By: Beata Garrett | @zhongxia246
When ODDTAXI began airing in April last year, I’ll admit that I wrote it off as a copy of Aggretsuko. If I wanted to watch anthropomorphic animals in a realistic setting, I would just watch that or Beastars, but, by some happenstance, I began watching it one day despite all the other anime on my list that seemed to have a more interesting plot.
On the surface, ODDTAXi is about Odokawa, a taxi driver who becomes involved in a series of shenanigans that invite the yakuza and romance into his life–both of which are unwanted and unnecessary, in his opinion. And it is that, but it’s also about how we use defense mechanisms to escape reality: the healthy necessity of confronting your past, whether fate is just a series of coincidences, and why humans keep living. No episode masters all of these themes better than Episode 4, titled “Tanaka’s Revolution.”
First of all, this is the only episode that focuses entirely on one character. While Episode 13 and Episode 11 spend about half of the episode explaining the backstory and motivations of one character, Episode 4 is unique in the time it uses to delve into the psyche of Tanaka Hajime. The narrator is Tanaka himself, and he calmly explains how he got to the point that he’s at, running desperately through the streets in dirty clothes and clearly sleep-deprived. He begins explaining that the story started four years ago, but we end up going back fifteen years instead to watch the events of a tragedy unfold.
(Editor’s Note: Please assume from this point forward that everything–quotes, images, and summaries–in this post, unless cited otherwise, comes directly from ODDTAXi, Episode 4. Thank you.)
One of the most important things about Tanaka is that his life revolves around gaming. He says, “Games are supposed to be an escape from reality” but immediately admits that the advantage of having friends, time, and money within a game is the same as reality. This immediately sets the groundwork for his character being a loner who escapes from reality through games but, perhaps subconsciously, understanding that a game is just a mimicry of reality anyway. Later on, we’ll see how he progressively uses gamer lingo as he becomes unable to separate reality from fiction and how he attributes all his troubles to a story about erasers. The opening shows this nicely through its animation, which has Tanaka running as if he’s in a game–he avoids getting hit with obstacles, and acquires loot in the form of erasers (very specific ones, too).
The flashback to Tanaka in middle school reveals the circumstances that have shaped him as, despite the homeroom teacher attempting to instill equality, the kids in his class found ways of showcasing their superiority to other kids. Trying to force students to be equal through some sort of standardization (uniforms, for example) may not work, and it certainly didn’t for Tanaka. Things like being smart, attractive, or artistic seemed out of reach for him, and it became more about what one was inherently born with in his eyes.
So, Tanaka had to find something else. Erasers became his way of trying to fit into what he initially claims was the class hierarchy, but he quickly reveals that he lied. The erasers were only important to him.
This confession puts him in the realm of being an unreliable narrator, but it’s fascinating to watch him quickly correct himself. Because he’s older as the narrator, he addresses his past self with a level of wisdom and rationality that he didn’t have as a kid but cannot completely disentangle his feelings from the situation. In simpler terms, he rationally knows that his thoughts are wrong and misguided but continues giving in to them because he can’t deal with the alternative: admitting that he’s scared and doesn’t know how to deal with the issues that arise.
Instead of trying to make friends by playing or talking to them, Tanaka resorts to competing with Sato, the only other kid who collects erasers. Luck comes into play again as Sato’s wealthy parents bring him rare erasers back as souvenirs, but Tanaka is confident in competing with him because he has one eraser. Ironically, this eraser is in the shape of a dodo bird:
Dodo birds have a pretty bad reputation as ugly, flightless birds destined to become extinct, but their “clumsy” anatomy was actually suited for their environment (you know, until the second half of the 17th century when the last one died, probably from humans indirectly introducing more predators into their ecosystem). Regardless, the dodo eraser, which he was so proud of, eventually becomes useless to him because Sato’s wealth allows him to buy more erasers.
Like the dodo itself, the eraser becomes all but extinct in Tanaka’s mind. He realizes later that he projected himself onto this bird “that went extinct without ever learning to fly,” revealing how trapped he is and unable to understand that the dodo evolved to be flightless because it didn’t have to fly.
After the dodo, another important bird is introduced to Tanaka’s life; Maru, the male grey cockatiel that his parents buy him, but which he notes is cheaper than the computer games they buy for his brother. Tanaka’s dad explains that he’s trying to cultivate “aesthetic sensibility” in his son, and Maru also becomes Tanaka’s only friend. (By the way, I honestly spent some time looking up whether it was really male and analyzing the coloration until I realized it’s probably not important!)
I find the idea of “aesthetic sensibility” particularly interesting because Tanaka’s obsession with collecting erasers should come from that, but it doesn’t. Tanaka’s focus is on quantity and rarity. Collecting on that basis instead of one based on aesthetic sensibility or personal meaning makes it more addictive and like a job rather than a hobby. It’s easy to disparage Tanaka, but remember that he is a kid, and kids have weird little contests to prove their superiority constantly and that there are plenty of people who do the same thing, just with something else.
On a side note, I find the symbolism of erasers fascinating. They’re supposed to erase writing and they themselves become erased (and dirtier) the more you use them, but people who might never use them collect them.
