“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.” –Steve Berry
When Izumiko Suzuhara, a reclusive girl with the power to channel the ancient Himegami, expresses a desire to live in the city, her parents arrange for her transfer to Hōjō Academy. Izumiko is shy and struggles to interact with others, but because of her lineage, her guardian, Yukimasa Sagura, assigns his son and yamaboshi apprentice, Miyuki, to look after her. Miyuki initially regards Izumiko coldly and only does the minimum required of him. After an incident where Izumiko’s Familiar, Wamiya, runs amok, Miyuki has a chance to see how Izumiko does indeed have talents of her own, and he subsequently agrees to transfer to Hōjō Academy with her. Here, Izumiko and Miyuki learn that amongst the student body, a complex battle is being waged as different factions covet Izumiko’s powers for their own ends. Izumiko makes fast friends with Mayura Sōda and her brother, Manatsu, but also becomes weary of the smooth-talking Ichijō Takayanagi, a top student who employs shadowy operatives in a bid to control Hōjō Academy. Along the way, Izumiko also learns more about her glasses and relationship with the Himegami, a goddess with the power to eliminate humanity. While trying to navigate life at school and her own place in the world, Izumiko becomes more confident in herself and in the process, finds enjoyment in things like school trips and culture festivals even as she becomes more aware of the Himegami and her significance. Produced by P.A. Works and airing during the 2013 Spring season, RDG: Red Data Girl is named after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species, known as the Red Data Book for brevity, and during its twelve episode run, a broad spectrum of topics are covered – RDG: Red Data Girl is a coming-of-age story that speaks to a range of topics surrounding youth and their discoveries as they are given a chance to learn their own strengths. However, despite a premise and setup that had seemed promising, RDG: Red Data Girl is also counted as one of P.A. Works’ worst productions: the series’ short run and complex world had meant that twelve episodes was too little of a time-frame to adequately explore everything, and the series had made the assumption that viewers would be familiar with elements of Japanese mythology and Shintoism. With many elements only being given a minimal explanation, the flow of events in RDG: Red Data Girl is not always clear, leaving viewers without a clear picture of what the series had intended to convey.
After the Shinto and mythological piece of RDG: Red Data Girl are abstracted away, the anime ends up being a story of growth as a result of peer support. Izumiko begins her journey extremely shy and soft-spoken; she’s quite easy to push around and lacks any sort of drive. At her original middle school, Izumiko does have a few friends in her corner, and while they do treat her kindly, Izumiko never stands up for herself. This infuriates Miyuki, but despite Izumiko’s numerous shortcomings, it is revealed that even she has a few redeeming traits: she’s an excellent dancer who feels that traditional dance is the best way to clear her mind and express herself. This aspect of her character is what drives Miyuki to stick with Izumiko, and in turn, by remaining at her side, Izumiko always has someone to count upon even as she begins exploring the web of social interactions at Hōjō Academy. As things spiral out of control during Hōjō Academy’s culture festival, Izumiko realises that Miyuki’s support is what had allowed her to get through difficult moments earlier, and that there was no need to shoulder things on her own. Similarly, despite his aloof and often callous manner, Miyuki eventually comes to understand that there is value in helping out and being wanted. Hearing Izumiko asking for his help specifically is what allows him to reunite with her during the climax of the culture festival, after she’d unconsciously tapped into the Himegami’s power and banished herself into another plane out of anger at Ichijō’s actions. Without a means of getting back, Izumiko would come to learn the importance of being able to count on one another, and it is this that helps her to push forwards in life with more conviction: it is okay to try one’s strengths and explore the unknown, as well as making mistakes along the way, so long as one can fall back on support and advice from friends. At an individual level, this is what RDG: Red Data Girl deals with – messages of support and companionship are by no means new to coming-of-age stories, and while RDG: Red Data Girl initially does appear to be about anything but, a bit of patience for the characters finds that at the end of the day, whether one is dealing with Himegami and yamaboshi or ordinary students, no individual is an island.
