「いりこだし」 (Iriko Dashi)
I can definitely feel Udon no Kuni careening towards a tearjerker ending, because now that the subject of Souta and Poko parting company has been acknowledged, it’s an inescapable presence in every scene. If this were an original series I’d feel pretty certain of how it was going to end, but who knows what’s going to happen given that it’s going to be stopping in the middle of the story. I suspect the anime team is going to give us some sort of an ending (they can’t be naive enough to imagine a second season is possible) and if I have a good idea how the manga is going to end, it’s a safe bet they have an even better one. But we’ll see what happens.
If you wanted udon, you’re definitely getting your wish now, and it seems as if there’s more to come – because in this series, udon is obviously more than just a noodle dish. Hiroshi is still in Kagawa and his impact is still being felt, and while he’s probably my least favorite character so far (a bit too over-the-top for my tastes) he’s certainly pushing things forward here. He’s the one who pushes Souta to make udon (comfort food for his broken heart) and it’s he who reveals to Souta that Saeki Manabu isn’t just a creative director, but the guy who created Gaogao-chan – which is that much more evidence of the guiding hand at work behind the coincidental events in this story.
Poko’s role here remains very much the facilitator, bringing Souta that much closer to the parts of his life that seemed gone forever. Making udon is certainly complicated, even with the help of his father’s notes – but Souta is clearly not as ignorant of the process as he claims to be. The essence of the noddle-making scene is Souta’s lament (later, to his sister) that he wished he’d spent more time paying attention when his father alive – not just to the process of making udon, but to what his father had to say to him generally. He can never remedy that, as Udon no Kuni painfully reminds us seemingly every week – once someone is gone, we can’t bring them back. But through Poko Souta can pay more attention, get closer to the man his father was.
The fact that Souta bemoans that he didn’t learn udon-making is certainly a tell about what’s on his mind, even with Saeki-san offering him contract employment with Team Planet. But there’s a more immediate problem, and it’s that Poko seems to be having problems maintaining his human facade. The first (adorable) sign of it comes when his ears pop out after a sneeze, but he seems to be weakening generally. Hiroshi is the short-term problem, though in the end Souta’s near-admission of the truth is enough to remind him of the kindness Souta showed him when Hiroshi was the new guy at Hamada-san’s agency – and in doing so, of what’s important and what isn’t. But this is much bigger than hiding the truth from Hiroshi (whether Fujiyama Shunsuke sticks his nose into it or not).
This is a tough situation we have developing here. Rinko gently reminds Souta that Poko has to go sooner or later, and even if she’s off-target about the reason, she’s spot-on with her larger point. Souta has clearly come to love Poko – so much so that he has no reservations about staying with him even if he goes full tanuki. But can a human and a tanuki really be a family unit? Not everyone would be as quick to soften their views as Hiroshi – and that’s not even dabbling into the deeper and more fundamental roadblocks.
Whether justifiably or not, it’s The Little Prince that keeps popping up in my head as I watch these last few episodes play out, and we all know how that ended. Udon no Kuni is a fundamentally positive and life-affirming series that asks us to rise above our cynicism and embrace the idea that many things are possible if we confront our blind spots and accept who we are. But it’s also a series that very much confronts the reality of loss – that there are things we regret and can never change, no matter how much we wish it weren’t the case. Maybe that’s as good as definition of “bittersweet” as any, I don’t know – and maybe it’s why Udon no Kuni is one of the most emotionally penetrating anime of 2016.