Red Data Girl – 09

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The slow and steady climb up the season rankings continues for Red Data Girl.

RDG is a pretty good representative of the old “Tortoise and the Hare” fable – the tortoise half, anyway.  It was definitely a little slow out of gate, but where shows with flashier (and better, to be honest) starts have started to show signs of wear (or are just showing signs of recovery from them) RDG’s progression has been in one direction, upwards.  I had it pegged as one of my top 2 shows when the season started and it’s looking like a strong possibility when it ends, if RDG can manufacture a coherent ending when it’s taking such a fast-track approach with the source novels.

That’s the sad part, of course.  If any show every seemed ill-suited for a one-cour run it’s one that’s a slow-starter that just keeps getting better – tortoises should be in marathons, not sprints.  But we have what we have, and Red Data Girl continues to impress with the breadth and scope of its story and the increasingly engaging character dynamic.  I’ve found the central relationship in the series increasingly involving as it’s become clear just what Miyuki and Izumiko are feeling about their lot in life, and the storyline involving the Souda siblings has been a winner since it was introduced.  But this was the episode where the disparate elements of the larger plot finally started to come together.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons RDG may be struggling to win a large audience in the English-language fandom is that it makes certain assumptions about what the audience knows about Shinto and Shugendou, and offers very little in terms of explanation.  Take, for example, this week’s comment by The Goddess that she “hates talking about other women”.  That might seem like a light-hearted bit of banter, but in truth it could hardly be more relevant to the circumstances.  Traditionally, women were banned from the mountains holy to Syncretic practice (a few holy mountains still have such bans) because it was thought that the Kami of the mountain – always female – were ferociously jealous of other women, and the presence of any would bring terrible fortune to the surrounding humans.  Then there’s the Kuji-in “Nine Hand Seals” Miyuki showed to Izumiko, which are indeed a part of Ninja and Onmyoudou practice but most sacred to esoteric Buddhism (I believe they were also the loose inspiration for Hunter X Hunter’s “Way of Nen”).  Do those have any meaning to a Western audience, or is it seen as mumbo-jumbo the author made up for the series?

All of these elements are tied in tightly with the core plot of RDG, which perhaps incorporates Shinto and Shugendou as much as any anime in recent years.  The plot is really beginning to reveal itself on both the large and small scale.  The stakes of what’s happening at Houjou Academy – the “World Heritage” designation – seem to be unlimited financial and logistical support for the candidate thought to have the most potential to speak with the Kami.  That’s not just what the judging the likes of Murakami-senpai are there for, but probably the entire school itself.  As expected, Takayanagi is still in the game – he clearly has friends in high places (though not as high as Izumiko, seemingly) and for now he’s trying honey rather than vinegar to get Izumiko to support him.  What we know is that both he and Mayura are worrying about the wrong rival – and that’s quite ironic in Mayura’s case, given how careful she was trying to be and the fact that the real one has been under her nose all this time.

The school festival is on – thematically a Sengoku affair (this era is just preposterously popular in the Japanese consciousness).  Nearby Hachijouji Castle, where local Daimyo Ujiteru Houjou (no, the fact that the school is named after him is obviously not coincidental) had his 1300-man force routed by Hideyoshi’s 50,000.  Everyone remaining in the castle committed suicide, Hideyoshi ordered the place burned to the ground and for many years locals avoided it because it was believed to be haunted (again, a fact closely tied to the plot that I think the series assumes the audience will already know).  We get a quick guest appearance by Miyano Mamoru as Hayakawa, head of the Festival Committee, but the main import of the event is that it sees first Souda and then more crucially Izumiko drafted as models for the kimono workshop.  Souda is suspicious of the circumstances – a middle-schooler no-show – which lead to Izumiko’s role, and while I think Mayura is a bit paranoid generally in this case I’m inclined to agree with her.  It seems very likely an attempt is being made to draw out The Goddess by forcing an unbraided Izumiko into casual clothes, most likely by Takayanagi’s forces.  It’s also worth noting that Izumiko has a strange vision and passes out immediately after a meeting with Takayanagi earlier.

If that’s the case, I suspect the hope was that The Goddess would appear in front of an audience – but it’s not until after the show that she takes over, and a desperate Miyuki manages to steer her clear of prying eyes.  After The Goddess enjoys a walkabout (including an abortive attempt to buy beer) to revel in having a body again, the big guns really come out in terms of exposition, though questions are certainly raised as well as answered.  The Goddess tells Miyuki that she is, in fact, a human who gained the ability to wipe out other humans – and after freeing herself of her physical body, the ability to travel back in time.  She says she “sides with the Earth against the humans” but she wishes to change what’s happened – and in fact that this is her third trip (she believes it will be the last time she’s able to do so) through a “thousand generations” trying to prevent herself from wiping out humanity.  This certainly explains her earlier comment to Miyuki that it was his task to prevent her from manifesting herself at all costs, lest she wipe out humanity.

