「外の外」 (Soto no Soto)
“Outside of the Outside”

This is an odd one for me to tackle, no question about it. Tengoku Daimakyou and Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu have been a kind of perfect anime Yin-Yang all season long. Two great shows airing within 90 minutes of each other, both brilliant yet completely different. It’s the sort of pitched battle that’s among my favorite things in anime – like Dororo and Mob Psycho 100 put on a few years ago. This week certainly fits that bill, because we have the two series eliciting crazy powerful emotional responses, but doing so in ways that could hardly be more different.

It’s no exaggeration to say that’s one of my favorite things about anime. As I’ve said for years, a fundamental difference between America and Japan (and parts of Europe, but especially France) is that in America anime is a genre, and in Japan it’s a medium. And this is not a subjective matter – Japan is right, and the U.S. (and its producer class) are wrong. In Japan animation can be anything a writer and director want it to be. It can be Saturday morning kids fare, sports drama, romance, screwball comedy or horror. All that matters in the end is whether it’s good or not. And The Dangers in My Heart and Heavenly Delusion are way better than just good.

But this episode of the latter… This was a tough one. I knew it was coming, of course, but I was utterly dreading it. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s so painful. I knew it would hit those unprepared for it pretty hard, and it has. Some of them have reacted with anger or a sense of betrayal, but mostly it’s been shock and horror. Which is exactly what Ishiguro Masakazu intended, of course. This is a dark series to be sure, but none of the things he’s shown us so far have prepared us for what happened this week. That’s certainly how it felt with the manga, anyway,

We’re getting into the realm of potential spoilers here, and that’s always been a grey area with Tengoku. There are things I feel confident I’ve pieced together from the manga that have never actually been confirmed, but it still feels like spoiling if I reveal them. One thing I think I can safely say is that this story is very concerned with poles, as I’ve noted before. That Yin-Yang thing again. Opposites, yet perhaps not in the way they initially appear. We (and the characters) may make assumptions based on a perception driven by absolutes, but those assumptions often turn out to be wrong. Sometimes with disastrous results.

In the school, shit is going down (pretty literally). Some of the kids can sense it, and then something big crashes through the roof of the facility. The kids scatter, terrified, the 14 year-olds left to look after the 10 year-olds. The director leaps up out of her wheelchair and runs like a woman 40 years younger. Tokio has been dreaming about the test we’ve heard to much about, and now the students are certainly being tested. And there’s a hole in the wall, perhaps leading to the outside of the outside. As for the babies, Aoshima-san has mixed up which is which – and seems extremely freaked out by this. He reasons that he can test them once the systems are back online, and draws a big circle on one baby’s foot.

Equally momentous and far more jarring is that Kiruko has finally tracked down Inazaki Robin. He’s at the settlement in Ibaraki where the Takahara Academy (Heaven) is supposed to be. And while they don’t locate the academy immediately, the settlement itself does feel like paradise in a sense. It has a thriving market, with real food. It has working phones, and that sign of civilization that Japan treasures above all others – bureaucracy. The Ministry of Reconstruction – it of the ominous reputation – is here, seemingly rebuilding civilization wire by wire. They have their own currency, which any visitor can have a gift of by registering at the Ministry.

It’s there that Kiruko tracks down Robin – “The Chief”, as the counter staff call him – and gets an appointment to see him. Maru senses that they want to go alone and gracefully steps aside, though he’s clearly heartbroken to see evidence of Kiruko’s fixation on Robin. As for what happens next, it’s a karmic assault of the sort manga has rarely inflicted on me, and the anime did little to soften the blow. One can muse on the psychological depravity that causes Robin to act this way. Not just the act itself, but the manner in which he perpetrated it. Clearly he’s very depraved, and was all along. And it’s hard to imagine a more existentially damaging event as far as Kiruko is concerned.

One can’t really talk about whether or why this should or needed to happen, because in doing so I’d be spoiling the manga. I can only say I don’t personally feel betrayed by Ishiguro, only saddened and horrified by the event itself. I believe most would agree in the end, but of course we have only one episode to go and both it and what happens after are a bit of a mystery. This season clearly had a huge budget and is a total labor of love, but I can’t take that to mean we’re likely to get a second. And with the anime having (seamlessly) skipped a fair bit of material, it’s hard to know just where it intends to finish (another point of contrast with BokuYaba). My unease going into the final episode will be of a completely different sort than it was coming into this one.

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