Golden Time – 05

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What a fascinating puzzle Golden Time is turning out to be.

This is a very tough series for me to figure out.  There are for me some very awkward elements to the presentation, as I’ve pointed out in prior posts.  Some of the stabs at humor fall very flat, and the direction and general technical side of the series are inconsistent.  Yet it’s also amazingly rich with interesting and difficult issues that speak to the human condition, and it has moments where it reaches genuine profundity.  It also has the ability to feel more real than almost any anime that I can remember, and that counts for an awful lot.

That makes the appearance of “Ghost Banri” one more tough thing to figure out.  How am I supposed to take that, exactly?  In one sense I’m uncomfortably reminded of the development in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it, but in my eyes amounted to one of the greatest shark-jumps in anime history – when a gritty and realistic series all of a sudden became something very much not.  On the other, given the peculiarities of Banri’s situation and the track record of the light-novelist, I’m inclined to believe this is meant as a sort of spiritual-poetic device for the viewer’s benefit, a way to give substance to the anguish Banri feels at his disconnect from himself – one he hides well but probably feels all the time.  But who knows – maybe it’s meant to be taken literally.  All I can do is wait and see where the series takes it from here.

I’m not usually a fan of amnesia as a plot device, but I confess I’ve grown quite fascinated with the way Takemiya-sensei has woven a story around it here.  And woven is the right word, I think, because it’s quite elegant the way all of the threads are interconnected – between the various members of the cast, and between the past and present.  All four of the mains are interesting characters in their own way, and Banri especially grew in intrigue this week.  He’s quite different from the avatar figure he appeared to be in the first episode, and not just in terms of his unusual past.  If Banri seems younger than he is (and he certainly does to me) I guess there’s a good reason because, in a way, he’s about two years old.  He originally came off as the likeable everyman, the guy the others in his social circle would discuss their dates with the next day, but he’s not just deeply troubled but subtly much more proactive than his initial impression would indicate.

Of course we also have two extremely interesting women at the heart of the series, and they could hardly seem more different.  While this episode didn’t contain any emotional hanabitaikai from Kouko to match last week’s spectacular outbursts, if anything it was an even stronger display of a woman with serious psychological issues.  We see so many disturbing signs here – I can’t have been the only one who got a chill when she told Linda she and Banri were “great friends who do everything together”.  While I certainly can’t blame her for falling hard for Linda (I know I have) the hero-worship aspect is symptomatic of something deeper, perhaps manic-depression – and there are other telltale signs that Kokou may be suffering from something akin to a bipolar disorder.

I know Golden Time is doing something right here because both last week and this there have been genuinely uncomfortable moments watching Kouko, stuff that just hit too close to the mark in a broadly similar way to Watamote.  For me Kouko’s role in the episode was a study of a woman just barely hanging on – it was hard to watch her flailing for something solid to grasp onto, her moods swinging wildly from euphoria to despair.  The more we get to know Kouko the easier it is to see that this is a person who simply doesn’t fit in the world – she’s rich and beautiful, but she doesn’t belong anywhere and she knows it.  It’s not much of a leap from there to see her obsession with Yana-san as a clinging to something that makes her feel connected, to another person and to a time in her life when she didn’t feel lost and alone.  It’s not as though a relationship with Banri isn’t possible and that it might not give her what she’s looking for, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing for either of them, especially as they are right now.

And then there’s Linda, who cast a huge shadow with her tiny appearance in the premiere and has been lurking as a potential force in the story since the beginning.  I find Linda no less fascinating than Kouko and far more likable – in fact I find her one of the most effortlessly charismatic anime characters of the year, thanks in no small part to her anti-cookie cutter character design and Kayano Ai’s performance.  But Linda too has a past she’s disconnected from – or at least running away from – and that’s becoming clearer with each passing episode.  All through this one I kept wanting to yell at Banri “Just ask her already!” but I admit that’s likely just my selfish desire to have that conversation happen – I can freely understand why Banri would hesitate to do so.  Spirit Banri says he longs to communicate to his physical self just what Linda meant to him, but it’s clear to us that it was an awful lot – and the feeling was mutual.

