2021 is halfway done, and it’s has been a lot of significant changes for me, personally. I moved into a house with some friends and pets, I recently got a new job, and after getting my vaccinations, started showing up to work in the city. As someone who spent most of their life in the suburb, visiting San Francisco daily is enthralling. The city hasn’t woken up in the mornings fully just yet, but even then, I’m starting to see what draws folks to wanting to live and work there. There’s something weirdly magical about being surrounded by so many people, and yet feeling so disconnected at the same time. The other day, I bumped into an ex-coworker at lunch. Four days ago, an Uber driver got me into stargazing. (I just came back stargazing with some of my flatmates, and as it turns out, stargazing is pretty cool).
In the midst of all this transitioning, something that’s been top of mind lately for the past few months is, how it’s very hard to be a good person. Consistently. Effortlessly. Not necessarily in the weird way of “I woke up, and didn’t choose violence,” but in the “I should be good to myself, to my neighbors, behave as a good citizen, respect my elders, be a law abiding citizen, please my parents, appease my friends, help out in need,” – the list goes on and and on. Forever, actually. There’s simply no end to what rules one must follow to be good on a regular, day to day basis.
My birthday is around the corner, and the older I get, the more I start to wonder: what really does constitute as a good person? Is it about acts of kindness? Is it about giving a damn when no one else does?
Odd Taxi isn’t necessarily about who’s good or bad. It’s not even a drama about how to be a good person. It has no interest in being that kind of story, and it takes no approach to be (until some missteps towards the end, but more on that later). Rather, Odd Taxi functions similarly to another anime in mechanical execution – Durarara! – on how the city landscape can be both an insular and continuously exciting place to live. How one stranger you bump into one day becomes your coworker the next. How a
n Uber taxi driver may start being a fan of some idol group you just got into. How your boss may also be a famous comedian, or how the waitress who served you is actually your best friend’s cousin who just moved into town. Cities are hubs of seemingly random connections that all become something bigger and more exciting, and Odd Taxi captures that atmosphere in a terrifyingly good way.
It does so in the most Tarantino-esque fashion I can think of; by focusing on a seemingly cynical and apathetic taxi driver. At the start of Odd Taxi, I was both impressed and confused by Odokawa’s personality being the center of this captivating mystery. He doesn’t exhibit any of the typical anime protagonist tropes. On the contrary, he’s blunt, somewhat harsh, and treats everyone with a certain “I know more than you” elitist attitude that rubbed me off the wrong way. This, combined with many of the show’s monologues on youth versus the elderly, and naivety versus cynicism, led me to believe this show was just written by a couple of boomers who thought that being good was pointless, and were too deeply in love with using irony as a device for mystery.
But what started out as a hook for a deftly woven thriller slowly became an addictive mishmash of character vignettes. I initially stuck around for the dangling cliffhanger threads, but the fourth episode caught me as one of the most harrowing, human, and vulnerable discussions of an innate part of human behavior: compulsion.
The fourth episode of Odd Taxi is a brutal discourse on gacha, but at its core, it swerves off course from the painstaking setup of the first three episodes to finally dig deep past the surface monologues it had been singing for so long. It picks at the skin of why we want to connect with others, what we do when we fail, and then surgically probes deeper on what happens when we, as all humans do, try to find patterns in the chaos in our life, and find that there is no power in realizing the answer. That inevitably, we all are marionettes, strung along by a compulsion to be less alone. The final twist of the knife in Odd Taxi‘s fourth episode isn’t that Odokawa has a gacha-crazed office worker coming after him, or that Tanaka lost the Dodo he was looking for so long. It’s that Tanaka could be anyone. He was anyone. All it took was a singular, random event to set him off.
It struck me then, that Odd Taxi‘s biggest mystery isn’t about a missing girl, or who’s connected to whom, or even what kind of condition Odokawa is suffering from. Odd Taxi‘s biggest mystery is the mystery of people – of why they do good things, terrible things, and how they can often and consistently surprise you.
No one encapsulates this better than its main protagonist. Odokawa is meant to catch you off guard, not just because he’s different than most anime protagonists, but also because he doesn’t strikes you as the sort of person capable of doing so much for so many people. At first glance, he is prickly, cynical, and apathetic. He can be a little mean, and yet over the course of 13 episodes, you slowly become enamored with this off-the-wall character who’s juggling a variety of responsibilities. He is both incredibly ordinary and admirable in his mundanity. In the midst of all this chaos, you catch onto his perks and nuances; his deeply seated loneliness, his desire to connect with people, his inability to sweet talk, and his resignation of a world that sidelines him and pays him no attention.
