“But don’t lose hope….Once you lose hope, it’s all over.” –Yuuko, Tasogare Otome x Amnesia
“Lick these drops. Mom had seven thousand yen saved in the bank. Seven thousand yen! If there’s that much, we can manage plenty. There’s no need to worry anymore.” –Seita, Grave of the Fireflies
Even though I’m not a big fan of sweets nowadays, there was a time, when I was still a child, that just one brightly wrapped candy was enough to sweeten a good portion of my day. Some of the ones I remember fondly include old-fashioned lemon drops, Jolly Ranchers, and Mike and Ikes. Now that I think about it, I may have always been more inclined towards the fruit flavors than to chocolate. Whenever I see these sweets, I can’t help but smile and recall, for a brief moment, the simple joys they gave me as a kid.
Sakuma Drops are a Japanese candy that have been around since 1908, and are immediately marked by their colorfully-wrapped tins and fruit-shaped drops. Many people will recognize them from Ghibli’s 1988 film, Grave of the Fireflies. Sakuma Drops also made a very recent appearance in the currently airing anime, Tasogare Otome x Amnesia. While a reoccurring motif in Grave of the Fireflies, their appearance in Amnesia spanned only one episode during a flashback the protagonist experienced of someone else’s past.
While the settings are very different, there is a slightly similar feel to the atmospheres; Fireflies takes course during the poverty and starvation that ran amuck in World War II, while Amnesia‘s instance occurs amidst a village’s plague sixty years prior to the main story. For both, there is a distinct feeling of helplessness, of the young characters’ inability to do anything to reverse their ill fortunes. The fruit drops shared between those who suffered brought a brief sweetness to what otherwise felt like a very lonely and unfair world.
And yet, as delightful as those moments are, they are moments. They come to an end and may leave the one who experienced them even more desolate than before. When the flavor fades, when the tin is empty, all hope disappears in both stories. The fruit drop motif isn’t anywhere as prevalent in Amnesia, but I was still struck by the connection between the two shows with a later scene featuring Yuuko’s impending death–strange lights float around her very reminiscent of the fireflies that played such an important role in representing the all too short lives of Setsuko and Seita.
Director Takahata Isao refutes the interpretation of Grave of the Fireflies as an anti-war film, offering up instead an examination of the society surrounding the siblings during their time of need. Whether the poverty and starvation were the results of war, a natural disaster, or some other event should not have changed the fact that Setsuko and Seita felt like outsiders in their aunt’s home, a woman who should have protected instead of taking her frustration out on them. There are some arguments, however, that also point a finger at fourteen-year-old Seita, who wore the uniform of the fire brigade, yet was never seen acting out the duty of his uniform. Similarly, the elders of Yuuko’s village (the name of the town escapes me) should have prioritized every villager’s life above their own fears and superstitions. In both, that sense of community is banished by a disappearance of hope and a more pressing desire to preserve the self.
- “Transcending the Victim’s History: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies” by Wendy Goldberg