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.