‘Maboroshi’ Ending Explained & Anime Movie Spoilers: Did Itsumi Return To Her World?

Mutability is the quintessential essence of life itself, which imparts meaning to existence through its various shades. What does life amount to if that very signifier somehow gets lost? Are hopes and dreams valid concepts in an existence that is perennially halted in stasis? And can we find something to sustain us even in such unimaginable suffering? These are a few of the many philosophical queries Mari Okada’s recent sci-fi anime feature Maboroshi or Alice to Therese no Maboroshi Koujou raises while weaving an intricate, complex tale of human emotions and relationships, which has time and again characterized her body of work.

As a celebrated manga and anime creator, Mari Okada’s prolific works are often seen to be influenced by elements of her own experience of growing up—isolated and emotionally suppressed thanks to the whims of the world outside. As a result, her key works, Anohana and Maquia, reflect a strong sense of pathos stemming from the complexities of childhood, nostalgia, social expectations, and relationships, and Maboroshi is no exception in that regard. The settings, themes, and characterization of the movie offer a lot to ponder as they offer multiple interpretations of the core narrative without fixating on any single one, making the experience as a viewer gratifying as there is no easy answer to be found at the end. MAPPA’s resplendent, seamless animation dynamics make the movie a pleasurable experience for the eye as well as engaging for the mind.

Spoilers Ahead

Which Calamity Did Befall The Town Of Mifuse?

Set in one of Japan’s quaint, industrial suburbs known as Mifuse, Maboroshi begins in a 90s mid-school group study scene, focusing on the narrative through the perspective of one of the protagonists, Masamune Kikuiri. The opening scene sets the ominous tone of the tale with a fiery explosion in the town’s steel factory, which apparently unleashes a mystical force that locks the town geographically and temporally inside a cloistered existence. Years go by while the town remains stuck in a hopeless existence and cut off from the outside world. Residents of Mifuse choose to adhere to a local fanatic’s religious dictates. According to him, the overexploitation of natural resources carried out by the steel mill has angered the native gods, who have encased the town in a perpetual stasis, and trying to change anything until divine punishment is lifted will be detrimental to everyone. Fearing change, the town dooms itself by following a banal, repetitive routine, drowning their aspirations, dreams, emotions, and expressions under the stagnation of change.

Much like most of the townsfolk, Masamune has been lulled into a depressed state, accepting the fate of living without a future and having no possibility to nurture his artistic talents either. Once, during the endless winter of Mifuse, Masamune’s seemingly withdrawn father, Akimune, goes missing one night all of a sudden, piling up on the burden of his misery. However, even such a miserable state of affairs hasn’t been able to bottle up human emotions, and it is revealed that Masamune has a crush on the stoic, enigmatic Atsumi, his classmate and stepdaughter of Sagami. But he is too scared and unsure about his feelings to confess to her.

Who Is Itsumi?

The mundane routine of Masamune changes for good quite unexpectedly when Atsumi takes him to an abandoned portion of the steel mill and introduces her to an abandoned, feral teenage girl whom she has been taking care of for quite a while and now needs someone’s assistance to continue. Gradually, in the process of getting to know the girl and teaching her communication, Masamune gets curious about her past and names her Itsumi, due to the resemblance she shares with Atsumi. Unlike the denizens of Mifuse, Itsumi ages, which is all the more reason Masamune feels odd seeing her being forced to live in secrecy, whereas her existence can be an inspiration to the rest of the townsfolk. Masamune gets to know that Sagami has deliberately kept this girl captive in the abandoned section and cut off any possible form of human communication for his crazy, fanatical reasons. He believes Itsumi, who is an anomaly considering how she symbolizes change, needs to be kept inside the ‘sacred’ abandoned area of the mill to avoid provoking the wrath of the spirits.

Another troubling situation arises in the form of missing town residents, as people who showcase extreme emotional fluctuations get spirited away by the sacred spirits. Troubled by the unknown nature of their reality and frustrated at Itsumi’s condition of being helplessly forced to remain captive, Masamune takes it upon himself to let her get out and experience life—as little as Mifuse can provide in its current condition. However, in his efforts to free her, Masamune realizes that Itsumi has come from the real world, while the denizens of Mifuse are part of an illusory, phantom world that exists as an antithesis of reality. The apparent barrier, which is keeping their anti-reality separate and locked in time, is actually protecting them from being spirited away. As the townsfolk gradually come to terms with the realization, the ensuing loss of faith makes them reject Sagami’s fanatic manipulations.

Was Itsumi Able To Go Back To Her World At The End?

