Okay, with the general consensus to my recent poll being “move on” move on I shall, but not to a new project. Before my health collapsed, I was running an experiment to see if knowledge of an anime adaption’s source material could allow for better reviews, given that the adage “A show must stand on its own” is often taken to mean “I don’t need to know jack shit about something to criticise it.” Now I’m generally recovered, I’m going to restart that project, but with new series: Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? The agreed English contraction is WorldEnd, whilst I will always choose to use Shuumatsu over the Japanese contraction: SukaSuka. This is not a five-dollar story.
The Shuumatsu LN had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while, and seeing that it was getting an anime but no-one knew much about it, I decided a couple of months ago to get to it. It took until the end of the first volume to hook me, but when it managed, it managed with a single word. One word, just before the last sentence of the book. And I can tell you, if the anime manages to hit the emotional beats of the LN correctly, this could be a series to remember. But, it’s a bit of an “if”, as the LN is quite slow-paced and relies much more on inference than overt declarations. What is more reassuring however, is the fact that the story is complete at five volumes (with the translation just starting the fifth) and a sequel having started last year with a title that frankly puts any prospect of a happy ending even further out of reach. (This series is translated as “What are you doing at The End? Are you busy? Can you save me?” and it really becomes more and more valid as the story goes on, with the covers featuring the main girls, crying. The sequel is called “What are you doing at The End? May we meet once again?” and features the four little girls you’ll meet in this episode in turn, older, and with Tiat (the green one) leading. Prepare yourselves).
Getting to the episode itself, the first striking thing is the opening scenes of panic and destruction set to a beautiful song
I eagerly await the identification of the song is Always in my Heart by Yamadatamaru, and a voiceover being the only other sound of a girl talking about how happy she is, as we watch the last few blue strands of hair on someone’s head turn red, before she drops into the title.
The scene then moves to a crowded city with the name of Grimbjhal on an Island 28, and a girl with completely blue hair chasing a cat, falling off a walkway and landing on a man who moved abnormally fast to catch her. You get no points for realising the blue-to-redhead and this girl are the same people.
The fall costs this girl her hat, and a crowd soon forms to start yelling insults about how she’s a “Disfeatured” due to having no bestial or monstrous traits, looking entirely human aside from the colour of her hair. In the LN translation, this term was given as “Markless” but I like “Disfeatured” more, it sounds more of a pejorative and given the meaning behind the term it really should be one. This is perhaps the only difference between the two translations than I come down on the side of the anime for…
This guy, who you might also guess is the same one seen in the opening sequence, returns the pendant the cat had stolen and takes off his hood to use to hide the girl’s (lack of) features, revealing that he too shares her inability to grow all-over facial hair, before taking her hand and running her off to a shop where he buys her a comically oversized hat to replace the one she lost. She stops him as he is about to walk away again, to ask him another favour - take her to the tallest point in the city so she can see the view. This trip is again beautifully set to an unexpected rendition of Scarborough Fair, showing the two have wacky hijinks and misadventures on their trip to the tower, as well as providing an excellent grounding in the setting. Even just a few minutes in, you get the real sense that this city is a place where people live even if the oddly crowded nature of it leaves a faint disquiet.
The crowded architecture is explained once the two reach the top of their destination, and look over the city to see the sky in all directions - including below them. For the island is floating in the sky, handily giving reason to the lack of space. Sky islands aren’t an uncommon setting, but infrequent enough that they haven’t yet become cliche I would argue. And so far, Shuumatsu is beating out the other contender for them in this season: the sadly underwhelming Granblue Fantasy (and I say that as a big fan of the game. Indeed, it’s because I am that I know how much better the GBF anime could be)
Our girl then talks about having no regrets left, before some vaguely intimidating fellows appear behind the main pair and she leaves with a parting request - “Please forget about me.”
We then move to Willem, for that is his name (one the translators didn’t manage to screw up), talking to a sterotypical goblin called Grick, who is apparently a treasure hunter who goes down to the surface - a profession fraught with peril. The two seem on good terms with Grick talking Willem into accepting a job supposedly with the military, but not requiring any skills or particular experience. Handy, given Willem apparently cannot fight. The only stated preference is for a Disfigured, making Willem an obvious choice, and Grick pressures him into rising above the rock-bottom life Willem is seemingly leading. Oh Willem, you should really be more paranoid. (I don’t get the salty coffee thing, if anyone knows please do tell).
Moving right along to the island where the warehouse Willem is to be caretaker of is situated, he trudges along in the dark, apparently having come all the way out to the sticks. The rustling of bushes alerts him, just before a little purple-haired girl charges out swinging a wooden sword, both parties demonstrating a possibly unexpected competence in the ensuing bout. One Willem loses, once again ending up on his back having saved an unknown girl from falling. In this case, though, she proceeds to claim the win in an adorable, if painful, way, before a familiar figure runs into view. (Incidentally, the V or B argument is only slightly behind the R or L sound in Japanese-to-English translating. Pannibal or Panival is a bit either-or. I prefer the latter, but I’ll save my arguing for more egregious instances of name fuckery. Which will be incoming shortly).
