I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by Kamisama Hajmemashita, because it’s not as though it isn’t consistently excellent week-in and week-out. Yet somehow this series never seems to be at the forefront of my consciousness – it’s always lurking in the background, and when I bemoan how under-appreciated it is I’m talking about myself, too. That was certainly true in the first season, but this go-around the series has definitely taken its game to another level. There’s just so much depth and weight to it now, yet it miraculously hasn’t lost the lightness and charm it had before.
I’ve liked every episode this season, without exception, but this one was probably my favorite. As always it’s just so hard to put into words what’s so special about this series, but it was magical in both the literal and figurative (and the best sense) and it had a great feeling of truth to it from the beginning. The emotions were deep and profound, and completely in-character – and as I think abut it, I believe that’s one of the keys to Kamisama Hajimemashita’s success. The characters are always in-character – they act in ways that are true to themselves. And by those actions they reveal depths in themselves that seem obvious in hindsight, and that’s when you realize the development has been building all along.
To think that Jirou would become such a compelling character in such a short time is to defy credulity, but so it was – he dominated this episode in every sense. I have a hard time forgiving the man he’s been – bullying little children is a grievous defect of character in my view. Yet somehow, the way it came down it really was possible to believe that the change we saw in him could happen – through the example of another, and through the experience of falling in love. In this way, I think, love actually is capable of being a catalyst for profound change – when someone like Jirou is forced to confront the reality that the person they’ve fallen in love with sees the world profoundly differently than they do, they sometimes re-assess the way they look at the world.
I was surprised, even so, that I actually did feel sympathy for Jirou when he was severely injured by the Thunderbolt Beast. Primarily it was because as I was watching Nanami sit on the edge of that pit staring down at the darkness, I was thinking “Wouldn’t it be so Nanami if she did something stupid like climbed down there?” Again, it was completely in-character – exactly what I was expecting her to do – but utterly senseless. What good she thought she could possibly do climbing blindly into that hole is beyond me, and if indeed Jirou had lost his wings saving her that would have been utterly senseless too. Thank goodness for Momo-kusuri I suppose – but too bad for Suirou that none was available when he gave his wings to save a loved one.
As so often this season, the episode seems to come to a climax as we see how events impact Nanami and Tomoe. Their conversations are objects of brilliance – tense, full of subtext – and especially on Tomoe’s end a fascinating study in internal conflict. As Jirou lost consciousness after the Thunderbolt Beast’s attack he very matter-of-factly stated his love for Nanami. And as he lies unconscious in the days that follow Nanami and Tomoe squabble, as usual, with Tomoe effectively telling her to go ahead and stay on Mt. Kurama forever if she’s in love with Jirou. “Human lives are short, after all.” he later tells Shinjirou. “She should do what she pleases.” But Shinjurou’s comeback is far more cutting. “Here’s some advice for the fox who’s not used to humans. Human lives are short. So if you want to tell them something, you have to tell them – or you’ll wind up losing the change to do it forever.”
Still, for the all the intensity between the main pair, the most powerful moments of the episode involve Nanami and Jirou, remarkably. After he’s recovered Shinjirou throws a nighttime hanami party to celebrate – that, and the recovery of the Soujoubou (Kamiya Akira). Jirou takes Nanami in his arms and carries her high into the eternal sakura tree, far from the crowds below. The scene is physically gorgeous, and his plaintive plea that she stay by his side forever – utterly hopeless, and he knows it – is surprisingly heartbreaking. I’ve rarely seen the agony of hopeless love depicted so effectively, and it’s all the more amazing considering it’s from a man we barely know, and have been given plenty of reason to dislike. “A little while longer… I will sear this image into my eyes. So that, at any time, if I close my eyes, I can come see you in the flowers.” My goodness, that’s just beautiful – so plaintive, so powerful, and so sad. And from Jirou of all people.
And so ends the Kurama Arc, which surprised at every turn. What started out as a showcase for Kurama-Shinjirou became something altogether different – a sad story of an ancient society utterly lost, and a man who lost himself to cruelty and rage. It was darker, more ruthless and much sadder than I expected. But it again goes to prove that I really ought to stop being surprised when Kamisama Hajmemashita surprises me, because it does so on such a regular basis.