This weeks episode is all about the aftermath of Manato’s death, and the struggle of the party to move forward from it.
It’s rare in fiction, including anime, to really see characters deal with the death of one of their own. In general, the aftermath is glossed over, and everyone just sort of keeps going on about whatever needs to be done. To see an entire episode dedicated to dealing with the loss is just amazing, and another reason why this show is a cut above the rest of the winter seasons offerings.
Grief is a painful thing, and there is this tendency to cast it as bad. That all you have to do is be strong, and you can push your way through, making everything fine again. That’s not how it works in the real world, though. Now and then, we see a piece of fiction really touch on that. The Pixar film Inside Out is a prime example of how sadness is a necessary part of the healing process, and as such, not actually a bad emotion. The same holds for grief. It is necessary, for without it, we never really move on from our sorrow.
When we lose someone we are close to, we never really fully heal from that loss. There’s always a part of us that misses them. We do, however, move forward. We must, for that is all we can do. It is what we must do.
For the fifth episode of this quiet little series, grief, sadness, and the need to move forward is everywhere. Each character deals with it in their own way, and we learn a lot more about them all in the process.
The episode picks up right after Manato’s funeral, which cost a total of one silver. Half for the cremation, half for the headstone. Haru can’t help but ponder at how cruel a world this is that a person’s life amounts only to a single silver coin.
As everyone grieves, Ranta decides to leave, because there’s no real point in sitting around. Yume gets pissed about this and slaps the shit out of him. He starts to get angry, but realizes she is grieving as well after she collapses into tears, and after a moment of sorrow, just leaves the party to their silent vigil over Manato’s grave.
This is a very telling bit for Ranta, but not the most telling of the episode, so I’ll deal with him later.
There are no opening credits this week, which is fitting.
Sometime later, Haru and Moguzo find Ranta at the local tavern, the same one Manato frequented. He’s getting piss drunk, rather than deal with his feelings, and after a minute, the other two join him.
Ranta reveals that he’s had enough of this and decided to quit being a volunteer soldier. He doesn’t know just what he’ll do, but he figures anything is better than this. Without Manato, he claims, there’s no point in it anymore, since they can’t survive without him.
He and Haru get into an argument over it that turns to one of blame as Ranta claims it’s Haru’s fault Manato died. Moguzo finally gets enough and explodes at them that this isn’t what Manato would want, and they need to settle down and shut up.
They do, because Moguzo is scary as hell when he’s pissed, and have a civil conversation about matters. Haru finally reminds Ranta that Dark Knights aren’t allowed to quit, prompting Ranta to be even more miserable than ever. He can’t even quit this pointless life that took someone he cared about from him.
They are soon joined by Kikkawa, one of the other people who arrived in this world when they did. Apparently, he frequently shared a drink with Manato, and knows all about what the party has been up to. When he learns Manato died, he’s obviously saddened by it, but due to the nature of his personality, he doesn’t really show it much.
When I say the nature of his personality, what I mean is that the guy is a pain in the ass. He’s one of those cheerful people who seems incapable of ever feeling genuinely bad about anything. I’d kind of like to punch him in his face. It seems as if he was with Renji’s group for a while, but either left on his own, or was kicked out, and has joined up with a different group since then. I can’t imagine why a guy like Renji wouldn’t want him around.
Anyway, he claims to know a lot of people, and with their current lack of a Priest, may be able to hook them up with one that is looking for a party. All of this he does, mind you, because he knew Manato, and as far as I can tell from his comments and attitude, actually respected the hell out of him. Helping out Manato’s friends is the least he can do, so maybe he isn’t a bad guy, just annoying as hell to be around.
This is how we meet Mary, who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else.
Mary has a very matter of fact personality. She doesn’t really ask questions, so much as she states them, and has her own ideas of her place in the party. This leads to a great deal of friction with the rest of the group.
