This was the last stage of the journey the TV anime of Kyousogiga is making in the footsteps of the ONA, and it was a memorable one indeed. This may very well have been my favorite of the short background episodes, and I’ve made very clear my feeling that it’s Yakushimaru who’s, if not the main character, then the heart and soul of Kyousogiga. This story is his journey as much as anyone’s, and he more then anyone else sets the mood and tone of the series. We get a small but brilliant taste of it in the ONA, and a much more comprehensive one here.
Some great anime are effortless, falling into the “it’s really hard to make it look this easy” class. Kyousogiga is quite different, at least for me – the art of what I’m seeing is always evident. It’s a majestic construction, intricately pieced together and flowing like a river, emotionally true and intellectually spellbinding. But I don’t listen to Radu Lupu playing Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto and think “Boy, do they make it look easy” – I marvel at the amazing art playing itself out before me, at the impact it makes on both the mind and the heart. And that’s how Kyousogiga is for me – it’s something that quite openly sets out to be something great and, so far at least, achieves it in breathtaking fashion.
“Marvel” really is the right word, because this show is marvelous to experience. It’s both incredibly literate and extremely human, grounded in the most basic and elemental of all higher human emotions – the complicated love between parents and children. To use Alice in Wonderland, Buddhist mythology and the tale of chuuken Hachiko the faithful dog (I pass his statue every day outside Shibuya Station on the way to school) to do so is high art, but the story it’s telling remains very simple at the core. Just what does Kuruma infer about Myoue when he implies that Hachiko’s motives might not have been so pure as Japanese public mythology has made them out to be? We see the Monk waiting outside the station, waiting faithfully for the parents who are never aboard the train – but unlike Hachiko, Myoue goes home at the end of the day and goes about the act of proving that he’s alive.
Even as things are explained in Kyousogiga, the mystery always remains in place. We now know how Yakushimaru came to be Inari and Koto’s “son”, and how those beads ended up on his arm. Did Inari simply save the boy’s life, or did Yakushimaru actually die outside that burning house on that terrible night and come back via Inari’s magic as something very different than what he was? It seems very likely that his true father and mother were murdered, and that he attempted (at the least) to commit seppuku, presumably over the dishonor at having been unable to save them. What’s more, whatever happened that night clearly remains in the memory of the man they call Myoue, who dreams of it with regularity.
While much happens narratively in between, those dreams lead directly to the final moment of the episode, when Myoue tells Koto “After you find my mother, kill me.” My sense is that Myoue feels as if he died that night Inari found him, and everything after that has been a cheat. Just how long has Yaskushimaru – by all appearance and information a human – been “alive”? He grew from a small boy into a man (the spitting image of the man who appears not to be his biological father, interestingly) so his time clearly moves in at least some fashion, but while it hasn’t been stated overtly my sense is that centuries have passed since Inari and Koto took their odd little family to Mirror Kyoto. Maybe Myoue is simply tired of the burdens he’s been carrying for so long and ready to meet what he sees as his natural fate, but perhaps there’s more here than that. In some ways Mirror Kyoto could even be seen as a symbolic afterlife in and of itself, which would cast the story in an interesting light.
Whatever truth you believe lies in that direction, there’s no question Myoue has firmly connected this new Koto to the one he knew as his adoptive mother, though whether he’s established the exact nature of the connection is much more debatable. The final nail, perhaps, was when Koto defends the names of the mysterious A and Um by telling Myoue that they mean “Beginning and End” – which in fact they do, as the chanting of the Sanskrit syllable “Aum” is traditional at the beginning and end of a Buddhist or Hindu prayer or mantra. Inari told Yakushimaru “I will return one day, bringing a beginning and an end.” And so Koto has come to Mirror Kyoto, bringing with her the familiars now in the form of cute little boys that she calls her brothers. What does it all mean? I’m looking forward to seeing everything answered, though truth be told I hope that Kyousogiga leaves us with many of its mysteries intact – because the wonder of the series is even greater when it operates in the realm of mystery.
As I’ve said before, what surprised me most in transitioning from the ONAs to the TV series is just how sentimental and emotionally powerful Kyousogiga has turned out to be – and I find Myoue to be the most tragic figure of them all. The boy who waited, the boy who died and came back, the man who seems to feel as if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders – his sadness is inescapable but no more so than his decency, and those qualities are proudly on display in this episode. I think the final scenes (as they were in the ONA) where he and Koto walk through the golden fields of tall grass in the setting sun, towards the Shrine in the mountains, are some of the most beautiful in anime – both to the eyes, and in the profound mono no aware sentiment that’s so palpable. Next week, apparently, is a detour before the journey into uncharted territory begins – a visit to Kozan-ji, the Temple in Takao that inspired the one in the series. I don’t like having that journey delayed, but I confess I’m rather looking forward to this side trip.