At a larger scale, RDG: Red Data Girl speaks to the idea that modern Japan is becoming increasingly disconnected from older values. Izumiko is said to be the last vessel for the Himegami, and when she does manifest, the Himegami indicates that the world hurtles down a path that is difficult to watch, increasing her own desire to unleash her full power and punish humanity. Shinto beliefs, in animal gods and spirits that exude every part of nature, are an integral part of Japanese culture, and for much of their history, the Japanese belief of striving to maintain harmony and balance with nature has made their existence a sustainable one. In the present, industrialisation and urbanisation erodes at the beauty of nature, as well as compelling people to move away from the countryside and into the cities as they search for opportunity. As traditions and values are forgotten, the very fabric of Japanese culture, rooted in the harmony between man and nature, slowly diminishes. By the time of RDG: Red Data Girl, Izumiko is suggested to be an endangered species because she is a representation of humanity’s connection with the older gods, and here in the context of RDG: Red Data Girl, Miyuki comes to represent the average member of society: he starts out his journey with an adamant refusal to act as Izumiko’s guard, reflecting on how people today do not demonstrate a willingness to familiarise themselves with older values and traditions. However, as Miyuki sees more of the Shinto world and events that unfold surrounding Izumiko, he comes to understand that there are things that shouldn’t be lost or forgotten. His developing feelings for Izumiko therefore acts as a metaphor for how even with all the changes in society, traditions and older values still have their merits. In this way, RDG: Red Data Girl doubles as a story about how there is value for people to learn about their own culture and heritage, allowing these elements to be preserved even as society hurtles along. As a result, even though RDG: Red Data Girl‘s limited episode count was ultimately to the story’s detriment, leaving many elements feeling quite rushed, unexplored and ambiguous, the series should still be commended for making a brave stab at conveying much more than just the elements of a coming-of-age story.
Screenshots and Commentary
- RDG: Red Data Girl piqued my interest purely because P.A. Works had produced it, and with Sayori Hanami voicing Izumiko, I had been quite curious to see what directions the anime would take. Previously, Hanami had voiced Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita, and there were some similarities between Izumiko, Sawa and Hanasaku Iroha‘s Nako Oshimizu. P.A. Works does have a tendency give their lead characters similar traits, and this commonality, although seen as a detriment by some, does serve the purpose of providing some grounding.
- In RDG: Red Data Girl‘s case, Izumiko is an ever shier and more reserved version of Nako, with a much more hesitant inflection in her voice. However, there is no doubting that it’s Hanami voicing Izumiko, since Hanami’s portrayal here gives the smallest hint of her style when she performed as GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain, and Yor Forger of Spy × Family. I began my journey into RDG: Red Data Girl ten years ago to this day: although the anime had begun running back in April 2013 as a part of the spring lineup, April was the month for my undergraduate defense.
- As much as I would’ve liked to have go into vacation mode the second my defense ended, following this was three more exams (databases, software engineering and statistics), so there was no time to unwind and take it easy. By that point in time, I hadn’t been terribly worried, since I had a reasonable grasp of the material, and in this way, when exams arrived, I sat down and wrote them with a confidence that had come partly from knowing the concepts, and partly from how to take on exams as a result of having gone through the MCAT. As memory serves, databases and statistics had traditional, registrar-scheduled written exams, while software engineering was an oral exam.
- On paper, oral exams are always tricky, especially for folks like myself, who have difficulty with public speaking. However, preparing for an oral exam is no different than preparing for the questions to a defense, and having practised the methods extensively for my thesis, I was able to pass my software engineering exam by preparing in a similar method. By that point, four years of practise with presentations meant I developed a way to prepare, and in this way, I became more proficient with public speaking. The me of a decade earlier, however, had not been sufficiently learned as to spot this, and this is one of the reasons why RDG: Red Data Girl had not initially been enjoyable for me.
- Once my exams ended, I found myself with what had felt like unlimited leisure time. Convocation was still more than a month away, and as a bit of a celebration, my classmates in the health sciences programme wanted to put a yearbook of sorts together. I volunteered to help out with layouts: in secondary school, I was part of the Yearbook Committee and in my final year, had more or less single-handedly put the yearbook together with one more committee member after the remainder of the members dropped off. In the quiet days after exams, I turned my powerful new PC to use, and in no time at all, I assembled a yearbook that impressed my health science classmates.
