All right 12 days was fun lets get right into the new year with… Wait… What do you mean it’s the middle of March?! Maybe some day I’ll be able to stick to a consistent posting schedule but what the hey.
So this year I decided to open the new decade with a little project. I initially got into anime in a big way around 2011, I watched a handful of things before then but that’s definitely the point where it became one of my main interests. Because of this the 2000s have always sort of felt like a decade of anime I just narrowly missed out on engaging with. I’ve watched a handful of things from the era but there’s something aluring about going back to what I missed. Combined with a fascination with generally obtuse anime that have slipped out of the discourse I decided I’d use this year to watch forgotten anime from the 2000s. The criteria are pretty vague: 1) aired from 2000 to 2009 2) I hadn’t heard of it or was only sort of vaguely aware it existed and haven’t seen anyone really talk about it much. I’m about 20 or so entries into the list so far (I’ve been watching a lot of anime recently for a change!) and there have been a few solid entries and a lot of so-so stuff but that’s sort of what I expected going in. And then there’s Figure 17. A series I had genuinely never heard of until I started compiling the list, which meant I went into it with zero expectations. And it blew me away.
Figure 17 is a series that’s deeply concerned with separation. The effects of losing and being separated from loved ones, as well as the importance of being able to keep moving forward afterwards are core to much of the show. Tsubasa begins the series cut off from the life she’s used to, with her father having moved them from Tokyo to a farm in rural Hokkaido after her mother’s death in order to pursue his dream of becoming a baker, throwing himself into his work to cope with the lingering grief and unable to understand how isolated his daugher is becoming. While she wants her dad to be happy Tsubasa herself is deeply unsatisfied with this, having had to say goodbye to her oldest friend when they left and finding it difficult to fit in with her new classmates, while the taciturn daughter of the farm owners is uninterested in her attempts at striking up a friendship. Tsubasa is alone. She desperately wants to form connections with somebody, anybody, but her own shyness stops her from making the effort to engage with her classmates more, which they in turn percieve as her being a stuck up city kid who thinks she’s too good for them. She eventually finds this much needed connection from an unexpected source, an alien ship carrying the eggs of a dangerous creature called the Maguar crash lands behind her house, when she goes to investigate she gets caught up in the fight between the pilot, D.D. and his newly hatched cargo, saved from death at the last moment by the ship’s emergency “Riberus” a sort of semi-sentient liquid armour suit that bonds with her to form the titular Figure 17, which guides her in defeating the monster. In the aftermath rather than returning to its liquid form however, it instead manifests as an identical copy of her. Hikaru is born.
Hikaru is everything Tsubasa isn’t; energetic, outgoing and relentlessly optimistic. Hikaru is the person Tsubasa wants to be. And She’s the one thing Tsubasa needs more than anything at that point. A friend who loves her unconditionally. Sharing all of Tsubasa’s memories up to the point of her creation Hikaru knows better than anyone else possibly could the emotional turmoil her new sibling is dealing with and she offers everything she can to alleviate it. Thanks to some convenient (and thoroughly ethically dubious) memory alteration technology provided by D.D., Hikaru becomes Tsubasa’s twin sister, who had been staying with a relative after their mother died. Hikaru’s arrival changes Tsubasa’s life for the better, as the outgoing Hikaru acts as a bridge to allow her to finally break the ice with her classmates and begin to fit in more. Hikaru’s presence allows Tsubasa to grow as a person and come out of her shell, she begins to become more self confident in her own right, Hikaru might be acting as a catalyst but she’s still doing better on her own, her sister doesn’t want her to become reliant on her, but to take control of her own life.
She does this in part because of the unspoken truth that hangs over these happy days, Hikaru will have to leave someday, perhaps soon. When the six Maguar are defeated she’ll have to return with D.D. to his home planet, likely to spend the rest of her life as a research subject due to her unique circumstances. For all that she puts on a brave face, Hikaru is secretly distraught at the knowledge of their inevitable separation. They’ll be split up and Tsubasa will have her memories erased. The one person she cares about more than anyone else will forget about her. Much as she wants their fight with the Maguar to end, so that Tsubasa will no longer be forced to fight as Figure 17, she’s secretly afraid of their eventual victory.