As objects, their purpose has become very different from what they started out as, which actually parallels Tanaka’s own relationship with the dodo eraser and Maru. It emphasizes Tanaka’s own inability to detach himself from his past and his desire to “erase” or undo the incident that would ruin his current self (although there are many incidents that led him to his current path).
Tanaka tries to compensate for the wealth disparity between him and Sato by using “high-class techniques,” like smugly returning to ordinary erasers or with bread like an art student (which you have to roll into a ball and then air cure to use in such a way), but is unable to keep up.
It seems hopeless until he comes across a one-of-a-kind Donraku eraser.
Tanaka takes his dad’s credit card and begins a bidding war (that’s probably machine-automated) and wins it only to realize everyone has moved on from erasers.
(If you’ve ever taken money from your parents as a kid, you’re probably cringing while reading this like I was when I watched the episode. You can imagine the euphoria a kid would experience from sneakily using their parent’s credit card online only to have that flipped when your parents find out.)
Maru reappears in the next shot, staring at Tanaka from within his cage as if judging him. We’ll see Maru a few more times as Tanaka continues his story, leading Maru to become emblematic of Tanaka’s innocence.
Tanaka ends up spending the yen equivalent of about $1000 on the eraser, which never arrives. When being beaten by his dad for using the credit card, he wonders whom to blame (“My teacher. My classmates. Sato […] Me. My Country. History”) and admits that he could only blame himself. This is where his revolution against the hierarchy seems to end.
The title episode and idea of revolution has multiple layers. In the context of this scene, it refers to how Tanaka fancied himself a revolutionary who would usurp Sato and bring equality to the class, despite it obviously being about superiority. Revolution is also a cyclical movement, and Tanaka’s own mind moves in a very circular way, in which he tends to blame people, then himself, and is unable to completely make up his mind.
Of course, he grew up after the auction incident. He got a job. Still didn’t make many friends, but he was doing okay until the wheel spun further and he ended up at the bottom of the hierarchy–the same position he was in as a kid. In the last half of “Tanaka’s Revolution,” he becomes addicted to a mobile game, Zooden, and obsessed with revenge on the taxi driver who caused him to lose the super rare dodo he was hunting for.
The problem was not Zooden itself. Multiple coincidences such as the number-one ranked player being the same username as the person who sold him the Donraku eraser and the dodo existing in the game created a sense of destiny. He spent more and more money on Zooden as he saw it as a chance to get revenge on the person that so wronged him as a kid, and to reignite the revolution.
Tanaka ends up getting the dodo after four years, but loses it on the same night when a certain taxi driver almost runs him over. By then, it’s clear that his goal has taken a toll on him. He’s visibly more tired, dressed more casually at work, and begins hallucinating. He says to himself, “It’s a sickness,” but doesn’t want to deal with the repercussions of admitting that he needs help. It’s a vicious cycle that may seem familiar to people who struggle with their mental health and the denial of it can push people to the precipice (as we see with Tanaka in Episode 13).
My heart broke when Tanaka rolled the dodo but then lost it immediately. The animation does an excellent job showing the utter disbelief and despair on his face, but that’s not all that happens because “fate is cruel, and God had taken something else from [him].” Worse still, following this his long-time companion, Maru, dies (whether it’s from simple old age or Tanaka forgetting to feed him is not clear but it’s devastating).
Tanaka’s target switches from being the first ranked user that scammed him to the taxi driver that seems to have taken everything from him in another example of how we displace blame onto others as a way to deal with our grief.
Fate truly is cruel because Tanaka opens a box we just saw at the end of Episode 3 when burying Maru in the park and finds a gun. This leads to some of the best lines in the episode as he says, “There must be someone who made this world, too. Perhaps this world has been programmed. Hey, God. It’s you.”
A perfect opportunity comes for Tanaka to return the pain that he’s felt onto the taxi driver that has become a stand-in for everyone that has done him harm. These lines reveal so much about Tanaka’s sense of loss and control and how he recovers it by pretending the world is a video game, and now that he has God/a gun, he is destined to win. He has an almost religious devotion to righting the wrongs of his past, and sets out to find Odokawa.
Tanaka knows all of his desires and pleasures are temporary, but that’s exactly why he needs something to latch onto. Yet, there’s also a strange pleasure from making yourself the victim of the same story again and again, and looking for someone to attack. Humans are wired to remember painful experiences more so we can avoid the thing that caused us pain, and it’s no different here as Tanaka wanders the streets in search of his white whale, seen with him jolting every time he sees a taxi.
In another sense, for Tanaka, Odokawa nearly running him over has given him the next level in this game he’s playing and a new boss to defeat. The final shot of the episode is chilling in its depiction of just how far Tanaka will go to to recover what he feels has been lost:
I can’t help but find the episode masterful in its uses of these images as motifs to follow the story of a man that is the epitome of the sunk-cost fallacy and displacement. It’s a great, though chilling, depiction of unhealthy thinking and the fatalism that doesn’t fully villainize the character since we’ve seen everything leading up to these moments.
If you’ve seen ODDTAXI, what are your thoughts on this episode? Is there anything that I missed or that you read differently? Please let me know!