Rhythm of Despair, Poetry of Doom

While I was reading the Girl’s Last Tour manga for my adaptation analysis, I realised why I had been so enthralled by a series that usually wouldn’t be my cup of tea at all.

That is because the series has a certain rhythm to it’s scenes that makes them so enjoyable, as well as a poetry to their overall interlinking nature – a type of poetry I’ve only ever found in a few other shows before, the most prominent of which would be my all time favourite anime, Cowboy Bebop.

Now, I’m not saying that Girl’s Last Tour is on the same level as Shinichiro Watanabe’s masterpiece, but they certainly share a lot of the same qualities. Both feature largely episodic stories, which feed into an overall narrative which advances at a gradual pace to an eventual conclusion which will linger in the minds of the audience for many years to come.

Most of you already know how this applies to Cowboy Bebop, but just in case you don’t I’ll provide a link to one of my favourite videos about the poetry of the series, which does it far more justice then I ever could. In turn, I’ll have to explain what I mean when I claim these things in relation to Girl’s Last Tour, a deceptively simple series.

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The show is made up of multiple stories, far more fragmented than Cowboy Bebop’s episodes since one episode is split into two or sometimes even three parts, adapting adventures that have little to no relation to one another. But don’t be fooled – each individual story presents it’s own three-act structure, which in turn drives the journey of Chito and Yuri through the post-apocalyptic world.

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The first time we encounter this mini three-act structure is when Chito and Yuri encounter Kanazawa in chapter six of the manga and episode three of the anime. The story begins with Yuri asking Chito “Why do people live?”, to which Chito isn’t able to give a solid answer beyond simply ‘to live’. This theme of purpose and what purpose our main characters have is the conflict that will underpin this story, a conflict first introduced when they encounter Kanazawa. His purpose is to make a map of the city, a purpose he clings onto as, as we later learn, he had recently lost a loved one – presumably his original purpose. Both Chito and Yuri wonder why Kanazawa would bother doing such a thing, since they don’t have a clear understanding of the value of their purpose, as shown in their conversation at the beginning. At the climax of the story, where the elevator breaks and drops down, Kanazawa loses his purpose in the form of his map as he drops it, letting it plummet to the city below, lost forever. Now that he has no purpose, he becomes depressed and ponders jumping down to the city below too. This loss of purpose highlights to the girls, and especially Yuri who originally questioned their objective of ‘getting to the top of the city’, that they do indeed have a purpose, at least compared to the depressed Kanazawa. Furthermore, their drive to fulfil their purpose is rekindled once they see the upper level’s shining streetlights in the dark, which instils in them the wonder of discovery and the joy they get from travelling in the first place.

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Therefore, we can see that, even in a short duration, Girl’s Last Tour is able to introduce a conflict, intensify that conflict, then offer a resolution to the conflict. This basic act structure makes up the majority of the episodes of the show, another example of which is the story of Ishii.

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In chapter fourteen and episode three, the girls encounter another survivor by the name of Ishii. Our initial conflict is that the girls’ vehicle has broken down and Chito can’t repair it, but very quickly it becomes clear that the real conflict of the story will be Chito’s tightly-wound nature against Yuri’s laid-back nature. More concretely, the story will revolve around Yuri’s suggestion of “Let’s get along with despair!”. Ishii, much like Kanazawa, has dedicated her life to a single goal – making and flying in an airplane to the neighbouring city – in order to prevent her from becoming depressed and purposeless. From their experience with Kanazawa, both girls now recognise the importance of a having a purpose, so instead the author (Tsukumizu) places the emphasis on failing to achieve that purpose, because in the end – after years of toiling to fulfil her goal – Ishii fails. Her airplane blows up in mid-air, and for a moment both Chito and Yuri are worried that she may have died in the blast, until they catch sight of her parachute. Then, through the binoculars, the girls see that Ishii, is in fact, not depressed but smiling. To this Yuri says that “She might’ve reconciled… She might’ve reconciled with despair” – echoing her previous suggestion that they should “get along with despair”. Although Chito initially rejected Yuri’s suggestion, through her experiences with Ishii, she comes to understand the importance of reconciling with failure and accepting it, as not all goals can ultimately be fulfilled. Therefore, Tsukumizu resolves the conflict between Chito and Yuri’s differing personalities with Chito recognising the importance of Yuri’s point of view, even if she can’t fully accept it just yet.

