The Japanese thriller science fiction show directed by Kenta Tanaka, ‘Pending Train‘ is a story where a group of misfits finds family and destiny within each other in their struggle for survival. The show, set in a post-apocalyptic world, follows Naoya Kayashima, Yuto Shirahama, and Sae Hatano, three perfect strangers who find themselves transported decades into the future along with their entire train car. Battling interpersonal drama and everyone’s own private issues, Naoya and the others have to find a way to work together and build a community from scratch.
Along the way, the passengers learn the truth behind humanity’s eventual extinction and try to return to the past to ensure this future never takes place. In doing so, the show changes tracks from a dystopian into a hopeful but raw exploration of our current society and how it handles crises. Since the show ends with an ambiguous conclusion as to whether the characters’ arduous efforts toward changing the future ever work or don’t, let’s explore the possibility and consequences of the same. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Will The Passengers Change The Future?
The seemingly central conflict of the series, the passengers’ disconnect from the past, solves itself within the first eight episodes. At the end of episode eight, 53 of the original 113 passengers successfully make it back to the past under Yuto, Naoya, and Sae’s leadership. However, their space-time travel comes with a bit of a hitch when it sends the group to the year 2026 rather than their actual time: 2023.
In the future, the group learns that an asteroid hit the Earth on December 9th, 2026. The asteroid was influenced by space debris, like non-operational satellites and rocket propulsion systems. As such, the following disaster was avoidable had the authorities spotted the danger in time and taken care of it in the past.
Therefore, Yuto, perpetually desperate to save everyone, decides he will find a way for everyone to travel back in time and warn people of the upcoming threat. Consequently, when he finds himself in May 2026, mere months from when the disaster is set to strike, his efforts to convince others of his story fall short. Nevertheless, while some survivors, including Naoya, give up on saving humanity, Yuto, Sae, Kato, and others continue to work toward their goals.
Near the end, the majority of the public begins to believe the passengers after Yonezawa uploads videos about it on the internet, despite ridiculing them earlier. Similarly, Takehiro, an influential businesswoman with connections, contacts a government official and discovers that scientists have observed a hostile celestial body coming toward Earth. As a result, they have planned to launch a covert rocket into space to destroy the asteroid before it reaches the planet.
Once the team gets the confirmation about the mission, they plan to travel to a safe bunker in Switzerland on the chance the rocket misses the asteroid, putting the destruction of humanity on Earth into motion. However, the story leaves the rocket’s fate up for speculation, refusing to provide any firm conclusions. Still, the show’s ending showcases a brief hint toward the same.
In the show’s ending sequence, we see Tanaka, an office worker turned crazed man of the wild, who decides to stay in the future when Yuto and the others leave. Tanaka is flourishing in his isolated life on the wild futuristic Earth, reading a letter Yonezawa wrote to him. Before leaving for the bunker, Yonezawa writes a letter to Tanaka and leaves it at the same place where the group built their shelter in the future. Yonezawa does the same because he’s unsure if their efforts toward changing the future have worked.
If Yuto and his group manage to change the future, their timeline will diverge from Tanaka’s, who is still living in a time when the apocalypse came and went. However, if Yuto’s efforts are inadequate and do not change the future, his timeline will stay connected to Tanaka’s. Since Tanaka receives Yonezawa’s letter and the jacket, it’s safe to assume the group never actually saved the world.
If their actions were good enough to bring such time-bending change, Tanaka and Yonezawa’s timelines would have diverged the minute the group returned to 2026. Nevertheless, the timeline remains intact, suggesting the group fails to bring about any changes to the universe. Perhaps the scientists’ rocket does hit the Asteroid, but the collision results in several huge asteroid chunks entering the planet anyway.
Or the rocket misses the asteroid entirely, ensuring a linear flow of time with no alternate timelines. Either way, it is most likely that the future remains unchanged. Still, the passengers’ have calculated for such an outcome seeing as they are on their way to a safe bunker near the end. Therefore, even though Yuto and the others fail to change the future, their commitment to trying to save everyone certainly cements a heroic legacy.
Read More: Pending Train Ending, Explained