This episode: time travel, the Itano circus and the longest fall ever recorded on celluloid. Time to eat!
In many ways, this episode of Sas@ga marked a deviation from the intense drama of the past two episodes, and a return to the show’s early formula. Sasami is unmotivated, her divinity causes problems across the world and the Yagami sisters arrive to knock her out of her funk. Despite the intense action on display, the feeling of danger present during the previous arc is mostly absent–the worst that can happen to Kagami in this instance, were she to fail against Sasami’s onslaught of missiles, would be embarrassment, not death. Even Tsurugi was able to return from the underworld to save the day without further incident. But rather than register as a regression or even a disappointment, it’s important to note that this episode was anything but a return to the status quo. The immediate danger might be over, but either the characters are not the same people they were a few episodes ago, or our perception of them has changed. Furthermore, though Sasami’s mother was torn to shreds in the previous episode, her presence makes a return here–indicating that while her “arc” may be over, her importance to the plot has hardly diminished. As random as Sas@ga might appear sometimes, it’s clear from this episode that much of what we have seen thus far has been very deliberate.
1. Before we examine the meat of the episode, I think it’s worth taking another look at Sasami’s stuffed animals. Sas@ga has consistently personified these animals throughout the show, using them as either stand-ins for the audience or something else. So it’s significant here that in Sasami’s closed world, these stuffed animals are moral support, cheering her on even as she locks herself away from the world. Just as important is the fact that the rabbit Sasami recieved from her mother in the previous episode, still marked by burns, has taken the place of pride in her room. The other animals are a chorus, but the rabbit is distinct.
As for what this means, I think it stands to reason that Sasami has not forgotten her mother. Neither does she hate her. You would think that Sasami would throw the rabbit away, lock it up somewhere where she can’t see it, but it’s clear in this sequence that Sasami treasures it despite (maybe even because) of its associations. It’s made pretty clear in this episode that Sasami locks herself up not because the incident with her mother has left lasting scars, but because of the curse that has apparently made her overweight overnight (???). But just as her mother’s appearance in this episode indicates that the show is not done with her by a long shot, Sasami’s elevation of the stuffed rabbit implies that past events are not so easily undone. Fitting for an episode where a curse worms its way into the present in order to infect the past–but we’ll touch on that in a moment.
2. The first half of this episode was a visual centerpiece for SHAFT, maybe the most exciting fight scene in the series since the first episode’s chocolate assault. It was also ridiculous bordering on self-parody, but of course that is only to be expected from a show as obsessively self-conscious as Sas@ga. In theory, an aerial assault on Sasami’s stronghold is a great idea, but the fact that the main characters spend the entire time falling through the air, dodging missiles and trash talking without ever reaching the ground, is so surreal and over-the-top that it almost wraps all the way back around to genius. Despite talk of magical swords and rules of magic in previous episodes, Sas@ga is to me at its strongest when it goes all the way with its surreal underpinnings, and while Tsurugi’s talk of Special Named Magical Swords with Superpowers in this episode was almost a little too much, the sheer spectacle of Kagami dodging artillery fire while being cursed out by a giant holographic Sasami was enough to make up for any of the writing’s niggling excesses.
What’s interesting here is that this episode touches directly on the central myth of Amaterasu that this show drew upon from the very first episode: the sun goddess being trapped in a cave, only able to be drawn out by the Imperial Regalia of Japan. As has been previously established, the Yagami sisters each represent one of the Imperial Regalia, and so of course they’re the only ones able to withdraw Sasami from her imprisonment. What I’m a little unsure about is why this myth is being explicitly drawn upon now rather than left to the beginning or the end of the show. But even if this episode was a little too obvious regarding its immediate inspiration (considering that all the previous episodes of the show have been grounded in the Yagami sisters gradually coaxing Sasami out of her cave) I suppose that it worked well enough as a deliberate fake-out. This is because this episode’s dramatic weight–as well as its probable importance down the line–rests in its second half, as Sasami is projected back in time to her mother’s days as a Tsukiyomi priestess.
3. If the previous episode presented Sasami’s mother as a woman twisted by her station and responsibilities into a monster, driven to destroy her family in order to maintain her lineage, this episode marked her as a far more sympathetic figure. It’s heavily implied here that this was back in the day when Sasami’s mother saw herself both a Tsukiyomi shrine maiden and Sasami’s mother, rather than one at the expense of the other. Not only is it clear that she knows far more about Sasami than even Sasami might have expected (for example, that Sasami has occasionally been sneaking out into the modern world) but also that she genuinely cares for her in a way completely untainted by the amorality that came to define her after her death. In a sense, this is probably the clearest depiction of Sasami’s mother that we’ve recieved so far: she’s not all-powerful or all-knowing, as she’s appeared in Sasami’s early memories. She laments herself that she is unable to remove all illness from the world so that Sasami would never become sick. But if earlier in this episode, Sasami’s brother cried out for his sister’s tears, here Sasami’s mother actually goes there and takes the tears into her when her daughter is sick.
Perhaps even more striking is what Sasami’s mother says afterwards–that as hellish as the role of Tsukiyomi shrine maiden can be, she will try as hard as she can in order to make the world a better place for her daughter to live when she grows up. This could very well be at the very center of the tragedy defining their relationship: neither Sasami nor her mother appreciate the restrictions of being a shrine maiden, but while Sasami’s mother’s solution is to work hard every day, refusing to slack off, Sasami’s solution is to run away from her responsibilities. Of course, in many ways Sasami’s reticence is justified. As we have seen previously, not only are the shrine maidens of the Tsukiyomi family drugged, but they’re forced to sleep with their brothers (or, as seen in the previous episode, their fathers) as well. Sasami may be able to understand a bit of her mother’s plight, but earlier events have made it clear that Sasami’s mother may never truly be able to understand her daughter. What it comes down to is that Sasami’s “unmotivation” can be summed up as adolescent resistance while the alternative is futile struggle against the boundaries of the Tsukiyomi cage. It’s only through the influence of the Yagami sisters that Sasami is able to bring these two extremes together into a form able to blow the boundaries of the world wide open. Too bad that it’s too late for her mother…or is it? Considering how this episode ended, we’ll just have to see!
a) I thought it was a very Sas@ga moment when Sasami threatened Kagami that were she to continue her assault, she would take photos of Kagami without clothes, release them on the internet and turn her into an underground sensation. This is the kind of threat that would only be possible (and terrifying) in the days of internet culture.
b) Here’s a video you can check out if you’re interested in the aforementioned Itano Circus. Do you recognize any of these?
c) I know I said earlier that we would be discussing how the “curse of the future infected the past,” but since these posts are so overdue and the 9th episode is already out, I’m thinking of covering that facet in the 9th post in this series. Look forwards to it!