「初めて恋をした記憶」 (Hajimete Koi wo Shita Kioku)
“The Memory of My First Love”
No, I’m definitely not crying. I don’t need a hug, nope, not at all.
Before I get to the really good stuff, let’s talk about the equally good conclusion to the Ayumi conquest. Ayumi is a special heroine, not in the way that girls like Yui or Tenri are, but in that she’s the first heroine Keima ever captured and thus holds a huge allure of nostalgia. She’s the first one, the one who catapulted Keima’s “career” as the Capturing God and who thus holds a special place in our hearts, and very likely Keima’s as well (she did take his first kiss, after all). It’s only apt then that she shares her spotlight in an episode titled after first loves, and her capture is definitely very charming and romantic. None of the other girls can claim to have married their bespectacled hero, charade or otherwise, and Ayumi has a chance to ask Keima what’s going on, unlike the other girls who are (mostly) carried along at his pace. That she doesn’t ask, however, shows that she trusts him, so when he says he doesn’t love her, it’s only normal that she’d get upset. I think their relationship is well summed up when she declares she can’t trust a thing he says but still chooses to go through the “wedding” ceremony; she trusts that there’s a reason to why he can’t talk yet.
However, as much as I like Ayumi and her Goddess Arc, culminated when Mercurius is released and Diana carries her sister off into battle, this is Chihiro’s story just as much as any other girl. In fact, I’ve often thought to myself how cruelly ironic it is that in some ways, this arc is hugely about Chihiro more so than it is about any singular goddess, and that feeling is only intensified by the second half of the episode. You can definitely blame this portion for rushing things; there are quite a few manga chapters to cover all the material that this episode covers in some ten odd minutes, and there are multiple storylines all vying for attention as well. You have the battle between the Jupiter Sisters, the Loose Souls Team, and Vintage, you have Haqua’s fight with Lune, and you have Keima and Chihiro’s conversation. While this portion was treated just as rushed and cut off in the manga, I like the way Manglobe managed to capture the essence of the scene. Interpersing the scenes of the battle with quieter, more contemplative and emotional moments during Chihiro and Keima’s talk comes off as almost artistic, and definitely hits quite a few notes in just the right way when in motion. It’s not a perfect scene by any means, and you can tell what the studio is trying to achieve, but it just works, and I definitely appreciate just how it made me feel about this whole affair.
It’s really heartbreaking to realize that Chihiro never stopped loving Keima and that even when upset, she did all she could to help him in his conquest with Ayumi. It’s not the poor girl’s fault that she fell in love, and it’s not Keima’s fault either; love is just something that happens and it can’t be helped, and more often than not, it’s a really painful and awful thing to deal with. That would be heartwrenching enough without the realization that Keima is finally voicing his pain and misgivings about what he did to her. You could even go as far as saying that he’s developed feelings for her, and though that’s just one interpretation, it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Personally, I think Chihiro is special to Keima in various ways and that she represents something to him that no other heroine ever quite has. Not only did Chihiro fall in love with him of her own volition, and not only did he crush her feelings for the sake of his job, but more importantly, she was opportunity. She was that “what if” in Keima’s complicated life, the girl who loved him for his manipulative and slightly twisted personality, the one he could have loved, if only he was allowed to. Yes, you can argue that Tenri loves him in this way too, but Tenri is so shy that she’s never openly declared her affections or really stepped up to be that “what if”. Chihiro is the girl who helped him, who visited him when he was sick without any prodding, who wrote songs for him, who he destroyed with his necessary cruelty. But the truth is that Keima can’t allow himself to love her back, even if he wants to. Even if she understands what’s going on, her presence at his side is too risky, too difficult, when his life depends on making other girls fall in love with him. In some ways, Keima can never have that “what if”. He’s not allowed to love until his contract is complete, but if anything, his experience with Chihiro, her memories of her first love, will perhaps allow him to face the future a little more confidently and purposefully than he ever has before. Sometimes, you can’t keep avoiding the Real, no matter how much you wish you could.
ED5: 「初めて恋をした記憶」 (Hajimete Koi wo Shita Kioku) by 2B PENCILS & 中川かのん
For all my misgivings as a manga reader, and my anxieties about the ability of this finale to live up to the quality of the Goddess Arc, I’m more or less smugly pleased with the end result. I don’t think it was possible for Manglobe to ever pull this arc off perfectly considering how little time they gave themselves to work with so much material, and it’s certainly true that the final episode is plagued by the same issues that the rest of the season gave us. Yet despite that, despite the rushing and very limited focus on certain aspects of the narrative, I can’t help but want to applaud the studio a little for how they worked things through. Sometimes when you’re given something that’s really difficult to work with, the result depends entirely on how well you worked around those limitations; this is one of those times that I can definitely award a “you did your best and it didn’t suck” sticker. In fact, when it comes to this episode specifically, I find the execution to be quite admirable and heavily emotional, flawed though it is.
In general though, I do wish we’d had more time for this arc, and I still heavily lament the fact that so much pre-Goddess material was skipped. Can you really enjoy Yui, Tsukiyo, Akari, and all the other skipped girls when you’ve never been exposed to their original arcs? As I mentioned at the beginning of the season, most anime only viewers were probably prompted into reading the manga at some point, which is always a good thing, but as its own medium, it is fairly disappointing to see an adaptation with so much potential meet with so many limitations. The pacing could be especially jarring in some episodes and strangely fine in others, and certain details were definitely skipped when it comes to the manga. But in the end, I do have to come back to my original conclusion: you have to be grateful for what you get, and what we got is hardly the worst adaptation I’ve ever seen. The fact that I ended this post in tears and feels goes to say how good the material still is, even when condensed into twelve short weeks. Blogging this series was a goal for me since far before I joined the RC staff, and I wrested it from Takaii’s stiff fingers with exhaustive triumph (okay, so I just requested it, shhhh), and I’m proud to say it was worth it no matter the disappointments. Thank you all for being wonderful readers, for respecting anime-only viewers, and for supporting me through another season at RandomC. It was a pleasure to write for you all, and I will miss the Capturing God in my life once more, perhaps even for the final time, if Manglobe never adapts more manga.
We have reached the ending, my friends, and it is time to return to the Real. Excuse me while I grab a tissue and huddle somewhere with a pillow.