I do want to say that Mary is not exactly wrong in her views. Manato was a healer tank, and as such, took on too much in the party, making everyone dependent on him He was also quick to deal with every injury, no matter how minor. Mary is a strict healer and doesn’t get involved in the fighting. Instead, she supports from a distance, and only uses her healing abilities when needed, which is not for every cut and bruise the party may obtain.
The problem this creates for the party is that they have to reorganize how they do everything. Before, the party revolved around Manato, but now it revolves around nothing, and everyone is just sort of flailing about, trying to find a new rhythm. It isn’t coming to them, and Mary’s abrasive personality isn’t helping, as we see mostly in how she interacts with Ranta.
Up till now, Ranta was the abrasive party member. Now, he’s trying his best to be polite to Mary, because he knows they need her if they are going to survive, while she has become the abrasive one, rubbing literally everyone the wrong way at every turn. Of them all, Ranta is the one struggling with it the most. He’s become accustomed to just saying whatever he wants, and now that he can’t, he isn’t sure how to act.
This works on a couple of levels. One, it’s kind of fun to watch Ranta struggle to curb his tongue and his bad attitude. That he does it for the good of the party is pretty cool to watch, and goes a long ways to showing he isn’t half as selfish as he acts. Two, the rest of them begin to realize how much Manato was really doing, and how hard he must have had it. This only makes their sense of grief worse, however, as they all start to feel like they were taking advantage of him.
In all this, Mary just sort of glides along, only doing what she wants, which is kind of what they were all doing before. It’s a nifty little reversal of the situation the party has had up til now, and highlights a key weakness they had prior to this.
Because Manato has not just the party leader, but also their tank, instead of Moguzo, they were always one step from disaster. Mary’s presence has highlighted this, and does even more to drive them all to despair.
All through this middle bit of the episode, the character expressions and body language are just brilliantly animated. This show always excels at the subtle ticks of characterization, and this week is probably their best yet.
All of this leads to the guys drowning their sorrows in drink, something that apparently is becoming a habit. As they discuss the situation in their inebriated state, we learn that not only did they invite Mary into the party without talking to Yume and Shihoru, but Haru is drowning under the responsibility of being party leader, mostly because he keeps holding himself up to the idealized Manato, and sees himself coming up short. Even worse, the guys and the girls are barely on speaking terms at this point, and for this, Haru blames himself.
Basically, Haru blames himself for everything that is currently wrong, from Manato’s death, to Mary’s acerbic personality, to the gulf that has developed between the guys and the girls. As a party, and as people, this bunch is completely falling apart. Making it even worse, Mary pointedly told them as much.
Things are so bad, even the verbal sparring of Haru and Ranta has become half hearted. As if to rub salt in the wound, Renji arrives, and has obviously been doing quit well for himself.
He joins the trio and simply drops a gold coin on the table, claiming it is to help them get by after they lost Manato. He is gruff about it, but his intent is obvious. It seems Kikkawa wasn’t the only one that respected Manato, and this is Renji’s way of trying to help those that worked with the man he himself respected.
Haru gives the coin back on the grounds that Manato never would have accepted it, something Renji accepts without further comment. He gets it, and won’t damage the pride of Haru or the party by insisting. More importantly, he won’t damage the pride Manato had in his party by forcing the issue.
It’s awesome how they can do so much with Renji’s character in such a tiny amount of time, with so little dialogue. We haven’t seen him since episode one, yet it feels as if we know him, and what he’s about.
After Renji rejoins his own party, all of whom give Haru’s band knowing smiles, Ranta flips his shit over the the fact they had a gold coin in front of them. Moguzo explains why Haru gave it back, and even Ranta can’t argue the matter, though he clearly wishes he could. All he can do is make incoherent noises, though, since he has nothing else to offer.
The encounter leads Haru to accept that the problem with the party isn’t Mary. Everything about them is off, and it needs to be fixed. He doesn’t know how to do it, but he knows it needs to be done. Moguzo and Ranta have no ideas either, though they do finally seem to accept that the problem doesn’t begin with Mary, but with themselves.
