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Train to the End of the World
Episode 4

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Train to the End of the World ?
Community score: 4.3


The first three were great, but this fourth episode is where Train to the End of the World takes off the kid gloves and puts on the weird fiction brass knuckles. I could not be more delighted. I haven't had the chance to write about a decent and unapologetically off-its-rocker anime since Sonny Boy. I've been crawling through a vast desert for years when Shuumatsu Train chugs along and dumps a freight car full of ice water on my head. It's slaking my thirst, but it's doing so in its own acerbic way.

That acidic quality is of utmost importance because it gives the show a goofiness depth, edge, and definition. Of all the anime available, I'm most inclined to draw parallels with Heybot!. Now, I may be referring to a show made for children, but Heybot!'s particular brand of cartoonishness embraced the absurd and the grotesque in a manner that Shuumatsu Train also echoes. When the goat men ram the girls' railcar, it's both funny and frightening. The same goes for the town full of maniacal mandrakes. These are Looney Tunes moments weighed down with just enough gravitas to unsettle the audience—not so much that the series turns into a grimdark self-parody, but just enough to make the danger of 7G palpable.

Unsurprisingly, Shuumatsu Train should be so good at balancing comedy and horror. That's one of Tsutomu Mizushima's many M.O.s. Between his work on Another, Blood-C, and The Lost Village, it's evident to me that he has a love for B-movie camp that inspires both laughter and screams. I can't think of a better example than the mushroom that they pull out of Akira's butt as it proceeds to crawl away uncannily, shriek like a banshee, and explode. That's a scene that would feel right at home in Evil Dead II. It's a display of anarchic randomness that proves how far out of their depth these girls are.

On a more concrete level, the show also nails the character writing and drama this week. While last week's fungal brainwashing felt a little too abstracted, Akira's secrecy and anxiety are grounded in neuroses that I can relate to. At least, I know I would be the kind of person who wouldn't want to tell my friends I had an ass shroom. She's quickly becoming my favorite character between her personality and her encyclopedic knowledge of occult topics. Her chemistry with Reimi keeps getting better, too. Their back-and-forth banter belies how much they care for each other, and I love the flashback to Akira telling Reimi to eat paper. That's classic childhood friend stuff. It's nice to see Reimi get serious, too, in response to the potential obliteration of her best friend's soul. I asked for more character depth, and the story is delivering.

By the way, I respect the story for feinting one potential twist in favor of an even more upsetting one. My tail prediction was off, but I can't be too disappointed in the face of Akira's accidental lobotomy. Like all aspects of the show, this development contains humor and horror. As she turns Pochi's face into a wad of mochi, the other girls despair over where to find a doctor who can help them in the increasingly hellish landscape they're condemned to travel through. This is the scariest and most poignant sense in which the world of Shuumatsu Train is a surreal refraction of our own. The giant floating organs and golf ball rain are the cute parts. The true terror is the erosion of basic societal support structures due to myopic capitalist greed and hubris. That's why this show is so silly. Because otherwise, it would be overwhelmingly depressing.

Finally, I'm impressed with how layered the writing continues to be. Let's take the final scene as an example. It works on the surface level because it's plain funny to watch a toy-sized JSDF fight a pair of high school girls as if they were kaiju. It also works as an allusion to Gulliver's Travels, which positions Shuumatsu Train as its collection of tall tales in conversation with the literary canon. Furthermore, it advances the background subplot about the mysteries behind the 7G Incident. In an earlier flashback, Yoka expressed her childlike desire to meet a race of miniature people, and now, years later, Shizuru has found one. Considering the other things Yoka mentioned, it seems that the whims of her specific imagination reshaped the world when she pressed that button. It's nice to have these building blocks inserted into the story without overshadowing the rest of the narrative's construction. That's an act of subtlety I would expect from a veteran writer like Michiko Yokote.

I'm sure much commotion has already been made about Shuumatsu Train's zaniness, and I don't think there's anything wrong with latching onto that quality. The anime wants the audience to have fun. I'm having fun! But there are plans within plans here and themes worth digging into. An episode like this one cements this series as my kind of crazy. These tracks were laid for me, and I'm going to have a blast overanalyzing them each week.


Train to the End of the World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. He's currently considering how even the apocalypse couldn't stop Japan from having a nicer rail system than the United States. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

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