The start of the episode instantly reminded me of “Twin Peaks.” I only wish I could say the same about the rest of the episode. Before I get into my personal gripes about the anime, however, let’s take a quick look at how the opening to both “Kamisama Dolls” and “Twin Peaks” attempt to reinforce the same idea:
The juxtaposition is deceptively simple; Lynch wanted to illustrate how a small town as peaceful and languid as Twin Peaks could nevertheless be rotten to the core. The sleepy shots of the lumber industry and the slow town life is immediately shattered by the sudden appearance of a dead girl by a riverbed. “Kamisama Dolls” works backward, but establishes the same juxtaposition. The first few minutes of the very first episode of the anime greets us instantly with blood and violence; we already know that the village has something to hide so we now see the peaceful side in the sixth episode to contrast the horror underneath (i.e. Amaterasu).
City life versus village life
I’ve written a post elaborating upon the portrayal of villages in anime, specifically horror anime; Japanese villages are simultaneously demonized and venerated. I’ve also mentioned in the past how Tokyo, one of the most boisterous metropolises in the world, seems strangely dead and inert in “Kamisama Dolls.” I’m going to try to tie these two seemingly distinct strands together.
Moyako, a girl apparently in charge of the maintenance and repairs of the dolls, takes Hibino on a trip into the forest surrounding the village.
“There are so many trees,” Hibino exclaims. “It’s like all the branches take each other’s hands.”
Moyako agrees and adds, “It seems that’s how they speak with one another.” Apparently, the Seki within the anime can most easily form a psychic link with the trees in the forest, but anyone else can too — it would just be a little harder for us normal folks. The forest becomes a character of its own; I’ve mentioned before that this is something the anime’s Tokyo seemed to lack. Moyako continues to elaborate:
“In modern terms, I guess this forest is like it’s own internet. … And once we’re in here, we’re part of the network. Right now, we’re connected with the forest. … Once you know the trick, you can tell what other people here are thinking.”
Try to think of the buildings in Tokyo as an artificial forest, man-made and cold. A life and death struggle could literally take place on the streets, alleyways and rooftops of Tokyo, and there would hardly be a soul around to interfere. Instead, for example, the fight between Utao and Kirio appears on the evening news like some sort of bemusing side note: “Could it possibly have been a UFO?”
You don’t get the same impression with the village. The buildings of Tokyo are now replaced by trees, living organisms psychically linked to each other and the villagers who depend on them. Everyone’s thoughts and feelings are connected as one. It would literally be impossible for a fight to break out here and still have no one notice — the trees would notice. After all, the forest is itself a character.
This makes sense though, doesn’t it? A village is like a liberal arts school, let’s say. There are less people so it’s a whole lot easier to foster a sense of communal bond. People are more connected with one another in the village. Onlookers and bystanders can point to another villager and instantly identify whose clan that person belongs to.
On the hand, city life is much like a large research university. People are less connected; they become strangers. Could one Tokyo city dweller point to a random Tokyo city dweller and identify his or her clan, what his or her profession is, etc.?
Not everything is peachy keen in the village, of course. Last week, we saw a village elder brutally beat Kirio for his trouble-making in the city. This week, we see Utao cower in deference to her grandfather and Moyako’s grandfather as well. Filial piety is a big thing in Asian culture in general, and this includes Japan, but if we think of this in relative terms, consider how different things might be in the city as opposed to the village.
There’s a sense that the village is more deeply-rooted in tradition and hierarchy. Even though young people are the ones who can control the gods that the village so dearly revere, young people are still lower than their elders on the totem pole. There’s a suffocating sense of propriety and structure in the village, and this might have been one of the contributing factors in Kuga’s decision to leave for the city.
Under the hood
So we learn this week that the dolls are wooden, but they come to life by taking a bath in “god’s blood.” A closer look reveals a giant tank of some ominous-looking, black liquid.
Moyako doesn’t go on to explain exactly what this god’s blood is made of, only saying that there’s some mixture of “special resins.” I bet, however, there’s something sick and twisted about this “god’s blood.” Human sacrifices, maybe? There has to be more to it than special resins to make this liquid godly.
• The lame ducks are people like Kuga’s dad. He doesn’t get the cool and special doll summoning powers, but he doesn’t have any clout either when it comes to making actual decisions. How could you just allow the village elders to take one of your kids away?
• Hibino suddenly breaks out in tears while standing in the forest. Apparently, the forest gave her a vision of something simultaneously and immensely beautiful and sad. From what I can tell, however, she seems to have seen a younger Aki.
• The anime doesn’t linger on sadness, however; it much prefers the wacky stylings of physical comedy:
• “Kamisama Dolls” thus continues to be schizophrenic. Half of the episode is fascinating, but the other half is Hibino’s tits. It’d be one thing if the wacky bits are actually funny, but they’re not. These scenes are simply too vanilla and thus dull as hell.