Later, Haru catches Yume as she’s exiting the bathroom, and tries to talk to her. He is under the impression she and Shihoru are mad at him and the others for bringing Mary in without talking to them, but when he says this, it just makes Yume mad, because that isn’t what’s wrong.
What’s wrong is that they have all shut each other out. They were more than a party, they were friends, and all of them have lost someone they cared about, someone they loved. Shutting each other out, putting up walls and creating a distance, it isn’t helping any of them deal with the loss. Right now, what they all need, what they really need, is each other.
Haru suddenly realizes what Manato was trying to say before he died. That they are a good party, working well together, and more than that, they are a family. He sees how he idealized Manato, and for the first time, instead of trying to cope with the loss of the leader, begins to face his grief over losing a friend.
As Yume cries over not just the loss of Manato, but the closeness they all once had, Haru collapses, sobbing as he finally grieves the loss his friend. Yume holds him, letting him get it all out, because he needs to, and she’s known that. They all need to, and it is to each other they should be turning to do it.
When his tears finally end, Haru sits, holding Yume, and finally finds the strength to tell her he is sorry for shutting out not just her, but Shihoru. She tells him that being held by him makes her feel better, and together, they vow to do their best to learn how to work with Mary, and be the party they once were.
Then Shihoru looks out the window, sees them, and gets the totally wrong idea. Haru realizes how compromising their situation looked, and after a couple of minutes, Yume does too. It’s a good moment to end on, as it brings a smile after so much sorrow, something this bunch needed.
The big themes of the episode are, of course, the way in which the group as a whole is falling apart after the death of Manato, as well as how they all deal with it the wrong ways. Instead of pulling together, they pull apart, straining the bonds of friendships and trust they had forged up till now. Adding in a new Priest only makes things harder, as she is not the warmest of people, and everyone starts thinking all their problems are about her.
They aren’t, of course. Mary is just the new comer, so they are projecting their problems on to her rather than dealing with them. It’s hard to face pain, though, especially when you do it by trying to be strong and act like you aren’t dying inside.
The character that stands out in all of this is Ranta. From the beginning of the episode when he lashed out in grief, realized what he’d done, and rather than face it, walked away. It continues in the tavern, when he tries to drink his pain away, and even decides to simply quit rather than face life without Manato there to guide him.
The most telling moment, however, really is his interactions with Mary. He wants to tell her off, to make her the thing he vents all his sorrow, grief, pain and anguish on, but knows he can’t, because they need her. So, he tries his best to be polite, and while he fails at it, it’s the fact he tries so hard that says so much. Before, he never would have bothered.
Ultimately, though, it is after Renji’s offer was rejected that we see him, silently, in his own way, accept the truth. It’s all in his facial expressions, and it’s rather brilliantly done.
I’ve praised this show endlessly for it’s ability to convey things without dialogue, but here, it is just so spot on. Ranta knows the problem isn’t with Mary. He knows just what the problem is. Like Haru, however, he has no idea what to do about it. That moment, though, is when he simply accepts it all, and there were no lengthy speeches needed. it was all in his face.
As a character, Ranta is designed to rub people the wrong way. He’s loud, abrasive, and aggressive. We’ve seen before that all of this is to hide his own fear, and is part of his desire to make the others feel less afraid. However well intentioned, it causes problems, and that too is deliberate, as it shows the macho attitude for what it is. The flailing of a child trying to sound brave. It is in the moments when Ranta drops the act that we see what a compelling, well crafted, and fully realized character he is, though, and I remain hopeful that, sooner or later, he’ll see he doesn’t need the macho attitude, no more than his friends do.
From here, the party will have to learn how to work together again. Haru can hopefully stop holding himself up to an impossible ideal, leading them they way they need. He and Yume managed to break through the wall of pain that had separated them all, so from here on out, as long as they can talk things out, they will hopefully be okay.
Still, there is the enigma that is Mary.
Next week: “Her Circumstances”