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Train to the End of the World

Entry updated 15 July 2024. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2024; original title Shūmatsu Torein Doko e Iku?). EMT Squared. Directed by Tsutomu Mizushima and Fumihiko Suganuma. Written by Michiko Yokote. Voice cast includes Chika Anzai, Hina Kino, Erisa Kuon, Daisuke Namikawa, Nao Tōyama and Azumi Waki. Twelve 24-minute episodes, plus a recap episode. Colour.

The 7G Network Launch Ceremony in the City of Ikebukuro declares its new cellular network will connect the world at record speed: "instant communication and instant contact with anyone, anywhere ... all the world's leading technologies crammed, stuffed and hammered into 7G ... thoughts instantly broadcast! Visions instantly made real" (see Communications; Media Landscape). Passing Agano schoolgirl Nakatomi Yoka (Tōyama) is urged to press the button that will roll out 7G. Nervously she does so: the world warps and changes. Two years later we are at the village of Agano, whose inhabitants become animals 3 months after their 21st birthdays: though they retain their personalities and the ability to speak, there are signs these will eventually be lost. A little regional infrastructure remains, including monthly deliveries by armoured truck from Ikebukuro. On seeing an Ikebukuro newspaper used for packaging has a picture of Yoka, her four schoolfriends – strong willed Shizuru Chikura (Anzai), gentle Nadeshiko Hoshi (Waki), optimistic Reimi Kuga (Kuon) and smart but cynical Akira Shinonome (Kino) – decide to find her. There is no longer a rail service, but a disused train remains at the old village station (see Transportation), so the four girls commandeer it, name it the Apogee and take Yoka's dog, Pochi-san, with them.

A journey across an expanded, altered landscape follows: one evening we see Jupiter close in the sky and at another point the air is filled with giant floating human organs (see Absurdist SF). At each railway station we witness the different ways 7G has transformed different communities. There are people with mushrooms on their heads who try to persuade the four to join in their now blissful but shortened lives; other populations have been turned into contorted trees, turnips, religious statues or humanoid goat-headed creatures. At another stop, a town, its inhabitants and a nearby army base have shrunk (see Great and Small), giving the opportunity for a nod to King Kong (1933) when the military attack Kugi. Zombies and their zombie queen kidnap Shizuru, but they become friends. At another station everyone has become characters from the fictional Anime Alice in Nerima Land (based very loosely on Lewis Carroll's Alice books and incorporating the Japanese Chess game shogi), but here the villain has won; whilst defeating him they are told Ikebukuro is ruled by a witch queen named Yoka.

In episode 9 we learn more about 7G and what happened to Yoka. Poison Pontarō (Namikawa), the Mad Scientist behind 7G, refuses to acknowledge it was a failure or try to reverse the effects, so as to avoid being held accountable for his actions. Her pressing the button has linked Yoka to 7G, giving her the ability to manipulate Ikebukuro's reality; Pontarō has wiped her memory (see Amnesia) and uses her to wipe out dissidents, telling her the city was always like this and she is its queen (but the trapped inhabitants call her a witch). One of Pontarō's Scientist ex-colleagues explains the increase in Entropy means Ikebukuro is expanding and will cause a miniature Big Bang (see Cosmology) and the End of the World. Later they assert the world can be returned to normal if the 7G button is pressed again.

The final approach to Ikebukuro is guarded by three Manga artists whose berets give them the ability to convert people into different artistic styles (these scenes are a nod to the founding of the alternative manga Garo in 1964): acquiring one of the berets, Akira attacks them with an army of replicas of the foreground character in Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (1893). The four then arrive in Ikebukuro, and see its surreal landscape for the first time: using Pochi-san they quickly find Yoka, whose memories are triggered, causing trauma and reality distortion; but she is led off by Pontarō and the schoolfriends pursued. Fortunately the Zombie Queen now arrives and helps them: obtaining the button they press it, but to no effect – it has to be done by Yoka. After a chase on the high altitude railway lines above the city, there is a final confrontation: initially Pontarō believes he has won. However, he discovers Yoka's bodyguard's loyalty is to her not him (it can be inferred the bodyguard was a crow seen at the 7G ceremony, turned human: Yoka named him Pochi), as when they realize rolling back 7G is best for Yoka, Pontarō is flung from the train.

During the episodes we get occasional flashbacks to the childhood friendship between Shizuru and Yoka, learning they fell out when Yoka said she wanted to study Astronomy. Shizuru – not wanting her to leave and with something of a small-town mentality – said that such ambition was beyond someone of their background: Yoka's angry response was to go to Ikebukuro. Most of the show's emotional weight concerns Shizura's feelings of guilt and shame, and her struggle to find the best way to say sorry. She wanted things to stay as they were, but came to realize it was wrong and selfish, helped by seeing how Pontarō's fear of change and wish to retain the status quo represented the same mindset, imposing it on Yoka. Shizura's adventures have taught her that change, if scary at times, is exciting. Though it is not immediate, Yoka does forgive her and the button is pressed. Things return to somewhere approaching normal, but not quite (it is acknowledged that you cannot really go back to where you were): for example, the adults in Agano have their human bodies back, but their heads remain animal.

The series has some darker moments (see Horror), but is mainly odd and amusing (see Humour). Ikebukuro's weird cityscape is nicely animated, as are some other scenes, though others are simply competent (doubtless owing to budgetary constraints). Train to the End of the World is an enjoyable, surreal Anime. [SP]


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