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Train to the End of the World
Episode 8

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Train to the End of the World ?
Community score: 4.3

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I have to stop describing each new Train to the End of the World episode as the craziest one yet because the show just keeps outdoing itself. This one, by design, is borderline unintelligible. Even fans who have bought into prior train tribulations might draw the line here. At what point does amusing and zany transition into frustrating and cloying? That's subjective so I can only answer for myself. And my answer is that I want Shuumatsu Train to accelerate further and deeper into sheer madness. I believe this anime holds the potential to become much more hostile to its audience, and I hope I can see it continue to test those limits.

I'm not going to pretend like I can unravel every allusion, symbol, gag, and morsel of meaning that may or may not be embedded in this parade of screwballs. Maybe I could if I had a week, but not on this kind of turnaround. However, I do think I can unpack the intent. The parallels between Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Nerima Land should be self-evident, but how the writing approaches them is orthogonal and interesting. The episode, in short, seeks to reproduce not the works themselves, but the experience of reading them upon their publication in the mid-19th century. And think about it: you can't do that by throwing in stuff lifted directly from Carroll. In modern times, the novels and their adaptations have soaked too deeply into the collective consciousness. We're too familiar with them. We must instead imagine how strange and nonsensical the story would have appeared to a population that wasn't primed for it.

This episode accomplishes that feat by building on the fundamentals Carroll used in his works, namely game logic, wordplay, twists on cultural touchstones, and heavy opium usage. To that end, Mizushima uses shogi instead of chess, Japanese puns instead of English ones, an eclectic milieu of signifiers, and a character who is literally a poppy plant. And I do mean Mizushima, not Yokote, since he's credited with the triple-sweep of the direction, storyboard, and script for this episode. Presumably, he wrote all of the background for Alice in Nerima Land, so I suppose he felt better equipped to tie everything into this narrative. This includes the dozen or so slides of character biographies, as well as all of the info that Reimi flips through in her secondhand mook (the one she picked up in the premiere). It is, frankly, an absurd amount of work to put into a fake anime series, although Shirobako fans know Mizushima is no stranger to elaborately staged fake anime.

As the audience, we're also several layers removed from the base context, which, even by the admission of a super-fan like Reimi, is warped beyond recognition by the time we get to it. It's a TV show that 7G became a real city before Yoka further corrupted it. It's absurd. Absurdity, however, is the point. The notion of nonsense is thematically paramount to any reading that scratches beneath Shuumatsu Train's surface. Do we, as people, impose meaning upon a chaotic world, or do we assume chaos of a world whose rules we cannot comprehend?

This episode points to the latter scenario. The girls defeat Chaos, the unsubtly named villain, once they figure out that he and his pawns are simply following the rules of shogi. The prior stops from past episodes had their logic and rules as well. They were unique to each place, but they were consistent within the bounds of their area. And given the revelations at the end of this episode, consciously or unconsciously, Yoka is indeed responsible for them. All of this supposed randomness may only manifest her conflicting feelings towards Shizuru. She's setting up obstacles, but she's not removing the tracks. The most illogical thing in this show is, potentially, nothing stranger than the contradictory whims of the human heart.

We also can't forget the cold opening. The show juxtaposes its wacky new heights against some of the darkest imagery it has thrown at us. A mysterious and maleficent psychic attack shows us flashes of memories suggesting that Akira watched someone die, Reimi killed a badger (or human-turned-badger), Nadeshiko felt responsible for her parent's divorce, and Pochi was abused. They've been suppressing these traumas up to this point, but just as Shizuru needs to confront Yoka, they may each need to confront their demons. My only substantial complaint about this episode is that Nadeshiko arrives at her resolution too suddenly for the emotional component to have any weight. I think it could have been more artfully integrated into the surrounding madness. But I don't think the show needs to slow down and have a “serious” episode working through all this stuff. Being a person, in its totality, involves a maddening degree of multitudes, and Shuumatsu Train at its zenith evokes that whirlwind of emotions and experiences. It's not a straight line from A to B. It's a wide and colorful spectrum.

Finally, I want to emphasize that Shuumatsu Train still works for me because I like how weird it is, and I find it hilarious. It is as simple as that. I love the grotesque comedy in many of the creature designs, especially the milk-powered Man Cow and all of the urban infrastructure pig people. In one shot, the squealing of the porcine tires segues seamlessly into actual pig squealing, and that's just a single example of the consistently masterful foley work and comedic timing found throughout the series. Whereas Metallic Rouge's quick pacing often frustrated me, Mizushima's direction makes the breakneck speed of the action and dialogue feel like a deliberate stylistic choice. Additionally, Akira's frequent references don't feel pandering because they're always so left-field; last week it was D.H. Lawrence, and this week it's a non-Godzilla Ishirō Honda film. I could also instantly tell (and later confirm) that a shot used the climax from the 1973 Wicker Man as a visual reference. There's a delicate art to nonsense, and Shuumatsu Train pairs the highfalutin with the lowbrow exceptionally well.

Rating:

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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