First Impressions – Golden Time

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Take my hand, won’t you, as we journey back in time…

OP: “Golden Time” by Yui Horie

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One of the fundamental precepts of my anime fandom is “more Hochan is never a bad thing”, so let’s put that to the test.  So much Hochan!  OP, ED (I prefer the latter), and playing a female lead and a yandere at that?  I’m fighting the urge to squeal like a KyoAni middle-school girl over this, but there’s more to Golden Time than just its female lead.  I’m not sure this series is going to find much of an audience in today’s anime landscape – certainly not one that moves discs – but they’ve found one in me.

Really, the experience of watching Golden Time for me is like jumping into the Wayback Machine.  This truly does feel like the product of another era – it’s like I bumped my head and woke up watching NoitaminA in 2005.  It’s a world where BGM is a mix of instrumental rock and piano, colors are bright and primary, romances between adults are fair game for anime and Hochan is forever 19 years old.  That doesn’t sound like a bad place to me, at least for a visit once a week – if you feel differently, this may not be your cup of (bitter) tea.

The pedigree of Golden Time is pretty solid, starting with the writer of Toradora, Takemiya Yuyuko.  In all honestly this is the sort of material J.C. Staff could do in their sleep – in fact it’s almost hard to imagine a different studio producing this show.  About the only thing missing that keeps me from thinking this is a lock to succeed is Nagai Tatsuyuki or Kasai Kenichi directing, but there’s no shortage of experience behind the camera.  Directing is the dean of female anime directors, Kon Chiaki, and handling Series Composition is the veteran Shimo Fumihiko (Air, Kanon, Clannad).  Kon is a bit erratic in my view, but at her best she’s produced some very fine work, and I think she’s solid enough not to mess with what seems like a very straightforward and direct story.

As retro as Golden Time is, it still feels like a breath of fresh air because college romance is a theme that’s been all but abandoned by anime.  At the center of this one is Tada Banri (Furukawa Makoto), entering law school in Tokyo after growing up in Shizuoka (it’s my assumption that this is a pre-law program, as he’s just out of high school).  He gets lost on the way to the welcoming ceremony, then again on the way from there to the school itself, losing the two girls he was following when he gets stuck paying for an ice cream (I can vouch for just how difficult it is to find anything in Tokyo, so I bought this all the way).  Tada runs into a fellow freshman in the same boat, Yanagisawa Mitsuo (Ishikawa Kaitou) who was in fact following the same girls and lost them for the same reason.  They manage to find the school, but a surprise awaits them there in the form of Kaga Kouko (Horie Yui).  Kouko is loco, it seems, and she proceeds to whack Mitsuo across the face repeatedly with a bouquet of roses (thorns removed) as an astonished Tada-kun looks on.

The backstory here is interesting enough – Kouko is Mitsuo’s osananajimi and decided when they were kids that they’d be getting married, and he’s jumped off the “escalator” and gone to this middling college to try and escape her.  But Kouko follows him – even enrolling in the pre-law program.  There are a lot of amusing moments here, especially as Mitsuo describes her controlling nature – “Mitsuo, BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!”, as she sits half-revealed behind them in the classroom – and it’s fun to see Hochan tackle this sort of role.  But for me the best part of the premiere was watching Tada take it all in.  Despite all the weirdness and getting lost he’s clearly having a great time, because this is his first time stepping out into the adult world, and you can see him falling in love with everything – the school, the confusion, Kouko, and a couple of other girls he meets.  There’s Oka Chinami (Kido Ibuki), a genki freshman who “loves pretty things, boys or girls”, and especially Linda (Kayano Ai) from the Matsuri Society, who Tada meets during a wonderful sequence of uncontrolled insanity as the hapless freshmen are descended upon by clubs trying to recruit them.  Linda is only in the premiere for a couple of minutes, but she makes a huge impression – it’s easy to see why Tada was taken with her.

