by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
After weeks of teasing disaster and despair, Kakushigoto finally pulls back the veil on its frame story and delivers a definitive conclusion for its father-daughter saga about manga artistry and dick jokes. Unlike prior episodes, this one takes place entirely in the somber flash-forward starring 18-year-old Hime, and even though it's a slight departure from the story's expected format and tonal variance, it feels appropriate. Kakushigoto has already spent so much time hyping up the mystery of its titular character's fate that there's no way it would've been able to squeeze something satisfying into just a minutes-long epilogue. That doesn't stop the finale from feeling a little bit strange, but on the other hand, we can all be thankful that Kōji Kumeta resisted the temptation to knock over his meticulously-arranged chessboard of character drama for one last spectacular goof. Instead, Kakushi and Hime find closure and a (mostly) secret-free path forward for their family.
Kumeta actually seems kind of embarrassed about how long he ended up stringing the audience along, based on how quickly he reveals all the narrative cards he was hiding. Hime is indeed Kakushi's real daughter. Kakushi himself was actually the illegitimate child. That only mattered because kabuki actors and traditional artists don't get along, apparently. His half-sister sent Hime the house key. His wife was lost at sea, and he could never fully accept that. He gave up on manga because his fans found out and thought that was weird. He's also not dead right now; he's just in a coma. And that's more or less it. All of this comes to light in the first five or so exposition-saturated minutes—more perfunctory than satisfying. The saving grace is that all these answers are pretty mundane and set the stage for the eventual reunion between Hime and her dad. Last-minute twists for the sake of it are difficult to pull off (and to be fair, Kakushigoto does try to pull a pretty big one that we'll get to shortly), so the way these naturally fizzle into the denouement is probably the best course it could have taken.
One issue I do rankle with is the valuation of blood relations, which is broached briefly when Hime's cousin reassures her that Kakushi is her “real” dad, to her vocalized relief. As a staunch appreciator of found families—especially those in some of my favorite anime series—I can't help but critique this small but nonetheless misguided focus on the “legitimacy” of their bond. Kakushi would have still been Hime's dad even if he had found her in a stalk of bamboo. This whole show was about the two of them taking care of each other, working through their problems, and celebrating the triumphs whenever they could, because they love each other. They're family!
The last-minute amnesia twist is also so shamelessly cloying that Kumeta can't help but lampoon himself yet again through the mouthpiece of Tomaruin. If I'm being charitable, I can accept it as symbolic of Kakushi's deep-seated reluctance to see Hime grow up and consequently learn the truth about his former occupation and passion. In reality as in fiction, there's a temptation for fathers in particular to infantilize their daughters. Thus, the key to Kakushi breaking through his amnesia is his acceptance that raising Hime and seeing her grow up into her own person was well worth working through his own discomfort and insecurity. That's both sweet and perceptive, but it's still tacked onto a cheap and cliché dramatic shortcut appended to the final ten minutes of the show.
Unsurprisingly, the tone of this episode is a lot more serious overall compared to its predecessors. However, buried just underneath the surface of the text is some of Kumeta's most quietly acerbic satire to be found in Kakushigoto, surfacing here as if he finally felt freed of the responsibility of sustaining cute father-daughter shenanigans. Most overt is the manner of Kakushi's accident, in which a man who tried to run away from the manga industry ends up hospitalized due to a pallet of manga falling on him. That's some tasty irony, but to take this one step further, the reason the pallet collapses is attributed to someone stealing a copy of Shonen Jump to leak to the internet. Many people (myself included) have at one point justified manga piracy to themselves, but here Kumeta doesn't mince any words about the harm it causes creators. While they might not be falling into conveniently tragic comas, there are plenty of other ways it hurts the people who, as Kakushigoto has frequently pointed out, don't have easy careers to begin with.
This finale in general doesn't paint a flattering portrait of the internet. A combination of tabloid journalism and vitriolic anonymous commenters dealt the final blow to Kakushi's ambitions of making people laugh. Granted, Kakushigoto doesn't (and couldn't) explore this facet with the intensity of something like Gatchaman Crowds, but it's not accidental that Kakushi's recovery—both from amnesia and from his manga block—stems from time spent together with people who care about him. Hime triggers his memories with a decidedly low-tech cardboard box full of musty manuscripts. It's a callback to the boxes her mother left for her, but it also shows the importance of the in-person interpersonal warmth Kakushi has been able to foster in spite of himself.
Ultimately, what works best in this finale is what has always worked best for Kakushigoto: the small and sincere moments shared between people who care about each other amidst their rampant wackiness. Whether it's Hime's classmates banding together for one last detective job, or Kakushi's former assistants dutifully drawing pages for a series that ended years ago, the bonds they've all forged transcend any attempt at secrecy. It adds up to a safe yet satisfying conclusion. Personally, in my heart of hearts, I'm always going to hold Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei as the paradigm of Kōji Kumeta manga and adaptations, but Kakushigoto was a nice change of pace and a relaxing companion for stressful times. I look forward to whatever Kumeta moves onto next with a mixture of anticipation and fear for the unmined depths of pun-making he can still unearth.
Kakushigoto is currently streaming on Funimation.
The state of the world has left Steve in despair! But never fear, he's still on Twitter too much.
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