By episode seven that fight is over, with the seemingly final Maguar having been defeated D.D. and his partner Ordina prepare to leave the planet and erase all evidence of their actions. As one last favour to Hikaru they agree to postpone their departure until after the upcoming class play, to at least let her have one last happy memory of her time on Earth. With Tsubasa still not having realised what defeating the Maguar entailed the two throw themselves into practicing for the play and Hikaru does her best to keep her emotions in check. With mixed results, she has a very public breakdown during rehearsals as the similarities between the play (which follows a pair of twin princesses, one of who has her memories erased by an evil sorcerer) and her own situation overwhelm her. She’s able to laugh it off as her classmates praise her surprisingly good acting and Tsubasa is unsure what to make of it, but it’s increasingly clear that Hikaru is suffering from the weight of their impending separation, not just because she’s going to lose Tsubasa, but because Tsubasa is going to be left alone again. She’s not ready to leave while her sister is still in the process of overcoming her shyness. As much as she knows it’s impossible she still desperately wants something to change to let her stay on Earth. And then she gets her wish. At the last moment a seventh Maguar appears, which suggests that one of the original six was in fact a Mother Maguar, able to produce offspring and therefore a significantly larger threat than previously assumed. The aliens are forced to extend their stay and Hikaru gets her wish, at the cost of forcing Tsubasa into fighting once more, this time with no definite end point to keep her going. While she should be happy that she gets to stay with her sister she feels more guilt than anything else, her selfish wish is going to put Tsubasa in harm’s way again.
While Tsubasa is aware that something is bothering her sister she’s unable to muster up the courage to ask, hoping she’ll open up on her own when she’s ready, and so the pair go about their lives, occasionally being called upon to fight the Maguar as they surface but generally happy with their circumstances. Tsubasa is the happiest she’s been since coming to Hokkaido, and Hikaru is able to move past her guilt and live in this happy moment. As Tsubasa becomes more independent, she begins to build up a relationship with Shou, a boy in her class who she’s been secretly developing a crush on. Shou offers Tsubasa something else she needs. Where Hikaru is always ready to help Tsubasa strive to be the person she wants to be, Shou is someone who’s happy with her as she is now. While she’s happy that she’s becoming more able to be more sociable she still appreciates someone who’s willing to stand by her even if she doesn’t change, Hikaru would do the same but having that come from someone outside her family is still valuable to her. Eventually they go on a date to see a hot air baloon show, which Tsubasa elects to keep a secret from Hikaru. In part because Hikaru’s support has pushed her her towards becoming more independent she wants her relationship with Shou to be something she doesn’t have to share with her sister. While she’s been building up friendships with her classmates in recent months those have all been thanks to Hikaru’s influence. Her relationship with Shou is something that’s hers alone and she’s reluctant to lose that feeling, it’s not a conscious decision to exclude Hikaru but simply how those muddled feelings end up manifesting. And while she remains unaware Shou also represents something Hikaru wants, someone else who Tsubasa can rely on even after she’s gone. If Hikaru has to leave in the near future she’ll be leaving Tsubasa in a better place than the last time that prospect was raised. And then he dies.
Suddenly, at the end of episode nine, having been seemingly fine the day before, Shou passes away from a terminal illness. He’d been keeping it secret at school in order to not worry his friends, deliberately hiding the signs as much as possible. Tsubasa was the last person in the class to see him alive, with his final words being simply “See you tomorrow”. While the whole class is understandably distraught at the news Tsubasa takes it the hardest, and Hikaru is unable to help her. While she’s also torn up by the loss of a friend she’s unaware of just how close her sister was to Shou, so her attempts to cheer her up fall far short, instead pushing Hikaru into a darker place and causing her to lash out in a mixture of anger and grief.
This outburst shocks her as much as it does Tsubasa, stopping the argument in its tracks as she realizes what she’s said. While obviously aware of Hikaru’s nature Tsubasa has never once questioned her sister’s validity, Hikaru is her twin sister and Tsubasa cares for her just as deeply as Hikaru does for her. She may have had these thoughts at times but they were meaningless weighed against her love for her sibling. And now her grief has driven her to say things she immediately hates herself for saying. Hikaru’s normally cheerful facade crumbles again and all she can do is apologise, not only for misjudging how deeply Shou’s loss affected Tsubasa but for intruding into her life like this, for a brief moment Hikaru ceases to be Tsubasa’s sister. She can’t simply abandon her though, she knows Tsubasa is hurting and she can’t give up on someone she loves so she does the only thing she can and shakily recomposes herself, making a promise she knows she can’t keep; “I’ll always be with you”. It’s not enough to make things better but it’s all she can do. If Tsubasa needs her as a stabilizing force to deal with her grief then she’ll be there, for as long as she can.
