Popotan is a series with a handful of interesting ideas which it never commits to quite enough to be genuinely good. Occasionally it comes close though, with one particular pair of episodes standing out in particular.
The general conceit of the show is that the three sisters Ai, Mai and Mii are bound to a house which periodically transports itself to a random time and place, in pursuit of some mysterious person who can help them towards their even more nebulous end goal. With this setup in place the show is largely episodic, they arrive somewhere and somewhen new, meet a handful of people and help with some problem or other before disappearing overnight. It’s a situation which they’ve all come to terms with in their own ways, or at least tried to. Ai has mostly just accepted that this is her life and there’s nothing she can do about it, Mii is too young to fully understand that she’s never going to see any of the people she befriends again and Mai hates it. Where her sisters have at least found some peace in things Mai increasingly struggles with the effects of having to constantly abandon everyone outside her family that she cares about. She’s particularly hurt by having to abandon a girl named Konami who actively tries to befriend her despite Mai’s attempts to remain distant so as not to get too attached. Where the others have found ways to deal with leaving people behind Mai is still unable to do so and it’s clear she can’t carry on like this forever.
And then she gets left behind herself. Due to a freak accident Mai and the trio’s robotic maid Mea are unable to return to the house before it disappears again, trapping them both in the current time and place. Somehow Ai and Mii manage to return the house to the same place (although it’s not clear how long passed for them while they were doing so), but five full years have passed. In those five years Mai has built a new life for herself, one where she can actually form bonds with people without having to worry about having to abandon them again. From her perspective her sisters reappearance is almost a bad thing, they naturally want her to go with them on the journey again, something she initially resists because it means throwing away everything she’s built up again. Eventually however it turns out that even this ideal life she’s been playing at isn’t possible, because she hasn’t aged. In the five years she’s been alone her body hasn’t changed at all, even her longer hair turns out to be a wig she was using to fool her friends into overlooking her static appearance; even separated from the house it still asserts its influence of her. None of the sisters age and they never will till they reach the end of their journey. Even if Mai stays here she’ll eventually have to throw away her new friendships or risk her immortality being discovered. Her only hope at a normal life lies in carrying on the painful journey she’d briefly been granted a reprieve from. So she reluctantly does so once again, disappearing without a word to her friends.
Things don’t get much better for Mai even when she returns though. Although she’s gained some idea of what she actually wants to achieve at the end of this journey, the sisters are still pretty clueless about where they’re actually trying to reach. Eventually they even return to Konami’s town… and meet Konami’s daughter, Mai. Who places the blame for her mother’s early death squarely on the “friend who never returned” who Konami died still believing would someday come back to her, after all she promised. It’s another reminder that her leaving people behind hurts them as much as it hurts her, and it’s something she can’t avoid. This does eventually get reframed as a less negative thing when it comes to light just how much Konami cherished her brief time with Mai, her longing for her friend’s return wasn’t out of grief but a genuine desire to meet this person she loved one last time. The two Mais manage to come to a sort of compromise and the younger begins to respect this strange girl who sounds a lot like her namesake, only to have the house move on once again leaving her to piece the truth together while the elder Mai once again begins to regret the impact of their journey.
Unfortunately the show’s open ending means that Mai’s arc sort of ends there. They find Shizuku, the mysterious guide who they’ve been searching for only to be essentially told “you’re not ready yet so you can stop here or keep going”. All three agree to continue and the journey resumes, ever onwards in search of an unknown goal, always leaving people behind.