Sundome Finale Comments
My preordered copy of the final volume of Sundome arrived in the mail the day before yesterday, and despite a great deal of hesitation—I knew it was going to be depressing—I of course couldn’t resist reading it the moment I walked in the door. Bottom line is that while it loses just a bit of its steam toward the end, and the conclusion is somewhat disappointing for its lack of detail, it’s certainly consistent in what it is and what it’s saying right up to the last page, there’s a heck of a final full-team adventure, and for something that’s outright porn by almost any standard, emotionally powerful stuff. Certainly, on the whole, one of the more intriguing and disturbingly alluring series I’ve ever read.
I’m going to cut loose with the spoilers for the rest of this, so if you haven’t read it and don’t want to blow any surprises, just stop here.
Where Sundome was going was a little uncertain for most of the series—somewhere dark for sure, but just where wasn’t specific. Later it became pretty clear that the destination was Sahana’s death from her illness, and indeed that’s exactly where it ends. Interestingly, it never really does open up as to what all is going on around her; we never do find out who exactly the older man is (other than that he’s her doctor, which you could’ve guessed relatively early), or what specifically happened to her family (other than that they’re dead, which was implied early, and that she was apparently in an orphanage previously), or get any specific comments from her personally (past what she said to her fish and “I’m not taking you with me”) about what’s really going on in her head with her “plan” for everything.
This is both a plus and a minus. On the plus side, there’s never any exposition or dramatic reveals; we only know the most important little bits—that Sahana has a powerful bond with Aiba, but has no intention of opening up to him about her past or family. One could assume it’s too painful for her to think about, or perhaps it’s just that she wants Aiba to have no connection to her past at all, given their… unusual relationship, and that she’s not trying to hold him back, but to make him strong in her place. (I’m assuming here that the people we saw from the train were at the orphanage she was in; nothing else makes sense in context.)
On the minus side, after so many hints dropped and so many musings in Aiba’s head about what’s going on with Sahana and her past, I really wanted to know a little more about the backstory—even if he never got it, I wanted at least a bit in the way of specifics about just what kind of catastrophic tragedy put her where she is at the beginning of the story. (And actually, since he ends up working for the mysterious doctor, Aiba presumably does find out at least some of that eventually.) Most disappointing to me was that she never explained what she had originally meant when she asked Aiba to take her to the seaside; while it became a final adventure in the last moments of her life culminating the story, it wasn’t clear if she had originally intended him to take her ashes to be buried there, to take her to visit the orphanage, or something else. I’m assuming the former, but had that been stated explicitly it would have tied the final story together with more than just the implication that what had been a tragic request about death became an affirming quest about life.
Points, certainly, for not going through the expected series of dramatic reveals or info-dump at the end, though. The unwavering focus on the tiny world of the Roman Club and the core emotional bond between Sahana and Aiba was an interesting way to approach the whole story, and certainly left the entire thing with an air of mystery and unease.
Interestingly, the final volume does absolutely everything it can to make a story about an obsessed and devoted kid trying to take a dying 15-year-old-girl on one final adventure uplifting and upbeat. Which, frankly, doesn’t help that much—it’s still depressing, though certainly affecting if you’ve gotten caught up in the characters. And it’s no secret to anyone in the club by the end that she’s dying, and its quite satisfying in how the story eventually reveals that they all “get it” without going into any details or unnecessarily drawn-out drama—there are no big weepy scenes, no screaming, just commitment, teamwork, and Aiba’s increasingly unhinged devotion.
There are even some subtly powerful moments, top among them a shot of Sahana so weak she can barely move, lying in an ICU clean room, but having put her clothes on in preparation for Aiba coming to break her out for their final trip—emaciated and with her face not visible, capturing her isolation and weakness, yet showing her complete faith that he will come for her. There are a number of other poignant moments digging deeper into her, her way of thinking, and what the two of them mean to each other, but that particular image was the one that stuck with me. It also follows through with her already increasingly bony body, which was unsettlingly fragile even at the start—she isn’t just dying, she looks like it. That she can barely stand, yet has complete control over Aiba, is potent stuff.
