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your thoughts have summoned this post from hell

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Home > Archives > 2009 > September > 23

The Tragedy of the Passage of Time – Honey & Clover, Cowboy Bebop, 5cm/s, Bokura ga Ita – Chewing on Nostalgia

According to ghostlightning, his wife, sybilant, hates tragedy. Apparently she enjoyed Honey & Clover all the way through, up until the ending—and apparently the ending was too much for her. When ghostlightning related this to me, I thought to myself, “was the ending… tragic?” I recalled lots of tragedy throughout the course of the show, be it in flashbacks (Morita’s family’s past) or in the present (Hagu’s accident), and compared to these instances of tragedy, the ending just didn’t measure up for me.

It was essentially the same as the ending of Bokura ga Ita, with more sympathetic characters and better execution. But still, it’s the same: it’s just a moving on. Bokura ga Ita wasn’t a tragedy, and its ending wasn’t tragic. And I think the same statements could be applied to Honey & Clover.

bokura ga ita
Top: Bokura ga Ita, Bottom: Honey & Clover
hagu wave

Now, I understand that the entire premise of this post is a technicality. sybilant is welcome to enjoy what she enjoys and dislike what she dislikes, and if the ending of H&C is too sad for her, it’s too sad for her. But still, the thoughts started pouring out once I considered the question: “was the ending… tragic?” And now, I’m writing a post about a tragedy known as “the passage of time.”

Before we plunge too deep into H&C, I want to introduce you to the final scene of “5 cm/s.” First, an admission: 5 cm/s is laughable. The story goes something like this… a boy, thirteen years old, gives up on a childhood love and his soul is subsequently crushed. There is an extremely depressing sequence wherein this boy, Takaki, no longer a boy, expresses his dissatisfaction with the world, and it is followed by a long montage of past scenes mixed with the oppression of the working world. At the end of this montage comes the final scene: Takaki sees one final reminder of what he has lost, and as he walks away, he smiles.

It’s not a broken smile. It’s not a deranged smile.

Takaki smiles as he walks away. No, he hasn’t mended his rent soul; no, he hasn’t found happiness. But he has something to smile about.

honey + clover

Now, back to H&C: as Takemoto leaves Tokyo, forever abandoning his friends and love, he opens the sandwiches given him by said love (Hagu). He sees what they’re made of—honey and four-leaf clovers—and he begins crying. I will not equate his sorrow to Takaki’s despair, but the similarity comes as he puts the sandwiches back together and begins eating.

Takemoto eats the sandwiches, tears streaming down his cheeks.

To me, Takemoto taking a bite out of the sandwich Hagu made is equivalent to Takaki’s smile. The question, then, is what does it express? What does this equivalence mean? In pondering this question, I remembered another scene in which a character dramatically takes a bit out of something—and no, I’m not thinking of Yagami Light and his potato chips.

It’s another boring night in boring space and Spike and Jet have just been abandoned by their buddies Faye and Ed. After spending twenty plus episodes growing accustomed to having companions, suddenly they are alone again. They eat the hard-boiled eggs—a parting gift from Ed—in knowing silence.

What are Spike and Jet feeling? Why can Takaki smile? What is Takemoto thinking of as he speeds away from his happiness and toward an uncertain future?

One answer that makes sense to me is this: nostalgia.

It’s pretty clear to me that Takemoto isn’t thinking of the future as he cries into his honey and clover sandwich. He’s thinking about Hagu, and how his desires fell through. More important than his romance, however, is that the four-leaf clover evokes his memory of the river bank on the day that he, Mayama, Yamada, Morita, and Hagu all “looked for that one thing”—the four-leaf clover is everything that he did and was for years. That one moment on the riverbank was the purest moment for the group—peaceful and lacking in the usual tensions—, and possibly the most tragic, if only for the fact that it was never relived.

It seems realistic to me that as he eats the sandwich, Takemoto’s time in college is playing itself out in his mind.

As Takemoto cries into his sandwich, I see a wish for more time, a longing for the happy memories of the past. That’s what nostalgia is, and we see it in the other examples.