- Ten years earlier, as a gift from my parents for having reached the milestone of convocation, I got a new desktop. Armed with the i5 3570k and a GTX 660, this machine was originally designed as a budget gaming machine with enough longevity to get me through whatever lay ahead, whether it had been medical school or graduate school. Indeed, when I ended up enrolling in graduate school, that computer served me extremely well: it had enough graphics horsepower to run both Unity and Unreal Engine, which powered the biological visualisation models that I worked on. After I finished graduate school, I upgraded to a GTX 1060, and this desktop went on to serve for another seven years.
- The story of this custom desktop will be left as an exercise for a later date, but at this point a decade earlier, I was thoroughly enjoying my new machine and, in between using it to work on the health science yearbook for the Class of 2013, I also began my journey in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and started watching RDG: Red Data Girl. I would have only been a few episodes behind at this point, and found myself catching up in no time at all. Right out of the gates, I had found the story quite confusing, especially since there were numerous references to elements from Japanese folklore and Shitoism. This negatively impacted my impressions of RDG: Red Data Girl early on, and the further addition of a student council that seemingly took itself too seriously only served to complicate things.
- On this revisit, however, it turns out I was mistaken on both counts – once I stopped worrying about the factions as though this were a Tom Clancy novel, and decided that the Shinto elements weren’t as significant to Izumiko’s growth as her interactions with those around her, RDG: Red Data Girl ended up being more enjoyable than I remember. In particular, I became very fond of Mayura – when she wears her hair in a ponytail, she resembles Tari Tari‘s Wakana Sekai (and readers may have noticed that I have a fondness for ponytails). Even though she covets Izumiko’s power and ends up luring Izumiko and Miyuki into a trap to test the extent of the pair’s capabilities, she’s also shown to be kind and caring. As a result, it became easy to spot that RDG: Red Data Girl is plainly trying to sell viewers on the idea that Mayura is genuinely trying to be friends with Izumiko.
- Manatsu feels like a cross between Atsuhiro and Nagi no Asakura‘s Hikari, sporting a cheerful demenour. When the moment calls for it, he can be serious, but he’s otherwise quite easygoing. On the other hand, Miyuki feels like a more foul-mouthed and mean-spirited version of Taichi. Initially, Miyuki’s unpleasant manner had made RDG: Red Data Girl difficult to watch, but revisiting the series now, I’ve come to understand that P.A. Works, especially in their coming-of-age stories, tend to use the story as a means of showing how characters change over time. In every P.A. Works series I’ve seen, once unpleasant characters have a chance to grow, viewers understand their circumstances better and no longer view them unfavourably.
- In retrospect, I had treated RDG: Red Data Girl quite unfairly, stating that “there was no discernible theme that I could pick out”, and that “all of the factions at Hōjō High School had ulterior motives that were inadequately explored and interfered with what would otherwise be ordinary high school events”. This conclusion was made based on my recollection of RDG: Red Data Girl and had been written two years after I finished. Without a fresh set of eyes on things, I went off my memories. The end result was a highly biased perspective of things, one in which I was being being quite unfair to P.A. Works and the staff that had worked on producing RDG: Red Data Girl.
- Occurrences like these are why I made the decision to return and give shows like RDG: Red Data Girl a proper second chance: over time, my opinions of a given show may shift as I approach them differently, and additional life experience allows me to see things that I had previously missed, allowing me to draw a conclusion that is more comprehensive and fair. Revisiting anime therefore becomes an exercise I’m fond of – the only “opponent” is myself, and looking at what I’ve said previously, versus what I’m about to say, becomes an exercise that allows me to see how things change over time.
- In the present day, the single most important metric I typically use to gauge my enjoyment of a given coming-of-age or slice-of-life work is whether or not the story has a cohesive and clear message that results from the characters’ journey as a result of disruption. Generally speaking, if the characters gain something tangible as a result of this, then I will have found the experience to be a worthwhile one. The main exception to this rule are comedies: in things like Joshiraku or Lucky☆Star, the intention isn’t to see the characters grow or mature, and instead, the interplay between everyone creates a self-contained experience every episode. Different genres demand different approaches, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for reviewing fiction.
