Welcome to this week’s review of notable instances of transit, place and culture as rendered in anime currently broadcast in Japan and simulcast internationally via the web. For a detailed outline of the approach, please refer to the explanation in the inaugural issue.
An unexpected development arrives this week. The principal announces that the high school can no longer continue to operate in its current configuration, due to declining enrollment (a result of declining birthrates) and reduced funding. The school has entered into a contract with a developer who plans to convert most of the grounds into high-end real estate. The students will be relocated to temporary facilities to finish their high school careers. We didn’t get much of any back story, nor any further explanation after the announcement, so I’ll hold off on jumping to conclusions before we see how it plays out.
(ココロコネクト Kokoro Konekuto)
Himeko Inaba, the most guarded of the five club members, finally breaks down, revealing the full extent of her anxiety caused by Heartseed’s manipulation and her own fear of appearing vulnerable before others. Though too complicated to do it justice in this column, the social construct of honne (one’s true feelings) and tatemae (a facade for public display) is a significant element of etiquette and culture in Japan that helps in understanding the dynamic of the characters’ relationships with each other. The barrier is quite rigid in interactions between strangers, work and other formal settings, only breaking down when with very close friends and on special occasions. Himeko, not wanting to jeopardize the cohesiveness of the group, initially doesn’t want to burden others with her problems, but realizes that the only way to stop from spiraling out of control is to open up.
(人類は衰退しました Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
Mediator reminisces about her early school days, revealing her struggle to choose between protecting herself by avoiding interaction and relationships with others, and a deep sense of loneliness and desire to be accepted by her peer group. While her issues are moderate and ultimately resolvable, acute social withdrawal, referred to as hikikomori, is a real problem affecting an estimated 3.6 million people in Japan.
We have different names for it, but social and psychological disorders stemming from physical or emotional isolation are common in many places. Recent research in Australia indicates poor urban design, particular that which creates dispersed, car-dependent suburbs, exacerbates a host of public health concerns, including depression, obesity and others. A friend I met recently remarked that for much of the past century in the US, isolation, in the form of personal cars, detached houses and large yards in suburban subdivisions has been considered by many to be the paramount outward signal of success. We’ve neglected our needs as social beings for so long that we’ve engineered sickness into the way we organize our communities. It’s time for a change.
Concluding the story, Atsushi Shimao returns Ryōsuke Hazuki’s body, finally allowing Rokka to move on to a new phase of her life. The last set of images is of Shimao’s ghost floating up above Tokyo, zooming out for a panorama view of the urban texture into which the flowershop and its neighborhood are woven.