Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

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Just Because! – 02

Izuki reacts the way he does to Souma’s text about Natsume being at the school because, as we learn in another flashback, he liked her in middle school. Unfortunately for him, Natsume liked Souma, something Souma never knew.

Back in the present, Izuki and Natsume reunite in a similar situation, with Souma nearby with another girl, this time Morikawa. He’s unable to properly confess his feelings to her, but instead manages to invite her, along with Izuki and Natsume to the aquarium on the weekend.

Morikawa accedes to the wishes of her two little brothers and brings them along, further muddying the “date” waters for Souma, but he comports himself well, even earning the brothers’ trust and showing Morikawa he’s good with kids, which is definitely something she’d look for in a man…were she looking.

It’s a pleasant, cozy trip to the aquarium, and by the end Morikawa and Souma are virtually exuding warmth. As for Izumi and Natsume, well…they’re less warm together, even if I got the sneaking suspicion that Izumi still likes Natsume despite his aloof manner with her.

Similarly, the more time she spends with Izumi, the more comfortable she seems interacting with him. It’s far from lovey-dovey, but it’s a nice low-key resumption of their relationship.

While Souma and Morikawa have a kind of “talent anchor” (baseball and trumpet, respectively), I appreciate how Izumi nor Natsume don’t really have those anchors, and are also alike in being on the wrong side of an unrequited love.

With the benefit of future episodes—as well as the flashbacks they’ll likely contain—we’re sure to learn more about these kids and who likes whom, and what Komiya plans to do with Izumi now that she literally has him in her grasp. I like that JB! is taking the time to flesh out the various characters and not rushing things.

Just Because! – 01 (First Impressions)

With a rookie director, two rookie seiyuus in the lead roles and a super-vague synopsis, I had no idea what to expect from Just Because! —all I had to work with was a script by the guy who wrote seven scripts for Gundam IBO. What I did know was that Just Because! is a pretty nifty title.

We begin with an extended introduction to the neck-of-the-woods where we’ll presumably be spending time, and the show seemingly blows its entire suspended monorail budget in those first few minutes. Still, it’s a nice slow, but not flashy, establishment of this world.

The slow unflashiness continues at school, where there seems to be a dreary atmosphere; a malaise waiting to be snuffed out. Like the transfer student we eventually meet, we’re thrust into this school without knowing quite who to follow or what to do. That lack of bearing is essential to putting us in the mindspace of the protagonist, before he’s even anywhere near the center of the frame.

I’ll admit, I was dubious when terms like “transfer student” and “disbanding tiny club” came up; I consider myself just about clubbed out (both dance clubs and tiny school clubs in anime) and combined with the leisurely pace, I was starting to get a bit bored and depressed with this place. Especially when there’s no one or two people in focus for most of the episode. Even the camera feels afraid of showing us the players in this story.

Then Izumi Eita and Souma Haruto unexpectedly reunite on a baseball field after not contacting each other for the better part of four years (after Izumi moved away). He’s back for one semester, and while he and Haruto are initially a bit cool to each other, they manage to reconnect via baseball, with Izumi pitching and Haruto eager to hit a home run (I speak literally here, not in sexual euphemisms, BTW).

As their pitch-and-hit session heats up (hehe), it gradually garners the attention of the three other protagonists: the girl who is angry the photo club could be disbanded (the fiery Komiya Ena), the girl who plays the trumpet (Morikawa Hatsuki, providing the incidental score to the final act), and the former student council president who seems both jealous and part okay with the fact her friends went off to have fun without her (Natsume Mio).

Izumi and Souma are the magnets that draw the others together, though their individual vantage points keep them from realizing they’re all watching the same thing. This drawing together of disparate gazes also brings the show into focus. Finally, at the very end, we see people having fun, smiling, and laughing, after three quarters of an episode of somberness and ennui approaching existential dread.

Having hit a home run like he intended (but never thought he’d actually do), Souma goes off to ask Morikawa out, but he and Izumi exchange texts, and Izumi learns that Natsume, whom he also knows from the past, is also attending this school. Neither Izumi nor Natsume seem particularly happy at the start of this episode, but perhaps that will change when they reunite.

