Somali and the Forest Spirit
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Somali and the Forest Spirit ?
There's an old expression that goes “little pitchers have big ears.” That basically translates to “the kids may not look like they're paying attention to us, but trust me, they're listening,” and there really is a lot of truth to that. As adults, or even as teenagers, it's easy to forget just how much little kids pay attention to what the grown-ups are saying, so if there's something you really don't want them to know, be extra certain that they aren't somewhere in the vicinity. That's certainly not always easy (my sisters and I knew exactly which heating grates in the basement would let us listen in on our parents upstairs), and for a parent like Golem, who doesn't have a whole lot of experience with either humans or children, it's probably not even something he's considered. If he doesn't see Somali, he may assume that she's no where nearby or at least sound asleep, and as we learn this week, that's really not a safe assumption for him to be making.
Long story short, Somali has picked up on what he told the oni last week, that he's got limited time left in his life and so he's desperate to find some human parents to take the little girl in. How much of the “short lifespan” part she understood is up for debate – we don't know what she saw before he found her or how much understanding of death she has – but she absolutely understands that he “wants” to leave her somewhere. The why of it isn't important to her at all; all she recognizes is that the man who saved her when she was all alone and has been making her feel safe and loved plans to no longer do those things for her in the future. And since she doesn't fully comprehend why he wants to do this, to Somali it simply feels like he wants to abandon her because he doesn't love her enough.
A piece of her does seem to rationalize wonder if this is due to her own behavior. We see her this week fiercely struggling to obey Golem's directive to stay inside the restaurant rather than going outside to play with Kikili, her new friend, and that effort at goodness and obedience may be a manifestation of Somali trying to be the best girl she can be so that he won't want to leave her. That's pretty solid little kid behavior, and it even works doubly well in the context of the series because I've had pets do something similar when they think (or know) they're in trouble; my dog brings me his favorite giant tennis ball if he's knocked over the trash while I'm out. The question is whether or not Golem can recognize what Somali's doing or that she's even afraid in the first place. There's a definite sense that he knows that she'll be sad if she's aware of the fact that he's dying, because he's been very careful not to let her know; as the oni pointed out last week, it's even why he wears clothes when golems aren't required to – she can't see the cracks in his body if they're covered up. But he may not understand more complex emotions because he's never had to, and raising Somali, even for a short amount of time, stands to teach him a lot.
That it already has is clear. He still makes blunders, such as when he starts to sound like a chain restaurant menu at his job, listing off calories and other nutrition information. But it's hard to fault him for not understanding this particular issue with Somali because he's already done so much for her, none of which would have come naturally, especially to someone who claims not to have emotions of his own. Even apart from deciding to cover his body and not tell her how close to death he is, he's made an effort to keep her safe with her little hood, he's willing to buy all the supplies he's told he'll need to make the next stage of their journey doable for her, and he's even cut and styled her hair – look at the flashback image of her in the opening theme and you can see that he's definitely done some work there. He's trying his hardest to be a good dad, and that's part of what's so bittersweet about this episode, because he has no idea how he's inadvertently caused her pain.
I think, in the end, this series may end up breaking our hearts. There have been hints at that in both this and last week's episodes. But at least we'll go down reveling in the physical beauty of the piece, with its dreamy mushroom jellyfish and fascinating character designs. Someone in marketing really ought to be thinking about selling plush Kikilas for us to hug if things get too dark.
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