) but he’s clearly not up to the challenge of stopping a God.
Enter, at long last, Izumiko’s mother Yukariko (the truly wonderful Paku Romi, hopefully over the worst of her health problems). Yukariko manages to bring forth The Goddess – which marks the first time Izumiko has spoken to her, as she’s always been a vessel every other time The Goddess appeared in her presence – who lures the Kami back into slumber. Yukariko seems very much the “formidable person” Miyuki describes her as, but she says she won’t be able to “retain the Goddess” for much longer, and won’t be able to protect Izumiko forever – and the disappears into the trees. It seems that Masumi will still be around in the form we’ve known for a while at least, and Mayura expresses her gratitude to Izumiko for saving Manatsu as the episode closes – in a surprisingly abrupt manner that almost suggests something we were supposed to see was edited out at the mast moment.
Actually, the episode ends with a postscript – as RDG often does – and again, it’s a wonderful scene between Miyuki and Izumiko. Turns out Wamiya has been lending Miyuki a spiritual helping hand – thus, the wings – and as have the viewers, Miyuki is struck by the resemblance between Wamiya and Takayanagi. She can’t explain this, though he muses that it must be the face of “the sort of boy Izumiko likes.” I don’t want to say I told you so to the masses of viewers who dumped on Miyuki and his relationship with Izumiko after the premiere (and who knows, maybe they haven’t changed their minds) but for me this has developed into one of the better pairings of the season. As Izumiko and especially Miyuki’s hopes and fears have been laid bare over the course of the series, it’s become much easier to understand his behavior in the first episode. And they’ve retained a very authentic awkwardness between them, even as she’s gradually come to depend on him more and more and he’s come not just to accept that, but to savor it.
It’s really a shame this series is only one cour, especially given how much source material exists. Though an impressive amount of plot and character movement has taken place considering how measured the pacing feels, it’s very clear that Red Data Girl is a huge story, and one that we’re not going to come close to resolving in 12 episodes. Between the languid narrative grace, the superb soundtrack (the ED single is out, and the full version is even more sublime) and the visuals (this is the best-looking P.A. Works series since HanaIro) RDG has a way of drawing you into its world, Masumi-style, without you realizing you’re being drawn in. It stubbornly refuses to be conventional and that will no doubt hurt its popularity, but I’ve become a big fan of this series over the last two months. I initially had it pegged as one of the top shows of the season, and in the end it looks as if it will get there after all – it just took a little longer than some shows do.