What Spike and Jet are exhibiting as they stuff themselves with hard-boiled eggs is more than resignation. Resignation is definitely part of it, but it’s not all of it. To an extent, they miss the boisterous days with Ed and Faye. Their reserved silence is more than an appreciation for Ed and Faye, however: as they eat the eggs, they are undoubtedly both remembering the previous time women walked out on them, and perhaps thinking back further to how things were before that “last time.” My dictionary has the word “wistful” in the definition for “nostalgia,” and “wistful” is an adjective I might employ if you were to ask me to describe the manner in which Spike and Jet eat those god-damned eggs.

Likewise, Takaki is doing more than merely steeling himself against depression as he smiles at the end of 5cm/s. All four of the shows mentioned thus far share the act of reminiscing and thinking back at the end; Bebop and H&C are simply more subtle about it (they don’t pile on the flashbacks like 5cm/s and Bokura ga Ita do).

But now a question: why nostalgia?

Takemoto has the answer to that one. In the final scene of H&C, as embedded above, he asks a question. “Is something that will disappear the same as something that never existed?” He asks this specifically in the context of his failed romance with Hagu, but again, I feel it applies to his entire time in college. The importance of this question is that it can only be answered in two ways. The response is a negative one. The other is a positive response—and that response resides in reminiscing. It resides in nostalgia. It can’t exist unless you think back on the pleasant memories.

Without nostalgia, Takaki would be an empty husk. Without nostalgia, Spike would have no reason to take the only real action he takes in Bebop (leaving to settle things with Vicious). Without nostalgia, Takemoto would be departing Tokyo with nothing but his architecture degree.

But wait…

Takemoto doesn’t just leave Tokyo with nostalgia. He arrives with it.

Here I am going to talk about something I will name the “Takemoto Lens.” We see through it many times throughout the show, too many times to recount them all. I’m going to make vague references to a few of them and you’re going to nod and say “ahhh.”

- the scene on the riverbank, when they search for the clover
- the last Christmas celebration with the whole group
- the last time the whole group parties together

We see Takemoto, again and again, making prophetic statements akin to “this is the last time we’ll all do x, y, and z together.” He says them with a bit of a sigh, but also with certainty: he is not merely speculating. It seems he knows the future. And here we thought he was telling the story in the present tense.

He’s not telling it in the past tense, either. Whether the information on which he bases his prophetic statements comes from the past or present or sheer clairvoyance is unimportant; what is important is that he allows us to have an emotional reaction we wouldn’t have if certain scenes weren’t seen through his eyes. If we watched the group search for the clover, and if the group didn’t find the clover, and if we never gave the clover search a second thought, would it have been the powerful moment it was? Hagu’s waterworks after the fact are hardly impressive; they’re bathetic to say the least.

Thanks to Takemoto’s lens, we can appreciate the future consequences of things in real time. We feel something like what Takemoto feels, perhaps some combination of dread, celebration, realization–and in some cases, an overflowing of love.

Feeling the consequences of the present in real time: is this not what Spike and Jet both feel as Cowboy Bebop diminuendos toward its ending? Their final scene together, reminiscent of so many melancholic Sengoku Basara yaoi tributes, is one in which nothing needs to be said. Both see the present unfolding into the future, and are reflecting on that future in real time, though neither is omniscient or Mikuru.

Spike and Jet are mere humans. This adds credibility to Takemoto’s prophecies, and, with that, credibility to the emotion behind them[1]. It’s human—it’s real.

And with reality comes the axiom that there is a spectrum of grays between black and white.

And with that axiom, the proposition that the ending of Honey & Clover isn’t tragic.


This has been a couple months in the coming, and I apologize for its tardiness (and for the roughness of the last few paragraphs). Up next: “That one Episode of Morita’s Past wasn’t Compelling: You Fail at Analysis” and “Akari Mizunashi isn’t a Character, she’s a Lens.”


Footnotes

these notes are like lelouch's head to the boot of this post's suzaku

  1. Again, the sentimental or wistful longing for the past []

it is moist & delicious meta

and it's not even a lie!

penned this last love song at 21:24 on September 23, 2009.

It's categorized as Anime, and it's tagged over nine thousand things, including: eggs, , sybilant, youtube. What a slut.