- It takes a measure of patience to get through an anime like RDG: Red Data Girl, and looking back on this particular revisit, I’m certainly glad to have done so because this time around, because armed with ten more years of life experience, I was able to notice details I missed originally. Seeing Izumiko becoming more comfortable with Mayura was probably the element that I came to appreciate the most – Mayura is quite knowledgable on the lore and possesses powers of her own, and despite her own vested interest in turning Izumiko, she genuinely treats Izumiko well and looks out for her. As a result of this, even though Mayura does arrange for people in her corner to test Izumiko and Miyuki, it’s hard to hold this against them.
- During the first evening, the Sagura family hosts a barbeque; this is a Japanese summer tradition that typically features yakitori skewers. Barbeque is a form of cooking that’s practised all over the world – regardless of culture, all cooking originates from the art of cooking meat over a fire or smoking it, and as a result of its evolutionary origins, there is something inherently appealing about eating something that was grilled over direct heat. Japanese barbeque is characterised by the presence of more vegetables and the use of soy sauce, whereas over here in North America, dry rubs and sweet sauces are preferred.
- Izumiko finds herself inexplicably drawn to a fruit punch, and when she begins acting out of character, the others quickly spot that she’s become intoxicated, since there’d been some alcohol in the punch. Izumiko subsequently passes out and awakens some time later. Moments like these are seemingly inconsequential, but they do hint at the changes Izumiko is undergoing: freed from her usual inhibitions, Izumiko is a little more expressive. After I got further into RDG: Red Data Girl, it became clear that Saori Hanayami does a wonderful job of voicing Izumiko’s different facets – although Izumiko might be Nako in appearance and share the same voice as Sawa, she lacks Sawa’s confident and forward manner.
- Over time, more to Izumiko’s character is shown; and whether it be her over-indulging on the fruit punch, or expressing fear regarding the Himegami, Izumiko is a complex individual who’s defined by more than her typical timid nature. I remember Izumiko best for how RDG: Red Data Girl had initially presented her, and owing to the fact that it has been ten years since I originally watched RDG: Red Data Girl, I find myself wondering if I’d actually watched RDG: Red Data Girl all the way through back then, or if I’d rage-quit along the way. Viewers have my assurance that for this revisit, I have indeed finished RDG: Red Data Girl completely; it wouldn’t be fair to form a conclusion about anything based on incomplete evidence, after all.
- My favourite surprise comes with Izumiko’s pouty attitude: in the presence of people she’s comfortable with, Izumiko is more expressive, and here, she speaks with Masumi. The third of the Sōda siblings, Masumi had died as a child, but his spirit endures. He occasionally is able to manifest and lends his power to Mayura and Manatsu, but on his own, Masumi admits that he’s fallen in love with Izumiko. It speaks to Izumiko’s comfort around her friends that she’s able to sass Masumi a little, revealing an unexpected side to her character and reminding viewers that even the shy Izumiko can change.
- In the aftermath of RDG: Red Data Girl, I recall reading a heated discussion regarding whether or not anime series are obligated to have a clear, coherent narrative and themes. When one individual argued that anime must necessarily have easy-to-follow storylines, other participants in that discussion immediately jumped in and claimed that anime with seemingly-confusing storylines have often have intellectual merit and demand that viewers make an effort to figure things out for themselves, whereupon the worth of said work will become self-evident. This is, strictly speaking, untrue – if a given story is unclear, it is not because the work was especially insightful or brilliant, but rather, because critical elements were omitted or not explored in depth. I am reminded of a remark from Richard Feynman, who believed that if one could not explain a complex idea in simple terms, that individual likely did not have a deep knowledge of a given topic.
- An author can present intellectually-stimulating ideas without obfuscating a work’s plot, and as such, it is appropriate to say that being confusing is not a necessary or sufficient condition for a work to be thought provoking. Intellectual content (e.g. philosophy, psychology and sociology) can be integrated into a work, but its presence is usually secondary – if a work doesn’t deal with things like Freud or Kant, but manages to captivate the viewer, it’s still succeeded. Conversely, if a work is confusing, the presence of more advanced concepts is irrelevant. In the case of RDG: Red Data Girl, there is no doubt that the story was confusing, and this came about as a result of the fact that viewer were dropped right into a story heavy with Shinto elements and very little in the way of explanation.
