「追憶の肖像」 (Tsuioku no Shouzou)
“Portrait of Memories”
With the opening and ending sequence taken out in favor of extra time, plus a new ending theme by Ishikawa Chiaki (Garden of Summer), this flashback episode felt like the lead up to the finale. It definitely surprised me with the way it unfolded, which was very different from what I had in mind. I mentioned back in episode four that the name of Kyouhei’s teacher was revealed in the credits as Senou Chihaya (Nabei Makiko) and that she was likely killed, but at no point did I suspect it was the result of an entire village turning a blind eye to the sexual harassment of one Kuga Atsushi (Miyake Kenta). I figured it was an accident of sorts, and not some village-wide hazing. Granted, the actual cause did go to show how twisted and occult-like Karakami really is, reaffirming the whole dark secret type of vibe it’s given off. To that end, it was pretty repulsing how the parents were scared of the Kuga family’s authority in the village to the point that they’d tell their kids to stay away from their teacher when she didn’t do anything wrong.
Upon seeing that, I was pretty convinced that some of the kids were simply spreading a rumor on the blackboard to force Chihaya in a corner, so my image of her really changed when I learned otherwise. She’s clearly a lot more soiled than she originally appeared, but I still think it’s unfair to blame her solely for the trauma and subsequent accident that she put a former student through. Last time I checked, it takes two to tango. There’s no arguing that she should’ve been more sensible about her relationships when she’s a teacher, but I was inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she’s learned from her mistake and moved on. That only lasted for a short while though, because as soon as I did she’s coming onto Aki just because he reminded her of that boy’s father. (*facepalm*) Like seriously, was anyone expecting an adulterated student/teacher relationship in all this? Cougarville aside, I did get a sense of where this backstory was headed from that point on. Namely, how we would end up at flashback that we’ve seen many times already where Aki massacred everyone. I caught wind of Chihaya sacrificing herself to protect Aki during my season research, so the rest of the episode just fell into place — including Aki forcibly taking control of Kuramitsuha again.
While that part of Kyouhei and Aki’s past was fairly predictable halfway through the episode, the same can’t be said about the backstory as a whole. I found it surprisingly hard to completely sympathize with Chihaya for example, even though she was clearly the victim in all this. The same goes for Aki, who had personality problems well before any of this happened, breaking away from the typical scenario where the trauma made him who he is today. Then there was Kyouhei and his feelings for Chihaya that were hinted at before, which served as a huge red herring and made it seem like he blamed Aki for her death. For a moment, that looked like the cause of the bad blood between Kyouhei and Aki even now, but it turns out Kyouhei found out not too long after that Aki wasn’t responsible for Chihaya’s death. (Fake-out #2.)
So while the tragic conclusion was easy to foresee given the way things progressed, the story took a quite a few unexpected steps to get there. At the same time, it gave off an unfortunate yet not overly tragic feeling, as the tears from everyone at the end (including Hibino) didn’t invoke any sort of emotional response from me. From my perspective, Chihaya tried to to move on and was forced to remember her mistake, which led to her confiding in another emotionally scarred outcast to get a momentary release from it all (pun intended). She did what she felt she had to without any regrets and things simply got worse because of it. There’s no denying that Atsushi is the root cause of everything, but when Chihaya turned away Kyouhei’s offer to help claiming that she’s an adult and decided to sleep with Aki instead, she definitely didn’t help her case.
Anyway, given everything that’s happened, I’m still unclear as to what Kyouhei has against Aki when he knows what happened. Does it really come down to some lingering feeling of jealousy toward Aki for sleeping with Chihaya before he even had a chance to confess? I mean, he seems to be aware that Aki was trying to save Chihaya, so I can’t imagine him bearing a grudge over that. Then there’s Aki himself, who still perceives Kyouhei as his friend judging from the way he came to mind when Aki thought he was going to be killed. My suspicion is that his attempts to draw out Kyouhei’s true nature is partly because he wants someone to share in the same pain that he’s experienced. Whatever the case, this was an awesome story-building episode that also clarified why Moyako didn’t show any interest in Kyouhei last time — it looks like she’s one of the few people who sees Aki for who he truly is. I think Hibino sees it too now.
Note: It was only hinted at when Atsushi said that Chihaya isn’t only Aki’s woman anymore, but from my understanding, the manga is more suggestive about how he raped her before Aki arrived.