Sakurako-san – 12 (Fin)

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Shoutarou is not satisfied with being separated from Sakurako, especially when it’s “for his own good,” but as of the start of the episode, he has yet to gather the courage to confront her about his displeasure. That is, until he reminisces about the time he first saw her (she put a spell on him with her ethereal beauty) first called the cops on her (when he saw her boiling bones), and accompanied her on their first case as a mystery-solving duo, during which Sakurako did all the heavy lifting.

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The case involved an elderly relation of his neighbors, who had the urge to visit a certain shrine. Sakurako canvases the shrines and determines the old lady murdered the man she finds buried beneath the tree, and does her Sakurako thing that transforms her into the young girl she was when she did it, in order to save her mother from her father’s beatings. It packs the usual emotional punch of such encounters throughout the show.

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The part of the flashbacks pertinent to Shou’s present predicament is Sakurako’s assertion that “time stopped” for Yachi-san when she killed her father. Her regret kept her standing still, no better than a still-living corpse, just waiting to die. But time never stops for anyone, and stopping in fear of the future gains nothing, according to Sakurako’s past self. Shou now has all the inspiration he needs to face the present Sakurako-san, and all the ammo he needs to get her back in his life, and him back in her’s.

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So Shoutarou storms back on to her property, declares he wants back in her life, and won’t take no for an answer. Like the first time they met and he followed her around, he’s come to “escape his everyday life”…only he wants his everyday life to be one with Sakurako in it. Saku warns him of the “abyss” Hanabusa, and by extension she, represents, and how she dreads seeing Shoutarou’s bones. But he rattles off all of the people she saved from Hanabusa’s machinations—Ii-chan, the baby, Fujioka-san—as well as two of the three girls who worshipped Hanabusa, along with Yuriko’s peace of mind.

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With that track record, Shou feels safer with Sakurako than without, and asks her to continue protecting him. Defeated, Sakurako agrees, and we know she’s a bit relieved herself that this boy shook her out of her attempt to carry on alone. So much so, she calls him by his name again, without reservation; a sign she herself may be willing to keep moving forward beyond whatever dark mysteries are in her past, or whatever skeletons are in her closet.

Shou is well aware their path won’t be an easy one; Hanabusa is definitely watching them and will try to tap into their grief and regrets and despair just as he has his many victims. But in a battle of wits between him and Sakurako, there is no choice for Shoutarou: Sakurako will win. Especially with an excellent assistant such as himself by her side.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 11

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A night at Sakurako’s moves Minami to tell her Hitoe’s location, and when they find her covered in butterflies the worst is feared. Alas, “only” her dog is dead and attracting the insects; she merely took a non-lethal dose of sleeping pills and soon wakes up. Not shortly thereafter, Hector barks from outside, announcing he’s found what Sakurako was hoping to find: more bones. Specifically, the bones of a young woman; Minami and Hitoe’s friend Futaba. And that’s far from all that’s unearthed this week.

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Minami recounts the tale of how Futaba showed her and Hitoe this abandoned cabin in the woods, and they made it their home, their place where they belonged. All three of them had their problems, but Futaba was the worst, and soon wanted to enter a suicide pact with the other two. Hitoe agreed, but Minami didn’t want to die, so she ran. When she returned later, Futaba was dead, having hung herself, while Hitoe injured her hands trying to save her.

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Minami buried the body, and that was that. Only…Sakurako-san wasn’t born yesterday by any stretch, and Futaba’s bones tell her a far different story. Not a story of Futaba hanging herself as Hitoe struggled to stop her, but a story of being strangled to death, as indicated by bones that would not have been broken by hanging, and the dubiousness of dying while hanging so low her feet touched the ground.

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Hitoe can’t keep up the fiction any longer, though she kept it hidden within her memory for so long, it flows out like a river through breached dam, all anger and despair. Futaba gave her an ultimatum: she’d either help her kill herself, or she’d kill her, then commit suicide. It was an impossible situation for Hitoe, who comes out and blames Minami for running. Had she been there, maybe Futaba would have kept it together a little longer (though considering both she and Hitoe were already considering suicide when Minami fled, I doubt it).

Isozaki is able to calm Hitoe, and puts all the blame on himself, not for failing to see the pain his three students were in, but for seeing the pain, and turning away, not wanting to be hurt himself.

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After burying Futaba, Minami and Hitoe drifted apart, partly because Hitoe started seeing other friends, partly because Hitoe reminded Minami of what happened to Futaba. Then she met Hanabusa, who she waxes poetic about as if her mind had been programmed to say these things. But it wasn’t; she simply fell victim to the honeyed words of a criminal mastermind, just as Hitoe would, and just as many other victims have.

