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This episode blew me away. It was possibly the most impressive episode in the series so far. Stunning on every level. I can't think of enough superlatives to describe this episode. Weird how it's episode 9 that has gotten me really excited, rather than the first episode. I got a glimpse of genius in this episode, and it rekindled that old flame I haven't felt in a long time for the medium of animation. Yes, folks. This is what's possible in anime. The pure brilliance of this episode wipes away any feelings of ambivalence I might have had about the concept up until this point.
This episode brings everything to a head and puts things in perspective, without really revealing anything, which is kind of interesting. It feels like we're reaching a sort of saturation point where the jumble of alternate narratives is reaching critical mass. It crystallizes what I was feeling from all the previous episodes. It's like each new episode has reinterpreted the whole basic situation of the protagonist's association with all of these characters during his first few years at university through the lens of what happened in the previous episodes. Hence things get progressively more jumbled and crazy as time goes on. The amazing feat of this episode is that it manages to convey a tangle of ideas, mixing and remixing what came before, picking a bit from from one situation and then throwing in a bit from another, in a way that for some reason doesn't feel jumbled, even though he's deliberately creating narrative contradictions. You get exactly the point it's trying to make, but it's so complex it's difficult to pin down to one statement.
For the first time in this series, the heart feels an emotional tug. The climax is a beautiful, emotional ride combining tour-de-force directing with superb animation of the kind that reminds of Yokoyama's work in Kaiba. A lot of hints about what might be happening are dropped here and there, but nothing concrete. Something human begins to emerge behind the impenetrable facade of intellectual play that dominated the proceedings up until now, with nary an emotion peeking through. I'm reminded of the montage at the end of Mind Game, with its beautiful display of all the possible futures of each character, representing a sort of acceptance of all the world has to offer, good or ill, and the privilege we each have of being able to create our own narrative in this world.
Such is the genius of Akitoshi Yokoyama. Once again, he's outdone himself. I don't mean to pat myself on the back, but I managed to guess while watching that he was the director and that it was probably Ryotaro Makihara helming the animation. Such is the force of their respective visions that there is no mistaking them for anyone else. With Makihara it isn't even a particular way of drawing things. There are some stylistic hallmarks, but it's more simply the fact that the animation suddenly moves a lot more, and more convincingly. The characters act out actions, rather than simply sitting there. With Yokoyama, it's the absolute hairpin precision with which every shot and every sound is manipulated to create an inexorable forward momentum. It's the torrent of interesting visual ideas. It's the stellar use of animation to create excitement and bolster the emotional impact of the story, notably in the climax, with all its beautiful flowing abstract animation. This is really the pinnacle of animated filmmaking - every shot perfectly honed, a theme develops towards the climax under the surface of the various goings on, and every drawing and movement delectable and exciting.
Thematically there's so much happening in the episode. In essence, you could say it's a would-be love story - if the protagonist would only do the right thing for once. It's like the cumulative detritus of needless imaginings of possible outcomes has gradually shunted aside the one thing that was obvious from the outset - the little Mochigumon doll - and its significance has grown gradually dimmer to the protagonist until in this episode it's no longer him who even found the doll. That leads to the emotional breakthrough.
It's a shame that people who did not have the patience to put up with the first eight episodes leading to this will be able to appreciate what Yokoyama achieved with this episode, because he does finally bring some emotional catharsis to what felt in many ways like an intellectual exercise up until now. In a way, with this episode I start to feel like it was all worth it. Never have I seen such a complexly recursive and densely packed so-called narrative in anime.
That emotional resonance is one of the hallmarks of Masaaki Yuasa's work. It's not just about the wildly imaginative technical wizardry of a master animator. It's the way he combines that with stories that aren't mere fictions and character tropes removed from any reality we can relate to, but that involve basic truths and emotions and behavior that apply to everybody in the world - even those who don't watch anime. It's about groping your way through life and figuring out how to face both the beauty and the ugliness in life. That's what I liked about Mind Game, and there's a lot of that deep, simple mulling over the stuff of our lives in his other work. Finally, I'm starting to get that feeling from Tatami Galaxy.
On the animator side of things, lots of regulars this time around, with the additional presence of one new face, Kanako Maru, whom I remember did a very nice solo episode of Casshern Sins, which I wrote about briefly before, though I haven't really followed her since then. Nice to see her turn up here.
Storyboard / Director: Akitoshi Yokoyama
Animation director: Ryotaro Makihara
Assistant animation directors: Tsutsumi Mai, Shouko Nishigaki
Ryotaro Makihara, Tsutsumi Mai
Natsuko Shimizu, Satomi Higuchi
Shouko Nishigaki, Hiroshi Shimizu
Kanako Maru, Kenichi Shima
Tetsuo Moronuki, Takeo Oda
Kana Harufuji, Akitoshi Yokoyama
Takayuki Hamada, Sawako Miyamoto
Sayaka Toda, Kenichi Fujisawa
I just caught upto episode 10, and I have to say I agree with you, episode 9 was amazing. I enjoyed episode 1-8, but none was as emotional as 9. There’s a romantic scene here that reminded me of a hugging scene in Kaiba, between Chroniko and Vanilla. So sweet and tender…both Vanilla and Ozu were initially introduced as repulsive characters, but we learn more about them, and these scenes just explode those slowly built up feelings we have for them.
Episode 10 was brilliant too, but emotional side it didn’t reach the level of episode 9 imo. Can’t wait for the final episode!
Good to hear you’re keeping up with the show. I totally agree - I was very much reminded of the dramatic intensity of Yokoyama’s Kaiba episode 7, especially the climax. I see something of a pattern throughout his episodes where he builds and builds momentum leading up to these explosive climaxes full of frenzied animation. He’s got an uncanny sense for how to structure an episode in a way that grabs you and won’t let go. Would be interesting to see him do something on a larger scale. Yuasa in contrast seems a little more flexible and loose and constantly shifting around trying new things in terms of his approach to dramatic structure. They’re very different, but they make a great match. Yokoyama has been such an asset on Yuasa’s shows.