OP: 「(嘘つき」 (Usotsuki) by (Leo Ieiri)
In the distant future humanity is completely re-written, taking a giant leap back in time (metaphorically speaking) to an existence where fire is a precious, dangerous fuel. The clothing and architecture in Touko’s (Kuno Misaki) village is even reminiscent of a pre-modern time period. Fire hunters have the sacred profession of keeping civilization going. Without the hunters doing the risky business of fire-gathering, darkness would reign (as it indeed did, prior to the hunters). The title of this series has a nice play on words related to this- “Hikari” means light and the particular way it is spelled here, also “Fire hunt”. Touko saw firsthand just how hazardous a job it is, a hunter killing what appears to be an ookami (wolf-spirit) at the expense of his own life right in front of her eyes.
If the creature is indeed a wolf spirit, that would mean the forest itself is a sacred space and the humans are doing something they shouldn’t in crossing that space, which it looks like next week might delve more into. Besides the ookami, there is also the zashiki warashi (househould spirit) Touko greets, though it’s still an unknown whether she poses a threat (though given the menacing nature of the other spirits, I would assume that is the case).
Touko’s forest jaunt was out of no idle curiosity. Apparently, therein live tree folk who possess eye-medicine that Touko wants badly enough to risk her (and lose another’s) life to get. At first, I thought the medicine was for her grandmother, but it turns out it was for Akari, whose eyes were damaged in a blaze that took Touko’s parents’ lives. It seems a fool’s errand, as Akari relates that the medicine is toxic to humans-whether Touko was ignorant of that fact or knows something the others don’t remains to be seen. What is clear is that these spirits set up boundaries for the human activities that got the world into this state. Frankly, given how humanity drove themselves into this corner (from what I gather), I can’t entirely blame the spirits for going into protective mode. I find it a little surprising that someone as timid as Touko would venture into such a dangerous place. It speaks to Touko’s affection or sense of duty towards Akari, who I assume has become a surrogate parent to her (and explains the jealous hatred of her biological daughter towards Touko).
The dead hunter’s dog, Kanata, seems to have taken a liking to Touko- hostile to everyone but her. Touko is looked down on by the community for being connected to the honorable fire-hunter’s death, and followed by his dog. They consider her “cursed” and want to clear the village’s reputation by getting rid of her, sending her to the capital to pay her dues. Which is where the Muku paper, a precious, holy offering paper comes in. If she fails to make it in the capital and is kicked out on the streets, their village will be shameful to the Lady Goddess. However, this Muku paper, it sounds like, will curry the Goddess’ favor.
There’s a moral lesson imbedded in this-be careful of how you use your natural resources and beware of industrialization (i.e. avoid it) because it’ll come back to haunt you (or if not you, then your descendants). We’ve seen this lesson before in many of the Ghibli movies- which that and it’s art style puts me in mind of that studio. I can kind of foretell where they will take this social commentary from here, but am still interested to see how it will play out, and it is a valuable issue to explore- provided it doesn’t go heavy-handed.
Touko speaks only a few lines the whole episode, and when she does speak, it is in a frail voice-speaking volumes about her timidity. I am curious to see how such a girl will fare on the dangerous journey (which the truck-man, Enji, is warned to quit sugar-coating). Will she find her inner courage on the path to become the next fire-hunter or will she be the damsel in distress, needing to be protected by the dog and crew members. I’m hoping it’s the former, which her bond with the dog and possession of fire-hunter items would foreshadow. Indeed, her determination to brave the scary forest hints at an inner strength that has the potential for development. First, though, she needs to learn to protect herself.
Watching the gears and movement of the collection truck, I was reminded strongly of Mars Red, which I loved the artistic production of. Sure enough, the studio that was behind Mars Red, Signal.MD is also behind Hikari no Ou, definitely promising in my book.
I also liked the contrast between how the two halves of the human realm live-the dry, light-filled pre-modern village out in the boonies and the grungy industrialization of the dreary, rainy capital. Right at the end, they introduce us to Koushi (Ishige Shouya), recently orphaned by the toxic after-affects of industrialization, which makes many of the people in the city sick. No matter where you live, there’s imminent danger of unnatural early death, pick your poison-forest or factory. The fantasy post-apocalypse setting and the potential for where this story could go has me intrigued-definitely stick around if you’re looking for a new fantasy series to scratch a Ghibli itch.
ED: 「まだ遠くにいる」 (Mada Tooku ni Iru) by (坂本真綾)