Memory / Spiral / Moonlight
The view from Igirisu:
“All these useless and practically worthless things are stored away as if they were important. I wonder why.”
Chi and Yuu have found a graveyard, and a very impressive one, with miles and miles of lockers as far as the eye can see. At first they don’t realise where they are, and start collecting the few bits and pieces they find, but as soon as Chi figures out that they are graves she insists on putting everything back. She realises that the worthless things are important after all. That button might not be of any use to the girls, but it once meant something to somebody.
This raises the topic of death and remembering. Yuu has a seriously bad memory…
“Who was Kanazawa again? I don’t recall.”
… but as soon as she remembers that Kanazawa gave them the camera the memories are stirred. It’s a slightly contrived way of making the point, but it’s all about the power of objects to bring back memories, and about finding ways to remember people. Kanazawa and Ishii appear in the girls’ icy breath, hanging in the cold air, and it may be that they are dead by now, but an aspect of them lives on as long as they are remembered. In comparison, there is nobody left to remember all those people whose memories were placed in the thousands and thousands of lockers. The button is just a button once more… except the god statue still looks down upon the graveyard. Chi is smart, and she realises the significance of that. Perhaps those people are remembered after all. It’s a small consolation, but it’s one for her to cling to, and it’s better than nothing.
The second chapter of the episode continues the end of life theme, but in a more metaphorical way. As the kettenkrad ascends a huge spiral path inside a tower, Yuu compares that to human life and wonders what awaits them at the end of their metaphorical spiral.
“We sleep, wake up, eat and move, and then we sleep again. When you think about it our lives go round and round too.”
This chapter also raises the important topic of how we live our lives. We have already noticed in previous episodes that there is a fundamental difference in Yuu and Chi’s approaches to life. Chi is a worrier, while Yuu accepts the ultimate hopelessness of their situation and just enjoys herself. The combination of the two philosophies keeps them alive, but also keeps them happy most of the time, so perhaps there is a middle ground to find.
“How can you live if you’re always afraid of mortal danger?”
“Sounds like a good line, but it’s ridiculous.”
Chi’s wrong, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all. Maybe we would all be a lot happier if we cast off our worries and adopted more of Yuu’s carefree attitude.
The final chapter shows that carefree attitude in action, and through drinking some alcohol Chi is able to live that philosophy herself, if only temporarily. The frisson of danger remains, with the two girls dancing around a hole and then towards a precipice, both of which would lead to certain death. As always this anime never quite allows the viewer to relax. But maybe we should all relax a little bit more.
That’s the big philosophical stuff, but I have to mention the lovely little moment when Chi kisses Yuu. It happens before they drink any alcohol, so it’s an indication of genuine affection. Blink and you’ll miss it, and it’s animated from behind Chi’s head so you can’t quite see what’s going on, but there’s no way to really explain the gentle little movement Chi does towards Yuu’s face other than a kiss. I’m quite certain it’s intentional, and Tsukumizu did intend there to be a hint of romance between the two girls (in fact, he made that clear in a contribution he made towards a doujinshi), so that’s just a beautiful fleeting moment for the fans. This is not a romantic anime and never will be, but fans love to speculate about that kind of thing and it’s just a nice thing to do, to allow the thought to linger in the mind of the viewers that these girls may be finding a level of happiness that’s even more meaningful than might be immediately obvious. For a series that is all about finding a way to enjoy life, however pointless it might seem, that seems appropriate. Who knows what awaits us at the end of our spirals, but perhaps the way we travel is the most important thing. RP
The view from Amerika:
Arriving at rows of storage, Chi and Yuu investigate what is held in these mysterious drawers. They open a handful of them to find bits and bobs. A button, a scrap of paper, and a radio that doesn’t work. Yuu figured they could “probably use them for something” and takes them with her, but Chi soon comes to realize these are not random scraps, but memories. Once again, this quaint little series is tugging at heartstrings for me. I realize science fiction doesn’t have to have monsters or space or time travel. It has to make us think and have some basis in either science fact or science speculation. This series is taking us into a possible future. War can destroy our world and, to quote one of my favorites, Babylon 5, “all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars”. We don’t know yet where humanity is for Chi and Yuu. We don’t know how many people are still alive. We don’t know who made it to the stars. We don’t know plenty… much like our heroines. But as a lone statue stands guard over these rows of storage, Chi realizes they are more than storage; they are memories of individuals, like grave markers. No one is there to remember them barring the stone sentinel, but it is all that’s left of so many lives. And based on the number of rows, it is indeed so many! So Chi wants to return the items to where they belong, but … why?
