Friday, June 25 2004

Anime Endings: Mahoromatic revisited via Angelic Layer

After reaching the end of Angelic Layer, I found myself thinking about the unsatisfying conclusion to Mahoromatic, and I think I finally understand how it went wrong.

Warning: severe spoilers for Mahoromatic ahead. Safe for people currently watching Angelic Layer (hinthint). I’ll defer a full discussion of that ending for a while. I want to go back and watch the whole thing again first.

Angelic Layer tells two stories: a coming-of-age story about a young girl in Tokyo, and the history of a game that has become a phenomenal success in her world. As the series progresses, the stories intertwine, ultimately becoming one.

And that’s where Mahoromatic fell down. It also has two stories: a “small” story about love, friendship, life, loss, and redemption, and the history of a war waged between humans, aliens, and a secret society. As the series progresses, the stories intertwine, ultimately remaining… two.

We know what happened: the anime series outpaced the manga it was based on, leaving the writers without source material right after the penultimate battle in the secret war. In September, that ending will finally be collected in Japan, but it will be a while before it’s translated for the US audience. I fear that will be too late for most, but in the meantime I’m busily learning Japanese. :-)

Their mistake, thrown into sharp relief for me by the end of Angelic Layer, was to end the two stories separately. The “big” story, the secret war, is resolved entirely without involvement from Suguru and Mahoro; Grandfather wins the war by smuggling Slash into the headquarters of the secret society for a decapitation strike, and it appears to be 100% effective. It’s a great scene, a noble warrior sacrificing himself to save the world and his family. But it just stops there; even Slash is never seen or mentioned again. Ever.

That leaves one minor, really trivial, villain on the loose, who has crossed over from the other story for the sole purpose of providing an excuse for Mahoro to sacrifice herself for Suguru. His bosses are dead, he has no clear mission, the good guys won, and Mahoro and Suguru finally realize the depth of their feelings for each other. Better kill her off quick, before the aliens reveal that they can fix her lifespan as easily as they promise to repair the butchery that created Minawa!

So they do. Grandfather died to save the world, Mahoro died to save the boy she loved, and Suguru spends the next twenty years nursing his anger, frustration, and feelings of betrayal as he hunts down every remnant of the organization that built Mahoro’s killer. In the end, betrayed by yet another android, he finally pauses to reflect on his life, and is forced to reveal that the bitterness and anger are mostly a sham, and that the loss of innocence and love is really at the heart of his problem.

At that point, the aliens of Saint who, like the writers, never really loved Suguru and Mahoro, choose to set off on another adventure, leaving behind everything that reminds them of Earth. Grandmother, finally feeling a faint twinge of remorse over her callous indifference to Suguru’s decades of pain, wishes that there were something that could be done for him. Matthew, who has the collective memory of all Saints (including Mahoro), packages up the tiny piece of herself that cannot forget Earth and restores it to life in a brand-spanking-new body, finally reuniting Mahoro and Suguru.

Which she had the power to do twenty goddamn years ago!

A lot of people interpreted the final scene as Suguru’s dream before dying, perhaps stimulated by a memory download from Matthew into the cyborg replacement parts he’s picked up over the years. Others insist that it’s really Mahoro, but Suguru dies in her arms. Nope, can’t buy it.

That it’s a real, physical Mahoro is made clear by how and where she appears. We see her arrival, lost and confused in a city that Suguru would recognize, and she wanders aimlessly looking for him. While it’s true that his memories of those days have been dredged up by the chat with his old schoolmate (whom he never recognizes, despite the photo of him with a girl in their old school uniforms), there’s no reason to believe he would imagine her appearing in that fashion.

Further evidence for her reality, and his survival, is the closing dream sequence, which mirrors Mahoro’s dream at the end of the first season. Suguru never knew about that dream, and Minawa’s presence in it makes it a new dream, Mahoro’s vision of a happy life with Suguru, living together once again in the house in Hiryu, with all their friends around.

Of course, everyone but Minawa was left with the impression that the two of them ran off together twenty years ago and have been together ever since, so there will be some surprises at the reunion party, but that also is something we’ll never get to see. The closest we get to a happy ending for the anime version of Mahoromatic is the standalone Summer Special, which is good clean fun set early in the second season.

Okay, good ecchi fun, but you know what I mean.