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.
(ココロコネクト Kokoro Konekuto)
This week opens with the club members taking part in hatsumoude, the first shrine or temple visit of the new year. In Japan, the few days around the new year are set aside for meeting and exchanging gifts with friends and family, getting homes and business affairs settled and in order, and generally looking forward to a successful year ahead.
Vendors selling food and omamori (charms and amulets for warding off bad luck, protecting health and other prescriptions) create a buzzing, festival atmosphere, despite the very cold temperatures. Whether joining the massive crowds that flood popular choices like Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, or any of the myriad local shrines found in neighborhoods everywhere, it’s difficult not to be swept up in the energy of the mass of humanity.
Back to the regular grind, the club members pause to assess their most recent predicament over drinks at a famiresu (family restaurant). These are casual dining chains you’d be likely to encounter in suburbs and countryside, though there are plenty in urban centers as well. The fictional Wagnaria restaurant from the series Working!! is a famiresu. If you imagine a Denny’s (which does have about 600 locations in Japan, operated by Seven & I Holdings) and add things like miso soup, salt grilled salmon and green tea milkshakes to the menu, you’d be pretty close.
Kokoro continues to explore the the various urban textures that make Japanese cities and suburban communities so interesting. Ample pedestrian space woven into the commercial districts and transit infrastructure (which are frequently co-located) gives birth to various passages into which retail and services can be tucked, connecting with wider spaces and logical meeting points. It’s like a giant hamster maze for people.
Taichi and Yoshifumi take the train home.
The high school cultural festival has been called off on account of the redevelopment construction. Despite the pending loss of their school grounds to luxury residential development, the choir club is determined to remember their time together fondly, putting on their own festival, even if they must go against adults in positions of authority. Konatsu’s request for the student council to raise the issue is declined. Sawa appeals, in private, to members of the local shotengai (shopping district) board to help them advertise their event. The members are sympathetic, but note their concern about “upsetting” the developer by encouraging activity in violation of his restrictions. The eventually agree to help the choir club, though the conflict they experience is clear in remarks about flagging economic activity in the area and a feeling of not having any choice but to go along with the developer’s plans.
The principal overhears Konatsu’s appeal to the student council and makes his own attempt to persuade the developer to accommodate the students, but is turned down.
The developer is portrayed as heartless and callous, having no interest in the emotional impact on the community of closing the school and banning student activities.
Correction 9/24/2010: Realized after watching the subsequent episode that this crusty middle-aged man is not the property developer but, in fact, the school board chairman.
In the choir club’s self-produced advertisement for their cultural festival, note the miniature map showing walking directions from the closest train station. This is common to see on posters, flyers and business cards in Japan.
(人類は衰退しました Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
In the final episode, Humanity ties up several story arcs, including the forging of Mediator’s relationship with Y, their joint interest in the social components of Fairy culture, and the closing of their school, unable to justify it’s continued operation as the human population dwindles. At a higher level of abstraction, throughout the series and particularly in this episode, there is a comforting message that, in the twilight of our species’ time on Earth, we may still embrace the most meaningful aspects of what it means to be human. After material abundance and affluence have been stripped away, the characters in this story turn their attention to meeting their needs for friendships, emotional support and meaningful social activity. This includes accepting others for who they are, and recognizing that, while we are all flawed in some way, we are not hopeless.