Yuu’s reaction to the statue is interesting. She says “It’s been a long time, my friend”. I suspect it’s just in reference to the other statues she had encountered before, but I could not help but wonder if these existed in whatever part of the world she came from; perhaps another watches over the grave of someone she loved. Her reaction is strange to me because she recognizes something in the statue that makes her feel a kinship towards it, but she can’t recall who Kanazawa was. This is all the more sad to me because people in her life are so transient that she does not bond with them. Yuu takes a picture of Chi but perhaps that’s the best she can ever do. With everyone being such brief blips in her life, perhaps this is why she doesn’t listen to things Chi says. In her mind, maybe Chi will be gone one day too. The picture is her way of preserving Chi. Her own form of a “grave” and a way to preserve the memories for when her friend is no longer there.
The girls move on and encounter a spiral that may lead to the next level. They begin going around and around. (Is it wrong of me to wonder how much gas they must go through?) The monotony almost causes Chi to lose control of their vehicle. When they arrive at a break, the only way to go on, is to risk a dangerous assent on the outside of the spiral. “How can you live your life always afraid of mortal danger?” Of all the episodes, this one little segment may offer the most allegory about life. Do we live our lives in fear of mortal danger? Like their spiral, do we just go round and round doing the same things, over and over again, an uphill climb? In many ways, yes. But is that a bad thing? Sure we could quit our jobs and risk, risk, risk, just for fun, but for what payoff? If we don’t make it, what is our legacy? A button and a scrap of paper? We could do something new every day. But is it sustainable? I think Chi realizes that there’s something to be said for maintaining life, while Yuu, who is so used to everything being brief, is willing to risk more. She’ll go out in a blaze of fun, if she could. While her personality has become progressively more enjoyable, I find myself siding with Chi, the level-headed one. “Where do we end up when we reach the end of the spiral?” Retired? Enlightened? In heaven, basking in moonlight?
In the final part, we see where they end up: on the top of a building dancing in moonlight, drunk as skunks! “Oh, and I found a nice stick!” (She does seem to like finding nice sticks though, doesn’t she!?) There’s a delightful moment here where the girls find beer and, with no idea what it is, they drink a lot of it. Yuu thinks the power of the moon infected them. Not quite, Yuu… but I can see how you draw that conclusion. Going with the allegorical nature of the episode, when they get to the top and out of the spiral, they find euphoria. Maybe it’s the idea of getting out of the rat race. But to do it, they very nearly died as the scaffolding gave way. Was it worth it? I imagine the lesson was to tell us yes: they had to risk, to achieve the most fun. Does this make me want to go out on a limb? Nope. I’m still a bit too practical and I love the life I have too much to risk like that.
In some ways, this episode is out of order. The start could have been the finish. You go through the daily grind, round and round, only to end euphoric and happy. You’ve succeeded and partied to celebrate. And then you die, and you leave behind whatever you do. And for a while, people remember you until they too are gone and eventually, those lonely stone sentinels are all that remain, reminders that we too had been here. I hope I leave a memorable button behind… But let’s take the far happier order of the episode at face value and not speculate on the melancholy. The episode ends with a bubbly little musical piece which may have been inspired by the hiccups I am sure Chi and Yuu have. It’s a happy ditty and reminds us that sometimes you’ve just got to live in the moment. Dance in the moonlight and celebrate getting out of the uphill spiral climb! And why not enjoy the hiccups you get from it all while you’re at it. (Maybe you’ll even find a nice stick!) ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Girls’ Last Tour Episode 9