Welcome, all, again. Today I digress from all past practice in order to focus upon one particular episode of a series, returning us to Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (hereafter referred to as SSR). Some while back, I wrote a post about how certain specific episodes of anime can buoy the spirit, fitting corresponding moods. The best of these individual episodes can actually create from scratch the moods that they then inhabit. Take episode 1 of Usagi Drop, for instance. The unwary or uninformed viewer finds him/herself caught-up and tossed by the emotional maelstrom coiled within these quiet characters and their impending, imploding familial situation. And while March Comes in Like a Lion begins its story more subtly, viewers soon stand as bereft as Rei in the face of the gaping, hungering emotional chasm that is his life. Episode 6 of SSR packs a similar emotional punch, taking viewers on a veritable roller coaster ride of the heart. Thing is, this episode builds up so very subtly that its ultimate impact might come as a surprise.
So, just what is it that makes episode 6 such a big deal? Its quietude, dear reader, its quietude. After all, still waters are said to run deep. Episode 6 sees our girls find another human, their first such encounter since they crossed paths with the mapmaker Kanazawa in episode 3. Ishii is a female living alone in the ruins of what appears to be an aircraft hangar. She presents the demeanor and focus of a scientist, even while designing like an engineer and building like a mechanic. But in a post-apocalyptic world, those distinctions are basically meaningless. Ishii has a dream, and it’s a big one–she wants to construct a working airplane and use it to fly to another city. Still, she is able to couch her dream within the sensible, saying that to remain in one place until all resources are used or devoured is to invite not just death, but first, privation. I’m sure that Yuu felt that listening to Ishii was a lot like listening to an older version of Chii; I certainly felt that way.
And here’s where the story starts worming its way into your psyche before you ever realize it. . .the girls and Ishii bond in a way never possible with the male Kanazawa, of whom the girls remained at least vaguely wary. Chii (and therefore Yuu) needs help repairing the damaged Kettenkrad, while Ishii’s dream will manifest much more quickly with extra hands available to perform extra work. There is mutual need and mutual respect, not to mention shared admiration for and curiosity about the decision to either travel or homestead. Bonds are established through the sharing of food and living space. For a brief moment, these three enjoy the creation of what is almost an ad hoc family. As we watch, these characters quietly establish emotional investment in each other, in themselves as a group, and even in each other’s pursuits and decisions. So do we.
As usual, I am ignorant of this anime’s source material. I’ve never read the manga (although I’ve heard that this anime is being relatively faithful to said material). But I had somehow heard about this Ishii/airplane business, and had been eagerly anticipating it. And I was consequently amazed that the whole thing was covered, beginning to end, in just one episode. Amazed, but not disappointed, because this was some tight and careful writing! Conversations remain leisurely to the ear, but you soon realize that not a word nor even a pause was wasted, and that you have been walked to the edge of a precipice. As Chii records the momentous flight in her journal, she tells Ishii that she might well be the last pilot in human history. Hauntingly, she gives no voice to the recognized continuation of that thought: that Ishii is probably the last person with the skill and understanding to even construct an aircraft. In the aftermath of catastrophe, mankind fell from the skies; in the aftermath of Ishii, he might never return. The heart rises to the throat at this realization, then falls to the stomach as the plane approaches take-off. . .this is an episode to which you will repeatedly return, so rejoice! This is why we’re fans.