Seeing the photo of the two of them together clearly triggered a memory for Banri – not from his lost years, but the hospital afterwards.  I found the entire hospital sequence to be brilliant, starting with the way it communicated how the stifling atmosphere made Banri feel suffocated.  The light on the mountain outside the window was a lovely conceit – a little creepy but also very sad – and the conversation between Linda and Banri in the woods was in its way as painful to watch as Kouko teetering on the brink.  If there was any doubt that it was Linda that caused Banri’s injuries, the appearance of the scooter in that scene almost dispels it – it seems likely they were planning a meeting that night, and it ended in tragedy.  Assuming that’s true, it certainly explains why Linda isn’t revealing herself to Banri, but more than that it reveal the tremendous pain she must be living with every day.  It was pretty heartbreaking hearing her speak of her friend in the hospital, and how she couldn’t see him, and certainly a fascinating turn that it was she – and that meeting – that convinced the reborn Banri to go to school in Tokyo.

It’s hard not to wonder if in Kouko we might not be seeing a bit of a Ned Stark syndrome in play here.  I’m not saying she’s a false main character, but I’m not convinced (not even by the all-Kouko OP and ED) that Golden Time is her story any more than it’s Linda’s.  This can be looked at in many different ways – Kouko as the present and Linda the past, Kouko as the fated one of the “new” Banri and Linda the old – but I don’t think it’s that simple.  Kouko’s discussion of past lives and fated meanings was certainly played for laughs, but I wonder if the author wasn’t quite deliberate in including that passage where it was – in a way what Banri is experiencing is very similar to what one imagines reincarnation might feel like.  This setup one of the more intriguing constructs I’ve seen in anime for a while, and Golden Time is proof that an awful lot of shortcomings can be overcome if you have really interesting characters and place them inside a compelling story.  It’s far from perfect, but this is one of the most engaging anime this year.

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19 comments

  1. t

    this time at least..things have settled down a bit in terms of pace. it was still "bumpy" due to the jumps from scene to scene, not letting us enough time to digest, but it was OK (clearly after the huge change from last ep). but it's kinda good, 'cause it feels mature. the characters are aware of themselves, they aren't high-school students who are hesitant.

    but that's not all. Banri ghost pay a visit and it's here to stay, it want to show us what Linda was for him. I am sure they were in relationship or this close to this. but besides the accident..what happened?the escape from hospital scene was good but didn't give us the answers we wanted. and it's a good thing. they keep mystery over Linda..so why didn't she burst with joy to see Banri after such long time?was she that surprised??I wonder how she feels. I am a bit sorry for her and probably Banri is too. that's what made him reflect upon himself (and bringing us the ghost of old Banri).

    but it kinda confused me too. the New-Banri after the accident is somehow different from the regular Banri we know…and it's said the old-banri is not like the new Banri…so it's kinda fuzzy in that matter.

    Kouko is in denial. she repress her feelings, so I still wonder how genuine they are. she will burst up if she keeps things in stomach for too long. she has also forgotten about Banri's confession..it must have hurt for him (?)

    well, golden time reclaimed its place, but there is still a way to go. first, I'd like to see more of the secondary case – Chinami, mitsuo, 2d-kun. they are not expressed enough.
    second, pace is OK but needed to be maintained. keep that in mind JC.

  2. A

    Ghost Banri is not an actual ghost. He's a symbol of the Banri that was – the ghost of Banri past, as it were, but still purely a symbolic device used by the author to represent a character's past.
    I quite liked that.

    (In the same way, there were no actual ghosts in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, either, just symbolic representation of another character's trauma)

  3. Not how I saw it re: TM8, but that's a matter for another discussion and I'm sure some folks haven't seen it.

  4. T

    Although there are a number of bumps in the story and it isn't perfect I do have to give mad respect to the author for going such a completely different route than Toradora. It would have been so easy for him to make bank by making this story Toradora 2.0 in college but instead he went with themes and story direction that are actually challenging to do well and so far pulling it off. His decision to purposefully go a more difficult direction is something I commend him greatly for and am really hoping that he pulls it off and really gives us a fantastic story about friendship, love, growing up, and with the way he is going could easily add a diagnosis of the human condition. Very excited about where the author plans to take the story from here.

