Once again, I must apologize for the lack of “timeliness” in my blogging. I hope to get caught up over the coming weekend… On with the RDG review!
While the first three episodes concentrated on character introductions, world building, and setting up the relationship dynamics between Izumiko and Miyuki, the next two are about school life at Hojo Academy, where they are entering their first year of high school as “partners”. There is still a good deal of character introduction necessary, however, as we need to meet and get to know about the roommates, classmates, potential friends, and potential rivals on the Hojo campus. (Note that the potential friends and potential rivals lists are not necessarily mutually exclusive!)
The series is listed as “Fantasy”, and that is certainly the case, but it could also be easily listed as “slice of life”, as that is the storytelling style used in the show. It certainly has an overarching plot, so it is not pure slice of life like Tamayura: Hitotose or Azumanga Daioh, but it is definitely using the daily life events to drive the story as opposed to being plot driven. As a fan of this type of storytelling, I enjoy it immensely, especially when it is well done. RDG is very well written, with even the more outlandish aspects of the story seeming to occur as part of the natural course of events, thanks to the smooth, relaxed pace of the narrative.
But there is another aspect of the storytelling that adds even more to the enjoyment. That would by mystery. It isn’t a mystery in the sense of a traditional “who-done-it”, but rather the setting and general story-line are inherently laced with the mysterious. What makes this aspect of the storytelling work so well, is the manner in which the mysterious world is revealed. Some authors choose to tell a story from the perspective of an observer, with the audience being aware of far more than the characters as the story progresses. That is not the path taken by the writers of RDG. In general, we know what we see, with only a rare scene that imparts knowledge beyond what one of the two main characters know, like Wamiya sitting atop the school building while his mind-controlled lackeys try to lay a beat down on Miyuki. It is made abundantly clear that information has been deliberately withheld, from Izumiko in particular, but also from Miyuki. This approach works wonders in creating a tense, mysterious atmosphere as the particulars of the current crisis are revealed.
It feels as if the story really hit its stride when they got to high school. I think this may be because of the strength of the supporting cast. The middle school characters outside of the main pair never seemed to have any real meat to them, with the possible exception of Wamiya. However, even he was intentionally left a bit vague due to the nature of the character. He was supposed to be a mystery, an enigma, until his true nature was revealed, which was, of course, almost immediately followed by the resolution of his story-line.
The high school characters are considerably more fleshed out, though there is still plenty of mysteriousness around, as it appears that Hojo Academy is a school that was created specifically to teach students with “special needs”, as it supernatural powers.
Early on in the fourth episode, Izumiko’s inherent shyness and discomfort in crowds and with unfamiliar people is used to great effect. When she starts seeing the “shadowy figures” around the school, she is quite shaken. When it appears that these shadowy individuals are actually foreign exchange students even she questions if it is just her nature that is causing her to feel uncomfortable around them and chastises herself for prejudice.
When this Brazilian exchange student asks to speak Izumiko later in the day, she agrees to get him away from her. The exchange makes something perfectly clear to her, however: the student is not a real human! There is a wonderful bit of back-story tossed in along the way, informing us that her iconic red-rimmed glasses are both more and less than they appear. Less in that she doesn’t really need them to see. Sure, she has a slight astigmatism and is a little far sighted, the opposite of most people’s reason for wearing glasses. But they are also more than they appear, as evidenced by her memory of her mother giving them to her. It seems that Izumiko has eyes “like her mother’s”, that see too much, suggesting that the real reason she was given the glasses was to prevent her from seeing things that are from outside of the human world.
Over the course of episodes 4 and 5, we get a good feel for campus life, including the eccentric students, from the shikagami using “top of the class” student, Ichijou Takayanagi (who looks far too much like Wamiya for comfort), to the partner concept that seems restricted to Izumiko/Miyuki and their roommates, Mayura and Manatsu, as well as their special power, which is related to their long deceased triplet, Massumi. Miyuki and Izumiko discuss the fact that people think she entered the school as Miyuki’s “partner” and that keeping the Himigami secret is a good idea. Miyuki is pretty down on himself it appears, feeling that he is really outclassed by most of these fellow students and he feels that, as long as they are not perceived as a threat, Izumiko’s new friends will continue to be friendly to them. Letting them think that he is the more powerful of the two is part of that, though she has already demonstrated the ability to see shikagami for what they really are. Izumiko seems pleased that Miyuki doesn’t seem to mind that people think of her as his partner.
Tossing a wrench in the works is the arrival on campus of none other than Miyuki’s dad, Yukimasa, who takes a position as a teacher at the school in order to keep tabs on Izumiko. His appearance comes just as Izumiko and Miyuki appear to be close to coming to terms with what their relationship is going to become, but any progress on that front is stalled the minute Miyuki sees his much hated father. He begins acting like a complete jerk to Izumiko again at that point. However, the arrival of Yukimasa does provide an opportunity for some exposition about what exactly is going on at this very strange school.
Izumiko asks him why she was sent to this school and why there are so many “special people” there. He tells her that the school is a testing ground for a project that is not entirely different from the “World Heritage Society”, except that it is for people instead of history places. In particular, people who can commune with the divine. The theory is that when the human race looses the ability to commune with divine spirits, they will no longer be allowed to live on earth by those spirits. (This concept comes up again in the next set of episodes. It appears to be a large part of the overarching plot.)
We are also briefly introduced to the current student council president, Honoka Kisaragi, who also does Japanese traditional dance. Part of the distancing of the relationship between Izumiko and Miyuki is prompted by his volunteering for the Student Council Executive Committee, immediately after snapping at Izumiko and telling her he doesn’t want people to think they are associated now that his father is teaching at the school and obviously associated with her. The final straw, however, is when he asks her roommate, Mayura, to join the Executive Committee as well, and she see’s Mayura being very “familiar” with him. It seems that a bit of jealousy sparks, despite the fact that she still won’t admit that she has feelings for him other than as a person she can turn to for help.
This turn of events leads her to go off into the forest and meet the the “first” student council president, who seems to be a sort of “hanger-on” at the school, Hodaka Murakami. Miyuki also finds out about Hodaka and is told that he is the “secret” student body president and he has taken an interest in Izumiko, which baffles the person Miyuki is talking to (who appears to be the outgoing student council president), since she doesn’t appear to be that special, especially compared to Mayura or Takayanagi. By the time Miyuki comes to Izumiko’s aid, Hodaka (with the help of Honoka, who brought Izumiko to see him) has tried to entice Izumiko into doing her Kagura Dance and has put stage make-up on her. The true nature of Hodaka may be more akin to Wamiya, it seems, as we get another visit from the Himegami, with an ominous warning and request for Miyuki: Don’t allow Izumiko to become the Himigami, as it could lead to the end of the human race! The wording of this is interesting. I am uncertain whether it means to prevent her from being possessed or to prevent Izumiko herself from becoming a living goddess, possibly fully possessed by the Hikagami. I have a hunch it is the later, as it is clear that Izumiko’s spiritual powers are beyond the norm, even for the special school they attend. I look forward to seeing how this plot line unfolds in the episodes yet to come.
Preview for Episode 6: