Technology / Aquarium / Life
The view from Igirisu:
Although this episode has three titles as usual, the three chapters add up to one continuous story. In fact, it feels like watching a short film, without the usual opening and ending title sequences, and it seeks to tackle one question: what is life? At the start of the episode the girls are discussing that question, and they are unable to come up with an answer:
“I don’t have the words to describe it.”
Just as they are discussing that, we hear the menacing footsteps of a giant robot, which Chi immediately dismisses as something that should be categorised as alive:
“Is that there what you would call a living being?”
“No I don’t think it was a living being.”
Then something happens to challenge that view. They find an aquarium, with just one fish left alive, and a cute robot looking after it, which looks a bit like a sheep. That might just be my interpretation and other viewers might see something else when they look at him, but I do wonder if it’s a deliberate reference to a shepherd looking after his flock. With all the talk of evolution, a sheep has become the shepherd. Maybe that’s a bit tenuous, but either way the robot is a great way to tackle Chi’s assumption that a machine can’t be alive, and that brings us to one possible definition of life: the ability to evoke and feel empathy.
“You seem like you’re really alive even though you’re just a machine.”
“Perhaps because we were equipped with the ability to evoke empathy in order to communicate better with humans.”
“What exactly is empathy?”
“It means when you are happy, I am happy as well.”
When Chi and Yuu start thinking of the robot as a life form, this poses a problem for them when the giant robot starts dismantling the facility. On the one hand they have the last remaining fish, which Yuu has been desperate to eat: a predator and her prey. The cleverness of the writing here is that this was never a tourist destination. It was a facility to farm fish in huge numbers for food. On the other hand, with his right to life having to be weighed up against something that was bred as a food item, is a giant, magnificent robot. Both fish and robot might be the last of their kind.
Yuu by this point is completely on the side of Chi and the little robot and wants to save the fish, but she doesn’t quite understand why she feels that way, and that brings up the question of empathy once more, but they have a decision to make and they have to make it quickly. There’s never really much doubt about what they will do, but Chi does worry about killing the robot in order to save the fish. By now she is seeing both fish and robot as forms of life.
What follows is an incredibly powerful moment to watch. With Yuu on the robot’s head, he turns to look at her, reminding me of a dinosaur from Jurassic Park, and it looks like he is trying to talk to her. I think he might be begging for his life.
“Sorry big guy. Forgive me.”
Chi is the one who has to trigger the explosives, and that makes the moment even more significant. Yuu is acting on instinct, but Chi is a thinker. Ultimately, I think both of them follow their hearts. As dino-robot explodes, he falls to the ground with a horrible sound like a scream.
We are left with some final thoughts. The little robot and the fish will “live a bit longer, though we all die one day”, and that gives us another possible definition of life: something that dies.
“Maybe life just means something that has an end to it, you know.”
Chi and Yuu are surviving in the dying days of the whole planet.
“The Earth was once a large living being, but…”
“Then what is it now?”
While they are exploring and living their lives, maybe the Earth is still alive, for now. But were those robots ever alive? I don’t think the episode tries to answer that question. In fact, I’m not sure it can ever be answered. It’s enough that it makes us think, and Girls’ Last Tour certainly does that. RP
The view from Amerika:
I’ll start with a technical observation on this one, which is a weird choice, considering I have a lot to say beyond that, but let me go with it anyway. Watching these on Blu-ray has been terrific but maybe I’m too creative for my own good. Episode 9 opens with a new theme and I find myself wondering: why do this on episode 9 of 12?? It’s not that we shouldn’t have a different opening; I’m all for that. But it’s a 2 disc set. Put all of the one opening on disc 1 and call it Yuu’s disc, because it’s more carefree, boppy. Move episode 9 onto disc 2 (thus also load balancing the two discs) and call that disc Chi’s disc because it’s a bit more introspective and thoughtful. The Blu-ray does not list any extras so I can’t see it being a question of cramming more on disc 2. Maybe I’ll think differently when I change discs but it seems like a very strange choice. And for a series that did such a great job so far with contrasts, this would have been one more neat addition for the purchased product of the Blu-ray. And considering this episode opens with that repeat of the “It’s so dark” discussion between Chi and Yuu from episode one, it would have even made more sense to start disc two with that. But that’s just my non-expert opinion.