Sakurako knows Hanabusa never loved Minami—that he’s incapable of loving anyone unless they’re bleach bones—and that Minami was just another pawn in his game. The thing is, she doesn’t really need to be so blunt about all these things at this particular time. For someone so good at detecting, she fails to read the room, and turns her back on Minami, who can’t handle what she’s saying and tries to stab her with a palette knife.

But Sakurako doesn’t get stabbed, because Shoutarou comes between her and Minami, catching the knife in his side. Remembering her brother, who apparently drowned in a rainstorm, she shouts out Shoutarou’s name.

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But it’s all okay; the stabbing wasn’t precise, nor was it lethal. Shou will be fine. But Sakurako isn’t. It was too close a call for her. As she hits the home stretch on tracking down the “abyss” that is Hanabusa, Sakurako has unilaterally decided she and Shou must part ways. It almost feels like a breakup…because it is, and Shou is heartbroken. But the bottom line is, Hanabusa is a dangerous, brilliant son of a bitch, and while Sakurako loves bones, she never wants to see Shoutarou’s.

Will Shoutarou really accept this? He’s too shocked and overwhelmed to protest here, but once he’s discharged, I wonder how Sakurako will keep him away, and whether he’ll honor her selfish desire to go it alone with Hanabusa. I’m hoping he won’t, because as the tear Sakurako sheds indicates, these two people belong together. Call them soul mates, if you will.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 10

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While on a bonehunt with Sakurako and Shoutarou, Isozaki-sensei gets called away by news that his former student Hitoe has disappeared. Sakurako offers to give him a lift, but is really interested in the mystery sticking with him offers. Hitoe is the second of three once-inseparable friends who were students in Isozaki’s homeroom.

Saku instantly notices how personal he’s taken the disappearance of the first and how he couldn’t bear to lose another. He also sees how he atones for not being able to do anything about the first girl who disappeared, Minami. When they visit Hitoe’s rich and haughty parents who know nothing about their daughter, Saku is disgusted, gathers all the clues she can about where Hitoe may be headed (a few days’ clothes and a phone battery away) and gets the hell out of there.

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We finally see Hitoe, the girl from last week’s cold open, still in a kind of trance, or possibly drugged, with her little dog and a bed covered in bandage wrappers, talking to her “sensei” about her “wings.” Shou learns from Yuriko that Hitoe modeled for a painter and was rumored to be dating him as well. So there’s the “sensei.” (Speaking of senseis, Yuriko makes sure to apologize for her harsh words to Isozaki, now that she knows he does know what it’s like to suddenly lose someone.)

They then visit Minami’s apartment, a far more downscale affair than Hitoe’s, and Sakurako gets a lot more out of Minami’s mom, who is at least in tune with her daughter’s life than Hitoe’s mom, even if she doesn’t know the full picture. When Saku finds the painting Minami modeled for—with a butterfly on her back just like a painting Hitoe modeled for—that picture starts coming together: we have a predatory artist who lures girls in with the promise of “wings” that will take them away from their awful homes and lives.

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Saku finds multiple receipts for a particular restaurant (not Wagnaria) in Minami’s dustbin, and that leads them right to her, where she’s anemic, exhausted, and clearly still traumatized by what she’s been through. Still, she tries to hold onto her secrets as long as she can, though Sakurako sees through her physical tics and decides a change of venue is better.

She takes Minami into her house and has Gran fill her belly. Perhaps, when she’s ready, she’ll be able to say more about Hanabusa-sensei, the painter both she and Hitoe loved.

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After a day when he got a good look at Sakurako’s ass when she was rummaging under Minami’s bed, Sakurako continues to surprise Shoutarou by personally inviting him for breakfast in the morning, a first for her. But in his monologue as the episode ends and we see the butterfly design etched into the showering Minami’s flesh with a painter’s knife, a future Shou recalls that while he was happy about Saku’s invitation, he had no idea at the time what her true intentions were, and the bones she truly sought.

This was another strikingly different episode from an anime that has always confidently blazed its own trail, exploring unique specific themes such as friends from different backgrounds, how friendships crumbled when they desired the same thing; the differences in their relationships with their mothers; the fact that ennui, depression, and the desire to rebel stretches across class and status.

This episode took a look into the secret world of young people most adults including their parents never see nor hear, and so may as well not exist to them; entire galaxies of hidden ideas and dreams, and one insidious little mini-cult of three, all worshiping this Hanabusa fellow who still lurks about in his coat and hat. He has much to answer for.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 09

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Sakurako-san holds back from revealing more about it’s titular character’s central mystery, while hinting at some similar themes that drove whatever it was that happened. The wonderful Yuriko returns, who bumps into Saku and Shou at the pastry shop and solicits the detective’s help in determining which painting her departed grandmother would have chosen to give her on the occasion of her wedding. Note that Yuriko isn’t actually getting married (though let’s not forget that Saku is technically betrothed).

