「宇宙よりも遠い場所」 (Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho)
“A Place Further Than the Universe”
This episode touched on so many issues of mourning and grief, issues I don’t feel qualified to dissect. I’ve experienced death, but not on the level of Shirase. Little can match a middle schooler losing her mother—her only parent—so suddenly, not even if she knew her mom was going to someplace dangerous. We never think the grim reaper will touch our lives, not until it has. And once it has, recovering from that grief can take many forms, and it can twist people out of shapes as they grapple with it. I don’t blame Shirase for walking around like she’s in a dream. I don’t blame her for forgetting what she said (“In your face!”) because she’s walking about in a fog. I can scarcely imagine the pain.
Shirase had two fears. She’s scared of achieving her goal, because once she’s done that, what’s left? It’s like a boxer winning the title, and then not knowing what to do. It’s like a football player who stops playing and doesn’t know what to do. Or perhaps more pointedly, it’s like a husband or wife who buries themselves in their work to escape the pain of their deceased spouse, only for their project to conclude or their contract to end or their retirement to come, and now they have no idea what to do. What happens when you bend your life toward a purpose, and you achieve it? Depression, frequently. Especially if that purpose was sought as a means of keeping the depressions already chasing you at arm’s length. Shirase is afraid of what happens next.
The other fear is that she wouldn’t feel enough. This is a fear she’s already been confronting. I think that Shirase came to Antarctica both to get closer to her mother, but also to understand her. She wants to understand why her mother came to Antarctica. Why she loved it so much she risked her life here. Why it was worth it. If Shirase had come here and been awestruck at the beauty of the place, it would have made sense. She would have understood. But Shirase is not her mother. She saw it, and was not shaken to her core. She was not enamored by it. And she’s afraid that, if she gets to the place her mother died and she still feels the same—that’s it. She’ll never understand, and closure will escape her.
I went into this episode after a couple of my fellow writers (those disreputable scoundrels) had hyped this episode up, and so I ended up in an odd bit of symmetry with Shirase. I wasn’t feeling it as much as I felt I should, and was wondering if I would. (Hype will do that.) Then it got to the place where Shirase was talking with Kimari, and then Shirase composed the email to her mom about her friends, and it began to sink in. This has always been a friendship drama as much as anything—not a drama between friends, but a drama of friends setting off on this adventure together—and Shirase wanting to tell her mom about her friends got to me.
Then Kimari, Hinata, and Yuzuki were rushing through the inland station—where Kobuchizawa Observatory will be built, no less—desperately searching for anything of Shirase’s mother. They were desperate, not for themselves, but for her—desperate to find the closure they knew their friend needed, to help her become whole. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, because we all want to have friends as great as these.
Then they found the laptop. With Shirase and Takako’s picture on it. Then Shirase turned it on, and it booted up (cold is good for electronics, and it’s super dry in Antarctica). Then she fumbled about for the password, and saw the picture again—1101. November 1st. Shirase’s birthday.
Then the emails began flooding in, and it got to me. It pierced right to my heart, just as Shirase broke down, along with her friends standing guard outside. 1101, and 1101 emails—and Shirase’s mom died three years ago. That means Shirase sent her an email every day.
Oof. If the episode hadn’t been about to end, I would have had to hit pause. The screen was getting blurry.
Like I said at the top, I don’t feel qualified to talk about grief. I do feel qualified talking about stories, so I can say that anything they found of Takako’s at the station would have likely triggered this response, at least from a plot point of view. But the writers didn’t just go for anything. That the laptop called back to the emails Shirase has been sending all season made the punch more devastating, and that they were unread—I think that’s what really brought Shirase the closure she needed. Until she saw that, she could pretend that her mother was reading her emails somewhere. But once she saw her mother’s laptop, something memorable enough that Shirase imagines her ghost typing away, with all those emails unread—she had to face it. It was staring up at her. 1101 emails, all unread. Her mother is gone, and she wept.
To make matters worse, it is likely that Takako died because she forgot her laptop. Not because she forgot some machine—Takako seems like she was pretty flighty, and she was unwise enough assume she would be fine because “it’s just a few meters”—but she wouldn’t have risked her life for some machine. She did it because she communicated with her daughter by email. That laptop was how she stayed connected with Shirase, and that was something important enough that she thought “it’s just a few meters”—and that small mistake was enough. Had she thought about it more, she wouldn’t have done it, but her mind was on her daughter. Her last thoughts might have been about the beauty of Antarctica, once she knew she was already dead, but I’m sure that she was thinking of her daughter up to that point. I doubt we’ll ever have that spelled out as her for-sure cause of death—we shouldn’t, because there’s no way the expedition members could possibly know—but that’s what we’re meant to think. It makes the tragedy all the higher.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a post where I wanted to cry more while writing it. Usually it’s only during the episode where the emotions run high, but this one is getting to me the more I think about it. It’s beautiful. It’s so very beautiful. Bring on the last episode, friends. Let’s bring this story home.
- #DearMom. Oof.
- The soundtrack was very quiet for much of this episode. It was, once again, well done. As with friendship (“To act is not necessarily compassion. True compassion sometimes comes from inaction!”), sometimes it’s what you don’t do that makes the moment.
- Yuzuki was so cute when Yumiko said they were good friends, but they also proved it. Bad friends don’t care this much for each other. They really are great friends.
- Attempt #1, unsuccessful. Attempt #2, looking better.
“Dear Mom. I’ve made friends. I, who thought I’d be fine by myself forever, now have friends. They’re all a little weird, a little frustrating, a bit broken… But I have friends who were willing to travel to Antarctica with me. We fought, we cried, we had problems… But they were willing to travel this far with me, to this place where you were… I was able to come this far because of them.”
Someone stop cutting all those onions dammit, the screen is getting blurry again. Jeez. *sniffles*
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Full-length images: 13.