Among the many takeaways with Kyousogiga is that it’s a constant reminder of how perspective changes everything. Some of what we’ve seen throughout these first six episodes is little changed from its form in the net episodes – occasionally so much so that I can’t tell the difference – yet as a viewer I’m in a totally difference place now than I was when I saw those episodes. Not to mention that the sheer volume of context that’s beed added to those core moments frames them in such a way that they feel completely different. I’ve mentioned this before, but the first time around it was as if I were experiencing this show – now, I’m also feeling it.
One thing that hasn’t changed for me is the constant perception that Yakushimaru is the emotional heart of the series, and in many ways its center of gravity. Koto is certainly the prime mover (though defining those terms is rather complicated in this case) and Inari the instigator of everything, but if you step back from the sensorial barrage every episode of this series has been and take a Mutta-like look at the big picture, Kyousogiga is in many ways the chronicle of Yakushimaru’s life.
And, of course, his death. The first half of this episode – in addition to being almost all new material – was an emotional powerhouse that seemed to fly by in a matter of seconds. Every ep has filled in the details on Yakushimaru’s portrait, and this one more or less completes the origin story that was begun last week. It’s one of the many miracles of Kyousogiga that things which seem puzzling in the moment are almost invariably justified later in a way that makes perfect narrative and, even more critically, emotional sense. Why does Myoue (as we now know him) want Koto to end his life? Seemingly because, as I speculated, he never truly became comfortable with the way it was returned to him. In the moment that anguished, terrified young boy thought he’d died that night when his parents were killed and his home set ablaze (the snowflakes mingling with ashes was an eerily beautiful visual, in the face of what it represented). And the man has never truly embraced the notion that he didn’t.
This entire sequence is loaded with symbolism and mystery. Last week we saw Myoue and Koto share a pomegranate (one of the three “holy fruits” of Buddhism, often symbolic of rebirth). This time we saw Lady Koto feed a pomegranate created from Inari’s blood – on a drawing he signed as “Myoue” – to Yakushimaru via mouth-to-mouth, after the boy had died at his own hand. Even this glimpse of the child Myoue is telling in painting a picture of the man he’d become – proud, courageous, angry, confused. It’s hardly surprising that the boy didn’t embrace his “wee bit of immortality” at first, and seemingly for a long time, given as it was a gift from the Priest of the “Monster Temple” and could hardly have seemed more unnatural to him. But, seemingly, over time Yakushimaru became Myoue and the boy began to feel love for the two strange adults who were so kind to him – and even for the even stranger “brother and sister” who came after. But he never forgot.
What a strange and compelling scenario has developed here. We have two characters in Inari and Yakushimaru who’ve shared a name – but neither of whom uses it during the time they’re together. We have two characters in Koto and Lady Koto who likewise share a name, and an obvious connection – it seems so tempting to believe they’re the same being but the one calls the other “Mother” and they clearly can exist as separate identities in the same time and place. And running through all of it is a fast-moving river of emotion, tying these people together and pulling them apart. Inari may be the most mysterious of all – at one moment he could hardly appear more the capricious and sinister all-powerful God, yet in the next he’s the very epitome of kindness and Buddhist compassion. How is his act of saving the little boy that night to be judged – was it the impulsive act of an arrogant creator, or the full expression of the goodness in his heart? For all the fact that Inari is clearly a Kami of staggering powers, there’s no evidence that he every brought another human back from the other side – which suggests to me that this is not an act that he takes lightly in any way.
I’m also fascinated by the persistent references to Mirror Kyoto as Hell. Take note of the view from the Sekisui-in at Kozan-ji (which we saw in the live-action special): when it looks out over the “real” Kyoto it’s alive and full of beautiful detail – sakura, snowflakes, birds. When Myoue and Koto stare at Mirror Kyoto through its version, the view is static and impressionistic. In Myoue’s mind this place may very well be Hell, or at least a kind of Buddhist purgatory. He longs to escape it, seemingly through death. Kurama longs to escape it so as to reach “outside” – perhaps the human world, in Buddhist terms. And Yase seeks only to be with her mother again – nothing else seems to matter much to her at all (including being with her father again, it seems).
These goals were invariably going to set the siblings off against each other sooner or later, though the events of this ep certainly brought that out into the open far more than it had been previously. This is one of those instances where context changes everything – this sequence was one of the most puzzling of the original series, but the dots are connected here in a big way. We still don’t know exactly what Kurama did in his “fishing” expedition, but it’s clear it works as far as establishing a link to Lady Koto – something he’s been building towards all along – and that the warnings Myoue has been giving to Koto are justified. Kurama is always referred to as the eldest, but this was the first time I can remember Yakushimaru playing the “One Who Came First” card. There exists a great divide between he and the other two – no matter what’s been done to him by Inari, Myoue is still human in a way those two certainly are not. Whether that chasm can ever be bridged again (if indeed it ever truly was) is one of the great questions for the last four episodes.