Kyousougiga hasn’t been a conventional anime series in any way, shape or form since the very beginning – not in terms of medium, narrative structure, themes or sheer quality – so it’s no surprise that the ending should be highly unorthodox too. While this was nominally the final episode there’s going to be a “recap” next week, along with a commentary (from whom I don’t know) – sort of like a BD bonus track during the airing of the show itself (but then, that’s what the splendid “travelogue” episode was, too).
That leaves me with the decision of whether to do a series review now, or wait till next week. I took the rare step of re-watching the “finale” immediately as soon as I’d seen it the first time, just trying to get a handle on it both emotionally and in terms of what happened – Kyousougiga is so intellectually dense and packed with symbolism and cultural references that it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Even so it seems entirely possible that next week’s episode may offer some insights which aren’t obvious right now, and thus I’ll save part of my retrospective until then while still doing my best to place this episode in the overall context of the series.
I thought and felt many things when watching this episode, which is the true miracle of Kyousougiga for me – its ability to speak to both the heart and the soul in equally profound terms. But sitting here typing now as the magnificent Kyousougiga soundtrack album plays on, one phrase that keeps running through my mind is “like father, like son”. In watching this episode it really strikes home just how alike Myoue and Yakushimaru are, despite their radically different personalities – and it seems fitting given that they share so much including a name and (more or less) a face.
Inseparable from that thought is the notion, one I’ve expressed before, of just how much Kyousougiga shares with this Summer’s Uchouten Kazoku. While the superficial similarities are obvious, what I think really matters is that these are both brilliant and incredibly emotionally generous shows that use the device of non-human characters to shed light on the human condition, and use a very complex structure (more so here) to overlay what is at heart a very simple premise. Stripped of all the fantasy and surrealism, these are both anime that tell the story of family – of families in general, and one specific family. The heart of Kyousgougiga is the way family members hurt each other without meaning to, and what their love for each each drives them – and inspires them – to do.
What I see in this episode is a father, Myoue, doing to his son exactly what his father did to him. We finally meet Myoue’s father (Ginga Banjou, also the Narrator), who summons Yakushimaru and Koto to what appears to be his home dimension, Takamagahara, a realm of pure thought (in Shinto, Takamagahara is the dwelling place of Kami, fittingly). “Grandpa”, though, has been with us all along – in the presence of the rabbit, monkey and frog (from the Choujuu-giga), apparently observing the stumbling of his descendants as they try to make things work on more material planes. He declares that his grandchildren Koto and Yakushimaru shall take over the role of his son, Myoue – that Myoue’s soul should transfer to them, and he’ll disappear. Which is, in fact, exactly what he wants – though Koto has other ideas.
The irony here is surely obvious. Myoue had a burden he doesn’t truly understand and didn’t ask for placed on him by his father, who disappeared. In turn, he did exactly the same thing to the son he brought back from death (which Yakushimaru also didn’t ask for). This cycle repeats itself in families over and over, generation after generation – we so often become the parents our parents were to us, without intending to or even realizing. And like Myoue, Yakushimaru currently wants to die – to unburden himself of what his father placed on his shoulders. I speculated last week that rather than a villain, Myoue was simply doing what he was doing as a way to try and give his children some peace, especially Yakushimaru – and I think the events of this week bear that out.
In reality, though, things aren’t that simple. There’s Koto – both of them, both of whom have other ideas for Myoue and Yakushimaru. We can clearly see what Lady Koto means to Myoue (the scene where he unburdens himself to her while shooting stars streak by behind them is heartbreakingly beautiful in its purity of sadness) – his love for her is completely genuine, but he seems to feel he’s done all he can do for her in this life. Little Koto simply reacts in the manner of the child she physically appears to be. She loves both her brother and her father, and wishes that neither of them will leave her for a long time yet. Koto seems to be pure Id – her dominant emotion is desire, and her action of choice is violence. If Yakushimaru was given Myoue’s power to create, Koto wad given his power to destroy – but rather than resent it as he does, she cherishes it and actually seeks to use the power of destruction to create a better world. Rather than destroy, she wants to break that which blocks the ones she loves from seeing the truth and moving forward. There’s certainly irony there, too.
I’m still wrestling with the mechanics of what happens in this episode, both in terms of what Myoue hoped to accomplish and what we’re left with in the end. It seems that he saw the destruction of Mirror Kyoto and his own death as a form of redemption – “I placed a bet, with myself as the wager. So that in the end, I could love myself.” Myoue could certainly love – Lady Koto, his children, even the world he created – he just couldn’t love himself. And thus, he couldn’t trust his children to carry out his wishes and redeem him so in true capricious God-like fashion, he tried to do it himself. Myoue was always painfully aware of the resentment Yakushimaru felt towards him, but even on Koto – who never expressed anything but love towards him – he couldn’t bring himself to rely. “In God we trust”, indeed – and it seems that applies to God Himself, too.
What we know with the benefit of perspective is that Koto and even Yakushimaru would have done whatever Myoue asked – they would have trusted him, even if he didn’t trust himself. But that’s families for you. Grandpa God declares that Myoue’s punishment (apart from seemingly everyone in the cast using him as a punching bag) is that he’s to stay behind in Takahamagara and learn the lesson that his existence is enough to justify itself in its own sake, but both Yakushimaru and Koto seem to imply that he should “retire” to Mirror Kyoto, the world he created. The most important symbolic moment of the episode happens when Yakushimaru returns the prayer beads to his father then, in the next instant, takes them back. In doing so he rejects the manner in which Myoue burdened him with such power without his consent, then makes it clear that he’s come to accept it – and in doing so accept who he is. And it’s this Yakushimaru, newly at peace with his existence, who gives Lady Koto her solidity back and seemingly restores Mirror Kyoto to its former glory.
Ultimately, then, this finale was about acceptance. The essence of family is accepting those you love as they are, understanding that their imperfections are part of what makes them the person that you love. This is often hardest to do, of course, for ourselves – and perhaps the greatest service we can do for those we love is to help them come to love themselves. The bittersweet finale I anticipated was in the end more sweet than bitter, but it feels very much like the ending Kyousougiga was building towards all along. Kurama and Yase perhaps were not as much a part of this as I would have liked, but it’s as I said last week – ultimately, this story is about Myoue, Yakushimaru and Little Koto, and all the others are facets in that jewel.
This was indeed a fairy tale – a Buddhist, Shinto, Alice in Wonderland, Choujuu-giga manga come to glorious life. It’s that element which made the travelogue episode so profound for me – the notion of the creative spirit that extends in an unbroken line from that 12th-Century scroll depicting the frolicking animals all the way to the people at Toei who clearly devoted themselves heart-and-soul to this magnificent and beautiful series. Kyousougiga isn’t just why I love anime – it’s why I started loving anime in the first place. It’s rare for any anime to have such soaring ambition as this one – all the more rare to have been able to realize it. That, for me, is as good a definition of greatness as any. Kyousougiga has been a remarkable series to experience and it’s a tribute to the people for whom it was clearly a labor of love. And as for Koto, Yakushimaru, Myoue, Kurama, Yase and the others – it seems it can truly be said “And they lived happily ever after“. I’m still enough of a romantic at heart to take great joy in that, and I wouldn’t have wanted this show to end any other way.