Huey and Dalian travel to a fantastical land where they meet the young apprentice and granddaughter of a powerful shamaness. A plague of giant insects are threatening her town and its people, and even the poisonous herbal salve her grandma concocts is ineffective against the fearsome beasts. Huey eliminates the scourge by reading a book from Dalian. It’s then revealed that the two are back in Huey’s house, going through and fumigating books infested with bookworms; the entire story took place in the world of one of those books.
Hey, now that’s more like it! After an underwhelming, dawdling episode last week, the series goes a little high concept by dumping us in a totally new world, richy-animated in gorgeous hand-scrawled pencil and pastel. The world, and its heroine Ira, instantly reminded me if that nature-lovin’, ass-kickin’, heart-o-gold hippie princess, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. That’s a good thing. Ira doesn’t play a huge role here, but I do like how we’re first thrust into this world from her perspective, and we only meet up with Huey and Dalian when she meets them by pure chance.
The swarms of giant insects – or Baziumu – similarly reminded me of Nausicaä’s Ohmu. They don’t last long as a threat, but the brief period that they are, they’re sufficiently frightening. But the fact that they represent actual bookworms attacking the book – and the story and illustrations therein – is superb. In effect, this was another episode of Dalian and Huey hanging out in his house, only this week they were transported to another world rather than bothered by their imbecilic friends. Good stuff!
When Ayaka’s estranged brother Toshi returns, Narumi has to sit out a case involving a new drug being circulated throughout the city and Toshi’s possible role. His job is to keep Ayaka out of the loop, which strains their friendship. It is repaired when he makes new armbands for the gardening club, and the two work on the roof together the rest of summer. But when fall comes around, the shadows return, and even Narumi cannot stop Ayaka from taking her life.
“Don’t get too close…I just spread pesticide.” When Ayaka says this line, moments before they apologize simultaneously, I immediately thought back (as Narumi had a couple times) to something Toshi said…”God, she’s annoying.” With that in mind, I almost thought she said “I just spread pestilence.” It’s a very sad line, because the ‘don’t get too close’ part is almost a warning not to get too close to her emotionally, even though she said it under the pretence of a physical hazard. But the line is given even more weight once the episode runs it course and delivers the most shocking blow of the series: Ayaka jumps from the roof of the school, which kills her.
Throughout the series, so little has been done with Ayaka, and this episode was almost a recognition of that Ayaka shortfall, and a concerted effort to fix that. I’d say it was successful, as it was one of those episodes that didn’t waste a single minute of airtime telling a rich and ultimately tragic story. Considering last week was a lighthearted baseball episode, and all the other episodes where Ayaka was either marginal or absent, I almost wish we could have had more time with her. But the alacrity of her character’s development this week, as well as her precipitous fall and demise, was expertly done, and provided the best drama since the first episodes.