「桐子と春希」 (Kiriko to Haruki)
“Kiriko and Haruki”
As I noted by way of warning, this is the episode when Tengoku Daimakyou really starts to get weird. It’s kind of the opposite of BokuYaba in that sense – this series starts off with some of its most straightforward and approachable material (though that’s a relative term) and then gets progressively stranger. It’s easier to draw an audience that way, if I had to choose – viewers are a lot more willing to put up with what makes them uncomfortable when a story already has its hooks in them. But I still wonder if we aren’t going to jettison a bit of the audience from here on (as I’m sure BokuYaba did in its first two episodes).
Yes, we’re definitely not in Soredemo Machi anymore. What happened at the end of Episode 2 certainly demanded explanation, and Kiruko delivered one that took up most of the episode. It takes the story to Asakusa, Tokyo, in 2034 – ten years after the Great Collapse, and five prior to the “present”. This is mainly the story of Takehaya Haruki, a boy who looks to be about 13 (hmm). He and his sister Kiruko (hmmm) live in Asakusa, where she’s a famous cart racer. Those races seem to be the main source of income for the orphanage where the siblings live, and Kiruko (a couple years older than her brother) their headline act.
The other key players here are the man everyone calls “The Doc” (and a man of few words he is) and Inazaki Robin (Nakai Kazuya). Haruki idolizes Robin, and longs to prove his worth to him in fighting off the man-eaters which frequent the neighborhood. Unfortunately this leads to a very grim outcome when Haruki tries to take on a man-eater he spots at the end of the course just as his sister’s next race is about to begin. It must be said, this depiction of post-apocalyptic Sensou-ji and surrounds is another triumph of art design (and sound design) for Heavenly Delusion – it’s absolutely gorgeous and extremely creepy.
So what exactly does happen next? Well, Kiruko-Haruki doesn’t know, so neither do we. There’s no way the boy could have survived those injuries for long, that’s for sure. And he doesn’t see what happens to his sister after she cradles his dying half a body in her arms and weeps. But Haruki wakes up inside Kiruko’s body, Doc has left town, and the remaining medics are telling him he’s hallucinating out of grief. Haruki is very sure of himself and seems to know things only he would know, and that cranial scar is beyond suspicious. But there are no answers to be found – Doc is gone, and Robin too – “probably murdered” according to the race director.
Haruki has had five years to learn how to process this, but poor Maru only about five minutes. His reaction is another reminder that he is, in most respects, a very typical 15 year-old boy. One who, until moments earlier, had been sure he’d found a soulmate. Maru seems most upset about Kiruko’s clear admiration for Robin, who she insists is “like family”. He also asks if he should stop calling Haruki “Onee-san”, but he seems okay with it despite still very clearly thinking of himself as a male. Maru is going to need some time to work through this, obviously – time Kiruko has already had (though it’s obviously worse for them).
In this world much closer to Hell than the titular Heaven, though, there’s rarely the luxury of time to dwell on such things. A giant man-eater turns up on the boat, something like a huge fish with arms (have we seen that somewhere before?), and its presence is clearly going to be matter of some urgency. Meanwhile, that scamp Kona is still drawing away – this time of a baby. But it’s a silly baby, little Kuku (Kurosawa Tomoyo) laughs – because real babies don’t have faces…
To what extent the viewer finds Tengoku Daimakyou to be just plain bizarre and freaky may depend, to an extent, on how much familiarity they have with anime science fiction from 15-30 years ago. This style – a kind of unleashing of the imagery and symbolism of the subconscious mind – was a lot more common then. For me, for whom those sorts of Bones and I.G. and Gainax shows were my anime mother’s milk, this series is comfort food – I feel happy nostalgia more than bewilderment. I myself have no idea where it’s all going to lead, but that too is a nostalgic feeling from those days – when, frankly, you sometimes didn’t really understand one of those series even after it was finished. YMMV, but I’m loving this series and it remains one of the most brilliant adaptations in many a year.