What follows is a wonderful train of thought as Sakurako explains the choices she made based on the information she knows. Her best bet for Yuriko is a painting of Kamuishu Island, which means “God-Grandmother” in Ainu. Sakurako refers to the story that the island is actually the remains of a grandmother who collapsed looking for her lost grandson. Her body gave out, but her spirit never will.

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Sakurako believes it’s best because it reflects Yuriko’s grandmother’s desire to always watch over her with love, while dismissing the whole painting enterprise as “pointless sentimentalism” she claims not to understand. Shoutarou chastens her after a fashion, telling her some things have value because they are pointless.

That’s a remark that Sakurako is able to return to Shoutarou, when the young lad pays her a visit on a rainy day with the gift of several flavors of his favorite brand of pudding, embarrassed both Saku and her Gran laugh at the oversized clothes he has to borrow to dry off, but well aware of Saku’s well-honed sweet tooth.

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Like Yuriko’s story, Shou reminices about his grandmother, who in his case was dying of bone cancer. He recalls coming to visit her in the hospital, and how she’d always ask him to pick up pudding beforehand, which perplexes him, because she never liked the stuff before. But Saku’s Gran figures it out even before Saku. No surprise there, since her life experience more closely matches Shou’s gran.

While Yuriko’s mystery involved which painting would bring her closer to her gran, Shou’s mystery of why her gran wanted pudding for their visits is solved by taking both what is known about the subject and what one’s own wisdom and experience provides. Gran and Saku settle on the notion that Shou’s gran asked him to buy pudding because it would allow her painkiller injection time to kick in before he arrived.

Just as Yuriko’s happiness was her gran’s happiness, so too was Shou’s. Shou’s gran left this world on her own terms, spending time with someone she loved. Shou can’t initially fathom how his presence at his grandmother’s bed did any good or had any point, until Saku repeats his line about pointless things having their own value.

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Saku’s detective skills can’t help but notice her own gran’s back is ailing, and tells her they’re going to the hospital. But that ain’t happening; her gran, like all the other grans before her, aren’t going to be pushed around by youngins. Speaking of gran, she seems to be aware of Saku’s deep dark secret, and the significance of Shou’s name.

As for Sakurako, she seems to have gotten quite a bit of something pointless yet valuable from Shoutarou, but makes mention of bringing it all to an end, which this show has to do soon. The “cold ending”, if you will, does not do much to clear up her mystery, as we watch a girl who looks similar to Saku but whose name is Hitoe tighten up her boots and head out as her parents loudly argue about her, and she looks at the moon and momentarily grows butterfly wings as she tells her “sensei” she’ll “fly up to him.”

I have no earthly idea what any of this is about, only wild speculation, but as usual, I’m interested to learn the truth.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 06

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When Kougami Yuriko’s friends encourage her to ask Shoutarou to be her date for the Asahikawa Summer Festival, she has her usual coffee with Shou, but all he talks about is Sakurako-san. When she shows up to the festival resplendent in her yukata, but alone, one wonders why she didn’t press. Does she believe Shou is out of her reach, preferring the older, more amazing Sakurako, or is she just not that concerned about pursuing Shou, or anyone else, that way?

As she spots all of the lovey-dovey couples holding hands, seemingly rubbing in her face that which she lacks, she also spots a grandmother and child, and seems comforted and less lonely. It’s not that she doesn’t like the idea of walking hand-in-hand with someone she likes; but she’s more concerned with becoming someone who can protect those she cares about.

Then she spots an ethereal-looking woman with dark black hair throwing an envelope over the bridge, who then vanishes, leaving the envelope behind. Suddenly has on her hands something more interesting, at least to her, than a date. She has a mystery. Then she turns around and encounters another lonely heart, Isozaki-sensei, from her school.

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The envelope contains a ring, and Isozaki opens it to learn more. They determine it’s a synthetic diamond solitaire ring; most likely a wedding ring. The note inside asks forgiveness “for going to him.” Yuri is worried the woman was trying to throw herself off the bridge along with the ring, and wants to find her so she can help in some way. Izosaki…doesn’t.

The two butt heads, with Izosaki standing up for logic, analysis, rights and responsibilities, while Yuri cites human nature to not someone to die, and do whatever they can to prevent it. As the day turns to night, Izosaki considers taking off, but when he hears how serious Yuri is, he’s loath to leave her alone lest she get in trouble, so he agrees to look for the woman with her one more hour.

It’s strange; throughout their interaction, I couldn’t stop thinking how much more I’d enjoy it if it was Shoutarou by her side rather than Izosaki. The two have a good rapport, even if it doesn’t seem likely to turn to romance, and I think that Shou would be on the same page as Yuri. At the same time, the philosophical conflict that occurs from her and Izosaki can’t be discounted.

