Spoilers for The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.
Those who have been watching anime for a while likely know about the legend of the red string of fate – an invisible wire that ties future lovers together by their pinkies. The string has played large symbolic roles in many renowned productions, like last year’s blockbuster film Your Name. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is another great film in which it makes its appearance. What’s unusual, however, is that the red string of fate, and fate in general, don’t play a conventional role in this film. Its official poster immediately tries to bring this to our attention by depicting a red string that is not leading the protagonist towards love, but instead entangles him. Night is Short is a film filled to the brim with brilliant motives and themes, and it’s message about fate is one I find particularly noteworthy.
Prior to the start of the film, both protagonists are believers in fate. But what quickly becomes apparent is that Otome’s beliefs are far more zealous than those of Senpai. You see, Otome is convinced that fate ordains everything that happens in her life. This is the root cause of her carefree, happy-go-lucky personality. Her counterpart, Senpai, on the other hand, is not so much concerned with fate in its entirety as he is by the red string of fate. After falling in love with Otome, Senpai became absolutely positive that he must be connected to her by the famed string. Lacking the social skills and confidence to ask her out, though, Senpai invented the SEE strategy. By carrying out this strategy, Senpai would try to make Otome aware of the string that supposedly bound them, by ‘coincidentally’ running into her as often as possible.
Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that it doesn’t approve of (over)reliance on fate. The easiest example of said disapproval would be the hopeless romantic Don Underpants. The Don is chasing around an enigmatic girl, whom he had an odd encounter with six months earlier. During the encounter, two apples miraculously struck their heads at once, and the Don immediately deduces that this must have been fate. Eventually the Don finds out the mysterious girl was actually his crossdressing friend the whole time. It’s at that moment that a different girl confesses her love for the Don, but, being the quixotic advocate of fate he is, the Don rejects her. It isn’t until two fish miraculously strike their heads that he acknowledges her love. In the film’s final quarter the two are living together and have a loving relationship. The Don refused to accept a girl who would bring him happiness, until he felt that it was fate’s decree. What this conveys, is that one cannot put all their trust in fate. A lesson likewise learned by the films protagonists.
At the start of the film, a juxtaposition is formed between Otome and Senpai. Otome remains a faithful follower of fate. Her objective for the night is to experience adulthood, but she allows fate to take her wherever it pleases regardless. Conversely, Senpai is starting to have doubts about the effectiveness of his strategy, and consequently fate. He realizes that he’d been relying on the benevolent red string to bring him and Otome together, and that not a single result has come from it. He decides that it’s time for a change, and, finally taking matters into his own hands, resolves to have a conversation with Otome that very night. Otome lauds fate while Senpai starts to rebuke it.
That night, Otome fares well. She has a grand time, whereas Senpai’s time is not so grand. While Otome drinks and makes friends, Senpai has his underwear stolen and suffers verbal abuse. This is a simple but important metaphor. Carving your own road in life will always be more difficult than going with the flow. And while at that point Otome’s way of living seems more desirable than that of Senpai, we start to see a significant flaw in her methods. Otome is not very good at reading emotions. Her inability to understand the distance between couples by the riverbank, as well as her total obliviousness to Senpai’s strange yet conspicuous outings of love, are a testimony of this. In and of itself this is not an issue, but paired with her faith in fate, it proves quite catastrophical. Otome believes that there’s no reason to ever look back on anything, since what has passed was fate’s will, and fate’s will is absolute. The problem with this is that she never reflects on anything. Therefore, the thought that Rihaku is miserable, and could do with her consolation, never crosses her mind. Fate is allegedly already leading her attention elsewhere.
Senpai feels confident that he can break her shell nonetheless, never wavering in the face of even the most absurd tasks. He’s no longer letting fate decide, and he conjures up a simple plan: get the book, get the girl. He endures much for it, including what seems to be the spiciest hot pot ever. After taking a plunge into fire, he seems so close to his goal that he can almost taste it. Therefore, it’s not surprising at all that he becomes distraught after Otome’s obtuseness proves too strong, and the virus seizes him. Senpai feels as though neither fate nor his own actions can prevail, and that the world has forsaken him.
In the film’s final quarter, we see the of misery of those Otome left in her wake accumulate and culminate. A terrible storm rages over Kyoto while an unbelievably infectious virus spreads to all of its residents. The only person unaffected is Otome, which she of course chalks up to fate. In actuality, it’s Rihaku and Senpai’s desires pulling the strings. They want Otome to visit them, Senpai for obvious reasons, and Rihaku because he wants another taste of the warmth Otome showed him during their drinking match. Fortunately, Otome’s friends bring Rihaku and Senpai’s plights to her attention. And at last, thanks to some self-reflection provoked by the Executive Director, Otome realizes how she’s ignorantly been allowing fate to lead her by the hand, and how she’s been blind to the emotions of the people around her. She immediately sets out to rectify this, giving Rihaku the warmth of connection that he’d been longing for his entire life, as well as finally allowing Senpai the chance to show her the fruits of his effort (Ra Ta Ta Tam), and, after resolving some seriously psychedelic inner turmoil, ask her out.
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a thematically rich film. Some of the things I didn’t bother writing about are its firm focus on interconnectedness, or how it states that our time is enhanced if we spend it on/with others. Instead, I chose to write of the film’s less prominent implications about fate, because of the pragmatic message they bring: don’t expect your wishes to fulfil themselves. Otome thought fate would lead her to the book she’d lost, but it never did. Senpai found determination to confront Otome, and although a road riddled with tribulations was ahead of him, it eventually lead to his goal. It’s as the erotic arts dealer Todo told Otome at the bar (admittedly, while trying to grope her breasts): “grasp happiness with your own hands.”
The film is not a commentary on fate, it just warns us that falling too deep into a ‘whatever will be, will be’ mentality brings disaster. One of the film’s many motives, the Daruma doll, backs this up. Daruma’s are luck-granting devices, the first eye is filled in when a wish is made, the second eye when the wish comes to fruition. They’re a token of encouragement, which is also their role in the film. However, the fact that every single Daruma doll presented in the movie had both of its eyes filled in implies that everything that transpired was a direct result of the characters’ actions, and nothing else. The film propagates chasing after our dreams, putting in the effort. Even if there are no immediate results, as was the case with Senpai, every effort will eventually yield something. Don’t be afraid to do something you want to do (compulsory ‘as long as it’s legal’); you’ll be alright.
Thanks for reading.
Special thanks to the people on Twitter who proofread it.