There’s nothing on the production side of Golden Time that will blow you away, and if you weren’t watching anime 10 years ago the whole thing might seem somewhat odd.  But that’s a big part of the charm for me, and there’s a lot of charm in this episode.  It’s interesting to see a total newcomer in Furukawa-san cast against titans like Horie and Kayano-san, but he brings a natural quality to the performance that works.  Ishikawa Kaitou has, as I more or less expected, become one of the go-to seiyuu of his generation along with Ohsaka Ryouta, and he delivers some of the best comic moments of the premiere.  There’s a lot here I really like – a romance with a completely different set of issues than the standard high-school boilerplate, and the depiction of Tada experiencing independence for the first time most especially.  It seems his family issues are going to be explored a bit in the second episode, but the focus will clearly be on events at the college.

Incidentally, there’s a scene near the end of the ep where Tada and Kouko meet outside JR Ichigaya Station.  If you cross the bridge over the old Imperial Moat, on Sotobori-dori a few steps to the North there’s an amazing ramen joint – best miso ramen in Tokyo.  If you’re ever there, check it out…

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ED: “Sweet & Sweet CHERRY” by Yui Horie

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  1. A

    Mixed feelings about this one. I liked almost everything about it, except one thing- Kouko. I know that the show played it for laughs but her obessesive stalker-like behavior with Mitsuo really rubbed me the wrong way. Girls like that actually exist and they aren't fun to be around. I'm hopeful this will change, since the OP more or less confirms Banri/Kouko anyway, so she may realize how unlikable that kind of behavior is and cuts it out.

  2. c

    I think Mitsuo's reaction acknowledges that she's not fun to be around. I won't say they're not playing it for laughs, but they're also portraying it as a horrible thing that's ruining this guy's life.

    Comparing this to Toradora by the same author, it's pretty easy to see this as Kouko's crippling character flaw a la Taiga's bad temper. We'll just have to wait and see if there's more to her than that though.

  3. A

    Ah, I never watched Toradora, but that makes me more hopeful. I'll definitely give it a few more episodes to see if she improves because I really like most other aspects of the series.

  4. t

    I like it. like..really like it.

    JC has the upper hand doing this kind of anime in terms of mature and romcom.
    we could clearly see the combination between the genuine atmosphere of college and those comic touches.
    for a first episode it was a good debut to a romcom. and clearly we can see sparks of toradora writer, cause when it was necessary, the mood changed to serious one like that bridge sence (still not quite sure if it's flashback or flashforward).

    that way or another, I enjoyed and laughed a lot in that episode. I am waiting for more next time.

  5. C

    He's just not that into you…….but hey props for hanging in there for so long. I really enjoyed this first episode but nothing really got me hooked so I hope the mysterious background drama elements and characters develop well over the 2 cours. They certainly have quite alot of time to work with.

  6. J

    Not quite sure about Japan.. but in Australia students here (if they get the marks) usually go straight from high school to studying law in uni combined with another degree. We don't have anything like pre-law programs. So the characters here might be law students rather than pre-law.. =)

  7. m

    Same here in New Zealand (though your Uni marks have to be high enough to make it to second year). Also I know that the high school my Japanese homestay goes to offer some law electives so Japan probably has law as a undergraduate course as well.

  8. E

    There is no such thing as "pre" in Indonesia too…

  9. i

    I think the OP spoiled the entire 2-cour series. I like JC, I like Yui Horie, I prefer college settings and I ultimately like Golden Time but unlike Toradora, with the romance path known from the get go the only thing of interest remaining will be comedy and magnetic characters. I think the former is a given considering the writer but the latter is a bit iffy. Tada comes off as very likeable and relatable but neither Mistuo or Koko (her name is Koko, she is loco, I said oh no!!!) come of quite as well. They're not annoying, too cookie-cutter or anything but they don't have that immediate awesomeness of Toradora's cast.

    That I feel will be Golden Time's biggest problem, being compared to Toradora and from this premiere I think its easy to say which has the upper hand.

  10. c

    You're assuming they get together at the end of the show. It's not really a spoiler if they start dating by episode 5 or something. There's just as much room for drama in the relationship as there is in the "chase", so I wouldn't throw out the romance just from that.