Speaking of getting farther into Sahana’s head, there was one very important thing about her relationship with Aiba that I realized abruptly during the final volume that I was surprised I didn’t earlier; I’m not sure if this is because I’m dense, or if we weren’t supposed to get that until the end. It had already been established in book 7 what she was doing; being an ephemeral nobody herself—her parents were dead, she had no relatives, no friends, and no future—she was taking a nobody and building him from a weak child into somebody—a man with the strength and commitment to do anything. And, further, a person onto which she had indelibly imprinted her existence—someone through whom her influence would live on after she was dead and, to all the rest of the world, vanished. Aiba was, in essence, a statement (explicitly at the end of both of the final two books, and reiterated by the doctor)—“I existed.”
But what I hadn’t understood was why, earlier on, she established so clearly that she didn’t belong to him, only the other way around. At first I took this to be a sort of generic statement of domination, but the lack of commitment seemed weird given how obvious and powerful her love for him is by the end. Of course, it actually makes complete sense—she knew she was dying, so she would not commit to giving him something she could not. He was not allowed to “own” her, because he couldn’t—she wouldn’t be there for much longer, and he needed to live on after she was gone. So it was a combination of kindness to him and preparation for the inevitable—impressively nuanced stuff, and actually quite affecting when you think about it (a sentiment that may come from having a wife much older than I am who I will almost certainly watch die some day with much of my own life left). She even worked in the threat—temptation, really—of taking him with her, but then let go, telling him that he was not allowed to follow her, even if he wanted to. In essence, “I own you, and I will let you go when the time comes, but I do not belong to you, so you cannot stop me from leaving you behind.”
Maybe this was obvious to other people, of course—I’ve been known to miss really blunt things on occasion. It didn’t, so far as I could interpret, explain the whole “no sex” thing; maybe just an extension of the same possession issue, but there was the hint of something else there that I, at least, failed to pick up on.
I’ll close by commenting that the last issue does contain the only time that the sexual content seemed to get in the way of the emotional story rather than enhance it. While I can completely understand why Okada decided to put some sexual content into the final scene—it would have seemed out of character if he hadn’t—it just felt like the relative violence of it clashed with the otherwise beautiful imagery of stars, darkness, waves, and the two of them completely alone together. Perhaps that was the point, and it certainly didn’t ruin anything, but I fet like it didn’t quite mesh with everything else up to that point—the bit earlier that got him arrested in the ICU was plenty to get roughly the same point across (of him belonging to her and desiring her completely no matter what condition she was in). It wasn’t even that it seemed to be graphic sexual content for the sake of it—if anything it was restrained compared to a lot of other parts.
That was still a very minor blemish on an otherwise uniformly gripping, powerfully sexy, occasionally hilarious, darkly emotional, and all-around intriguing series. The sort of genre-warping thing you just plain don’t see pulled off very often, and almost never so well. I’m now curious to see what Okada is working on next, and if he can pull off something that unusual again.
December 21st, 2010 at 1:46 pm
That’s interesting but I’ve got something even more interesting. I recently read a review on Anime News Network of an anime series called “Fist of the North Star.” From what little I did see of it when it was on Showtime Beyond and from what I’ve read of it,it’s similar to another series that I saw when I was younger called “Thundarr the Barbarian.”
Again,both shows have their similarities. Both feature a warrior and his companions fighting evil in a post-apocalyptic world,but the way the two shows handled the theme is interesting. From what I saw “Fist” was a far bloodier affair than it’s American counterpart. What’s even more amazing is that kids actually saw this show! I know Japan is different from America but I would not let my kid watch a show in which heads exploded every five minutes or so.