This isn’t necessarily an Arararagi from Monogatari situation – Odd Taxi calls Odokawa (and many, many others) out, portraying him as both the perpetrator and victim of his own beliefs and behavior, and threads this character focus in and out with many discussions about classism, sexism, ageism, and the harsh expectations society has for individuals. It for the most part, never seeks to justify; only contextualize, and as a result, it treats its cast with respect and a wistful sentimentality. At the same time, these vignettes are so tightly written into the bigger picture that it almost seems like one grand magic trick, and one you can’t help but fall deeper in love with how these characters will surprise you.
This all fittingly concludes with what I think is the most climactic scene of the show, when Odokawa drives his car into the bay with a boat load of cash in an attempt to run away from Yano and his henchmen. What is a seemingly random event that is in the background of of the ensemble’s most quiet moments, turns into a chain of revelations as each character realizes what’s most important to them, and what they had forgotten in the midst of trying to please someone else. A ring falling into a pond, as a symbol of throwing away one’s youthful hopes and dreams. A piece of chicken, to remind oneself of home and a hardworking parent. A bar of soap, as a link to the frugal lifestyle one had to adopt to survive. At that precise moment, Odakawa means something to each one of these characters – whether good or bad isn’t the point – and hell, they have surprised us all with their true colors by this moment – but it’s this random, glamorous, and ridiculous moment that threads all of these characters together to reflect on where they went wrong. Where they could go right again.
So if Odd Taxi‘s mystery is its own cast, what is the answer to all of this? If it isn’t about becoming a hero, or how no one can remain consistently good in this world, and are drawn to our own self defeating miseries, and regulated terribly by a damning society, to a fault, then what is it about? Is it about how we’re rarely afforded closure in reality? Is it about a middle aged man who was able to combat his crippling anxiety and dreary outlook on life with the power of friendship? I don’t think so. Odokawa isn’t a hero to everyone: he doesn’t try to bail Dobu out of jail, and he has no impact on the conclusion for Homosapiens. By the finale, he’s still a prickly and blunt taxi driver to many of the inevitable strangers that he’ll pick up in his car. He doesn’t immediately extend a hand of friendship to everyone he meets. But at the very end of Odd Taxi, which is not the 13th episode of the anime, but the 13th segment of the radio drama, Odokawa is surrounded by these so called inevitable strangers. He wasn’t nice to them all the time. He didn’t continuously do things out of the goodness of his heart. And after 12 episodes, he’s certainly no more richer or wiser for having done the things he’s done. Hell, he may be dead after everything he’s had to go through to help others.
But he’s not alone.
I think that’s honestly, just enough. In a world filled with so many people, in a landscape where you can run again and again into people of all sorts, Odokawa chose to be good a lot. He may not have woken up thinking about it. It got him in a lot of trouble. He didn’t always win. But little by little, those acts of kindness, humility, and compassion build up. Not sequentially, mind you. You can’t always be a good person. You’re going to be naive and make a lot of stupid mistakes. You’ll probably repeat them. You’re going to get older. Society is going to beat you out of the fighting ring, slowly and methodically, until you’re tired and worn out. But somewhere along the line, kindness pays forward, even if it’s in the most distorted, crazy sequence of events. Showing up is enough, I think.
At one of our onsites, our manager gave us an icebreaker: Do you believe the world is full of chaos, or is there meaning to every action and decision? Most of us answered chaos. A few folks however, chose meaning. “I’d like to think it all comes to something,” a fellow coworker mentioned, before sheepishly handing the mic over to the next person. Some people laughed, but I found it oddly romantic.
Looking back on it now, and having finished Odd Taxi, I think my answer is, well, both. The world is chaos, but I think I still choose to make meaning out of it. I can’t choose to be good every day. Being continuously good is exhausting. It’s tiring. Evil will win. It often does. Patterns may not exist in a society where people don’t expect anything out of you, and yet, there is so much I am thankful for every day, whether it’s learning new tidbits from strangers, making new friends via FFXIV, being inspired by my flatmates, or challenging myself to go outside my comfort zone, even if it may not make sense. Maybe being sentimental about randomness and connections is all we got.