Thoughtful Thursday: The Grief of Yoshino Takigawa

Zetsuen no Tempest, known in English as Blast of Tempest, is concerned with the literal end of the world and its new beginning. However, that is merely the background setting; the meat of the series is made up of the emotional and figurative end of the world for two young men. These are Mahiro Fuwa and Yoshino Takigawa.

The end of civilization is caused by the awakening of the great Tree of Genesis, which, along with the Tree of Exodus, maintains the balance of the world, all logic, and causality. As huge swathes of the human population die off, Yoshino accompanies his friend Mahiro on a journey to identify and have revenge on Aika’s killer. Right from the start, something is “off” with these two boys. The world is collapsing and millions of people are dying. Yoshino and Mahiro seem unfazed by it all. Mahiro’s side of the story is interesting too, but for today, I’d like to focus on Yoshino.

About a year before the catastrophic end of civilization, Yoshino’s beloved girlfriend died. She was stabbed in the heart by an unknown assailant, for no apparent reason. Her name was Aika, and she was the light of life for Yoshino. She was his sun, his air, and his everything. By the end of the series, Yoshino is allowed some closure about Aika’s death, but you can argue that he never reaches a real sense of healing.

Given how deeply Yoshino loved Aika, it’s clear there’s no problem with his ability to care and form attachments. It’s not like he’s an unfeeling person. However, something is off. Compared to Mahiro, who was driven mad by the loss, Yoshino shows little emotion or signs of dramatic grief. He acts as if he’s already moved on. He stays logical on his journey to help Mahiro and Hakaze, and he’s able to care about them both. What is going on with this young man?

In episode 18, Hanemura says to Mahiro, “You may get mad at me for saying this, but the way you and Yoshino act is very strange. Both of you were suddenly dragged into the confusion, having to deal with Magic and the Trees. You both lost your families, your friends, and your homes. But it’s like neither of you cares about that at all. It’s as though you had both already lost something even more precious, before any of this happened, and you were numb.”

There’s a scene in episode 18 that starts to shed some light on the issue. Yoshino is telling Hakaze about how his girlfriend Aika had already died. Hakaze became increasingly frustrated as the conversation went on, because Yoshino acted calm and resigned about it. When pressed, the young man says that nothing would change even if he acted sad about it. But Hakaze insists that even if nothing could be changed, he should have more of a reaction and grieve normally. Yoshino is also insistent that there would be no point in trying to change his attitude, and that he was used to hiding his feelings.

Let’s pause here before we continue what happens in that scene. What has this showed us so far? If nothing else, Yoshino’s reactions, or lack thereof, are complex. One of the main themes in Blast of Tempest is logic. For his part, Yoshino is known as a very intelligent and logically-minded character. He applies it to nearly everything. And in this scene, he is making an appeal to logic by saying that nothing would change if he openly showed his grief. Therefore, there is no point in going to the trouble of it. But is Yoshino truly being logical here?

Most of us know that emotions don’t always make sense. They don’t always change what needs to be changed. They certainly aren’t always productive. Yoshino is a bright boy, and surely he understands the illogical nature of feelings. What we are seeing here is the use of logic as a shield for something much more sensitive: Yoshino’s sense of helplessness. Because he doesn’t know how to express himself, he felt like he couldn’t even if he wanted to. This becomes painfully clear when Hakaze pushes him over the edge. She demands for him to be more open and honest.

So Yoshino’s voice rises into a shout as he says, “I have no idea how to do that! How could I ever be happy in a world without Aika? I don’t know how. All this time, I haven’t known what to do. How can I bring Aika back to life?! How can I change this illogical world? If I strangled you, would I regain everything?!” And as he falls on his knees and weeps, he says, “Even if I cry, nothing will change.” This was a last appeal at being logical, as well as a statement of his hopelessness.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Yoshino’s inability to express himself normally is partly due to his personality and past experiences. He’s always tried to stay calm, not bother others, and not draw much attention to himself. But when Aika died, this issue worsened exponentially. He became completely numb. As Hakaze pointed out, “This is already beyond tragedy: losing the woman you love and not even being able to grieve for her.” Yoshino’s peculiar form of grief doesn’t seem normal. This raises the question of what normal grief looks like.

According to the K├╝bler-Ross model, the 5 stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’m not familiar with the details of this model, but in my own life and experiences, I know that these stages can happen in any order, and sometimes one or more them are repeated before reaching acceptance. Grief can last different lengths of time for different people and situations. The intensity of certain stages varies with individuals as well. Where do you think Yoshino would be in terms of the five stages of grief?

Yoshino is numb, so you could say that he’s in the depression stage. I think either he skipped to the depression stage without experiencing the others properly, or he hasn’t even begun the process. Or perhaps he did already go through the grieving process, and this numbness is his form of the final step, acceptance. In any case, he’s simply stuck being numb. It’s hard to learn to function normally again with a healthy way of grieving– but it might be impossible to move on if you cannot even truly grieve.

Later on in the series, Hakaze uses magic to travel to the past and determine Aika’s killer. The truth is finally uncovered and there is nothing that Hakaze can do to change it. She reports the findings to Mahiro and Yoshino, who also quickly realize there is no way to help what happened. Both of them are resigned about the outcome. In a way, this does show acceptance of loss. But it also shows that Yoshino is still keeping everything at a distance, detached from normal emotions.

Given how Aika’s death froze his soul, can Yoshino ever be happy again? That’s the real question here. There’s no solid way to know for sure. Yoshino’s wound may hurt permanently, and he may always struggle with being numb. In the real world, we see this with loss, as well as with issues, such as major depressive disorder. Some people will never really be happy after that time their hearts truly broke and their worlds ended. I can empathize. This is the case for me. The world ended and then began again, but it is a world where I can never be free of my scars. We simply don’t know whether Yoshino — or people like me — can ever be content with life again.

However, there is evidence to suggest that Yoshino has started to reach acceptance by the end of the series. It’s good that he’s able to genuinely be friends with Mahiro and Hakaze (even though he’s nowhere close to having feelings for her). Yoshino’s adherence to logical thought and pro-social values also suggest that he will be able to live normally. In episode 22, Hanemura throws a fit, saying that Mahiro and Yoshino are too calm after learning the truth about Aika. They respond by telling him that it will only be possible to begin moving forward if they fix the world and the Tree of Genesis first. That’s what Aika wanted them to do.

Here, Mahiro and Yoshino are hinting that they might be able to find closure once they accomplished what Aika wanted them to do. Yoshino notes that, “Even if nothing at all begins, we still must put an end to this.” He knows he must try to move on, putting a close to his story with Aika, even if there is no new beginning for him.

In summary, Yoshino Takigawa has a deep, complex kind of grief that takes the form of numbness and detachment. He may never find true joy or peace again after losing the one he loved. All the same, it’s possible that Yoshino will move on, especially since he seems close to acceptance by the end of the series. I think the turning point for Yoshino and the start of his “acceptance” was back in episode 18. It was actually good that Hakaze pushed him over the edge. After he shouted at her about his helplessness, Yoshino was able to truly cry and be comforted.

Thank you for reading my work today. I really appreciate it. Come back and visit soon!

Image credit: Zetsuen no Tempest. Dir M. Andou. Studio Bones. 2012.

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