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Still, one gets the feeling Yuri would prefer the counsel of a professional investigator like Sakurako, so she keeps calling Shoutarou (since Saku doesn’t have a cell, Shou’s her only means of reaching her). When Saku finally appears, it’s by chance, on the very bridge where the mystery first began. Since Saku got lost in thought, she also got lost, which makes Shou and Utsumi have to send out a lost child address for her, which she’s not pleased about.

It’s here where Shou gets scolded by an angry Yuri for leaving his phone in Saku’s office, keeping her from contacting Saku earlier. Is Yuri masking her anger for not being able to spend the day with Shou, or is Shou really nothing more than a conduit to Saku that didn’t come through? The truth seems somewhere in between those extremes.

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Anyway, once Sakurako gets her hand on the ring, she determines it is not in fact a wedding ring, but a mourning ring, and the diamond itself was made with carbon from the bones of a departed loved one. She surmises that the woman sought to toss the ring away because she found another love. Sakurako then tosses the ring in the drink, and the fireworks commence.

It isn’t at all the conclusion Yuri expected, but she’s glad she worked hard and didn’t give up. It no doubt gives her strength and hope that not giving up on other things—or people—could also lead to good things.

I’ll be honest: this was very close to another 9 to me, and it all comes down to Yuri. I’d never have guessed in the first episode that she’d be anything other than a side character and (unrequited) love interest for Shou, but she’s become far more than that.

She’s complex, and feels like a real person, with ideals and beliefs and shortcomings that don’t always fall into easy categories. She’s both admiring and jealous of Sakurako. She’s chummy and warm, but also tentative with Shou. And as I said above, she’s in no hurry to define herself as one half of some couple so much as she wants to know she can stand on her own two feet.

It’s Sakurako’s show, and once she shows up she more or less dominates all the screen time she occupies. But I definitely wouldn’t mind more Yuri here and there.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 03

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Sakurako-san is a weird one, preferring bones to people and all, but she’s full of wisdom and thinks and looks like no one else around her. Yet she also has her own brand of empathy, seeing even emotions like happiness, relief, and comfort as brain chemistry reacting to external stimuli.

She’s also quite human and thus fallible herself, which is what makes her so endearing as a character. She persists in calling Shoutarou “boy” (shounen) as a way to distance herself from him, despite their growing bond that, at times, treads into romantic territory.

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Sakurako persuades her self-professed “guardian” to accompany her through some caves, then to a park where they’re pointed in the direction of human remains by a far more normal couple. Saku’s delighted at the find, and gives a beautiful description of how a corpse out in the open is briefly a “paradise of life” as flies lay eggs, maggots feed, and predators feed on the maggots, etc. She has a deep appreciation for the circle of life and the food chain, things humans don’t need to think about in daily life.

When Shoutarou does the responsible thing and phones the police, it doesn’t stop Sakurako from offering her expert opinion on who the corpse was and what happened. The police, however, aren’t so much impressed by her expertise as annoyed by her interference and what they perceive as arrogance (and hey, she is a bit arrogant).

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Back home, when Shou thinks Saku is sulking, she’s actually concentrating on building a skeleton. That’s when she finally tells him what he’s been meaning to ask about: her dead little brother, Soutarou, just one syllable removed from his name. It’s not much, but it’s the start of a dialogue and a sign she’s willing to gradually let Shou in.

The next day, Shou goes to a cafe at the request of his classmate Kougami Yuriko. Her purpose is to thank him for helping to find the corpse, which was that of her grandmother, who the police believe jumped to her death. When she invites both Shou and Saku to her house to thank them properly, we learn her grandma was taking care of her husband, who was suffering from severe dementia and required round-the-clock care.

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That burden is something the police used as a motive for Yuriko’s grandma’s suicide, and Yuriko even understands and doesn’t hold it against her. On the contrary, she’s ashamed she and the rest of her family didn’t see how tough it was for her until it was too late. But when she asks Saku to show her where and how her grandmother died, she gets an entirely different and more plausible story than the police came up with.

When they return to the site where her grandmother’s remains were found, Sakurako presents that story, which is this: her grandmother didn’t go there to die, she went there to live. She just stumbled and fell off the cliff in an unfortunate accident.

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The reason she left in the middle of the night was so that she could reach a certain spot so she could see the same sunrise her husband painted back when he was healthier. Sakurako points out how exposure to the morning sun releases serotonin, which calms and soothes the mind. She tempers her conclusions as mere speculation, but they fit the facts, the timing, the motive, and the details.

These conclusions also provide comfort and closure to Yuriko. Now that she knows her grandmother didn’t give up on her grandfather, she has that much more reason to be strong and provide care in her granny’s place. Another satisfying mystery that respectfully delved into a specific (yet under-represented in anime) circumstance in modern human society—caring for those who can’t care for themselves—and built logically to a life-affirming finish.

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