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The fact that the first two key examples of this rhythmic act-based structure come from outside of the girls themselves, from outsiders, is an important aspect of the poetry that makes up the overall narrative of the series. By encountering characters who have aims and ideas alien to the duo, this not only initiates a conflict but also highlights that conflict by providing a contrast. It also adds to the irony that, although they are the ones that move the most in the series, they are arguably the ones with the least direction or purpose. Because of all this, the overall narrative of the series becomes that of finding purpose, and each little story becomes a stepping stone towards finding that goal.

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It’s not just from outside characters, however, that conflict is initiated. Surroundings and the material conditions also play a part in some stories, particularly in ‘Spiral’, chapter twenty-one of the manga and the second part of episode eight. Chito and Yuri are making their way up to the next layer of the city up a spiral passageway, and the ‘guruguru’ feeling (Japanese onomatopoeia for going round and round) reminds Yuri of their own ‘spiral’ existence – in that they eat, sleep, move, repeat in a circular pattern. She expresses her dislike for this, which Chito once more brushes off. Eventually, the girls come to a break in the passageway and must make their way outside and along a makeshift bridge in order to continue their way up. The bridge breaks part of their way through, resulting in an exciting action scene as they try to race back inside before they fall off along with the bridge and plummet to the city below. After such an exciting yet dangerous experience, both Yuri and Chito realise that perhaps such a boring, ‘circular’ life isn’t so bad after all, since something so out of the ordinary just threatened to end their lives. Thus, both girls come to the conclusion that their life isn’t so bad, particularly Yuri who originally expressed dislike for their lifestyle. What pushed them to this conclusion was not a person, but rather their experiences and the way they interacted with their surroundings, therefore showing that our material conditions can shape us in addition to human interaction.

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Another (perhaps less profound) example of this is in chapter twenty-five or the first part of episode ten, ‘Train’, as the girls come to understand the conflict between ‘time’ and ‘speed’ by interacting with their surroundings. Yuri posits, once they board the train and drive down it towards the other end to kill some time, that they’re moving at an incredible speed, two times faster than normal, as they are driving as well as being transported by the train. Chito rejects this, as the earth moves at an incredible rate anyway, rotating once per day – a fact Yuri can’t get her head around, saying “That’s too much, man!”*. Yuri argues that the Earth’s rotation is the reason each day passes, establishing a link between speed and time, since the speed at which the Earth moves determines our perception of time. Further intensifying their discussion, they encounter a clock in the train which Yuri can’t understand the purpose of – after all, in their lives they have deadlines or appointments to be on time for. Chito struggles to explain that time still applies to them, but can’t find a way to explain it until she notices that the display on the train which lights up to show which station the train has arrived at looks like rations, which gives her the idea that their time is governed by food, since they always have to make time to eat rations about once a day. Yuri, being a glutton, understands immediately, and thus the conflict between what is ‘speed’ and what is ‘time’ to the girls is resolved. All of these changes are caused by material factors, just like with ‘Spiral’.

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Each story and individual ‘beat’, therefore has a rhythm to it that makes it wholly unique from other slice-of-life shows I’ve seen. Because each story introduces, explores and comes to a conclusion on a particular conflict, from the value of purpose; to accepting failure; the acceptance of their repetitive lifestyle; and the relationship between speed and time, each one of them feels like they have meaning and a value that a lot of other, directionless slice-of-life shows have.

This value is further reinforced by their instrumental role in advancing the overall plot, which makes up the poetry of the series. If we imagine that each story is a stanza in the overall narrative, then this makes each story take on an instrumental role. By repeating the same formula of conflict and resolution over the course of twelve episodes or forty-two chapters, ideas can be explored in concise yet fully formed ways. Furthermore, since each story feeds into the overall body of the work, of the narrative, this creates a self-referential, self-building narrative that is constantly taking reference from itself as well as building on itself. Such a form of storytelling is something only available to serial mediums such as anime and manga, and Girl’s Last Tour is a shining example of that.

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As I’ve hopefully made clear, Girl’s Last Tour is far from your average slice of life show. It’s far better written than a lot of it’s peers, and will most likely stand the test of time far better because of that. All that needs to happen now is for it to get the attention and praise it deserves.


Another Girl’s Last Tour post! I hope you’re sick of them enough to just go and watch the show, if you haven’t already. It’s on Amazon, which is probably why not many people watched it in the first place. This post was a little shorter than usual, but I didn’t want to bore you with too many examples. Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment or via Twitter. As always, I’ll see you next week.

*This was originally intended as a placeholder as well as bad Bojack Horseman reference until I was able to come up with a better translation, but it turns out that it’s a pretty good translation of “やばすぎる”.

 

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