It’s been quite clear right from the beginning that Golden Time was speaking a different language than the legions of teen romance series that anime has offered up over the last few years. The most obvious reason is that it’s set at college (the real-life setting is Hosei University near Ichigaya Station, 10 minutes walk from my apartment), with all the radical difference that implies – but it goes beyond that. The personalities in this show are quite different than what we’ve grown accustomed to in anime, and Kokou is the most obvious example.
If I have an issue with this episode and with Golden Time generally, it’s that sometimes things seem to move a little too fast. That applies to events and emotions, too – the former being a bigger problem last week and the latter this. I got a little whiplash from Kokou’s transformation – not so much the extreme mood swings, which are hardly unusual in someone clearly unbalanced, but in the way she came to self-awareness too quickly to be believable in my view. I think what we saw in this ep would have been effective if it had been spread over two episodes instead.
That said, though, I liked this episode an awful lot and I feel the same way about the series itself. Kokou is proof that you don’t have to like a character (at least all the time) for them to be fascinating. It’s been an interesting year for young women with real psychological issues in anime, and in Kokou I think we’re seeing a more detailed and balanced – if unsparing – view of the stalker than we’ve seen in a very long time. For all that pretty girls have a ridiculous amount of teflon as far as anime fans are concerned I’m hard-pressed to believe anyone could have watched the first scene of this episode and not really disliked Kokou (of course, she was abusing another cute girl at the time). I also can’t imagine anyone could have watched her and chalked that up to a normal crush – this was seriously disturbed, dysfunctional behavior that took Kokou for the first time to the edge of yandere territory.
That scene at the Uni coffee shop was very intense and hard to watch, as Kokou really laid into poor Oka, who’d done nothing whatever to deserve it. The salient point is that neither – at least based on what we’ve been shown – has Mitsuo. As far as I can tell he’s done absolutely nothing wrong here – he’s made no promises he’s trying to break, and done nothing to lead Kokou on. He merely wants to pursue his life in peace and he has every right to do so without he (or anyone he fancies) being hounded or abused by Kokou. And I thought he handled himself rather well at that moment – he could have completely lost it but he held his cool. He was firm and unmistakably pissed off, but calm as he led Oka to safety.
The direct offshoot of this scene is the one that follows, in the cafe au lait bowl cafe (it seems Banri and Kokou don’t hold it against it that it was the chosen venue for their cult recruiter). But in-between there’s a short interlude as Banri and Kokou visit Linda and the Matsuri Club, a rather artful move by Banri to get Kokou’s mind off what had just happened. This scene is important in its own right, both for the club itself (which I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of) and the spark of memory that Linda’s face triggers in Banri. But it’s the one at the cafe that really shakes this up. If Mitsuo has been guilty of anything it’s running away from Kokou rather than forcefully ending it, though in his defense it seems he’s tried several times and she just won’t get the message. Here again, though, he seems to strike a pretty good balance – he makes his feelings unmistakable and refuses to let Kokou bait him into a fight – when she goes Yuuno Gasai he simply picks up his bag and leaves.
It’s at this point that I think Kokou’s mindset changes a little too quickly. She’s right in everything she says, of course, and it seems clear that she’s a much better person around Banri than Mitsuo. But for her to go from years of complete denial straight to laser-accurate self analysis is a stretch. I’m very curious to see where she goes from here – is this really the dawn of self-realization and the end of her obsession with Mitsuo, or merely a lucid spell? She’s got real and serious psychological problems and I hope those don’t simply go away – frankly I was just waiting for her to drop the “I want to die” line because (see Kuroki, Tomoko) that’s what people like Kokou say in these situations. The wrinkle is the appearance of Nana (Satou Satomi) at the cafe, and her invitation to Kokou to her concert gives the younger girl a chance to vent some of the volcanic rage she carries around with her. It also tips off that Takemiya-sensei is fully aware of the throwback nature of this series, and can’t resist making an out-and-out allusion to those young-adult dramas of the mid-2000’s.
It’s not as though things are any simpler for Banri. In addition to being caught in the middle as the Mitsuo-Kokou drama plays out he’s developing feelings for Kokou himself, as he reveals to her after they sleep off insanity of the night before in his dorm room. I don’t think it’s coincidental that he chooses to return home immediately after all this plays out, as it’s clearly brought him to musing about his own strange circumstances and how the people from his old life would he happier if the person he’s become disappeared, and the old Banri returned. This conflict looks as if it’s going to be symbolically played out with Linda, who all evidence suggests was at the very least a close friend – and probably more – of that old Banri. College is a process of leaving behind the person we were and growing into someone new, and the way it’s playing out in Golden Time seems to a metaphorical extension of that – with Banri at the center of the drama.