“The Butterfly Vanished in November, Part 1”
It’s All Coming Together:
This is what we’ve been building up to all season – Sakurako-san’s raison d’être. Truthfully, this show was beginning to lose me with these past few episodes, but this current case has me back on board once again. Now, I don’t want it to sound like my expectations are too high for “The Butterfly Vanished in November” mystery, but this is certainly the most important case of the series. If this works and pays off, then we should get a nice round-off to a somewhat inconsistent series – but at least there will have been a purpose to it all. However, if it fails, it will affect overall impressions of the series. Either way, this current story is very important, as a good ending can make or break a show like Sakurako-san. But let’s not jump the end just yet; instead, I’d like to start from the beginning. The very beginning.
Since watching the OP for the first time it was clear who the “final villain” was going to be, even if he only appeared briefly in episodes 4 and 5. Back then, I thought his introduction would allow him to bleed into the mysteries that would follow, but this fedora-wearing stranger has been missing from our screens since then. Better late than never, he’s finally returned, and it just feels right.
And not only that, but this current case has a lot going for it, tying back to previous episodes and various characters: we’ve got Isozaki, who was the teacher of the girls being focused on this week, Kougami being in the tennis club becomes useful to the story, and her emotional outburst at Isozaki in the ‘pointless’ festival episode actually become relevant! I said I would be pleased if that episode (which is still my favourite so far) became important in the grand scheme of things, and now it feels like it has, albeit in a small way. It may not be the most crucial detail, but it helps paint the bigger picture, laying the groundwork for what we’ve been building up to – a mystery that involves everyone in some way or another.
The Three Sisters and the Painter:
At the core of it all are three girls who have close ties with Isozaki – Madoka Hitoe, Nishizawa Futaba, and Tsutsumi Minami – who were so close-knit in their highschool days that they were referred to as the “three sisters”. But we learn how their bonds have unravelled in the past few years, as Futaba went missing one day, leaving behind what appeared to be a suicide note, never to appear again. With that link broken, Hitoe and Minami grew apart, even if they still kept the same stuffed bear in their bedrooms – which almost seems symbolic for their innocence, before everything went horribly wrong.
As the episode progresses, things get more and more interesting (though, in truth, I was hooked from the very first shot, as the butterfly imagery came in a flurry), as we learn that two years after Futaba’s disappearance, Hitoe has now vanished. We later see her in a log cabin in the woods (bringing only her phone, her small dog, and some prescription drugs), and looking rather out of it.
What’s funny about this episode is that it’s the first time Sakurako’s offhandish remarks actually worked for me, if only because she seemed genuinely offended by the Madoka household. Meeting her parents and watching Sakurako scorn them actually felt quite good; they don’t appear to be horrible people, but they’re certainly more interested in protecting their reputation than the safety of their missing daughter. Comparing that to the parents of the third ‘sister’, Minami, you see that she’s raised in a very different household. Immediately, it’s clear that there’s a gap in wealth between the two, which would explain Hitoe’s parents’ disgust. Not only that, but Minami’s mother’s partner (who may or may not be her father – that’s unclear) is another spanner in the works.
Comparing the two house visits, we see that these two girls have both at some point ‘ran away’ from home for very different reasons, and to the same man. No matter how well-off you may be, everyone has their familial troubles. For Hitoe, I’d assume she wants to break away from her restrictive parents who value her achievements (like her tennis trophy) more than her happiness. But for Minami, it’s the man of the household that prevents her from returning home, although the details why that is aren’t clear just yet.
As different as these three girls are (with one likely dead by now), there is one thing that ties everyone together: Hanabusa-sensei, the same artist from “The Cursed Man” case. As was hinted at the end of the previous episode, the imagery matches up, and we finally get some details on his character, shady as they may be. It appears that Minami was lured out by this painter who she was smitten with, for whatever reason, but managed to escape his grasp before it was too late. However, by the end of the episode we do see marks of their relationship, linking back to the Lethe diana, a butterfly that is attracted to corpses (among other things). The earlier scene where he hands her a painter’s knife feels all the more striking when it appears it was used to etch those marks onto her back. What we know right now is that Hitoe is with that same man, who I imagine is going to go even further with her. My personal theory is that he’s also involved with Futaba’s disappearance and is intentional working his way around the “Three Sisters”. It’s all very fascinating stuff, but when you factor in Sakurako pulling back the curtains and doing her own suspicious research, it makes me wonder whether or not this Hanabusa-sensei is also involved in the death of her younger brother.
Overview – What’s Next?:
For the first time, I’m genuinely invested in the mystery at hand. I would even go as far as to say this episode was rather smart; like Isozaki taking pictures of flowers, then revealing his newfound love for plants, before explaining it as his way of coping with losing one of his classmates. Not only that, but I enjoyed Sakurako’s general disposition in this episode; perhaps it’s because she’s more involved in this than meets the eye. Now that I think about it, back when this painter appeared in the “Cursed Man” case, he definitely had long black hair, yet as we see him through Minami’s eyes, he looks bald to the point of illness. I don’t know if this is because he has changed appearance between the two times, or because there is more than one painter.
I feel like there’s a twist coming, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe Sakurako is Hanabusa-sensei after all! Or… more likely, perhaps he is the fiancée we’ve been hearing about every so often, though have yet to meet. Two more episodes to go. Let’s see how this all comes together.