- Throughout RDG: Red Data Girl, Izumiko is shown as being quite sheltered and lacking in knowledge. In a manner of speaking, RDG: Red Data Girl could be said to be overwhelming viewers with Shinto elements so we empathise with how Izumiko must’ve felt. From a certain point of view, this is an effective storytelling technique, since viewers are made to experience what Izumiko experiences, but at the same time, RDG: Red Data Girl also fails to provide a more intuitive explanation of the concepts. This problem could be remedied simply by giving RDG: Red Data Girl more episodes of runtime to work with, and now, looking back at things, I believe this was ultimately RDG: Red Data Girl‘s biggest shortcoming – if the series had more time to explore and explain things, the Shinto elements would’ve become easier to follow, since the story could cover precisely as much as was necessary to bring Izumiko up to speed.
- For my part, I went about RDG: Red Data Girl this time around by abstracting out all of the Shinto elements and treating them as events the characters can respond to. By not concerning myself with specifics about how the Himegami work, or the different kinds of spells and magic available to yamaboshi, I was able to instead look at how Miyuki nad Izumiko handle the various challenges that they encounter. With this being said, some background would have been helpful: a given work cannot assume that viewers already have innate familiarity with something or expect that the viewers will look things up for themselves. In Tom Clancy’s novels, for instance, Clancy makes numerous references to government structure and details in how the hardware works, but on top of this, also goes into detail in explaining how the pieces fit together so viewers can plainly spot why something is important to his stories.
- RDG: Red Data Girl doesn’t quite need to go to Clancy levels of detail, but it would have benefited from at least some explanation of how the magic and folklore come together. Here, Izumiko sports a look of surprise after she and Miyuki share a conversation that begins to suggest that the latter might be developing feelings for the former – Miyuki raises a valid point about how Wamiya outwardly resembles Ichijō and wonders if this is because Izumiko is drawn to guys similar to Ichijō. Even with the full serious behind me, I’m not too sure if this is significant beyond showing that Miyuki might be a little jealous, and that things between Miyuki and Izumiko have reached a point where they can talk candidly about this sort of topic.
- By the time of Hōjō Academy’s culture festival, Izumiko and Mayura’s become integral parts of the planning committee. Knowing what I was walking into made it easier to pick things out, and this time, by paying a little more attention to the dialogue, I discerned that Mayura ended up earning the covetted seat as the Student Council President, infuriating competitor Ichijō Takayanagi. Ichijō had approached Izumiko early on with the hope of swaying her, but Izumiko gravitated towards Sayura, and in conjunction with Sayura taking the seat, Ichijō has since sought revenge. The factions within RDG: Red Data Girl only appear complex at first, but taking a step back and setting aside the Shinto elements, it’s easy to see a simple rivalry between students, albeit students with uncommon powers.
- In this way, my old claims about multiple conflicting factions turned out to be completely incorrect – at Hōjō Academy, it’s ultimately Ichijō vs Sayura, and while both students do have access to some external resources, the pair end up fighting most of their battles on their own. I do remember being infuriated by Ichijō, whose calm demeanour contrasts the underhanded methods he resorts to. For the culture festival, Ichijō summons ancient spirits, places curses and wires up an observation balloon with the aim of disrupting things for Sayura. At first glance, Ichijō is a contemptible individual, but in the present, a shift of perspective meant the gravity of the situation isn’t quite as serious as it’d felt a decade earlier: secondary students do take their social circles seriously, as they are at the age where their identity is tied to their status, and so, one can interpret Ichijō’s actions as being motivated by insecurity, rather than anything truly malicious.
- During the course of the culture festival, Izumiko gets roped into various events, and against Miyuki’s protests, she finds herself helping out. It is during the festival that Izumiko learns the truth about the Himegami: Izumiko is the last individual the Himegami can manifest as and is implied to be the one and the same. From what RDG: Red Data Girl communicates to viewers, the Himegami is the manifestation of an ancient force with incredible power, enough to wreck destruction at a scale that surpasses all knowledge. Such a revelation shakes Miyuki to his core, and when the Himegami appears mid-festival, she ends up sharing a bit of a private conversation with Miyuki. Again, it is important not to worry too much about the actual scope of the Himegami’s powers here.
