Girls' Last Tour Episode 12
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Girls' Last Tour ?
Girls' Last Tour has been building to a preparation for the end. The entire journey, in both its pastoral and philosophical aspects, has been priming Chii and Yuu for the information they receive this week; they may be two of the last humans left alive, and they will have to live out the rest of their lives knowing that humanity will die with their number. As someone entrenched in the society and culture around them, the immensity of this psychological burden is unimaginable to me.
However, the girls' experiences thus far have clearly prepared them for this sort of knowledge. They've learned to find joy in situations that folks living today would consider hopelessly desolate, they've learned to not see a hard line between themselves and nature, and they've learned to cherish companionship above all else. At the very end, they discover what might be the ultimate existential reassurance—that the world will soldier on in humanity's absence, with something like us remaining in the natural principles that led to our existence in the first place. It's not reassuring if you're looking to see humanity as exceptional and irreplaceable within the natural order, but I'd say that Girls' Last Tour has been repudiating this type of anthropo-centrism since the beginning of the show. This finale is the perfect culmination to the show's thematic preoccupation with finding beauty in desolation (and what could be more desolate than the end times), all wrapped up in its usual aesthetic and atmospheric excellence.
The episode begins with the girls breaking into a nuclear submarine. As they walk past markers indicating that the whole thing is Extremely Radioactive, they ponder what secrets this strange facility might hold about humanity's past. Fortunately, it doesn't take long for them to stumble across an archival motherlode. When their digital camera autoconnects to the ship's onboard computer, it reveals everything stored inside, and there's way more than just the pictures they took. All of the photos taken by the camera's previous owners are still there, and the device seems to have been passed around for centuries. As they look through its archives—which stretch from Kanazawa's adventures to records of pre-war life in a society similar to our own—Chii and Yuu glimpse worlds that they've never known. In Girls' Last Tour's characteristic fashion, they find this experience profoundly comforting. Rather than envying these people for existing in a world of overwhelming abundance compared to their own, or resenting them for causing the apocalypse that ravaged their world, the girls bask in the feeling of shared humanity conveyed by this brief look into the variety that once constituted life on earth. (This utter lack of anger is one of the great things about Girls' Last Tour. If humanity is doomed to extinction, you might as well go out on an attempt to be happy rather than bemoaning a situation so totally out of your control.)
After this, we receive some concrete details on the girls' backstories in the form of a dream sequence. It looks like they lived with a grandfather figure until a few years ago, when soldiers arrived to enact a pogrom on their village. Grandpa convinced them to escape on the kettenkrad and was most likely shot to death shortly afterwards. This turns out to be Chii's dream, and its subject—the loss of a loved one—acts as a premonition of sorts. When she goes to look for Yuu after waking, a massive doughweasel appears and swallows the lovable food maniac whole. It scampers off, and after a brief moment of paralysis, Chii finds herself on a rescue mission. While chasing the creature, Chii realizes just how much Yuu means to her. Eventually, she finds them both outside, where the megaweasel is holding an unharmed Yuu gently in its open mouth-hole.
This leads to the reveal of what exactly these “cuts” are. They're intelligent decomposers who go around cleansing the planet of humanity's toxic remnants. Our little doughweasel is just a baby, while the larger ones are adults. These adults are capable of independent communication as well as morphing into a more humanoid “mushroom” form. A flock of these fungi turns out to be the source of the music that the girls have been chasing, and it's revealed that their song is an elegy for life on earth. Lore-wise, it's ambiguous whether these decomposers arose naturally over the course of humanity's self-destruction (nuclear mutants of some kind) or constitute some planned special ops squad birthed by a sentient planet. I could see it going either way, although the former is more in line with the show's celebration of immanence. But I digress. They thank our heroines for returning their baby, inform them that they may be the last humans alive, and consume the sub's remaining nukes. After that, they fly off to the one place they haven't checked out yet—the city's top layer—where other life may yet remain. After that, Chii and Yuu are left to process the encounter and assess what they might do with this knowledge.
Of course, they resolve to be optimistic about things. In a tender moment, the girls vocalize their love for one another and state that they aren't lonely so long as they have each other. Then they proceed on their journey, reiterating their desire to reach the top level—and afterwards, the moon. Further adventures await, and I believe that Chii and Yuu will find a happy life beyond the show's endpoint.
I'll admit that I cried while watching this. A number of works exploring similar themes have popped up over the past year or so, and while they've all been strong, Girls' Last Tour is easily the most tender and optimistic of the bunch. Somehow, this relative hopefulness doesn't come at the expense of the show's depiction of post-apocalyptic desolation. Honestly, the fact that it's unsparing is part of what makes it so powerful. Life isn't easy on Chii and Yuu, but if they can find joy in the middle of what they're experiencing, anything is survivable. But seriously, between this, Nier:Automata, Kemono Friends, and Land of the Lustrous, it's like we're all freaking out over the end of the world or something. (I wonder why...) It's neat when similar works appear independently of one another within the same timeframe and without any obvious connective influences. (Another big incidence of that this year was the thematic and aesthetic similarities between Bladerunner 2049 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.) It's like very different artists are coming to similar emotional conclusions to the problems posed by current events.
As an aside, there are some hints that Yuu and Chii may be in a romantic relationship. I hadn't mentioned this before since the show hadn't offered much evidence for romance over friendship one way or another. This last episode, however, has tipped the scales for me. That final scene between the girls is super romantic in its framing, and I've also learned that the author wrote an AU oneshot where the two are dating. To me, this all lends credence to a theory passed around that the two kissed during the drinking sequence, so I think it's safe to consider Girls' Last Tour a subtle yuri show now. It's still ambiguous enough that you could ignore that angle if you wanted to, but why would you? They're super cute together. Plus, you'd better hope that you get to have the hots for the only other person alive.
In the end, I'd say that Girls' Last Tour turned out to be a minor masterpiece. If I had to pick a desert island anime (or perhaps a lost-on-the-frozen-tundra-after-the-extinction-of-humanity anime) this would be a top choice for its reassuring message, gorgeous production, and playful articulations of fundamentally human dilemmas. It's just one of those special shows that makes you feel less alone in the world.
Girls' Last Tour is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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