Across the Universe: A Glimmer of Hope in Land of the Lustrous’ Sea of the Unconscious

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Across the distant reaches of time and space, just one connection makes it all worthwhile.

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This Was the Land’s End: The Butterfly Effect, Making History, and Purpose in Land of the Lustrous

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Our Lady of the Shipwrecked is striding toward the horizon,
Her marble skirts blown back in two pink wings.
A marble sailor kneels at her foot distractedly, and at his foot
A peasant woman in black
Is praying to the monument of the sailor praying.
Our Lady of the Shipwrecked is three times life size,
Her lips sweet with divinity.
She does not hear what the sailor or the peasant is saying —
She is in love with the beautiful formlessness of the sea.

– Sylvia Plath, Finisterre (1961)

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“A living fragrance from the shore, of flowers yet fresh with childhood”: Yosuga no Sora and Resisting the Tide

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Over the course of my time spent with anime, there have been a select number of series I giddily relish in discussing, waxing lyrical regarding their bizarre narrative proclivities, absurdist bents. That a gaudy incestuous tirade dragged howling from the medium’s rusty vaults would dare invoke Lord Byron’s ennui-driven Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage quickly cemented itself as one such series, becoming the scourge of fandom for a time. Ostensibly Yosuga no Sora does little to support its ambitious epithet, female characters swooning over its protagonist viewed through glistening shoujo filters, glowing and giddy. Within minutes it seems as if every eligible lady within a twenty-mile radius falls for Haru’s affable everylead charms… Leaving twin Sora to grip onto him a little tighter, scowl deepening as each episode parades a litany of semi-explicit eroticisms. Despite its undeniably trashy conceits and lack of substance however, even after all these years Yosuga no Sora is one of those formative pieces I still find myself mostly bemused by. As I derive genuine enjoyment from its bawdy practices, I would be reluctant to call it an exercise in ironic consumption.

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Go on Throw This Stone, into This Halfway Home: Shibahime Tsubasa’s Family Portrait

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Although those earlier episodes of KareKano are concerned with the affecting minutiae of Yukino and Arima’s burgeoning relationship, in shoujo land rarely does ‘the course of true love… run smooth’. Enter Tsubasa in an id-fuelled maelstrom of pouts and scowls, resenting Yukino for digging her claws into Arima. While initially portrayed as yet another antagonistic cog fuelling the collectivist machine that is shoujo bullying, Tsubasa is in fact a pitiful figure who managed to see something of herself in Arima. Beyond humourous attempts at middle school wooing, they gravitated towards each other due to similar sorrowful pasts. Although Arima’s issues simmer beneath an immaculate veneer, ensnared in an increasingly convoluted web of self-loathing and expectations spun across the series’ entirety, Tsubasa’s are explored through an arresting two-parter.

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“Tranquil Days That Felt Empty”: Arima Souichirou and Incongruous Blossoms

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The establishing shot of KareKano’s eighth episode features an abandoned bouquet of cherry blossoms, petals solemnly strewn amidst a black background. The same piano piece that highlighted clandestine moments of emotional intensity during the first episode rise alongside “it was before I met you”, alluding to the wistful sentimentality of the past. The material of such a remarkably directed half-episode is concerned with depicting Arima’s first few weeks at school; affection blooming amidst the shadowy annals of his psyche while subconsciously striving to transcend blossoms blocking the path to self-acceptance. Otherwise ubiquitous imagery adorning many a graduation scene, the beautiful flowers signify fresh starts and new beginnings, blooming in tandem with the beginning and end of the Japanese school year.

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“How Do People See Me?”: Miyazawa Yukino and the Looking-Glass Self

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Among the myriad romantic comedies inundating the medium with their formulaic reliance on will-they-or-won’t-they nail-biters and divisive love triangles, almost twenty years on GAINAX’s Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (KareKano/His and Her Circumstances) has stood the test of time through instead turning its gaze inwards. Broadly speculating on the fraught identity politics Yukino and Arima endure in the midst of social and familial turmoil, it proves to be a remarkably introspective character study arguably on par with Neon Genesis Evangelion – both of which have director Hideaki Anno on board. Through their relationship the pair grapple with the intricacies of learning to live for themselves, a thematic strand deftly weaved into the narrative from the anime’s first frame. Consisting of a white backdrop emblazoned with a suggestive question, it asks “how do people see me?”.

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