- The main outcome of the Himegami’s interactions with Mikyuki serves to draw out the fact that, whether he cares to admit it or not, Miyuki has come to care for Izumiko more, and further to this, the Himegami’s existence and the resulting conflict this creates for Izumiko speaks to the question of what one’s identity is defined by. Identity has always been a hotly-contested topic, since it shapes one’s perceived place in their society. Some people mistakenly define themselves based on their traits (e.g. labels) and other people’s expectations for them: I’ve heard that it’s because it helps one to feel less alone in a given society and simplifies the fact that people different to oneself can exist. I will receive flak for this, but I do not believe labels have any merit in defining an individual’s identity – one’s actions define them far more strongly than any expectations labels might create.
- After learning the truth, Izumiko becomes doubtful about who she really is, but RDG: Red Data Girl smoothly handles this – Izumiko herself certainly doesn’t desire for the world to end, and has frequently expressed the want for a normal life. With support from Mayura and Miyuki, Izumiko does end up finding a renewed faith in what she wants. Moments like these make it clear that Ichijō never really stood a chance in converting Izumiko and served to reaffirm that viewers should place their faith in the Sōda siblings. Having a constant source of support outside of Miyuki was one of the biggest agents of growth for Izumiko, and since the Sōda siblings don’t share the same deity-protector relationship that Izumiko and Miyuki have, they are able to be a little more forward about how they feel.
- Izumiko does end up being more confident as a result of her friendships, and for the culture festival, she has no trouble in helping out. Here, a classmate flips some of the yakisoba noodles for their class’ stall – said classmate resembles Glasslip‘s Yanagi Takayama, a girl who aspires to be a model and, of everyone in Glasslip, was given the short end of the stick as far as relationships went, even though she was the most open and friendly of the group. P.A. Works’ use of familiar characters is a recurring trend in most of their coming-of-age anime, and here, I remark that P.A. Works has produced both my most favourite anime, as well as the anime I’ve regarded the most poorly. In the case of RDG: Red Data Girl, having now gone back through and making a more serious attempt to see what this was about, I answer the post’s question: RDG: Red Data Girl is no longer the worst anime I’ve watched.
- This leaves Glasslip as the worst anime I’ve watched. These extremes from a studio that tends to produce more hits than misses got me thinking: RDG: Red Data Girl and Glasslip could very well be P.A. Works’ way of experimenting with different ideas, and while both series were definitive misses in their execution, learnings from Glasslip and RDG: Red Data Girl would influence the execution of later successes like in The World in Colours and The Aquatope on White Sand. With this revisit of RDG: Red Data Girl, Glasslip becomes the most poorly-regarded anime in my books, and with the ten-year anniversary to the latter approaching, it might not be a bad idea to see if my methods here, which render RDG: Red Data Girl a little clearer than I’d previously found it, may also help me to see Glasslip in a new light.
- Giving Miyuki and Izumiko that second chance means that I presently understand them to a much better extent than I had ten years earlier, and so, when Miyuki breaks out laughing at how Izumiko has stuffed her signature braids into the odango style. Such a moment of levity speaks to the fact that both Izumiko and Miyuki have become quite comfortable in one another’s presence, enough to share something that is commonplace among ordinary classmates. While it’s easy to dismiss the me of a decade earlier as being unlearned and lacking the requisite life experience to discern what RDG: Red Data Girl had been aiming to convey, one of the reasons why RDG: Red Data Girl was not something I made an effort to understand was also a consequence of everything that had been going on at the time.
- At this point in May, when RDG: Red Data Girl first began airing, I was busy both with the health science yearbook and laying down the groundwork for my summer project. Against all odds, I managed to land an offer for an NSERC USRA, which is counted as the single most prestigious undergraduate-level award a student can win: I had put forward a proposal to build a distributed biological model using my renal system and a cardiovascular system one of the developers at the lab had constructed, and now that the summer was here, it was time to realise this proposal and bring it to life. May had therefore become quite busy, and I wound up watching RDG: Red Data Girl on the side. Convocation followed in June, and by the time the finale aired, I only had the vaguest idea of what I’d finished watching – the Great Flood of 2013 had swept through the area and threw everything off.
