Episode 5 – shameless, but effective.
I liked this episode of Sukitte just as much as the first four, though it felt quite different to me. Those four eps were appealingly realistic and just a bit raw – not especially polished in terms of presentation but emotionally honest and free of both excessive melodrama and “flowers & kittens” shoujo idealizing. Well, we got our kitten this week – the law of shoujo has been met, the stray cat card has been played – and this episode was definitely a bit more slick and calculated. But at the same time it was better-paced, the humor was a little sharper and it retained the basic appeal of those earlier eps.
Although Yamato certainly came off well this time, I confess I’m still not completely sold on the character. it isn’t so much that I think he’s malicious, but somehow he lacks a substance that other elements of the series seem to have (most obviously Mei herself) – who knows, perhaps as much as Mei’s journey towards self-belief the series will be a chronicle of his becoming a more substantial person. Anyone who has a soft spot for cats earns a few points in my book – though frankly that’s pretty low-hanging fruit from a dramatic standpoint if you’re trying to make a character sympathetic. I was more impressed with Mei’s compulsion that it was wrong not to act as if the stray kitten were his problem, though I think Yamato’s finest moment was his exultation when Kuro pooped. And “Kuro” for a black cat – when your name is Kurosawa to boot? Try a little harder, Dude.
Kuro wasn’t the only new cast member this week – we also had Nagi (Ise Mariya), Yamato’s little sister. Kittens and cute little sisters are also pretty low-hanging fruit, and I don’t think it’s a writer’s best instinct to rely on them to score points with an audience – effectively they represent shortcuts, especially in a shoujo. But the thing is, of course, that they were executed very well. The interaction between the two cats was quite funny and true to life (introducing two strange cats to each other is always a high-stress experience) and at least Nagi was given some depth with the introduction of her issues at school and her talents with creation. A brocon little sister is hardly an original creation but Nagi has some elements that are distinctive at least.
It’s also clear from this episode how far Mei has come as a character, and whatever you think of Yamato the relationship does illustrate just how powerful it can be for an insecure person to have someone express unqualified affection for them. Even down to the way she dresses Mei has become a more forceful person, and though she’s still a bit awkward and quite unsure how to respond to Yamato’s easy sense of physical intimacy, you can almost see the protective walls she’s built around herself coming down, one by one. Of course that makes her incredibly vulnerable too (even if she does have the weaponized cookie in her arsenal) – someone as wounded as she is who then lets her guard down would really be devastated by a betrayal, and it’s pretty early in the series for things to be going as smoothly as they are…