「高松 祭り」 (Takamatsu Matsuri)
At this point, it’s pretty much a given that the final episode of Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari is going to kick my ass and leave me for dead by the side of the road. No matter what happens I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that oncoming train – not with a series that’s been as emotionally compelling as this one. Final episodes of shows we love are always hard. Final episodes of shows we love that play emotional hardball and end way too soon – those are brutal.
There’s no doubt that the question of Poko and Souta’s bond is the big one hanging over Udon no Kuni. What makes that doubly agonizing is that Souta is finally fully committing himself to the idea of being Poko’s father, and the possibility feels tantalizingly real. Souta is unsure about so many things in his life, but he’s completely sure that he wants to be together with Poko. The problem of course is that Poko isn’t a real human boy, but a magical beast – and one who’s increasingly struggling to keep that fact a secret.
Do Rinko and Shinobu suspect something is off with Poko? Well, Rinko has every reason to – she knows something weird happened at that cemetery, and Poko is the new element in the equation that makes things not quite add up. Theoretically Shinobu doesn’t have a reason to suspect, but he clearly does – I think because his understanding of Souta is stronger than anyone else’s. He’s seen the signs from his friend that something is unusual about Poko, but even Poko’s presence as a human is unusual – Souta’s never given a good explanation of why Poko is with him. It’s one thing for Souta to tell the two people closest to him the truth (and he’s clearly thinking about it), but quite another taking the risk that the world at-large will find out what Poko is. And what happens then?
Two times in this episode Souta says out loud what I think it the ultimate raison d’etre for Poko’s presence in his life – “I wish I’d talked to Dad more”. That’s what this all comes down to, really – Souta regretting the lost opportunity to have a relationship with his father. What Poko has done is allow Souta to step into his father’s shoes – to understand the feeling of having a child depend on you for everything. And obviously, he’s reconnected Souta to the place he comes from both physically and emotionally – helped him remember the things he loves about home.
Normally, of course, that conversation Souta dreams of is something that could never happen. But do Poko’s miraculous powers extend so far as to be able to allow Souta to speak with his father – to share what he’s found in his life that finally makes him happy? That would be a beautiful, heart-rending moment (if arguably a bit of a narrative cop-out), but also a really fascinating one. Because while Souta is indeed getting his hands into the dough again after all these years, it seems the dream he’s chasing is still his own, and not his father’s. I hope that’s how things turn out, and I’ve always sensed that’s where we were headed – what Souta wants is to create not noodles, but stories in sound and vision. And I believe his father would be thrilled to see the joy that gives his son, especially if it’s a passion he can pursue from Kagawa.
All of this comes to a head at the Takamatsu Matsuri, where Gaogao-chan himself (or herself, in this case) makes an appearance (and we see his origin story later, as the omake and the main story finally join together). It’s a classic Japanese festival, with takoyaki and masks for sale and dancing. But when the hanabitaikai begins, the excitement is too much for Poko, whose tail makes another uninvited appearance. And this time, it’s in full view of a crowd full of people – including the nosy tanuki otaku priest Fujiyama and Manabe-san’s video-camera (for live-streaming the festival, which is the project he’s hired Souta for). The genie is out of the bottle now, and for purely practical reasons it seems the idyllic life that Souta and Poko have been sharing is about to come to an end.
Many questions will be answered in the final episode, which I can only assume is going to be at least partly anime-original since the manga is ongoing. If the first is how hard Souta will be willing to fight to protect Poko, I think the answer is easy to predict. But one could make the case that Poko has already accomplished almost everything he might have set out to do, if he were here acting in his capacity as a Kami – with the lone exception of facilitating some way for Souta to come to peace with the memory of his father and their relationship. Problem is, he may have done his job too well – because at this point, it’s hard to imagine Souta having any definition of “family happiness” that doesn’t include Poko himself as a big part of it.