Fune wo Amu – 11 (Fin)

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Last week restored my faith in Fune wo Amu’s ability to engage and pull its audience in with an up-against-the-wall crisis that requires a tremendous group effort to pull off. But that same goodwill didn’t quite carry over in the show’s eleventh and final episode, which only reinforced a problem I’ve had since the eighth episode pushed us forward so many years without warning.

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I understand how the show basically needed to show us the ultimate payoff of a published Great Passage, but I maintain that it didn’t have enough time to tell that story, nor would extending the effort across, say, a full 26-episode series would have been possible before getting stale, monotonous, or over-contrived in an effort to stoke up some drama.

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Before the dictionary officially goes on sale, Matsumoto suddenly succombs to esophageal cancer he only told his comrades a day or so before his death. His death has been telegraphed so much, it didn’t elicit a shock in me so much as a shrug. Again, his death only underlines the problematic nature of leaping so far ahead in the dictionary’s timeline to a point where most people only look slightly different, but suddenly Matsumoto is at death’s door.

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The missing words episode was a temporary diversion from the fact the development of the dictionary didn’t feel as epic as it should have because the show skipped too much time.  Ditto Matsumoto’s death. He seemed like a nice guy and all, but he was a character with a tendency to spout flowery philosophy and little else. Post time-jump, it was hard to get a handle on the characters were; spending so much time with the new hire didn’t help matters.

So yeah, Fune wo Amu was, to me, the definition of “watchable,” but I won’t lie: I’m glad there’s no twelfth episode, because I’ve been mostly checked out since episode 6, when Majime’s attainment of Kaguya was sold as the Most Important Thing going on in the show, without ever really getting into why the two liked, let alone loved, each other.

The show had glimmers of greatness, but couldn’t help but feel either too drawn-out (earlier in the story) or too rushed (after the time jump). And there’s only so many ways you can present the metaphor of a ship lighting the way.

Considering how carefully the dictionary at the heart of its story was planned and prepared, Fune wo Amu too often felt unsure of itself and random in where it chose to focus its attention. That made it hard to stay involved.

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Fune wo Amu – 10

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There’s a missing word in The Great Passage. The ship has a hole in the hull before it’s been launched. That’s actually a good thing; better now than when it was on sale. But Majime can’t let this one word go.

There could be others, so he mobilizes a small army of temps, and together with Kishibe and Araki, sets to work re-checking each and every one of the Passage’s 240,000 words.

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It’s a massive undertaking due to the limited time frame — which is never actually stated, but must limited, or else everyone wouldn’t work almost around the clock and not leave the editorial office. Fatigue inevitable sets in, and like it did in “33”, the first (and best) episode of Battlestar Galactica, it’s engrossing to behold.

Not necessarily Majime’s too-on-the-nose dreams of words escaping through a tear in his “construct“, but in the way people start to get slower and more tired, but still have a job to do, and struggle through. It adds a welcome touch of adventure to the proceedings.

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Of course, eventually Majime has to send everyone home to get some real sleep (no Cylons chasing them, thankfully), and he comes home to a Kaguya who is nothing but warm, loving, and caring, feeding Majime a home-cooked meal before sending him back out to fight the good fight.

Kaguya understands pride in one’s work; she’s an accomplished restaurateur. She knows it’s pride that drives her husband to ensure without a shadow of a doubt that the ship he’s building is as perfect as he can make it.

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Marking time throughout the episode (in addition to the changes in people as they tire) is a huge table where each section completed is marked in red. For much of the episode less than half of it is marked, but it eventually becomes fully red.

In the surprisingly thrilling final minutes, Kishibe, Araki, and lastly Majime officially finish the checking, immediately after which the legion of temps, all of them having just shared a life-changing experience they won’t soon forget, either cheer in exultation or breathe deep sighs of relief it’s finally over.

Only it isn’t. The book still must be printed, bound, put on sale, marketed, and most importantly, it must sell, or everyone involved will likely have to fall on their swords, Majime most of all.

As for Matsumoto, he’s seemed ill since the time-shift (which the show somewhat cheekily nearly admits was pretty abrupt, as hardly anyone’s appearance has changed), and the episode’s final shot in his empty house seems to suggest he may not live to see The Great Passage leave port.

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