Over the next few episodes Tsubasa begins to retreat into herself once more, becoming increasingly dependant on Hikaru to the point where she starts to panic when Hikaru leaves her alone for a few minutes. Which puts Tsubasa in an increasingly difficult position. As the final showdown with the Mother Maguar looms on the horizon she has to balance providing the emotional support Tsubasa needs and trying to prepare her for their impending separation. To compound these issues their father announces that his apprenticeship is complete and the family will be be returning to Tokyo in the near future so he can open another branch of the farm’s bakery in the city. Tsubasa might lose her sister and her new friends at the same time. Around this time Hikaru is also injured fighting one of the Maguar. She survives but begins to suffer from intermitent periods of blindness and headaches, as her life energy begins to become unstable she has to consider the possibility that she might not survive the final battle with the Mother Maguar. While D.D. and Ordina make some plans to try and preserve her life when they return to the home planet it’s something of a hollow comfort. One way way or another she and Tsubasa are going to be separated soon. It’s not the prospect of her own death that scares her, it’s losing Tsubasa, and forcing Tsubasa to lose someone she loves again. As she tries to balance these conflicting issues she begins to quietly try and push Tsubasa towards being more independent again, deliberately eating with different classmates at school and splitting the group up during a research project in the hope that she’ll be able to hold up on her own again. Tsubasa isn’t oblivious to what she’s doing however, and quickly figures out why Hikaru is acting so distant all of a sudden. She’s also increasingly worried about Hikaru’s health after she briefly passes out before a class presentation, despite Hikaru’s insistence that it’s nothing to worry about. Ultimately she asks the question.
Hikaru stops for a second, momentarily overwhelmed and unable to say it. She’s admitting it as much to herself as to Tsubasa, she’s leaving and she doesn’t want to go. She has no choice but that doesn’t make it any less painful, and all she can do is promise to remember Tsubasa and their time together. As the twins struggle to come to terms with this cruel reality D.D. finally locates the Mother Maguar. The twins form Figure 17 one final time to stop the Mother before its offspring become a threat to the entire world. Hikaru’s energy is still low but they have no other choice but to fight, and hope she can make it through to the end.
While they’re seemingly able to defeat the Mother’s core it turns out to have been a decoy, with the real core blasting off into space to spread the Maguar to other worlds, and dragging Figure 17 with it. After a last ditch attempt to stop its escape by crashing it into Ordina’s ship the twins are left trapped on the ship, with Hikaru unconscious and Tsubasa forced to navigate unfamilair surroundings to find a weapon capable of defeating the Mother once and for all. Having been guided to the weapon by D.D. and Ordina Tsubasa is faced with one last obstacle. In order to plant the bomb on the rapidly expanding Mother before it can release its payload of eggs across the entire planet she’ll need to go outside the ship, which means she’ll have to combine with Hikaru and become Figure 17 again in order to survive the vacuum. Which could use up everything that’s left of Hikaru’s dwindling life energy. Hikaru agrees without question, despite knowing just how close she is to death. After succesfully managing to defeat the Mother Hikaru uses her last reserves of energy to return Tsubasa to earth and say her goodbyes to her initially oblivious sister. Unaware of what’s about to happen Tsubasa thanks Hikaru for everything she’s done for her, finally understanding a little of how hard Hikaru has been working for her sake. Confident that her sister will be able to make it without her Hikaru is able to say goodbye with a smile on her face.
In the aftermath D.D. and Ordina remove everyone’s memories of Hikaru, but Tsubasa choses to retain hers. While forgetting would allow her to escape the grief of losing her sister those memories are still important. Even if it ended painfully her short time with Hikaru was precious to her, and someone has to remember her even if the rest of the world doesn’t. Hikaru wasn’t able to keep her promise to remember Tsubasa but that doesn’t mean she can’t return the favour as she moves on to the rest of her life. Hikaru once urged her to keep on living for Shou’s sake, and now she’ll do it for Hikaru’s as well.