Willem is saved from the insidious Japanese “Water has touched my skin, a cold is inevitable!” concern by way of a shower, which gives the viewers a chance to see that his body is only slightly less scarred than Vash the Stampede’s, and Willem himself to note this place looks nothing like your average military warehouse. Waiting for him outside the shower is a really cheerful woman in a maid outfit, who seems to know Willem and who Willem does not look pleased to encounter. Welcome, to our first victim of whoever had Lovecraft on the brain whilst doing this translation: Nygglatho. Or as I will be calling her, Naigrat. Now, true, Naigrat isn’t the best of names, but Cthulhu naming conventions only work in Lovecraftian settings, otherwise they’re far too distracting. They’re meant to indicate things which don’t fit into how our world works, and unless that’s what your intention is, you’re creating distractions.
Anyway, Naigrat is a troll. In a hilariously meta sense too, due to her tendencies to troll Willem about the fact she is a troll, and therefore non-specifically carnivorous. The LN spends more time on Willem’s internal monologue about the fact that he’s feeling aroused out of fear in front of a natural predator, and not because Naigrat is a cheerful and attractive woman showing interest in him, and has Nigrat far more blatantly doing it to fuck with him. Always fun to see the Suspension Bridge Effect be referenced, if not by name.
Their conversation is interrupted by a cascade of brightly-coloured little girls from the door, a scene repeated when Willem reaches his own room and we are allowed to see that he’s actually really good with kids. Whilst he isn’t bothered by them, the fact that they’re in this supposed weapons warehouse makes Willem feel even more confused, and so he takes advantage of the blue-haired girl appearing to chase the tiny inquisitive quartet away to get clarification on the situation. As some will probably already have surmised, those little girls are the weapons he is there to take care of, and we finally get our main heroine’s name: Ctholly. Except, no, fuck that, Kutori it is. Unless she fucking becomes a tentacled abomination later on, she does not need a Lovecraftian name either.
The ED then gives a montage of Willem playing with a mass of cute little girls before showing Kutori walking through the rain, which then stops and allows her to fly with luminescent butterfly wings (yes, she really can), looping around before coming down to land near Willem. Symbolism lives.
And we then have a stinger which is as interesting as how the episode started, listed as 526 years before what we’ve just watched, and showing Willem talking with a girl without an abnormal hair colour about something to give him a reason to return from a battle he’s due to go to the next day. Willem promises to return in order to eat one of this girl’s cakes again, and the episode ends with a casual narration stating that within a year, humanity would be extinct, and Willem never kept his promise. That really sums up how this series is going to go - cute, tender, by the way everything is shit. Buckle up.
A few final things to talk about, just here at the beginning of the season. I’ve said both that how the episode started and how it ended are particularly interesting, and that’s because they’re effectively reversed. That stinger is a much truncated version of the prologue to the whole story, with Willem on the eve of the battle he wouldn’t return from for over 500 years only to find that everything he fought to protect was gone, and the battle at the very beginning actually being from the end of volume 3. I think it was a good choice though, first episodes are important to grab a viewerbase and showing action is a good way of accomplishing that. It allows people to know that, no matter how fluffy things might get, there’s some rowdy down the line. And moving from that scene to one which ostensibly isn’t connected to those events would be too jarring to recover from. It does mean that some of Willem’s character establishment is lost from that prologue, mostly that he’s so good with children because he was an elder figure at an orphanage, but that can always be made up in the future, and as I said before, the first volume too until the end to truly hook me. With an anime, you can’t leave it that long.
That prologue/stinger also has another vital function however: it sets up the relationship between Willem and that girl he’s talking to. She refers to him as “Otou-san” which the translation abominably mangles as “Pops.” It is hopefully obvious that that is not their actual relationship, rather she is giving him a title based on his standing in their little community. He is the “Father” who goes out to take care of matters, she is the “Daughter” who stays home and makes sure everything is okay for when he returns. This is a core relationship for the entire series, one with loaded import, and the use of the term “Pops” is not going to do it justice. Without context I do not believe this is much of a spoiler, but that single word I’ve said hooked me at the end of volume 1? It was “Otou-san.” “Father.” “Pops” is not going to have the needed gravitas. (Just imagine watching Blade Runner and having that penetrating line be “I want more life, Pops” >.>)
I am pleased that they kept the term “quasi-Brave” though. Japanese stories often use Brave to mean the same as Hero as a title, and they came in two types for humanity in this world: Regal Braves, who could be said to be the real deal, and quasi-Braves, people who could never reach the same heights of power as a true Hero, but could learn to imitate them at a lower level. The reasons for this will be explained, and I look forward to the reactions it might get.
The only other thing to point out is that Willem is expressly said to be the last surviving human, and this is true. The girls are not human, and this is illustrated by their hair colours. It’s perhaps a uniquely anime problem that girls with utterly abnormal shades of hair are not automatically a sign that they’re not regular people, heh. But no, humans n this world do, or did, not have hair like that.