Home High Strangeness With Train to the End of the World: Vol. II

High Strangeness With Train to the End of the World: Vol. II

Welcome one, welcome all! And again, we’ll delve into the bizarre, the macabre, and the incredulous. Join me as we leave sanity behind and delve into some high strangeness with Train to the End of the World!

Train to the End of the World Episodes 3 – 5 Recap

As the Shuumatsu girls reach the station of Higashi-Agano, something isn’t quite right. But, then again, in this world, what is? While they’re technically greeted by other people. It seems the folks residing in this community have all sprouted mushrooms on their head. However, thinking little of it, the girls accept the town’s hospitality and take refuge there for the night.

As the de facto town leader, Matsuta-san leads them to where they’ll lodge for the night. Her behavior and some of the things she says give Akira the feeling that something is wrong with this community and its residents. This feeling is confirmed by them giving chase to Akira after she stumbles upon their plot to capture them as she goes to use the bathroom. But before she can rally the other Shuumatsu girls, Matsuta-san shows up to reassure (threaten) Akira, telling her that what she saw was just a dream.

As the Shummatsu girls prepare to leave the following day, again Akira’s suspicions are confirmed as her companions sprout mushrooms, and the town besieges them. Being the ever-pragmatic loli, Akira rallies Shizuru back to cohesiveness. And being quick on the draw, Shizuru storms out to fight the ensuing mob with…bitter melons. Remember this, it’s important later on.

After a brief sortie, in which the girls win. It’s revealed that the residents of Higashi-Agano chose to be infected by mushrooms. And while these are parasitic mushrooms that will eventually kill them. They let the residents relax and enjoy life in a world lacking enjoyment. But, for now, the girls are safe. So, they move on to the other station.

Yet, all is not as well as it seems. Akira is infected with the mushrooms in a very precarious place. Once they realize this, they hold her down and yank it out. But Akira still seems to be lost in a mental haze. However, there’s hope! Zenjirou tells them to make their way to a few stations down to Inariyama Park, where they’ll meet a doctor who can help them. But once they get there, instead of help, they’re attacked by miniature armed forces. This results in Shizuru and Remi being captured. But when they escape, an all-out brawl ensues. While this results in them finding the doctor (who’s just a PhD,) Shizuru is again captured. This causes Reimi to mount a rescue, and after the successful rescue, the girls can bring the PhD to Akira and cure her.

Train to the End of the World episode 5 had Shizuru and Reimi battling out minature people to save Akira.

Fungi Are Fascinating, Fungi are Terrifying

One can be forgiven for thinking that mycology is boring. After all, it takes a special kind of person to look at moldy bread and go: “I’m going to devote my life to this.” But the world of fungi is pretty interesting. Their importance is so imposing that many argue that this world cannot function without fungi.

There are over 6 million types of fungi in the world. And these range from the meh, to the terrifying, to the breathtakingly beautiful. Not all fungi are hazardous to our health or the health of other animals. A large portion of life on Earth has symbiotic relationships with fungi. But some are quite harmful and even deadly. And not in an ingested way. But in an infectious way.

Fungi such as Panelluses stipticus are able to produce bioluminesence. © Ylem via Wikimedia Commons

The Last of Us enthusiasts, mycology nerds, and people who are way too into hippie-herbal-snake-oil concoctions are probably familiar with cordyceps. Found in all continents except Antarctica but mainly in North America, Europe, and Asia, Cordyceps is to bugs what rabies is to us, a full-on death sentence. Humans don’t really have to worry much about them… for now.

A parasitic fungus sprouting from a spider. © Roberto García-Roa

However, we do need to worry about other fungi. We regularly get infected by things like athlete’s foot, ringworm, and yeast infections. It can be argued that give it enough time or the right conditions. There will come the day when a cordycep shoots out of us like a xenomorph. But that’s not what’s infecting people here.

Cordyceps ≠ Mushrooms

While both cordyceps and mushrooms are fungi, these two aren’t interchangeable. Though they have some similarities, Much like Bocchi, they like damp places and not too hot weather. The stalk you see is just the fruiting body; the hyphae and mycelium that sprout the fruiting body are usually unseen. Another similarity is that both can and do affect brain chemistry. If you ever put some magic mushrooms in your mouth, you know what I’m talking about. But what’s interesting about the infection in Train to the End of the World is that the infected seem aware of what’s happening to them.

Train to the End of the World and Fungal Infections

When the world you know ends, is life still worth living? For the residents of Higashi-Agano, the answer to that question is no. Instead of living a long, drawn-out life of misery, they embrace brain-altering parasitic mushrooms. As these feed on them for approximately 1-2 years, the mushrooms give them a euphoric or relaxed state. And here we get to a perplexing ethical and biological conundrum.

Is this a parasitic or a symbiotic relationship? A symbiotic relationship means that both organisms get positive outcomes from their relationship. While a parasitic relationship only benefits one, what the residents of Higashi-Agano are doing is, at best, euthanasia. At worst, it’s suicide. They know they’re meeting their doom due to the fungus that inhabits them. Yet they protect it.

Train to the End of the World episodes 3 – 5 show the extent people would go to in order to cope with a hopeless situation.

Several fungi produce mind-altering substances, and it can be argued that this is what’s happening. After all, we like to think that no sane person willingly ends their life. But Matsuta-san seems to be fully aware of her actions and the consequences of those actions. But, at the same time, the fungi do appear to be controlling them to some extent. Not only do they try to spread the infection, but they also avoid bitter melons. Bitter melons (Momordica charantia) are said to have anti-fungal properties. The aversion of people to them could be the effect of the mushrooms.

As seen in Akira, the effects of the mushroom may take longer to wear off, depending on how much time it is spent with someone. The doctor mentions that these are just psychosomatic symptoms that the person needs to be coaxed out of. It may not be that simple. I mention that mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi for a reason. When you pick a mushroom, you don’t remove the whole fungus from its substrate; the mycelium remains. So, is it possible that the negative effects are still present because some remnants of the fungi are still present?

Screenshots via Crunchyroll
© apogeego / Shumatsu Train Doko he Iku? Production Committee

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