Alright, enough of the technical stuff even if technology is the name of the game in this story. Chi and Yuu continue their travels and locate an aquarium with its one sole living occupant: a small fish. “That weird thing” that Yuu wanted to eat is about to become her mission and it’s not to eat it, but to save it from destruction. This is a beautiful episode on many levels. Let’s go to the beginning…
Chi mentions that the facility they are passing through is still alive and Yuu has to ask what that means. The difference between the two girls is always amazing to me. They seem to be close in age, and I can’t help but suspect that they grew up together. But when they go into an unused fish tank for a dip, I do wonder if perhaps I’m mistaken. This series has the grace not to sexualize the girls in any way but it is evident that Yuu is much more developed that Chi. On it’s own, this isn’t anything to speak of, but it does make me wonder why she seems so much less developed mentally. On the one hand, she knows so little of life, but perhaps she’s more advanced in accepting things than Chi is. Like everything else, there is such a schism between their personalities, that it bears notice. (Although I’ve mentioned it before, the biggest difference between these two is that Chi wants knowledge and Yuu wants to eat. This is extremely evident here as Chi want her new robotic friend to share information while Yuu is hyper focused on eating the fish!) Also when they go swimming and Chi is amazed at Yuu’s ability to swim, the robot they meet says Yuu is highly adaptable. Perhaps this is why she is able to deal with their dire situation without that “fear of mortal danger” that Chi lives with.
The robotic friend is an interesting development finally giving us some context about the world around us. When Yuu and Chi first see the giant deconstructor robot, Chi says someone is probably operating it and it is unlikely that the robot would just walk up to them and say “hello”. To my very pleasant surprise, that is exactly what one does. It teaches the girls about what happened to much of the world. And the futility of their existence is a gut punch for me. Eventually everything will be gone and the machines will go on constructing and deconstructing until they too eventually break down. The sense of finality is just unbearable. And even Yuu is affected… it’s that high adaptability rating, I guess. She determines that the last fish should have as long a life as possible, and in turn gives the same gift to her robotic friend. She destroys the deconstructor robot to save the other two; a question of the needs of the many, perhaps? At the end she speculates that the definition of life is that “one day it will all come to an end”. For someone who loves so much about being alive, this is just utterly heart breaking for me to consider. I always feel like we will go on and on, because humanity is amazing, but perhaps that’s idyllic thinking. And yet in Yuu, I find there’s equally a comfort to be had in her logic, once again making her an interesting character beyond her odd carefree demeanor. She recognizes that the journey is the important thing; it’s not about a goal. It’s about the experience. And in this case, it’s the experience she has with her friend. One day, that will end – for all of us. But we should enjoy the journey along the way, with our friends. As it was said to me very recently: friendship saves lives. And that is hopeful. A strange mix of melancholy and acceptance blend in unexpected ways with this series.
I think the sepia flashbacks to some of the most mundane elements of the first 8 episodes worked well for this story. We see so many things from the past, but it’s all small things: a loose screw, a piece of rock floating in the water, rain pooling, musical chimes. Other shows would show us the big moments, the explosions and the people… but this series drives our awareness that it’s the little things that make up our lives; those moments of joy that turn up in the most basic of things. Like getting a whiff of something that sends us emotionally back to our youth, or a toy we see in the antique shop that reminds us of growing up, we realize it’s not the explosions that make life so much fun, it’s the little treasures. This episode taught the girls about empathy and I think it’s an important thing captured in a number of actions, but the most powerful is Yuu’s understand that the little things matter. She saves a lone robot and a last survivor of a dying aquatic race. They will die one day, but not today. Not while Chi and Yuu live! With them in the world, there is still some hope to be found, at least for a little while. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Girls’ Last Tour Episode 10