  11. K

    If it was 1 cour, then I would be definitely think Tada ends up with Kouko. But with this being a 2 cour, I would like to think the OP is intentionally misleading, especially since no other characters are featured in it. More interesting is that the ED doesn't show whose hand she is holding, although generally OP/EDs don't mean much.

    Compared to Toradora, I find Golden Time's characters are more intriguing overall. Only Taiga and Ryuji stood out for me in the 1st ep, compared to everyone (except Chinami) in Golden Time.

  12. I think this being a college setting gives us a chance for romantic developments that escape the traps that Toradora fell into. We'll see if the author has it in her. A reminder, though – the LN series is ongoing.

  13. i

    Toradora was ongoing but by the time the last volume came out the anime managed to finish it, I think. Maybe more of the same is possible. If that OP is a trap then I'm wholly on board but I don't think it is. And in truth Golden Time's trap will inevitably be Toradora. Like Sakurasou I feel that Golden Time will fall short of surpassing Toradora, it already has a weak animation style which is somewhat proof that JC don't rate it as highly as Toradora.

  14. Toradora had some pretty grisly visuals, in truth. I would hardly use that as a standard to judge J.C. Staff's commitment.

  15. s

    But overall Toradora had better visuals than Golden time (better lighting, sharper art, more frames when it came to character movement, better in-between and key animation) Still, the premiere was solid; not golden, but solid. There's just something about the way they presented the college setting and the awkward first day of college that just had me amped and invested in the episode. While I thought the premiere was alright (i wasnt particularly wowed by it, and the writing has yet to show its brilliance, but i never expect to be wowed by just one-22 min ep..that's unfair to any show) i do want to continue viewing the series to see what lies in store; it's worth anyone's time to watch at least 3 eps and see what's in store for golden time.

  16. K

    Golden Time was one of my more anticipated shows of the season, and it didn't disappoint. I really liked all the characters introduced thus far. Kouko is a like a force of nature, sweeping everyone around her in her stride. Despite Kouko's yandere tendencies, there is definitely more to her than that, and I'm really interested in how her character plays out. The thorn-less roses played out like a joke, but I think it's a good reflection on her character.

    Linda, on the other hand, is quite captivating despite the less screen time and lower key introduction. Really interested in how the interactions will plays out between her and Kouko, since they seem to be polar opposites at the moment.

  17. j

    Is this show worth my time?

    Im a bit iffy on watching any more shows have too many tropes and cliches, not to mention the usual character archtypes. The fact that anime even HAS these specific archetypes just tell me it's been overdone and there needs to be more variation. It also isn't stylistically that interesting either

  18. It's 22 minutes of your time. Why not decide for yourself?

    For me, GT may have been the best premiere of the season despite not being anywhere near as visually flashy as the likes of Nagi, KlK or Kyousogiga. It's a very throwback story, to a time when college romances where fair game for anime, and the production matches the style. It's not for everybody – why not find out for yourself if you're one it is for?

  19. M

    Toradora has a crappy budget too back in the days. Since JC staff favored Index more. But look what happened? XD

    Moral: never base one series in their production values… Kasai was the perfect candidate for this….
    getting H& C vibes all over me

  20. y

    For a romantic comedy, Toradora had a solid budget, and more importantly, a large number of talented animators on board. It was well above average for the genre.

    Golden Time isn't as fortunate. However, that's to be expected given the college setting and the fact that pre-release popularity isn't as high this time.

    That said, it's certainly possible to make a good show from little.

  21. M

    My hopes got a bit high after I read the synopsis & saw the premier(and that it was a seinen anime,those are kind of rare nowadays aren't they?) and I can say that this 1st episode met them.I totally agree that this is like a breath of fresh air,especially during these times of constant moe assaults,and it's even a 2-cour.Yay?Definitely.