- With everything that went on, I didn’t have much of an inclination to watch anime, and so, RDG: Red Data Girl fell to the back of my mind. I remember leaving the series disappointed and never returned to write about it in full. Back in RDG: Red Data Girl, on the final day of the culture festival, Izumiko and Miyuki keep in touch by means of cell phones. Izumiko’s aversion to electronics had hinted at her supernatural background, and so, when she is able to use a phone, it speaks to her growth. After learning of how Miyuki had spent the previous evening with the Himegami, Izumiko becomes pouty again and shows that even she can be jealous of other women monopolising Miyuki’s time. Pouty Izumiko is surprisingly adorable, and Hanami does a very convincing job of showing this side of Izumiko.
- Things come to a head when Ichijō pulls Izumiko aside and places her under a spell of sorts in order to compel her to join his side, but when Izumiko remembers her promise to Miyuki, she sees right through Ichijō and goes ballistic. In the chaos, she unconsciously transforms Ichijō into a dog and disappears within another plane, hoping that if she vanishes from the world, then no harm will come to it. The last act of RDG: Red Data Girl has Miyuki pushing into this barrier with the goal of bringing Izumiko back. A decade earlier, it was quite tricky to find anything insightful on RDG: Red Data Girl – viewers were deeply polarised as to whether or not RDG: Red Data Girl was an incoherent mess that failed in telling a meaningful story, and proponents unconvincingly tried to argue that the show was actually simple, given that “[their] daughter, who just turned 13, watched the show when it came out and she didn’t have ANY trouble following the plot or figuring out what was going on”.
- Between those who hated RDG: Red Data Girl, and those who enjoyed the series but struggled to articulate themselves convincingly, a more balanced outlook on things was difficult to find. Random Curiosity’s Cherrie came the closest to providing a fair assessment of this anime, stating that RDG: Red Data Girl “gears more towards a story about adolescence in a supernatural setting and dealing with your own identity”. I award this answer partial credit, since RDG: Red Data Girl is significantly more than just “dealing with your own identity” – it’s about learning to accept oneself by opening up to others. Cherrie’s conclusion is typical of blogs of the late 2000s/early 2010s. Back then, bloggers were able to identify elements in a theme, but at the same time, consistently missed the “so what” aspect: being able to point out a basic idea isn’t the same as firmly ascertaining what an author intended to say about that idea.
- Here in RDG: Red Data Girl, the story was meant to show the importance of having people in one’s corner as one works out their identity, since the presence of different perspectives can guide people down a path of their choosing. This is how Miyuki is able to determine his path forwards regarding Izumiko, and how Izumiko herself comes to terms with her ties to the Himegami. Similarly, although only touched on, the complex dynamics amongst the Sōda siblings also becomes clarified as each sibling realises that they won’t always be there for one another, but in spite of this, they can still support one another as best as they can. This is ultimately what RDG: Red Data Girl had sought to convey, and having now revisited the series, I am glad to have done so, since I feel that I got considerably more this time around.
- With this being said, I still won’t recommend RDG: Red Data Girl to most readers: it takes a bit of manoeuvring and patience to see what the anime was getting at, and the short runtime, coupled with frequent references to Shintoism and Japanese mythology, results in inconsistent pacing that can frustrate viewers. However, folks who do give the series a shot may yet find a story that still says something, and all of this is wrapped up in a technically superior production – the artwork, animation and soundtrack are all top-shelf, typical of something produced by P.A. Works. When everything is said and done, RDG: Red Data Girl earns a C- grade (1.7 of 4.0 on the four point scale, or 5.5 of ten points), up substantially from the F grade that I assessed the anime ten years earlier.
- One of the factors that had tilted RDG: Red Data Girl from a curiosity into a wholly unfavourable experience can be chalked up to how the anime had coincided with a more eventful period of the summer – between convocation and the Great Flood of 2013, I was quite preoccupied and therefore, did not have as much time to sit down and focus on the anime as I was able to for this revisit. Between this and reduced life experience, I can understand why so much of RDG: Red Data Girl seemed like a fog to me at the time. Looking back, both convocation and the flood were both milestone moments of the summer a decade earlier, and while I’ve alluded to both periodically in my posts, I do believe the time has come for me to tell those stories in full here and consolidate my thoughts on those events.
