Somali and the Forest Spirit
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Somali and the Forest Spirit ?
Sometimes the hardest thing to realize is what everyone else already knows. In the case of Golem, it's that, contrary to what he's always believed, he does have a heart and all its attendant emotions, and that means that far from just being Somali's guardian, he really is her dad. Of course, the impossible golem can't realize that without causing both us and Somali undue angst, but that's the sign of a well-done episode – it yanks and tugs at your emotions before bringing things to a conclusion that really works.
And wow, is this a rollercoaster of an episode. Picking up right after Golem's terrifying transformation into a monstrous being (again, pretty well in line with the golem myths), things almost get truly traumatic for Somali when Golem commences a rampage in the name of keeping her safe. Trailing ropes of “muscle,” his eye blazing an evil shade of red, and hard ceramic spikes protruding from his one remaining arm, Golem goes after the people who would eat his daughter with a vengeance. He even hurts Yabashira when he gets in his way, seemingly unaware of who the oni is, only that he's stopping Golem from protecting his child. It isn't until Somali herself steps in front of Rose that Golem comes back to himself, and what a tense moment that is. It's the first of several moments where we want desperately to believe that Golem is going to make the right decision for Somali's continued well-being…but aren't entirely sure that he really will. In this case, it's more a question of whether he's going to be able to, because his rage at those who tricked him is so strong that he might not even be fully cognizant of what he's doing, as we saw when he flung Yabashiro across the cavern.
Somali herself doesn't seem entirely sure, either – we can see her trembling a little. But he's her father, and she wants above all else to trust him, so when his fingers are wriggling menacingly above her head, she chooses to say that he's just going to pat her rather than stab her through the skull to get to the object of his ire. She's thankfully right, but until she actually says the words aloud to the oni, Golem himself might not have really known.
To say that this is a pivotal moment for him is probably stating the obvious. He did stop himself, but he promptly collapses, and when he wakes up he has to deal with the fact that not only is he down an arm and most of his ceramic skin, but he's also come very, very close to hurting the one person he never wants to. This doubtless factors into his decision to leave Somali in the onis' care and just vanish into the forest, one solidified when he sees Yabashira acting in a very fatherly way towards the little girl. In his not-quite-getting-it way, Golem believes that if he leaves now, after he's given Somali a fun day at the festival, she'll just accept it. After all, never having had emotions before, how could he be expected to understand someone else's? The poor man barely understands his own, or that he has them.
If you weren't feeling the prickle of tears when Somali looks away from the stage and sees that Golem has gone, I'd guess that you were when she chased after him or he tried to drive her away, thinking it was best. (Or maybe I'm just a watering pot of a person. Okay, I know I am.) These final seven minutes are where Somali and the Forest Spirit put all of its hard work establishing Golem and Somali's relationship to good use – from Somali's strength and determination to Golem's obvious pain as he thinks he has to leave his daughter for her own good (and refusal to even try to find a different solution), everything comes together in a few beautifully put together minutes when she finally gets through to him – and he gets through to himself. The symbolism of the flowers used at the local festival to help call the souls of the dead back for a visit helps to illustrate that Somali has in effect granted Golem his soul, or at least the right to believe he has one, and that in bringing him back to stay with her as her father, he's become more truly himself.
In the end, this isn't just a daddy/daughter road trip (or a story about Somali and her three dads, as it appears at the end). It's about overcoming differences, forming a family, and finding a place to belong, even if that isn't a physical place, but the company of someone else. The story's world is still a place that can be dark and scary sometimes, and the prejudices that exist aren't going away any time soon. But Golem and Somali will be okay now because they're a family, and that's what makes for a truly hopeful and happy ending.
Somali and the Forest Spirit is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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