Even in a medium full of non-ending endings, Red Data Girl’s felt like no ending at all. “Go read the novels” is pretty much the message I expected to get at the end of this series, so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. That doesn’t mitigate my frustration much, especially given that the novels aren’t translated into English. But as much as I’m tempted to complain about what was obviously way too big a story crammed into 12 episodes, I suppose I ought to appreciate that the show was made at all.
It’s interesting to compare this adaptation to A-1’s take on another award-winning series of novels, Shin Sekai Yori. There’s a lot in common between these series, starting with the source material being critically acclaimed and a quite unusual format for anime adaptation. Of course there’s also the fact that neither of them will have sold even at mediocre levels, which can’t be a good sign in encouraging studios to fund similarly smart and ambitious unorthodox anime in future. But while P.A. Works had one cour to work with RDG and adapted only the skeleton of the story, in its 25 episodes A-1 Pictures comprehensively brought SSY to life, including a very definitive ending that gave the story closure (albeit not the closure all the fans wanted).
In effect, what we had with RDG was a series that continued to expand the plot right up until the final episode – and that includes in the finale itself. As I’ve said before it’s quite remarkable how the series never felt rushed or frenetic considering the vast amount of exposition and character development it introduced, but the payback for that is an enormous amount of unresolved plot. The Souda triplets personal storyline got a modestly concrete resolution, and it could be argued that the main couple got at least the beginnings of one. But as for the larger plot itself, that was pretty much a punt. There’s an awful lot of interesting things I’d like to know more about that we’re unlikely never to learn anything more about.
In looking at the final episode itself then, I think it’s really possible only to view it quite literally as that, not as a true finale – it’s an episode that just happens to be the final one. I’d hoped we could at least get closure to the arc that was ongoing, and that was where the ep’s modest goals were focused, plot-wise – to bring the Sengoku Festival arc to a close. That means jumping right into the aftermath of last week’s cliffhanger with Izumiko just having gone into Goddess mode on Takayanagi’s ass, and the entire school in a state of panic over the effects. All of the tech has stopped working – I suppose that a direct result of Izumiko’s anti-keitai powers leeching out all over – and she seems to have disappeared, along with Masumi (uh-oh). As for Takayangi and his two henchpeople, they’ve been phased into another dimension, and for Takayanagi the humiliation deepens – Izumiko has turned him into a dog (an Akita – those are omnipresent here – that looks like it fell out of a Softbank commercial).
A surprise visitor to the chaos is Nonomura-san, who delivers a staff to Miyuki-kun and tells him that this is the day that Izumiko is fated to turn into the Himegami. With this Miyuki is able to return Takayanagi and the rest of Team Rocket to our dimension, but he still needs Wamiya’s help to follow Izumiko, where a “strong enemy” awaits him. I’m not quite clear on whether Izumiko brought herself into this new plane as a way of protecting the Earth from herself or whether Masumi brought her there himself, but what’s clear is that Masumi is there with her and sees this as a great opportunity. Masumi’s role has been exceptionally well-developed – for all his cheery demeanor and his bond with Mayura and Manatsu, he’s always had a sense of great danger about him – and his possessive feelings towards Izumiko have been apparent for a while. He tells her she’s just a normal human who has the ability to “speed up her wavelength” to where the spirits are, but it seems to me that he’s attracted to her power. I’m not sure just to what extent any of the Souda siblings are aware of Masumi’s true nature, including Masumi himself – the feeling I get is that all three of them have known the truth on some level for a long time, but enjoyed living the lie so much they didn’t want to give it up.
The Souda storyline is probably the most “TV Size” in Red Data Girl, and thus it fit most comfortably into the TV narrative. It really is a mess – both Mayura and Manatsu seem to want to die so that the other won’t have to be alone – a bit of a paradox there, but it’s a strange family. It’s a betrayal for Masumi to abandon Mayura in the middle of her struggle to go after Izumiko, but whether he’s aware of it or not, Masumi’s way of being is very different from a human being’s. He’s got Izumiko in a very vulnerable state – aghast at having revealed her nature, convinced she’s irretrievably turned into The Goddess, tempted to stay hidden in her pocket dimension forever. That’d suit Masumi fine, and he puts the ghosts of the ladies of Hachijouji Castle to work in trying to lure her to a place from which she can never return, but fortunately Miyuki proves himself to be far more determined and stubborn than his father would ever give him credit for.
