Episode 17 of Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae, “Middle of the straw”, starts with Yuzuki yet again seeing a vision of Ai handing a voodoo doll to a client. The client is an old lady, and it’s Yamawaro’s turn to be the voodoo doll, but it seems the old lady knows who he is when she calls him “Hikaru”.
After the opening credits, we see Hone Onna, Ichimokuren, and Wanyuudo doing research on a potential client. We learn about a very old married couple Ashiya Risaburo, a biologist, and Ashiya Fujiko, his wife, who live alone in an isolated home. They had lost an only son before the war, which would have been at least seven decades ago, and have shut themselves out from the rest of the world ever since. However, a middle-aged barber mentions seeing a boy around the place when he was a child, although the couple denied his existence. It’s pretty certain that Ai’s assistants were investigating a potential client and not the past of Yamawaro, as the rest of the gang is totally unaware of why Yamawaro volunteers himself when Ai mentions that Ashiya Fujiko is their latest client. The scene from the very beginning of the episode presumably follows shortly after.
Meanwhile, Yuzuki somehow manages to figure out where the old lady lives from her vision, so we see her taking a bus and visiting the secluded house. When she gets there, however, there is only a married couple in their prime living with their only son Hikaru, and there is no old lady. Despite sensing that something is not right, Yuzuki starts to head back home as the old lady she saw in her vision is not there. A married couple living with their only son is just like the situation with the Ashiya couple before the war, so did Yuzuki somehow travel through time?
Kikuri also dropped by the house, so the wife brings her to see Hikaru thinking that Kikuri is his friend. But the Hikaru that the wife brings Kikuri to see is actually Yamawaro as a voodoo doll, although the wife treats the doll as if it were a normal child. Kikuri had come to see Yamawaro to demand answers, so Yamawaro reveals that he was once the woman’s child and starts talking about his past.
The exact origins of Yamawaro are not clear, but he found himself alone in the nearby mountains since birth. Yamawaro seemed to have a close affinity to plants from the beginning, as he unintentionally scared people away with his naked body covered with fungi and mushrooms. He was even invited by Enma Ai to come with her, which he refused as he didn’t know loneliness, although Ai did leave the invitation open if Yamawaro changed his mind.
Then one day he began to watch the Ashiya family that lived nearby, Risaburo and Fujiko living with their son Hikaru, out of curiosity. Not long before the war, however, the couple lost their son with no trace of his body and only his shoes remaining. The couple were probably emotionally traumatized, as Risaburo seemed to have shut himself into researching a sort of elixir for eternal life, while Fujiko seemed to have lost some of her grip on reality, when Yamawaro looked into them during the war.
Then after a very long time, Yamawaro appeared in front of Fujiko, who still longed for her son Hikaru, and called her “mother”. Yamawaro is not quite sure why he did something like that, although he thinks that he may have wanted to show Fujiko a happy dream before she died. Fujiko was convinced that Yamawaro is their child, calling him Hikaru, and Risaburo and Fujiko take in Yamawaro as their own child.
It turns out that Risaburo knew that Yamawaro was not Hikaru and in fact not human from the very beginning, as Yamawaro learns when Risaburo asks if it was OK for a supernatural being to connect with humans after Yamawaro talks to an unfamiliar boy, who would grow up to be the barber that showed up earlier in the episode. Risaburo had taken in Yamawaro without a complaint since he wanted something from Yamawaro. He was researching a certain species of fungus, but his research wasn’t going well because implanting it in animals quickly killed them. But Yamawaro is not a natural living being, and Risaburo was hoping that the fungus would grow in a supernatural being without killing the host. Risaburo did not attempt to coerce Yamawaro in any way, but mentions that he wanted to keep his dying wife alive just a bit longer, and Yamawaro agreed to Risaburo’s request that he be a sort of bioreactor.
Risaburo’s experiment with Yamawaro is a resounding success, with the medication he created from the fungus having an effect far beyond Risaburo’s expectations. It not just made Fujiko healthier, but in fact made her decades younger. This explains the couple that Yuzuki saw earlier in the episode: it wasn’t some weird temporal phenomenon, but rather both Risaburo and Fujiko were much younger physically than their actual ages. Back in the present and oddly enough, Kikuri can’t believe a human growing younger, so Yamawaro shows proof in the form of the fungus that is growing within the voodoo doll. I’m surprised that someone like Kikuri would disbelieve Yamawaro’s extraordinary claim: I would have thought that it wouldn’t have been completely implausible given her supernatural background.
Yamawaro isn’t quite sure what he’s doing there, though: while he doesn’t want Fujiko to go to hell when she dies, he also doesn’t want to do anything to stop the Jigoku Tsushin work. So Kikuri suggests that they run away, and even orders Yamawaro to do so, but he refuses, saying that he had already done so before. It was Fujiko that had Yamawaro run away. Even though Fujiko was aware that Yamawaro is not human, she still considered him her child, so she couldn’t bear to see what her husband was doing to him. This was the first time that Yamawaro learned the pain of separation, and presumably he joined the Jigoku Tsushin shortly after. I’m still curious how he hooked up with Kikuri, though.
Fujiko then shows up with dinner, treating the voodoo doll as if Yamawaro was currently a normal child, but Kikuri forcefully points out that Yamawaro is not Hikaru and that Fujiko is tormenting him because she accessed the Jigoku Tsushin. This reminds Fujiko why she contacted the Jigoku Tsushin: for some reason, she thought that Risaburo had killed Hikaru. The Ashiya couple had shut themselves away from the rest of the world for decades and wouldn’t have Internet access or cellphones, so we also get to see Fujiko contacting the Jigoku Tsushin the old-fashioned way through the newspaper.
Some time later, Fujiko confronts Risaburo while carrying the voodoo doll, blaming him for Hikaru’s death. The couple are back to a physical old age, so it seems that Risaburo’s medication works only in the very short-term, or at least reverts to an original physical age within a very short time. When Fujiko confronts Risaburo, he clearly states that he did not kill Hikaru nor performed any sort of human experimentation on their son, strongly implying that he had previously led Fujiko to believe that he did kill Hikaru. The reason is soon made clear enough: with Yamawaro gone, Risaburo needed another supernatural being which could be used to grow the special fungus, and one way to get such a being would have been to convince his wife to contact the Jigoku Tsushin.
Risaburo managed to use the voodoo doll to create a perfected version of his medication, an ambrosia that would grant eternal life. He didn’t even have to work to grow the fungus in the voodoo doll as it was already infested, which puzzles him. Risaburo is obviously unaware that the voodoo doll is Yamawaro. When Risaburo offers his perfected medication to Fujiko, she asks the voodoo doll, which she continues to call “Hikaru”, what she should do. Yamawaro screams in his head for her not to do it, but Fujiko only hears what she wants to hear and pulls the red string, sending her husband to hell.
At the Jigoku Tsushin basecamp, Yamawaro is back, being freed from his duties as a voodoo doll, and Ai is about to start work. But Yamawaro excuses himself, wanting to go to Fujiko, and Ai allows Yamawaro his request. However, when Yamawaro reaches the Ashiya home, he discovers it sinking in the mud. Before it sinks completely, Yamawaro catches a glimpse of Fujiko, the woman he considers his mother, holding what appears to be the real Hikaru. And soon the house is submerged completely, with Fujiko following her husband to hell.
This was an outstanding episode, being a great example of the subdued horror genre. We also got to see a non-bratty side to Kikuri who cares about Yamawaro, even if she shows it in her own way, and we finally got to see what the deal was with Yamawaro.