Golden Time – 16

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This episode was called “Wake-Up Call.” There really couldn’t have been a more appropriate title. There were many such calls, starting with Banri waking up in time to stop the car before it went off a cliff. The last thing he sees in his dream? Linda visiting him at the hospital, at a time when he didn’t remember who she was. That was a desperately tragic scene, one in which Linda was powerless to set right Banri’s misunderstanding about her feelings, such that even a second-long flash back to it in the episode’s opening moments was devastating, especially under the circumstances.

That was only a taste of the emotional devastation to follow, starting with the mortified look on Koko’s face after the accident, followed by a long period of her being incommunicado, even to Banri, who eventually decides to visit her house, leading to an amazing scene that was simultaneously Banri and Koko’s first real fight (and making-up), and another wake-up call to Banri about the kind of person his girlfriend is.

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First of all, a couple things about how the aftermath was handled. First of all, it infantilized everyone involved, who are, lest we forget, college students; young adults, not children (yes, even the button-cute Chinami). But that’s pretty much what happens when you get in an accident: you feel helpless and humiliated…you know, like kids. Not that we can excuse Koko’s father’s frankly over-the-top slap to Koko’s face. Forget child abuse, that was battery, and we’re not sure we’d have stood by if we were one of the friends present.

To do such a cold, horrible thing to your child when you knew full well her fragile emotional state smacks of sadism. After that slap we kinda washed our hands of her dad, even when he makes nice with Banri and is followed by that damn cat (What, cat’s can’t be bad judges of character?) But then Koko works herself up into a post-fight frenzy when her dad walks in on her and Banri (they were just hugging), and he calmly tells Banri to make him ramen. Banri returns to see the dad (and cat) sitting there seeing Koko off to sleep, looking very fatherly. It doesn’t forgive that awful slap, but it would appear he does love his daughter.

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We won’t deny the fact that Koko has exhibited a short fuse, and when she melts down she melts down. Still, the self-hating things she spouts under her sheets are heartbreaking, and we’re right there with Banri in not quite knowing how best to resolve the matter with words. Suddenly Banri and the others’ talk about it being everyone’s fault—which made perfect sense at the time, but Koko thinks it’s laughably ridiculous. We noted how  many times both of them asked what the other was talking about: sometimes it seems like different languages are being spoken.

Afraid that if he doesn’t handle this talk right, he may never see Koko again (a very real possibility, considering this show), he tries everything he can to stay in the room and try to talk Koko down, even bringing up reset buttons, which leaves him wide open for Koko’s Pillows of Truth: He’s allowed to reset his life and abandon everyone from the old one, but no one else is? It’s a fair question, and Banri doesn’t help matters by bringing up the fact Koko insisted he give up on his past, no sir!

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She thought she had to do that, so that she wouldn’t lose him. She’s feared all along and her new dreams confirm it: that he’ll leave her someday; cut her out like he cut out Linda-senpai. Perhaps we read Koko’s look at Banri in the car all wrong. Maybe she wasn’t mortified by her stupidity, but dejected that even though Banri said he’d stay by her side and keep her awake, in the end he fell asleep, retreating to his past in his dreams. He left her to drive alone.

We’re probably reading too much into that particular scene, but it makes sense that Koko would read too much into everything Banri says and does, knowing his past. An accident changed him forever, and while the car was a close call, she fears the next accident will take him away from her. But she can’t think that way. Even if her fears are as clear and official-looking as the road signs telling her to get out of the car, she should listen to the voice of the one she loves telling her to stay in the car and hang in there, because that’s what he’s going to do no matter what.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Linda and Past Banri sit out this episode. We knew we’d be getting less Linda once Banri cut her off, but we hope to see her again soon. As for Past Banri, well, we were kinda glad he didn’t show his face after all the trouble he caused. That’s right: this was really all his fault. Damn ghost!
  • Our hears sank when Chinami revealed she was bleeding; we assumed the worst and thought she bit her tongue off. Luckily it was just a busted lip.
  • Nana whacks Banri in the head with a baguette and tells him to get the fuck over whatever it is he’s pissed about, because she’s sick of dealing with his drama. Nana is the best.
  • Another lesson Banri (and we) learn: no matter how crazy he (or we) think Koko is, she’s crazier, but so is Banri. Both are wounded souls, but we think they can find comfort and happiness in each other.
  • Banri calling to Koko to resolve her bad dream was a beautiful little closing moment, and sleeping Koko’s little “mm-hmm” was damned adorable.
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Golden Time – 15

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Beach and pool episodes are as constant as the Northern Star. But even though stinkers come around now and then, we’re past the point of dismissing them out of hand. We’ve seen too many of them that have transcended what we imagine was their original purpose: to show more skin and kill time. Golden Time’s long-awaited beach episode is far more than that. Even though beach episodes where nothing goes right aren’t a new thing, here the mishaps aren’t simply an anomoly; they truly are being cursed by a bitter Ghost Banri.

