If you hadn’t already clocked that this storyline kicked off by Ai was going to be a longer one, then this week’s episode of Dark Gathering should make that fully apparent. Technically, the God-betrothed gal has four whole years until her paranormal paramour comes calling to collect, so Yayoi and Keitaro have some time to prepare a proper offense. The setback they were hit with last week, with the majority of Yayoi’s ghost-imprisoning plushies having been destroyed, ends up being how the new long-term path is laid out. Looks like our mystery gang is going to be heading out on a road trip across locations of Japan’s most outsized occult occurrences. So yeah, we’ve got a real, proper arc on our hands now.
You can tell this one is about the process of getting to that structured setup by how this episode explains most of it. There are a lot of internal recaps and flashbacks to just-earlier plot points padding this episode out. Even more jarringly, when it’s not busy explaining things we just saw play out, the writing of this episode is going into the other issue that Dark Gathering has periodically had, where it will have Yayoi simply have already figured out and arranged solutions offscreen. In this case, we find out that she already had three “Graduates”, super-powerful spirits resulting from a ghostly devouring free-for-all, prepared before the one she winds up with this episode. It’s like a cooking show host revealing that they had an earlier-prepared version of the entree baking in the oven the whole time. Similarly, that business we’d seen her getting up to with the Jizo statues way back at the beginning of the show is unceremoniously confirmed to have contributed to the creation of her “Transcendent Jizo” she’ll also be using for this grand, god-grabbing plan.
It’s all very mechanical plot-convenience, which isn’t a deal-breaker, but is a reminder of how Dark Gathering has clunkily handled progressions like this before when it wasn’t focusing down on the simpler silly and/or spooky segments. It’s accompanied by additional abrupt developments like the gang letting Ai head back to Kyoto on her own because she suddenly remembers it’s time to attend her brother’s memorial service. I somehow have never been certain as to exactly when that guy’s death occurred, but I’d previously thought it had to have been longer ago than it seems it was. This is mostly a way to get Ai out of the way so our main characters can freely do the road trip thing until it’s time to properly head over and save her. But it still incites momentary questions of what the point was of setting up all the safeguards in her apartment and the like and if they were ultimately going to just let her go somewhere else unsupervised.
Being in service of setting up this ‘bigger’ storyline helps all this frontloaded information feel a bit more palatable. The god they’re pursuing has managed to hype himself up pretty well, stymying Yayoi’s efforts against him and demonstrating his ability to manipulate the phone calls and even verbal communication of our characters as methods of entrapment. Seeing Yayoi, if only temporarily, feel incapable of countering this threat drives home how it’s on another level. It also sets up that path to powering up and plays into Dark Gathering‘s primary worldbuilding ideas of how much technical and mechanical effort goes into dealing with these things. And the whole bit with the fake phone calls is a decently effective little horror setpiece in this episode as well.
It also gives Keitaro a chance to shine in his declaration of how ready he is to confront the god for the sake of his students, and this leads to demonstrating the growth of characters alongside the escalating scale of the story. Dark Gathering‘s focus on the intersecting pragmatism of characters pursuing their agendas while accepting help from others, in doing so, has been its most compelling central theme. But now, we get to see Yayoi having to reckon with how Keitaro’s genuine care for her and others makes her feel, and seemingly level up her compassion as a result of that. The moment where she admits that their camaraderie makes her happy, and comes to terms with how her relationship with Keitaro has grown past that base utility, makes for a sweet turning point. Her simple, genuine declaration of “Thanks” is a true ‘aww’ moment to arrive at, making clear that growing personally closer and more caring this way is as instrumental to all the characters getting stronger as just collecting more powerful spirits.
Dark Gathering is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
Chris knows that summer is the perfect time for spooky stories, and hopefully, it’s enough to distract him from this blistering Fresno heat wave. You can help distract him further by bothering him on his Twitter (for however much longer that lasts), or check out his less-scary musings over on his blog.