Run, Melos: Aoi Bungaku 9-10

Writing about the stories shown in Aoi Bungaku is always difficult. For your average anime show no one knows the story until it is broadcast. But with these stories the Japanese viewer will be familiar with them, they are based on established literary masterpieces, yet I have not read a single one of them. Normally, as a westerner, I expect not to catch all the nuances of a Japanese show anyway, but now I’m put at an even greater disadvantage. What’s more, these aren’t straightforward interpretations of the texts. They are imaginative retellings, and I can’t tell the original from the interpretation. This is partly why I didn’t write at all about the last story. But I’ll give “Run, Melos” a try.

The anime takes an interesting turn. Rather than being an inspirational story about a man rushing back to prevent his friend from being executed, we get a playwright who is contracted to write a stage version of it. Takada is reluctant at first, then falls into despair when the legend dredges up painful memories.

15 years ago Takada and his friend Yoshina were to run away to Tokyo to do theatre together, but Yoshina doesn’t make the train. Takada sees him standing by the tracks as the train passes. In other words, Yoshina breaks a promise. While the play Takada writes is all about enduring pain and near death because of such a promise. The evil Roman guy who will execute Melos’ friend does not believe in altruism, rather that humans’ hearts are black and corrupt, quick to betray. Which is just what happened to Takada. And he must face his own painful memory, and a decision of what to do when he suddenly learns Yoshina is now dying. Meanwhile, his manager is waiting for the manuscript. “Is it worse to wait or to be kept waiting?”

What makes the Aoi Bungaku version so effective, besides the glorious animation and artwork, is how it mixes the play and Takada’s personal story together. On one hand we have Takada’s play being performed, and it frankly doesn’t seem more than a rehash of the original story, everyone gesticulating wooden lines in Greek garb. But all of a sudden characters change. Takada himself appears as a Greek chorus figure, plucking a lyre, narrating. The stage effects and lighting are revealed to us, as if to say, “This is only a play, a lie. The truth lies elsewhere.” At another point he’s watching from the audience as Melos takes the form of Yoshina. The evil Roman guy appears on the train with him. Melos’ fight with the bandits occurs on Takada’s desk while he furiously writes. Fireflies turn into stage lights. I could go on and on.

Not only is this amazing to watch, but it allows us to visit the situation from many different angles, or maybe it’s Takada who does so. The overall effect is to emphasize the desperation that Melos felt, trying to reach his friend, and Takada’s despair over a friend who failed him.

The original story ends happily, with Melos returning to save his friend. Takada’s ends not with happiness, but with a sense of closure over an event he had thought he had overcome long ago.

Another lovely story in the Aoi Bungaku series. Highly recommended.

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