Summertime Render hasn’t really missed a trick yet. It’s reassuring with a series like this knowing that it’s probably not going to jump the
whale shark. Because, of course, many if not most of them do. Supernatural thrillers rarely hold together all the way till the end, but with Watanabe Ayumu on-board and the manga’s reputation, it seems very likely the payoff (we’re already in that phase of the story) will be worthy of the buildup.
We’ve already done a lot of time jumping, but 1732 is the farthest we’ve gone. We already had some notion from Haine’s conversation with middle-school Hizuru, but the Hiruko story started in famine. The 1732 Kyouhou Famine, to be precise, a period of Japanese history I’m far from knowledgeable about. It hit Kyuushu hard (possibly as many as 200,000 died) and it’s widely blamed on regressive tax policies by the Tokugawa shogun of the time. It also marked the time when the satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato) became widespread in Japan, as places where it had already spread largely avoided the famine of 1732.
I still have questions there. Primarily, if the incident with Haine and the whale happened in 1732, why did the Haine we met in Hizuko’s recollections (which would have been 2003 or so) act so Jekyll and Hyde? Why was she seemingly flashing back to that time period? It does fill in arguably the last piece of the puzzle, though, along with Karikiri-san, that is. Which is fitting, as Karikiri was the last major character whose role had been unexplained. It seemed likely he was probably Shide – no one else made sense – but it’s nice to have it confirmed. As to Shinpei’s theory on the origin of Hiruko being extraterrestrial, it’s interesting to speculate on, but probably not crucial in practical terms.
The cat and mouse between Shide and Shinpei is fascinating to watch play out. At first they play the roles expected of them, but soon enough it’s clear Shinpei is trying to provoke a reaction from the priest. And once Shinpei shows his hand (the photos) the tables turn, and it’s Karikiri who’s obviously trying to manipulate Shinpei. Shinpei is fundamentally honorable and decent, probably too much for his own good in the current circumstances – he has to justify in his mind what needs to be done, especially as Karikiri is by all appearances a human being.
In effect, Shinpei was willing to throw away a loop based on the desire to know the truth. Given his personal stake – his parents and the girl he loved were killed by this being – it’s understandable, but certainly unwise. And arrogant, too, since he assumed he knew all the key variable and clearly was missing at least one. Shide almost manipulated Shinpei into doing what he clearly wanted the boy to do (kill him), and did manipulate shadow Ushio into doing so. But Shide had an ace up his sleeve – and no burn beneath it.
So – just how is it that the being Ushio killed was not Shide, or Karikiri – or at least not both? Nothing we know would explain what happened as far as I can deduce – the man talking about FF 7 (his knowledge of gaming seems to have helped Karikiri substantially) was obviously not a shadow. But he wasn’t Karikiri either, or at least not the one inside Shide. Is there another means for a copy to be in existence? Are there multiple copies of Karikiri walking about as a result of his recycling system (kind of a twisted bad-karma take on the Buddhist cycle of rebirth)? And even if that were the case, would they really be so casually expendable?
In the final analysis, Shinpei’s gamble seems to have backfired badly. He overreached, and the price for that is that Ushio has apparently been taken out. That matters emotionally of course, even if their desired endgame would have meant her demise anyway. But in pure practical terms Ushio was the best weapon Team Shinpei had going for it. Karikiri has proved that Team Shadow can outflank and overpower him without relying on shadows at all, and Shinpei’s strongest ally and weapon has (seemingly) been ripped from him. The good guys will rise from these depths of despair to fight the final battle, surely, but this represents their greatest setback yet.