I’ve been reading the manga for this series – only the chapters that precede the events in the anime, but it makes a nice framing device for what we’re seeing. I enjoy seeing the little foreshadowings of what’s happening on-screen, but what’s perhaps most impressive to me is that the anime – through it’s necessarily abbreviated introductions of events – led me to fill in the blanks of the characters’ lives almost exactly the way the first volumes of the manga eventually did, though I didn’t know it at the time. It’s a remarkably efficient use of limited time, and a great credit to Mari Okada for her adaptation. It also made me realize that this series, manga and anime, is a great example of balance when it comes to tone. Though it deals with awkward, difficult and sometimes painful things in pretty much every chapter and does so with the gravity they deserve, it never slips into the morose or maudlin. Though these are serious issues treated seriously, there’s an underlying lightness to it – a wistful ease that makes things seem bearable, and at the core of it the belief that people (even middle-schoolers) are basically decent and kind for the most part. That doesn’t do a good job of describing the magic alchemy that is Hourou Musuko, but it’s as good as I can do.
As for the episode itself, needless to say it was fantastic (again). We get yet another traumatic moment in any child’s life – the first pimple – but as usual, it’s treated with humor and gravity at the same time. Maho’s typical insensitive response – mockery and fear-mongering – leads Shu to seek out Anna’s help and advice. Anna is yet another wonderful character in this already amazing cast, and she’s a chance for Yui Horie to step outside her normal boundaries and show was a subtle and emotive seiyuu she is. Anna is quite different from the other girls in the cast – a bit dour, matter-of-fact, but fundamentally practical and good-hearted. Her kindness to Shu prompts him to feelings for her (what a confused boy he is) and as we saw last week, Anna was definitely intrigued by him. This leads to a date, and a confession of love (with your milkshake?). While her only reply is a dry “Arigato” it’s not a rejection, and so the two of them are officially “in a relationship” – which Shu confesses to Yuki with hilarious results.
This is the revelation that drives the episode, and the core of it is watching how the others react. Chiba, not surprisingly, reacts in the most demonstrative and spectacular fashion – in a brooding fit, she pulls herself out of school and decides she intends to quit. Maho seems oddly supportive – for now. As for Yoshino, she also reacts exactly how you would predict. She smiles, she’s pleasant, but she can’t hide the fact that she’s broken-hearted from Shu. And this hits Shu pretty hard, too – he’s clearly impacted by the sudden distance between them. Though Yoshino rejected his initial confession there’s no question she loves Shu dearly, though in what way she’s not sure. Mako-chan’s comment to Shu that if he’d been so aggressive with Yohsino as with Anna they might be dating hits him pretty hard, too. Though his feelings for Anna are genuine in the moment it still seems to me that Shu and Yoshino have a bond that will make any other romantic relationship a challenge for either of them.
Yoshino’s acceptance probably only makes Shu feel worse, but that’s true to her nature – as are her attempts to use the new paradigm to patch things up with Chiba. Chiba may be a selfish and moody girl, but to her credit she’s at least aware of it – and genuinely puzzled as to why Yoshino should care about their relationship or why Shu’s confession to Anna would fundamentally thaw their cold war. Those two are really the yin and yang of the cast – Chiba dark, inward-looking and self-aware, and Yoshino always empathetic and bright – an escape from having to live with her own identity crisis all the time. Shu is the only thing they have in common, and it divides them even further than their fundamental differences.
With only four episodes left, it seems a foregone conclusion that this complex web won’t be resolved or anything like it during the duration of the TV series. That will likely have to be left to the manga, if at all, but I’ll happily take what I can get from both.