At least it only has 22 comments and 17,241 views.


22 Responses

  1. He’s not telling it in the past tense, either. Whether the information on which he bases his prophetic statements comes from the past or present or sheer clairvoyance is unimportant; what is important is that he allows us to have an emotional reaction we wouldn’t have if certain scenes weren’t seen through his eyes.

    This is very important I think. If Takemoto had been sharing this way after the series of events, there’s a bit too much time to process, maybe — that will eventually prove your point, but remove much of what makes it tragic to even support an illusion.

    I may be completely off, but I place the sequential ‘space’ from which Takemoto narrates from somewhere similar but not exactly from where Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann begins, a variation of in medias res that in this case is even less significant to the telling. It is used almost entirely for effect.

    Their reserved silence is more than an appreciation for Ed and Faye, however: as they eat the eggs, they are undoubtedly both remembering the previous time women walked out on them, and perhaps thinking back further to how things were before that “last time.” My dictionary has the word “wistful” in the definition for “nostalgia,” and “wistful” is an adjective I might employ if you were to ask me to describe the manner in which Spike and Jet eat those god-damned eggs.

    Good stuff. It takes an imaginative leap I believe to take Takemoto to where these older bounty hunters are, but it’s a rewarding one. Takemoto may be bawwwwwing his eyes out while stuffing his face with the meaningful sandwiches, but the story we are hearing can and does feel like a celebration of his most intense youth.

    Remembering love is what it is.

    (Thank you lolikit for giving me an excuse to shamelessly drop that line in the end)

  2. And hey, that’s what nostalgia is, right? Spike remembers his love for Vicious, and…

  3. Yes. This.

  4. The Takemoto Lens is a great construct to explain not only in terms of theme but also the animation direction… Well, it’s supporting evidence at any rate.

    What’s laughable about 5cm/s though? I mean I admit the final scene became laughable after I cycled through it enough time and viewed it under different states of minds, but it’s tragic in the way that you described where Takaki could just be a hollow husk in respect to the story (as opposed to the character). Nostalgia’s partner in crime is regret, after all.

    Come to think of it, the first half of your post you’ve reconstructed the anime trope of nostalgia (“natsukashii”) and the second half you’ve described the role of regret in those works. As you surmised it is not the same as “tragedy” but it can seem tragic.

  5. What’s laughable about 5cm/s is what I said was laughable about 5cm/s: it’s about a boy, thirteen years old, who gives up on a childhood love and has his soul subsequently crushed. Freakin’ LOL.

    I wasn’t saying the ending in particular is laughable for 5cm/s, just that it’s hard to take the movie too seriously. I’ll add here that if you do manage to take the movie seriously it comes across as very well-done, very dramatic and yes, tragic. I loved it when I watched it, don’t get me wrong.

  6. You fucked this up.

  7. Well, that’s a realization that never dawned on me–that his soul was crushed because he had to give her up. I thought his soul was crushed ( in his adult form) because he became a workaholic with nothing in life to live for. Of course if you were 13 and you had to give up the love of your life at the time, yeah, there’s nothing funny about getting crushed about that, at that time.

    I agree that if what you said is what you got out of 5cm/s, yeah, it’s silly.

  8. I thought that his workaholic status was a symptom of having a crushed soul… he seemed pretty empty already in Cosmonaut?

  9. Bah, you just aren’t old enough to appreciate how depressing nostalgia can be ^^;

    (Note to self: I really must get around to watching the second season of H&C some day)

  10. @DiGiKerot: It’s depressing—I understand that and appreciate it—but it’s not tragedy. No matter how you look at it, there’re wonderful happy memories to brighten your day!!

  11. @lolikitsune: I think that only makes sense if you follow through with your interpretation. I see it as a gradual process. Mid-life crisis (or maybe quarter-life, kind of in between in this case) isn’t an isolated condition. The fact that he drowns himself with work is a side effect of having nothing to live for in life, I agree, but it can be a contributing factor (speaking from my own experience).

    The overall progression, however, is holding on to nostalgia/regret for too long. In the Cosmonaut segment Takaki is still stroking the dying flame of his heart on one hand, and putting it in an air-tight box in the other. That’s what’s sustaining him in those years. As he gets older in the last segment he no longer has that burning and driving him, but he still couldn’t let go. This is a very traditional interpretation, but that’s mine.

