It’s interesting that I’ve come to like the male lead here better than the one in Sukitte, because that’s certainly not what one might have expected after the first episode. But my initial take on Haru seems to have been about right: he’s not a bad kid despite what he said in the first episode, just someone who has absolutely no sense of socially appropriate behavior and an excess of honesty. Kurosawa, by contrast, reveals himself to be considerably more calculating than it first appeared, and rather thoughtless of a girl’s feelings. I’m still not crazy about Suzuki Tatsuhisa in the role, but the character itself is rounding into form.
In many ways the supporting cast is at least as interesting as the leads, though, and they were much the focus of the first half of the episode. It’s all about building a chicken coop (No Future!) for Nagoya, the rooster so named by Sasayan. He continues to give hints that he could be an exceptionally interesting character – I loved the way he threw the shopping basket at Haru’s “friends” and ran, and he has a pleasingly skewed outlook on life generally. Plus, Ohsaka Ryouta is fast establishing himself as one of the best young male seiyuu since Miyu-Miyu himself. Are there flags between he and the adorably weird (what “distracted” here on the way back with the ice cream? I love the fact that we were never told…) Asako-chan? They seem like a good matched set of odd socks to me.
I’m not sure it was a good idea to give Haru a chainsaw, but the coop building scene was interesting, and established Yamaguchi Kenji (Terashima Takuma) as another face to watch. He’s clearly a level above his running mates in terms of cleverness, and may just have a thing for Mitty. I’m also convinced something more than pinball and batting practice is happening at Mapo’s gaming center – guys walking out with big wads of cash is a bit of a Chekov’s gun, and there have been other clues as well. And of course it’s to here that Haru’s brother Yuzan (Nakamura Yuuichi) returns from wherever he’s been hiding himself. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he’s a no-goodnik – Mapo thought enough of him to warn Haru that he was back, and Haru was freaked enough to refuse to go home after finding out. What’s the story here – abuse? Drugs? Crime? Who knows – but with a big-name seiyuu attached to the role, it’s even more apparent that it’s going to be a critical one.
As for the main pair themselves, the development is somewhat different than anything I’ve seen in a shoujo romance before. Haru is, as Mitty says, “Seriously – so much trouble!”. After her confession of love – and lame retraction – it’s he who walks back the relationship a little. I think the gist of it is that even dense Haru realizes that Shizuku’s confession is loaded with emotional commitment, and realizes in a rare moment of self-awareness that he’s nowhere near ready for that. His love for her is real too, but there’s a much stronger purely physical component for him – and I think “turning her down” was actually the most mature and selfless thing he’s done so far. He’ll get there, but not yet – and of course, it’s going to be messy along the way, because he’s still a head case with a dark past and she’s still neurotic as all get-out. In terms of the “spend the night” suggestion, under the circumstances it was quite understandable.
While Tonari is quite a bit more theatrical and less “realistic” than Sukitte thus far, I still find the emotional core pretty genuine – and the show itself very entertaining. Good series sometimes have the quality of “no one left behind” – you get the feeling that every character, no matter how minor, matters to the author and no one is an afterthought. Little scenes like the one with Mitty’s Dad (Koyasu Takehito) reflect this – he has an actual personality, and it shows through in mere seconds of air time. I also like the fact that not everything is explained the moment it happens – we have little breadcrumbs of plot left to follow later on, like the Zashiki-warashi who spies on Haru in the shower (I’m guessing that’s Shizuku’s brother Takaya, who broke the alarm clock). I’m impressed – this is a genuinely interesting and well-written series, another example of Brains Base having a great eye for strong source material that suits their style.