And from what I did see,”Fist’s” villains lacked a lot in the imagination department. To be honest,they looked like rejects from a biker club or a “Mad Max” movie. “Thundarr’s” villains didn’t have that problem. Somehow,I have the feeling that Kenshiro,the hero of “Fist” would have his hands full with villains like Argoth,a bad guy who had eyes all over his head and even on the palms of his hands,or Gemini,a bad guy who’s literally two-faced. One face looks human,the other more monstrous.
Again,it’s a matter of perference. I’d love to see a comparison of the two shows and have someone say how they felt about them. Also,I’m still hoping that someone can give me anime that portrays America and Americans in good,bad,and bizarre ways. To find my thing on this,go to the White Rice article. It’s there if anyone’s interested,I hope.
December 22nd, 2010 at 1:45 am
Not sure which Fist of the North Star incarnation you’re talking about, but I assume the most recent TV series spin-off, since it was released on Blu-ray quite recently. There’s also the New Fist of the North Star OVAs, an older TV series, the classic movie released by Streamline, and the original classic TV series from the mid-’80s.
No idea about the new one, but Akemi used to like the original TV series when it was on TV way back when (which is a mildly hilarious image–picture a demure, pint-sized office worker coming home and sitting down to watch beefy dudes make other beefy dudes’ heads explode) and when I watched some more recently I can see the guilty pleasure in it. I grew up on the movie, for that matter–it was on the standard late-night rental list along with a few other Streamline films when I was in jr. high.
And no, it’s not original, nor are the bad guys cool–that’s not the point. It’s violence porn, plain and simple: You watch innocent people get brutalized for twenty minutes, waiting all the while for Ken to get serious, massacre the bad guys, and give you the money shot–saying “You’re already dead.” before the main villain for that episode’s head explodes/spine reverses/brain inverts/whatever. That’s all there is to it, and the entire splatterfest genre was built on the concept. It’s stupid, sure, but it’s supposed to be. I think you’re trying to imagine it’s something it isn’t trying to be.
December 22nd, 2010 at 1:32 pm
I was talking about the original “Fist of the North Star” from 1985. I saw a few episodes of this when it was on Showtime Beyond. From what I did see,it had some similarities to “Thundar the Barbarian,”an American show came out earlier and was similar to “Fist” although it didn’t go as far as the later show did.
I’ll be honest. It was too violent for me but I was just asking that someone watch “Thundarr” on the cable channel Boomerang or on DVD and then watch the original “Fist of the North Star” and tell me the similarities and differences between the two shows. I was also hoping for a response to my thing on the different portrayals of America and Americans in anime. Again,if you want to read it,look in the white rice post of this website.
December 22nd, 2010 at 2:56 pm
Interesting you bring up Fist of the North Star, I just saw the movie a few days ago. A good brainless action film, though it really didn’t make any sense and left nearly all the storlyline incomplete.
The main thing I liked about it was the great song by Kodomo band when Ken is going off to fight Raoh:
Man is that a great song or what? I find it’s best to listen to it right working out.
December 24th, 2010 at 1:28 pm
I forgot to mention,I was refering to the original “Fist of the North Star” series from 1985. The other series I mentioned “Thundarr the Barbarian” came out a few years earlier in this country. I don’t know if “Thundarr” got to Japan. But what I was asking if someone on this site could watch an episode or two of “Thundarr” on the cable channel Boomerang or on DVD and then somehow find an episode of the original “Fist” somewhere and compare the two to see what their similarities and differences are. That’s all I was asking for.
January 24th, 2011 at 9:39 am
Interesting reaction. I thought when I read this series (slowly, ever patient with the releases) that it was just some fucked-up, exaggerated ecchi. I was about to drop it too. But for some reason I couldn’t.
I think when the manga came to the rising action which is vol. 7, and finally vol 8, the effect was… similar to what Aiba must have felt in the ending himself. In which case, now that I put it that way, doesn’t sound too bad in all its parallelism.
I actually can’t think of any other way that this could have ended that it wouldn’t feel crass or distasteful, as series like these are so often bound to go. The ending made for a bittersweet denouement that made it quite unique.