Things start off innocently and hopefully enough, with Banri and Koko being all lovey-dovey on their way to meet up with 2D-kun. Then they fall victim to miscommunication, traffic, distance, and finally rain, all of which eats away are the precious day. Seeing how down everyone is, Banri cuts loose, stripping down to his non-jockstrapped Speedo and running out into the rain, then grabbing Koko and coaxing the others out. It’s a beautiful display of raw, frantic joy; five people not letting the clouds deny them their fun.

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And the clouds, as if out of deference to the audacity of Banri’s, do eventually relent, letting the group have their fun in the sun. At this point, it’s as if Ghost Banri’s bad mojo had been buried in the sand. A beach-side supper, beach-ballin’, swimming, fireworks; while it may have gotten off to a rough start, the rest of the day is a triumphant return to that innocent, hopeful beginning; what Banri and Koko were looking forward to on that train. But then…2D-kun intimates that he’s too sleepy to drive, so Koko takes the wheel.

And OMG Koko is such a terrible driver LOL! Wait, no, she’s not; she’s a very good, careful driver. Nice cliche-dodging there, Golden Time! But there’s still something very foreboding about them setting off; the car is a little too perfectly framed, as it was earlier in the day when they were waiting for Koko to find Chinami, or as the clouds gathered, or while stuck in traffic; events that happened while Ghost Banri’s curse was winning. It comes back with a vengeance.

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Banri and then Koko herself nod off, and the car starts to swerve around the road. It’s a visceral, harrowing scene that had us on pins and needles. Sure, the show wasn’t going to kill five characters, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t going to take one or two; we had no idea what would happen, which is the key to genuine suspense. Even more shocking, Ghost Banri doesn’t either, and panics and shouts when he sees how far things have gotten, and it would seem he’s responsible for waking Banri up.

So yeah, this wasn’t just an episode where we got to see more skin (both male and female, by the way). It showed the growing awkwardness between Mitsuo and the others, particularly Chinami, in the wake of the knowledge he’s dating Linda; it showed the extent Ghost Banri’s power; and we got more valuable Banri/Koko couple time. Ghost Banri may not be a damnable villain who’s fine with people dying, but he’s still trapped in a body being controlled by someone else, dating someone he deems to be the wrong girl. He’s probably not done.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Free! – 07

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With five days until the prefectural tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club continues to train. They visit a shrine for good luck, and Gou scouts the other teams. Meanwhile Rin has a dream about being unable to catch Haruka. His teammate Nitori notices something’s up with him, and wonders aloud why Rin is only entering the 100m. Rin tells him the story of how his dad was the best swimmer in Iwatobi until her got married, had him, got a job as a fisherman, and died in a typhoon. The tournament arrives, and in their first heat Rin beats Haruka, who doesn’t even advance. Afterwards, he tells him he’ll never swim with him again, ever.

Haruka never asked for this. In the immortal words of Dave Ryder, he didn’t “need this.” “This” being being lured back into competitive swimming, only to lose and be discarded like a torn speedo. By the end of his 100m race, it’s clear Rin didn’t enter it seeing Haruka as a friend, or a muse, or even a rival or nemesis. He saw him as a hindrance; a hurdle to clear on his way to achieving what his dad never did: Olympic glory. Rin convinced himself that beating Haruka was the key to moving forward.

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It’s not a role Haruka actively sought, it was one assigned to him, just as his friends assigned him to be their ace, even though all he ever says is “I only swim free.” He may not have just been talking about freestyle, but about simply swimming just for the joy of it, not as a means but as an end unto itself. So Rin had a lot more emotional investment in the race than Haruka, and we can imagine the devastation he would have felt had he lost. What we didn’t expect is how quickly and how deeply Haruka is wounded by his sudden and unexpected defeat. How could he lose at the one thing he loves most?

It’s as if all of the weight that was on Rin’s back was transferred to Haruka’s. It broke his armor of aloof perfection and brought him low, which makes him more interesting (let’s face it, without adversity there’s not much to the guy). Rin did more than just beat Haruka; he snatched away the joy he wants and needs to feel from swimming. He poisoned his water. And if Rin’s to be believed, there will never be a rematch. Rin got what he wanted and is currently drunk on victory and confidence…but his trials are hardly over.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Finally, a real honest-to-goodness race, and it only took till halfway into the season! We liked the camerawork during the swim, though the streaking backgrounds behind the closeups of Haru and Rin kinda reminded us of Speed Racer.
  • Rin’s win puts Gou in an awkward position. Officially she was cheering for both, but she is the manager of Iwatobi, so Haru’s loss is her loss.
  • More importantly, she was hoping if Rin swam with Haru and the others it would help bring them together…but it seems to have had the opposite effect.
  • Hurt feelings aside, if no one in the club wins anything, the club won’t get any extra funds, meaning no indoor pool in the off-season, meaning to training during the offseason. So winning about more than just glory. We’ll see how the other three guys do.