The World Ends with You: Osomatsu-san and Semiotic Reimaginings

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In Osomatsu-san a pair of close-knit siblings, Ichimatsu and Jyuushimatsu, possess a unique relationship in that it appears to be characterized by mutually unfathomable depths which only serve to mystify those around them; leaving a series of question marks in their wake. An ineffable quality suffusing such an unlikely comradery, they pose something of an enigma to the rest of the characters that appear within this screwball comedy. Both express difficulty when it comes to normative modes of self-expression: Ichimatsu sullen and anxiety-ridden, Jyuushimatsu flung out of space, veering towards non-communicative measures which results in them naturally gravitating towards each other. The seventeenth episode boasts an exploration into the fascinating bond they share, offering the viewer insight into otherwise impermeable headspaces through Jyuushimatsu tumbling down the existential rabbit hole promoted by an idle musing one breezy afternoon – “What am I?”.

A fascinating series which facilitates surreal and experimental vignettes removed from an otherwise linear trajectory, in order for Jyuushimatsu to further hypothesize on this self-analytical schema Osomatsu-san posits his indulgence as an outrageously vivid semiotic reimagining of his world. The innate structures which bind disintegrate as conventional modes of recognition are no longer required, enabling him to pursue a myriad of possibilities beyond the confines of his own mind, subjectivity, and being. In the sequence’s opening scene Ichimatsu is cast as a tethering force, providing evidence to aid in Jyuushimatsu’s construction of a metacognitive awareness. What apparently defines the younger Matsuno is his mouth, wide and grinning, along with his single ahoge (designed with an antenna in mind, representative of his denpa leanings), but if he were lacking those qualities then who – or what – is he? With the world turned on its head, he can’t help but wonder. Rather suggestively, once Ichimatsu departs within the context of the sequence it becomes impossible for an external force, an observer, to keep Jyuushimatsu grounded let alone confirm his existence, which enables an indulgent reflective spiral extending to reality itself.

Within this liminal space the possibilities are endless, resulting in Jyuushimatsu’s identity taking on distinctly fluid connotations as he becomes the sole observer. Imitating his brothers with ease in both appearance and voice, the exploration only continues to spiral further out of control once their respective seiyuu chime in with their own renditions of Jyuushimatsu’s signature catchphrase, Jyuushimatsu wondering if he is who he is even while impersonating himself. The threads of reality finally come undone once the neighbourhood which the Matsuno family have lived in all their life frays away into semiotic chaos due to this intensely personal navigation of Jyuushimatsu’s in order to discover both himself, and the world he inhabits. Beyond his siblings a more intricate frame of reference is required which leads to reducing elements down to their essential components, parsing everyday objects and concepts such as trees and cars as kanji, universal icons.

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Discrepancies inevitably surface once Jyuushimatsu proceeds to filter the series’ colourful cast of characters through the same profoundly abstract lens the world itself has been subjected to, characters no longer in possession of human form but also reduced down to symbols. Despite each appearing to be comparatively secure as far as their individual existences are concerned, accompanied by cheeky metatextual jabs about the anime’s production, Jyuushimatsu nevertheless reaches the conclusion that all this is arguably meaningless in the greater scheme of things. Through reducing elements down to the bare essentials, he attains metacognitive security through recognizing that even if he closes that mouth of his, if the single ahoge vanishes, if his name lacks a ‘shimatsu’ (四松) – he’s still Jyuushimatsu. Once it seems as if the curious existential meditation has reached its end, however, rather suggestively Ichimatsu materialises once all is conjured away to a metaphysical oblivion, carrying striking implications.

The episode’s closing sequence is comparatively grounded to this one’s surrealist implications, situated within the closest frame of reality possible for Osomatsu-san to adhere to. As the siblings follow up on the initial question posed, broadly speculating on the nature of Jyuushimatsu’s character, Ichimatsu catches them off guard with a simple, yet remarkable statement: Jyuushimatsu is Jyuushimatsu, from head to toe – his own genre that defies understanding. Comfortably positioned within his polarizing orbit, that the older brother is able to comprehend the younger’s more obscure ministrations which only serve to bewilder the rest of their siblings and by extension, the world, bears a solemn weight. Mutually compatible, their union is built upon a foundation of tacit reciprocity, of acceptance suffused with positive connotations. That Ichimatsu is the sole existence to stand alongside Jyuushimatsu at the world’s end, within a transient void where even sound struggles to be, is imbued with an emotional significance that words fail at capturing.

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As the fourth and fifth-born sons within the Matsuno sextet, the kanji used for their names possesses a comic bent suggesting that their parents were in a hurry naming them:  ‘ichi’ referring to one (一) and ‘jyuu’ ten (十). In line with the sequence’s penchant for transcending fixed notions of reality, that the pair now resemble what they mutually acknowledge is a plus and minus sign is by no means a coincidence. A distinctly antipodal quality pervades their harmonic equilibrium, a counterbalancing of sorts resulting in a return to zero leaving only the fundamentals; the beginning and end of this new world. The other’s presence keenly felt, what would be a daunting realm is instead suffused with soothing tones – yellow and purple complementary tones in the colour wheel. With the equation solved, the answer has been there since the beginning: all they need is each other. Of course, that begs the question whether Osomatsu-san’s zany mechanisms facilitated a destabilizing of its own internal reality and striking relational dynamics, or whether this reflective acceptance took place within the confines of Jyuushimatsu’s conscious. Either prospect is appealing, and certainly worthy of consideration.

 “When it comes down to it, just what are we?”

Following a suggestive pause, the question Jyuushimatsu poses is all the more striking when juxtaposed against this gaping white expanse where only two remain.

What are they indeed.

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Does it even matter?

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