OP: “Golden Time” by Yui Horie
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…
ED: “Sweet ＆ Sweet CHERRY” by Yui Horie