I’m not sure what to make of all that yet, to be honest.  Is The Goddess Izumiko herself – or a human of Izumiko’s bloodline who became a Kami?  Yukimasa implies earlier than The Goddess and Izumiko are one and the same, but we’ve clearly seen The Goddess use Yukariko as a vessel as well.  The Goddess also speaks of having had her body dissected by science in one of her journeys through generations.  Is there meaning to the fact that Miyuki grabbed her left hand – the one she said “received from the Heavens” – rather than the right, which “reaches out to the common people”?  Honestly, I’m not sure just what’s going on here yet.  All bets are off, but it’s obvious that Izumiko and Miyuki (who now seems to have Wamiya as very much a part of himself whether either like it or not) are at the center of events that will decide the future of the human race.

Where this story becomes really effective, I think, is that was that contrasts against their very natural and powerful desire to live normal lives – something it appears will be denied them forever, one way or the other.  This was always something that linked Miyuki and Izumiko, even when all on the surface was discord and distrust.  If anything sums up the change in their relationship, it’s the smile of relief from Izumiko when she emerges from the Kimono workshop and sees Miyuki waiting for her.  I also loved her response when Murakami dismissed Miyuki – “he’s a cheeky one” – as a suitable partner.  Her huffy “He’s still very well and still very cheeky!” captures both the depth of her feelings for Miyuki and her growing sense of self (which Miyuki describes as a “late rebellious phase”).  And Miyuki seems more concerned about Izumiko’s welfare than The Goddess’ apocalyptic warnings, in the most demonstrative moment we’ve seen from him yet.  This theme of teenagers being swept up in larger events and losing control of their lives is certainly a common one in anime, but it feels very fresh and very compelling as Red Data Girl is re-imagining it.  This has turned out to be one hell of a terrific series, and I’m only sorry we won’t have it around to enjoy for much longer.

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  1. f

    You say that about the slow pacing, and I agree that it's really effective, but I'm a bit worried about that last moment where Miyuki hugs Izumiko's body with the goddess inside – is the director trying to speed the romance up so that we'll have a conclusion by the end of the season? I really hope not, since as much as I'd like to see the two together, I really like the way their relationship has been developing so slowly – it feels much more natural. Maybe I'm just being paranoid and maybe that hug wasn't really overtly romantic, but I just hope they don't spoil the ending by forcing a contrived romantic ending.

  2. w

    A lot of people say this is the best episode yet, and I somehow agree with them. For once, I guess, Himegami isn't avoiding or going around questions. She's answering them very well herself instead of somebody else (Yukariko, Yukimasa) who just adds more cryptic messages for me.

    Of course, there is also the fact that we see the development between Izumiko and Miyuki going deeper (or showing more depth).

    I also think that Himegami might be Izumiko herself. Somehow, the nine-headed beast/god(??) might have something to do with the human destruction she's talking about. I do wonder why she possessed Yukariko, but she might be guessing who she really was…? If she's forgetting herself…She came back in time and possesses Yukariko because she can attune herself to the former…But then, she decides on possessing Izumiko too because possessing Yukariko led to that future wherein she's chopped up?

    I'm quite unsure of Himegami, but it could be that her ultimate goal is to be alive in the future…Idk lol

    As to Miyuki holding her hand that receives from the heavens…it's really quite unclear. Could it be a cry of divine mercy, a choice Miyuki had in fear of the goddess?

    I think Izumiko and Himegami could be very similar. At least, they both are treated as ojou-sama, and at that library scene before Izumiko passed out, she's worried she forgets who she is.

    All in all, it's very compelling, and my expectations are rising because the author who wrote the original source had written a fantasy novel I have liked (Dragon Sword and Wind Child–which also gained awards)–and I just found that out recently lol. I somehow can't help but expect the ending will be as great in RDG, although they're very different and consistency is hard for some authors.

    =.= Thanks for the post!

  3. s

    If anything deserved two cours, it's this show; its been so good these couple episodes and with 3 or 4 episodes left i really hope it can deliver a solid conclusion. In regards to who the identity was of whoever was trying to draw out the goddess from Izumiko, think it was actually Hodaka; remember before he decorated izumiko with make up and this time around when izumiko was getting into costume, there was make up laid out for her backstage.

  4. k

    To be honest I think you're overestimating the importance of the Shinto/Shugendo elements in understanding the story. Maybe it's just the people I've met, but in my experience even the average Japanese person doesn't know a whole lot about these things, definitely not the fine details. The Kuji seals and mantras are present in pretty much every pop culture product featuring ninja, onmyouji and Eastern type religions and mysticism in general (most recently in Shinsekai yori – remember Satoru's mantra? or Shun's though we didn't hear that in the anime.), and are often treated as a sort of cool mystical mumbo-jumbo, much like the more mystical elements of Christianity in Western pop culture.