I know the development between Izumiko and Miyuki hasn’t been to everyone’s tastes, but after a rocky start I’ve grown very fond of them as a couple (for reasons I’ve been talking about in my episode posts). The tests he faces in this alternate dimension – be it of Izumiko’s or Masumi’s design – are something of a metaphor for his journey in the series. As the ghosts of Hachijouji’s dead assail him, his resolve and his commitment to the path he’s chosen are put to the test. Simply put, he wants to be with Izumiko – but not as her manservant, or simply as her Yamabushi. No, he wants to be by her side and protect her as a friend and lover – quite a normal ambition, but for these two the desire to be normal is a dream that’s perhaps out of reach. I’m not sure what options were open to Masumi when Izumiko and Miyuki connected (again in a wonderful use of symbolism, via cellphone) but if nothing else he’s a sporting loser and knows when he’s beaten. Surely, some of Manatsu and Mayura’s humanity has rubbed off on Masumi and changed him in ways subtler than his physical appearance.
Fittingly there’s no firm commitment between Miyuki and Izumiko in the end, but I think by this point her feelings on the matter are pretty much an open book. It really boils down to circumstances, and on that front we’ll simply have to leave things as they lie and imagine what might happen in the future. Izumiko does indeed become the World Heritage Candidate, it seems – no other outcome was every really possible, the knowledge of which really could have saved Takayanagi and Mayura a lot of trouble. As Masumi tells her the ability she possesses to “tune” herself to reach the Spirit World is almost extinct among humans – pretty much exactly what Yukimasa said earlier in the series. Does this make Izumiko the Himegami herself, or one of her descendants? What’s the true reason behind Wamiya and Takayanagi having the same face? Unless “read the novels” was the answer you were looking for, you’re going to be disappointed.
On balance, then, where does that leave Red Data Girl? Probably about where I expected it to be when the season started – one of the very best shows on the schedule, but hampered by inadequate time to tell its story. There’s no doubt in my mind that RDG improved more than any other series over the course of the season, though – the premiere was decent but comfortably the low point of the series, but the series grew steadily more engaging thereafter both in terms of plot and character. I would be remiss in not mentioning again just how much I loved Itou Masumi’s ending theme “Yokan”, one of my favorite EDs of all-time – not just because it’s such a gorgeous composition, but because it fits so beautifully with the series itself and the way it’s themes are gently woven into the BGM itself.
And then there’s the animation. P.A. Works comes closer than any studio to capturing the same feeling as Shinkai Makoto with their visuals – a sort of visual representation of mono no aware. This show is, in a word, gorgeous – which is all the more reason why I worry that the strange decision to broadcast it on Niconico with its requisite mediocre quality a full two weeks before it airs on television has hurt the series’ popularity. If any show this season needed to be seen in HD to be fully appreciated this is the one – I make a point of watching each episode as it’s released that way, and if I weren’t blogging it I probably wouldn’t be watching the web releases at all. The stagger also resulted in an odd split among the already moderately-sized fanbase, which I think subtly but crucially robs it of some of its momentum in gathering an audience. If this is an experiment, I plain and simply don’t like it – it seems like the worst of both worlds to me.
So in the end, we have another really good series that’s going to bomb commercially – whatever reasons you chalk that up to – and it’s a real shame. I loved the way RDG used an unconventional narrative approach, a sort of continuous timeline that made it feel as if it was running all the time, and we saw a 22-minute chunk of its reality in any given week. I loved the visuals, and the music, and the dynamics between the main couple and among the Souda siblings (human and Kami). I especially loved the way it told a big and sprawling story with languid grace, and the way it embraced Shugendou and Shinto and made them come alive in a way few anime ever have. We can only hope that studios continue to make series like this one in spite of the financial risks involved – with every one that fails commercially I worry whether we’ll ever see another. But I don’t want to end on that note, so instead, I’ll tip my hat to P.A. Works for taking on the seemingly impossible task of adapting Red Data Girl and winding up with something quite special.