Plot: What did Sentarou do to Ai to make her hate him so much that she even attempts to damn his ancestors to hell? A tragic circumstance 400 years in the making.
Breakdown: Ai is pissed! Everybody haul ass!
Actually, immediately after Ai proclaims that she’ll finally end this and as the cherry blossom tree goes up in flames, Ai mysteriously disappears, leaving only the spider behind. Meanwhile, Hajime and Tsugumi have loads of fun swimming in the river in the middle of winter.
Just kidding. They do the Time Warp again and are transported to Edo period (sorta) so we can learn the true details of Ai’s backstory.
Sentarou is actually Ai’s cousin and her only friend in the world. The village believes that Ai has strange powers and is a demon girl, so she’s always being picked on by the local kids and told to disappear. Sentarou is quick to defend her and even beats up the other kids when they make her cry, no matter if he’s outnumbered or not.
Ai gets chosen for the Seven Sending sacrifice, and they don’t even give her parents more than a few hours to say goodbye. Wow.
Despite telling Ai’s parents that it’s a great honor to be the maiden of Seven Sending, Sentarou fiercely argues against this. He thinks Ai was only chosen because the village believes she’s an evil spirit and want her gone…Uh, wouldn’t that be a bad idea to give an evil spirit to a pseudo-god as a sacrifice? Aren’t sacrifices supposed to be pure? Hence why sacrifices are always little girls or virgins?
By the by, it’s never exactly explained why the villagers believe Ai is a demon or evil spirit. The bully kids mentioned that she brought a butterfly back to life, but this is the only example beyond just saying that she’s different, and Ai explained the butterfly thing away by saying the butterfly wasn’t even dead to begin with. Though it does connect her backstory with the trademark butterflies that are common throughout the series, a little more exploration into this would be nice.
Ai’s parents conspire with Sentarou before the ritual begins. The ceremony starts with a cleansing to ensure she’s pure….Uh, then wouldn’t that be enough to rid her of her alleged demonness?
Sentarou is tasked by Ai’s parents to save her from the sacrifice. They realize that this is horribly dangerous because, should the villagers find out, they’ll surely be violently targeted until they get her. Even worse, the mountain spirit may unleash its wrath upon the village for failing to get a sacrifice.
The actual sacrifice of the ritual starts, but we don’t see what Sentarou did to free Ai.
Some time passes and the villagers’ crops are all failing. Sentarou is sent off in the middle of the night to bring food and a change of clothes for Ai, who is taking refuge in a small shrine.
Back in present day, we see Ai lying in a fetal position on her boat as she takes a ride down the river Styx, presumably because she exacted revenge against her targets and pulled the string on her internal doll. Wait, if that’s right, then Ai has always had the ability to send more than one target to hell? I’m a bit angry about that considering the jackass ringmaster is still alive.
Back in the Edo period, six years pass, and the village is suffering greatly. The crops continue to be garbage and people are starving. Ai is, surprisingly, suffering few ill effects from spending her days sitting alone in a shrine in the mountains 24/7. She’s not even dirty or disheveled and her hair is just as neatly trimmed as it always is. Sentarou visits her every night so she’ll have some company for at least a little while.
Little buds of romance start blooming between the two, and he even suggests that they run away together. Yes, they’re still cousins. Spoiler alert, though – it goes nowhere and obviously ends badly.
They get discovered one night by the same band of bullies who used to torment Ai. They angrily chastise Sentarou for incurring the wrath of the mountain spirit and making everyone starve….Uh, guys. If you wanted me to feel even a little for this supposedly starving village, maybe not have one of the bullies be a fat guy.
Sentarou tells Ai to run off while he tries to stop the bullies, but he’s pinned to the ground by his father. The bullies catch Ai and start tormenting her in the river. She begs for Sentarou’s help, but he’s powerless.
Meanwhile, back in the present, we get a throwaway backstory line about how Hone Onna, Ren and Wanyuudou owe their souls to Ai since she saved them all from eternal damnation somehow. Thanks for that. It’s important to explore their backstories too, but maybe not smack in the middle of Ai’s backstory and maybe not in a two line exchange.
In the Edo period, Sentarou is forced to watch as another ceremony is performed to beg the mountain spirit for forgiveness. This time, not only is Ai being sacrificed, but also her parents. They blindfold them, bash them all over the head with shovels and chuck them into a pit. Ai’s still barely alive when she feels a teardrop from Sentarou on her cheek.
Sentarou tries to comfort her, but is stopped by his father who hands him a shovel. The priest tells him that Ai’s parents are atoning for their deception through death, and now Sentarou must pay for his through being the one to kill Ai by burying her alive. He doesn’t want to, but is being pressured by the villagers around him. He breaks and shovels some dirt into the hole. Ai, heartbroken at his betrayal, starts crying blood and her eyes turn red.
Sentarou only shovels a bit and stops when he hears Ai’s voice. The villagers nab the shovel from him and finish the job. Sentarou cannot bear what he has done and runs off into the woods while crying. Ai, still seething with betrayal and anger, curses them all before finally passing away.
Some time passes, and Sentarou, plagued by nightmares about Ai, decides to leave the village for good one night. As he leaves, he notices that there’s a large fire at the village and returns. He sees a ghostly Ai singing the song “Children of Seven,” a song she used to sing all the time with Sentarou. She has engulfed the village in flames, massacring the villagers in vengeance.
Sentarou runs away, laughing, and gets several cuts by…something whooshing by him in the woods. I’m gonna need someone to walk me through this one because A) Why would he be laughing that the villagers all died? One of the reasons he caved was because people were dying supposedly due to the lack of sacrifice.
He might be laughing that Ai is back and getting her just desserts against the villagers, but that’s not something to rejoice given that she’s now a vengeful spirit who is laying waste to those who have wronged her….and one of those people she’s murdering is Sentarou’s father.
B) What the hell is cutting him? Who is cutting him? Why? I guessed it was Ai, but I believe she assumed Sentarou died in the fires in the village. Even if she knew he was where he actually was, why would she opt to just giving him a few cuts instead of setting him ablaze? He’s her main source of hatred and her central power is fire.
I also theorized that it’s the spider cutting him with spider webs, but why? They focus on it so much that I feel like it must have a meaning, but if there is they don’t give it in this episode and I doubt they’ll explain it in the next one.
Hajime and Tsugumi snap out of their vision while on dry land in front of a shrine. I assume the spider, who, by the way, is the Master or God of Hell, did it since he’s closeby, but again, why? And was he the one who gave them that vision? Why? Only reason I can figure is that he saved them so he could still keep Ai around, but that still doesn’t explain why they got that vision besides plot convenience.
All in all, I do like this episode, and Ai’s backstory is great, but there are various problems.
First, I would’ve liked to have spent a little longer with Sentarou and Ai to allow their relationship to grow a bit more so we could feel more betrayed when Sentarou finally started burying Ai.
Second, we never learn why Ai seemed to have supernatural powers or why she was ‘different’ before this ever happened. She never showed any powers besides that butterfly thing she already explained away, so why was she considered so evil or demonic? She seemed like a normal little girl. Then, before she even dies, she gains blood red eyes seemingly through pure hatred.
I guess you could ask the same question of Tsugumi, especially considering she appears to be the only one in the Shibata bloodline to have gotten these visions.
Third, the art and animation are back to crappy again, which is just disappointing because of how vital this episode is. It’s not as crappy as it has gotten recently, but it’s still just on a medium level with several cut corners like snapshot animation. Studio Deen, you save your budget for important episodes. That’s the rule. That’s always the rule. And as an additional rule of thumb, the last three episodes of damn near any anime are always the most important.