  22. K

    I LIKE IT. More please~

  23. T

    Throughout the entire premiere I was getting Nodame Cantabile vibes. Although completely different I felt similar awesomely insane vibes from Koko as I did from Nodame. Mitsu reactions are similar to Chiaki's dealings with Nodame and I really could not be happier with the premier. Add in what appear to be interesting characters with the enigma that is Chinami and the most interesting character in the premier for me Linda and this show has set up itself for what appears to be a good run. This is easily my most anticipated romance series in a very long time and I am looking forward to what this writer and staff can do to tackle romance dealing with more adult problems and issues.

  24. R

    Yes, I also got the Nodame Cantabile vibes, but first thing first, allow me to unleash… What the heck is with all these stupid dramas of girls' only purpose of life is to chase and force guys to marry them? It isn't funny. It's just plain stupid. I like Nadame Cantabile a lot, but it took me a long while to accept Nodame. I hate it when an author just dumps down a character — male or female — and I don't like yandere, tsudere, or whatever tropes. Why can't we have genuine characters?

    Sorry…I went overboard, but now that it gets off my chest, I can talk about the show. I like Golden Time. I like the college setting, and the premiere reminded me of my first day at the university — the joy, the excitement, and the pride of becoming an adult. Banri looks like a normal young adult embracing life, but it looks like there's more to him than being just a normal college student — I'm interested to find out more about him. Kouko…what can I say? I shouldn't judge a book by its cover and should find out who she really is and will become. I don't mind the OP revealing the relationship between Banri and Kouko, but I want to see how they develop the feeling mutually. Linda only showed up for a few minutes, but I immediately like her — she's the best amongst all the female characters introduced. Mitsuo is fun, and I'm impressed by Ishikawa Kaito — he puts out a very different performance from when he voiced Ledo in Gargantia. In a nutshell, Golden Time seems to be a character-driven show about friendship, romance, comedy, and college life with doses of drama — I'm in.

  25. T

    I get the point of your rant and with Nodame it bothered me for a while but at one point it clicked for me and I felt for some reason Nodame didn't chase Chiaka just to get him to love her but chased him because he inspired her and her weird personality put it as chasing only to make him love her. As for this show that did bother me but it is way to early for us to really know anything about these characters. I am optimistic that the author will turns these characters into well rounded and well though out people by the end of the story.

  26. R

    Chasing is one thing, but it bugs me when the creators make the 20-year-old Nodame talk, walk, and act like a 6-year-old. That's not trying to portray an eccentric character, and I don't find that Nodame funny but annoying. The story is good, especially when it portrays the life of a genius — Chiaki — and the dynamics between him and Nadame evolves.

    As for Golden Times, I'm more hopeful. Kouko doesn't seem like to be a dumbed-down character, and the other characters seem fine. It looks like the dynamics will change, and I'm interested to explore more. Like you, I'm optimistic about this show.

  27. I don't think Kouko is dumbed down or acts six years old, no. I think she's a straight-up yandere, or at least stalker.

  28. R

    I agree, and I'm hoping to see her change from a stalker to a more well-rounded character.

  29. g

    I LOVE IT! reminds me of the old animes… gah i am getting old…

  30. A

    It's only episode one and I am already rooting for Mitsuo/Kouko and Tada/Linda. Alas, the OP shows that that will mostly likely not happen. I'm still going to hold on though and hope that this will be better than Toradora! (I appear to be the only person who didn't really care for that show)

  31. R

    Hey, I also don't find Toradora that special. It was only okay, and for a romcom with a high-school setting I prefer Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun a lot more.

  32. A

    I loved Toradora, and I love this show. I've watched over 150 anime, so this is a real breath of fresh air from the good old days of high school romance. Koko is a very strange, yet somehow easily understandable character. She's selfish and stubborn, bad with people, unintuitive and very scary. But she's also bright, desperately lonely, and easy to sympathize with. However, Banri is one of the best male leads full stop, take it from a romance anime veteran. He's not dense, stupid, perverted, inhumane, or hateful to those who don't give him what he wants. In fact he's cheerful, kind, helpful, loyal to his friends, intelligent, romantically perceptive (knows clearly what he wants), but he's also not afraid to stand up when people say/do something he doesn't approve of. This is a must watch for anime fans starved of a classic well executed romance

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