    I don't think a deep understanding of Shinto/Shugendo is required to understand or appreciate RDG. Some knowledge helps in appreciating the finer details, knowing what kami, shinrei, onryou, etc. are helps understanding what's going on, but it's not like RDG is inaccessible unless the viewer is a pro at Japanese religious studies – at least not any more than say, Natsume yuujinchou.

    (Also, the himegami follows up her "I don't like to hear talk about other women" with "How would you feel if I started talking about Yukimasa?" Which is not outright banter, but it doesn't seem to drip with relevant mysticism either. ^^;; )

  5. w

    Himegami sounds pretty flirtatious to Miyuki…all the time. XD

  6. R

    I am actually more than pleased with this episode for advancing both the plot and characters.

    I don't find any dull moments with RDG even though there are things that I may not understand (thanks Enzo for giving us background about Shinto and Shugendou that help me understand why the characters behave in a certain way) and different threads that I am awaiting to see how the creators pull them together. The thing is there is always a certain event happening in each episode that glues me to the screen, and my heart simply goes out to the characters hoping that they can get out safely. This week, to me, is one big leap in knowing more about The Goddess — she is pretty much a major theme of the story that ties the characters together. Man, isn't she quite a character?

    I have always loved how Izumiko is always trying and her bond with Miyuki keeps growing. It's pretty cute to see Izumiko modeling on-stage — she's very aware of Miyuki's reaction but at the same time tried hard to stay calm under the spot light. Miyuki always had this sense of inferiority — which makes sense when you know that you are dealing with something way bigger and more dangerous than you can handle — yet his acceptance to protecting Izumiko was growing. When he's confronted by The Goddess, he chose to fight, and he called Izumiko's first name for the first time…that was pretty cute as well. I like how the romance part of RDG's story is told — it's not forced and very much in line with all the events happening to Izumiko and Miyuki together. So looking forward to next week's…can't stop thinking about what will happen next…

  7. N

    the hand seals have been made very well known in Naruto, which I assume just about everyone who watched anime has some passing knowledge of

  8. I actually know a lot of people very into anime who know next to nothing about Naruto. I think it's dismissed as juvenile by a lot of people.

  9. m

    Great blog. I agree that RDG is a terrific show. I also think that if you go back and watch some of the slower, early episodes there's a lot there that goes over your head in the first viewing.

    My interpretation of the exposition at the end of this episode is that Izumiko and the Himegami are in fact the same. The Himegami is someone of Izumiko's blood line from the future, but we know that Izumiko is the last generation that the Himegami will possess, so I take that to mean that we've converged and Izumiko is the individual who originates the Himegami(?). So, that begs the question, is Izumiko supposed to stop the Himegami from destroying humanity or is the Himegami trying to stop Izumiko. The Himegami is Izumiko's future self in essence and knows that 'Izumiko' will regret it. Yukimasa has said that Izumiko is more important than they had thought; is he expecting Izumiko to kill everyone? We've been told that 'Izumiko decides'; maybe more than the school competition?

    If this is all the case, then Izumiko's mother is also kind of her descendant, or rather Izumiko's future self has been possessing her mother all of her mother's life? If this is the case than it's interesting that her mother hasn't seemed much like a mother in the series.

    Are we going to see a dissected Izumiko at some point? In her previous iteration, the Himegami was preserved. That would be an interesting activity for biology class!

    One detail I'm puzzling over is the significance of Izumiko's hair: unbinding it vs. cutting it. So if Izumiko, say, shaved her head, what would happen? Would it give the Himegami more power or less? Of course, shaved-head Izumiko would be sad and much less kawaii, so this won't happen.

    I'm really excited for the next episode!

  10. L

    At the end of this episode, I honestly dropped all the leads I thought I had and decided that I can't predict where the story is heading, and I thought maybe you had some other ideas. Buuut, turns out nobody does. xD

    I realize this show is probably one of the more difficult to cover this season, so I'm glad you're covering it because I sure as hell wouldn't know any of the history/religion and how it all ties together (though it looks like we're in the same boat this week, at least).

  11. l

    I hate the Funimation's stream is so far behind the other streams. :(

    You asked if Westerners understood the meaning of the hand seals. Someone above mentioned Naruto. I've never seen Naruto. But the hand seals also used in Tactics and Ghost Hunt. They may show up in Tokyo Babylon as well, but I'm not sure about that. Regardless, I think they appear in enough anime & manga that regular anime viewers & manga readers have encountered them before and have some idea of their meaning. Especially if they're a fan of supernatural / mystical anime or manga.

    Thank you for pointing out which hand Miyuki took. I wondered at the time but forgot to go back and check. I really feel for the 2 leads, forced into roles that they neither understand nor desire. Although I highly doubt it will happen in the anime, what I hope most for the series' end is they get the "normal" lives they so desperately want.

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