- I appreciate that these sorts of posts aren’t what readers enjoy reading, but the reason why I’m going to go ahead with these topics is because it’s helpful for me to revisit these memories in a journal format. Journaling is, incidentally, something that experts count as being an effective means of helping one to manage their mental health because it allows one to organise one’s thoughts and vent in a secure environment, free of judgement. Looking back, I never allowed myself to be honest with what had run through my mind and express how I felt during the Great Flood of 2013. One could say that, in spite of all of the things I’ve gone on to do, a part of me remains trapped in the summer of a decade ago, and with journaling being a proven way of helping one to gather their thoughts, I figured the time has come for me to do a little bit of reflection.
- By the end of RDG: Red Data Girl, after seeing that Miyuki is going to be in her corner for better or worse, Izumiko comes to terms with her relationship with the Himegami and performs a dance that lifts the spell she’d placed on Ichijō. In the process, the barrier she raised is dispelled. Izumiko is not particularly confident in herself, but one thing she does well is dance; in understanding this about herself, Izumiko is able to move ahead and embrace the future with greater conviction. Izumiko’s mother and Yukimasa fly overhead in a helicopter, observing what goes down, and Izumiko’s mother notes, with a hint of pride in her voice, that Izumiko has passed her test.
- With this, a journey that was ten years in the making comes to an end. I’ve long wished to give RDG: Red Data Girl a proper rewatch, and this desire only increased when, during my revisits of other anime, I found that I ended up with a more complete experience than I had previously. Having now watched RDG: Red Data Girl with an open mind, I add one more anime to the list of shows that I was wrong about: it goes without saying that my old remarks on RDG: Red Data Girl aren’t correct, and this does lead me to wonder if a revisit of Glasslip would result in something similar. This is an exercise I’ll leave for next summer – Glasslip released in 2014, and next year will mark the ten year anniversary to its release. In the meantime, I’ve finished watching Kimi wo Aishita Hitori no Boku e, and will be looking to share some thoughts on this film in the near future, as well as watching the companion film Boku ga Aishita Subete no Kimi e.
RDG: Red Data Girl‘s rushed and inconsistent pacing, coupled with numerous references to Shintoism and Japanese mythology, meant that the series had, at first glance, appeared to be significantly more complex and nuanced than it is. For instance, the factional conflict between Mayura and Ichijō’s camp at Hōjō Academy gave the impression of being deep enough to involve adults and external organisations. When RDG: Red Data Girl did not cover this, viewers would be left with impression that the world building had not been sufficiently thorough. However, the seemingly all-consuming factional conflict in RDG: Red Data Girl can be interpreted in a different manner – the series is deliberately presenting it as being a serious situation because to Mayura and Ichijō, maintaining their status is important as a part of the social hierarchy that form amongst secondary students. The shadows and uncertainty that Izumiko faces can similarly be thought of as social anxiety. By viewing a given story from a character’s perspective, one can abstract out the more complex elements to reveal a narrative that is straightforward and unambiguous. Here in RDG: Red Data Girl, the Shinto elements and seemingly-complex factions are simply metaphors. By focusing on how these metaphors impact Izumiko and Miyuki, it becomes much easier to work out what RDG: Red Data Girl had sought to convey. There is no need to have a formal background in Shintoism or ecology because Izumiko and Miyuki’s journey can stand even if the context were changed (e.g., Izumiko learning to depend on others, and Miyuki becoming more respectful of tradition could still work with a different premise). The same approach can be applied towards almost any anime: while a given work may deal with highly complex matters, such as politics, sociology, morality and philosophy, all of these elements are, at the end of the day, intended to frame a given character’s experiences. If one can empathise with the characters and identify what they are supposed to learn as a result of their experiences, then more nuanced topics end up being a supplement, rather than necessity, to the conclusions. Complex-looking anime oftentimes appear more intimidating and dense than they are, and generally speaking, fiction is meant to convey what a given author has to say about an idea through the characters’ experiences. Once a work’s themes are known, things like philosophy and psychology end up either supplementing (or detracting from) the author’s messages.