Soredemo is like the Goldilocks porridge of Shinbo shows – it’s just right. In that sense it still reminds me of the first season of Natsu no Arashi, which struck that balance off creativity and restraint better than any other Shinbo show for me. I don’t quite put this one on that level yet, but it’s getting closer every week.
Arashiyama is most definitely the lead here, and a very fine one she is. But a growing strength of SMwM is that it can devote extended sequences to the supporting cast without missing a step. Better yet, because the show resolves around Arashiyama we see how she impacts the supporting characters by her force of personality. First up is Tatsuno, who scores tickets to a movie preview screening so that she can invite Sanada. This first sketch was something of a tribute to the wallflowers among us. Tatsuno is only too aware of how easily Arashiyama leaps into social interactions – it sheds an unwelcome light on her own shyness. That shyness manifests in her inability to ask Sanada to the screening, no matter how much she tries to psych herself up. Arashiayama even offers to do it for her, in a moment that felt totally organic and real, and so did Tatsuno’s reaction. She was initially tempted to grasp at this lifeline, but resisted. In the end, after a hilarious “Girl Who Leap Through Time” moment with a teacher who swears by uttering the names of Western historical figures, she seems to come to terms with her own existence – and give the tickets to Arashiyama. A deceptively sad moment.
The second part was an unexpected and radical departure for the series, and ended up as one of my favorite skits of the season. The focus swings to Arashiyama’s otouto Takeru, who we learn is in fourth grade. Turns out he’s the object of the affections of his budding tsundere classmate Eri-chan. She invites herself over to the Arashiyama house to “hang out” and what results is an incredibly charming and adorable “date” between the likable but clueless Takeru and the girl whose first name he can’t even bring himself to say. I haven’t seen grade-school social interaction this good since Dennou Coil – what could have been cliched instead was genuine and funny. Takeru is (appropriately) completely unable to figure this girl out – why does she act one way at school, and another on Saturday? Why does she smile at him one minute, then punch him for using the wrong personal pronoun? He does find himself starting to enjoy her company, but his main concern is avoiding the gaze and judgment of his friends – who would utterly scorn and banish him if he was caught with a girl. The granny at the candy shop (“This is 1.5 million yen, but you can have it for 150.”) saves him by letting him hide in the “VIP Room” at the back of the shop when his friends come in looking for him.
What’s also great about that sketch is the interaction between Arashiyama and her younger siblings. She’s patient and genuinely affectionate towards them without being cloyingly or unrealistically so, even giving Takeru 1000 yen to spend on his “date”. Their scenes together are refreshingly unforced and natural, as is the moment where their mother tells her to eat lunch with the kids because “she’ll fit right in with grade-schoolers”. What’s especially funny is that, even as Arashiyama laughs at Takeru’s innocence about relationships, I suspect he’s already had one more date than she has…