Like the rest of the townsfolk, Masamune continues the drudgeries of his usual routine—not being able to express his feelings, not being bold enough to acknowledge strong emotions in fear of being spirited away. Atsumi and Itsumi begin living with Masamune’s family, finally being free from Sagami’s clutches. Once, almost accidentally, Masamune sees a vision through the cracked veil of reality and anti-reality, which showcases an alternate reality where Masamune and Atsumi are the parents of Itsumi and are longing for her return after she went missing almost a decade ago. Surprised by the revelation, Masamune confronts Atsumi about its legitimacy, who is unwilling to entertain the idea of them being together at all, knowing there is no future for any relationship. After seeing how their friends are still willing to depend on love to make their immutable existence a little bearable, Masamune gathers enough courage to acknowledge his feelings, and after initial hesitations, Atsumi reciprocates. Itsumi, who was growing fond of the duo, feels left out while witnessing this and undergoes a strong surge of emotions, which starts cracking the barrier around Mifuse’s anti-reality, threatening the existence of the townsfolk.

Masamune comes across his father’s journal, which reveals the truth behind Itsumi’s existence. Akimune found little Itsumi during the beginning of their time-trapped existence, who had accidentally arrived in this anti-reality. He had realized how her emotions could undo their world itself; he had opined to keep her secure under observation. Something that Sagami’s delusional mind took as a divine verdict resulted in Itsumi’s poor treatment. Akimune had also learned the true identity of Itsumi as Saki Kikuiri, his granddaughter from the alternate reality, and as the years passed, he deeply regretted keeping her in such a condition instead of letting her grow by helping her return to her reality. Akimune’s journal also reveals how much he appreciated his son’s, willingness to improve his artistic talents despite being trapped in a hopeless, future-less world, and even though he never managed to confess it, he too was willing to believe in change like his son dared to. Eventually wrecked with despair and regret, Akimune was spirited away all those years ago, leaving his journal as a memoir for his son.

Akimune’s honest confession brings Masamune to tears and makes him determined to honor his father’s wish to send Itsumi back to her reality before it becomes too late and their world collapses. In order to do that, Masamune surmises that the very vehicle, the freight train, which brought Itsumi into their anti-reality, will be able to send her back to her world. The cracks in the barrier have appeared in greater numbers, and without the land spirits returning to mend them, Akimune’s brother, Tokimune, decides to summon them by restarting the steel mill, as now the people of the town are willing to live another day, unbothered by the condition they are pitted in. Eventually, Masamune, Atsumi, and their friends find themselves racing against time while taking an unwilling Itsumi back to her world as Sagami and his followers almost catch up and threaten to thwart their plans.

After they are unable to use the freight train to send her back through the cracked veil of reality, Masamune sees the other side—the fateful day of the Bon festival when a young Itsumi was separated from the alternate future versions of her parents, Masamune and Atsumi. Realizing that the freight train running across the other side will be able to take Itsumi back, Masamune and Atsumi make the daring attempt to cross over, risking their own existence in the process. Atsumi manages to convince a tearful, heartbroken Itsumi to go to the world where her parents are awaiting her return and eventually send her off. The land spirits awaken right around the same time, but Itsumi manages to cross over eventually.

At the end of Maboroshi, Masamune and Atsumi acknowledge their feelings for each other without unfair inhibitions, as they are willing to shoulder the burden of suffering in this immutable world with their loved ones by their side. Even in a land that doesn’t change, they are still free to live, love, and grow any way they please and make every day of their lives count. Sending Itsumi back to her world brings some solace to Masamune and Atsumi as well, knowing that she will be able to experience a world that will remain a distant dream for them forever. As the movie comes to a close, we see a grown-up Itsumi returning to Mifuse, now a ghost town, to rekindle the memories of her childhood, and as she comes across the abandoned section of the steel mill, we see Masamune’s artwork depicting one of the fond memories Itsumi shared with Atsumi. As for what really happened in Mifuse, Masamune’s grandfather’s words might give us some insight. He believed the steel mill’s collapse might have destroyed the town at once, and the kind land spirits might have allowed the residents of Mifuse to extend their stay a little longer in this anti-reality created by them. They existed as spirits in an unchanged world, where Itsumi stumbled upon them accidentally from an alternate reality—almost like Alice in Wonderland, as the title of the movie suggests. Whether the movie can be interpreted as an allusion to the longing for nostalgia—of the memories we want to relive forever—or as a commentary on social rigidity and expectations depends on the viewers’ perspective. But what can be said with certainty is that the celebration of the spirit of life definitely functions as the core theme of this beautiful venture.

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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