To call this episode of Golden Time eventful would be a bit of an understatement, considering the intense bombardment of plot we received. My sweet little romcom/coming-of-age story sprouted wings and turned into an action series – of a sort. In the end of course – as is usually the case when shows like this take turns like this – it was all more or less a pretense to put the cast in positions where their character would reveal itself, and to contrive a context where some expositional bombs could be dropped.
Truth be told this was my least favorite episode of the first three, largely because it felt the most conventional (I don’t intend to use that word as a cudgel and it isn’t inherently bad, but in this instance I think it fits) but also because I thought the events themselves played out in a bit of a herky-jerky fashion. There were some strong moments and some that felt a little awkward and contrived, whereas the first two eps has a naturalness that I thought was pretty much uninterrupted.
The bombshell that gets dropped late in the episode is the main takeaway, but I was less surprised by that than the turn of events that got us there. I had absolutely no expectation that cafe au lait girl would turn out to be a cult – I just thought the story would be Banri and Kouko getting to know each other on a weekend trip. It was a good twist, and not wholly unrealistic – these sorts of nutjob religions exist in Japan just as in most countries, and the sort of deception they used to lure the kids to their compound is a common tactic of these groups. All of a sudden this series got genuinely creepy for a while – something I never would have expected to be saying about it, and one of the best achievements of the episode.
From a plot perspective this was clearly designed to give Banri a chance to show his true stripes, after he’d been something of an avatar character (albeit a good one) for two episodes. In the first place he doesn’t panic when the truth becomes apparent – that falls to 2-D-kun Satou, also lured into taking the trip. Banri keeps his wits about him and thinks first about helping the others escape, especially Kouko as he feels responsible for her being there. He seizes on Satou’s outburst as an opportunity to manipulate the cultists into letting the others escape by professing his fascination with the cult’s message, using a far-fetched story about an accident and amnesia to do so. This works swimmingly – right up until the moment Kouko turns around and comes back in, refusing to leave Banri behind in the lion’s den.
I didn’t find Banri and Kouko’s escape and flight into the woods to be especially well-staged, but it was a means to an end – now that each of them has shown the other what they’re made of, they needed the chance to reveal more of themselves to the other. And this is indeed pretty interesting, especially when Banri confirms that the far-fetched story about amnesia is actually true. This explains the dream sequences, and in fact Banri has no memories of his time before the accident. The sense I get is that he’s changed from the experience in more ways than one, and now possesses a kind of “screw it” mentality that causes him to act where others might hesitate. Kouko, meanwhile, tries her best to make Banri understand why she’s so obsessed with Mitsuo – why he “completes” her, in her own words – but for me it still sounds more like an unhealthy obsession than anything else. The best moment in their conversation is when Kouko asks Banri is he would take his old life back, given the choice – and the answer he gives is both interesting and likely to be very important to understanding the rest of his character arc.
The other strange – and alarmingly coincidental – element of the episode is that Linda shows up in the woods where Kouko and Banri have fled (incidentally, when you’re trying to hide from cultists primal screams may not be the best idea). What’s she doing out there – and why does Banri call her “Barbara”? Linda is a strange presence in Golden Time so far, a highly magnetic character who shows up in short and seemingly random bursts and commands the screen utterly whenever she does. There are strong suggestions that she has a connection to Banri’s prior life (possibly even being the one on the scooter that seems likely to have caused his injuries) – in fact, it seems she’s come close to revealing that to him a couple of times, though I’d still call it an unsubstantiated speculation. It occurred to me that she might be following him just as Kouko is following Mitsuo, perhaps to keep an eye on him – but it seems as if she was at the college before he was. In any event there’s clearly much more to Linda than what we’ve seen so far, and I suspect some of that is going to be revealed as soon as next week.