  12. I don’t know, I’ve not read Ghostlightnings post which initiated this discussion, but a lot of this does just seem to be arguing the semantics of a term that was probably used without too much thought being put into it in the first place.

    But putting that aside for a second, such a large part of nostalgia is the yearning for days gone by and the knowledge that such days will never return, the craving for past experiences you’ll never have again. It’s depressing, mournful, sad – nostalgia is inherently tragic.

    So, if you want to argue semantics, it thereby follows that whilst the ending to H&C isn’t a tragedy, it is still tragic ^^;

    Or it could just be that I’m depressed and I don’t realise it, whatever works for you. I think my actual point was supposed to be that regardless of whether or not it’s a tragedy, it’s still difficult for anyone who relates to Takemoto not to find such an ending at least a little depressing.

  13. @omo: good to see that other perspective.

    @DiGiKerot: as I said toward the beginning of my post,

    Now, I understand that the entire premise of this post is a technicality. sybilant is welcome to enjoy what she enjoys and dislike what she dislikes, and if the ending of H&C is too sad for her, it’s too sad for her.

    So yes. If Takemoto’s ending is depressing for someone, it’s still depressing for that person. I’m not telling people how to feel.

    As for ghostlightning’s “post,” there is none; this post was inspired by an IM convo :P

    But putting that aside for a second, such a large part of nostalgia is the yearning for days gone by and the knowledge that such days will never return, the craving for past experiences you’ll never have again. It’s depressing, mournful, sad – nostalgia is inherently tragic.

    Is it tragic to appreciate the past? As far as I can tell, definitions of nostalgia involve affection but not mourning. You celebrate the past, you are happy for it, and you wish for it. This is different from actively bemoaning the present.

    I imagine that a sentiment of longing for the past and a sentiment for hating the present can go hand in hand (see: Takaki), but it is not the latter that’s in question here (it is not the latter that makes Takaki smile).

    The question was why can they smile, right?

    I dunno, as long as someone can smile, I don’t see tragedy. But then, I’m an optimist and this is a very dumb semantic argument as has been established. I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

  14. @lolikitsune: LOL I’ve made a whole schtick with this nostalgia/remembering love.

    It’s the difference between a Solanin (which is arguably bleaker than H & C and a Bokurano I believe (unless one looks back fondly at the memory of naked little girls getting broken then killed, as a minor consequence of an endless loop of competing universes annihilating each other).

  15. This really wasn’t the road down which I’d intended discussion to go… back to the hard-boiled eggs plox?

  16. @IcyStorm: He should have gone deeper into the bones of it.

    A really great post overall. As a Geass-tard I should mention Lelouch has a similar moment when he’s walking away from the Academy before heading off to China with his happiness-is-glass soliloquy.

    Reminiscing and nostalgia really kinda sucks, especially in regard to people you’ll never see again. There is a very fine line between bittersweet and just bitter.

    It is said that the outcome is not what matters, but the journey. I say people say that because the outcome has a bad tendency to suck boatloads of ass. Life is the journey and at the end of it you die like a punk.

  17. Yep, I hate tragedy. Real life is sad enough already. It’s all about losing things we love gracefully and frankly, I so suck at that.

    At least I have kyun-kyun now.

  18. @The Longcoat: I swear the last time I read your comment, only the first sentence was there.

    @sybilant: Don’t worry, I’ll steal kyun-kyun away from you some day. Twenty year age differences are nothing these days…

  19. Pingback: Revolutionary Girl Utena 2: Private lifts, Demian, and Gnosticism. « Betsuni

  20. It’s not tragic. Great post. Something that will disappear is always better than something that has never existed. Because at least it was. At least it had been. At least one can look back and say that whatever that it was, it was there. A celebration of something, in my opinion, is more positive than a celebration of nothing.

    Thanks for the post.

  21. Thanks, Mike! I’m almost surprised to see you crawl back out of the woodwork. Where you been?

  22. Mono no aware

    Its pretty a core aesthetic principle in Japanese stuff in general.

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