  5. c

    The author is a woman. Technically it doesn't matter, but you just used the male pronoun an average of 1.5 times a sentence and it was bugging me.

  6. T

    I actually had no idea what gender the author was. I was thinking about looking it up during the post but decided to just go with it. Sorry for my bad facts.

  7. i

    I found GT more interesting these last two episodes but for a college anime, I feel it's both too mature and too childish at once. Toradora was energetic and dramatic in a way only high school could be and H&C the same but for college. I feel GT is trying to be a little less manic because it's in college but at the same time is more immature because of Koko.

    That profoundness and ridiculousness that existed in harmony within H&C is something I love and the energetic and dramatic antics of Toradora the same but I feel GT is trying to do both and just failing at it. It's not annoying me like so many animes can, have and will but it just doesn't feel as good as you make it sound.

  8. I don't see immaturity as the issue with Kouko myself – I see disorder. In fact, I think her particular type of dysfunction is more realistic for a young woman in college than a high-schooler – she's already dealing with accumulating regret as part of her overall neuroses.

  9. i

    It took me a while to get an suitable answer and here's what I think:

    The disorder you speak of is indeed existent but not for beautiful college girls. I'm in college and none of the girls I know are in the least suffering from it. I knew a girl very well in highschool who was blessed with beauty that suffered from female classmates due to the adoration she got from male ones but I have never known a beautiful girl to be ignored by both sexes – just because she's hard to approach (a common excuse in anime for a male/female lead to get close to female/male lead).

    Maybe in a Japan where people are more conservative or less social (dare I say less amiable to strangers) it just might occur but surely some alpha males exist in Japan and more than a few go to college and hit on good looking girls. My point is that a person like Koko would not be as alone in RL as she is in GT.

    On the regret bit you spoke of I understand what you mean and I can accept it but it doesn't endear her for me.

    On immaturity what I meant was the writing not Koko herself. It feels like Takemiya toned down some of the fun of high school for college but failed to make the characters more like college ones rather than high school ones. High school kids to me act for the most part like idiots and occasionally like adults to get by – they have time. But college kids don't and thus act in two extremes of super serious and super drunk. GT's cast sound brooding and self-aware (Koko and Tada have shown that) and super sentai wasted (last episode) but it just doesn't feel quite as home as H&C did.

    In writing this answer I've realized that my argument is pointless as you're right about it being very collegish but it just doesn't hit as well as H&C/Toradora will. Maybe if it had aired first…

  10. Everybody's experience is different – I've known plenty of beautiful people from HS on up who were isolated despite their looks. I think this is something the series got right – there was just something about them that made people edgy around them and made them shy away. To me it's like a sense of not being comfortable in your own skin, and I definitely see this in Kouko.

    As I say, everyone's experience is different. But then, that's why a blanket statement like "this doesn't exist for beautiful college girls" is DOA as far as I'm concerned.

  11. x

    omg, I didn't now Linda was played by Kayano Ai until you mentioned it. her voiceeeeeee issssss so versatile i love it wow

  12. Yeah, Kayano Ai is really good – she's a perfect counterpoint to Hochan in this series, two great but very different performances.

  13. p

    Kayano Ai is also doing Chisaki from Nagi no Asu Kara. Considering she also voiced Menma from Anohana and then Inori/Mashiro from Guilty Crown/Sakurasou, she is very versatile indeed.

  14. S

    In the light novel, "Ghost Banri" is introduced to the reader actually as the narrator right from the beginning. I guess the director did not want to spoil Banri's memory loss in the first episode, but the sudden introduction of "Ghost Banri" certainly felt out of place this episode.

  15. R

    Quite a few things have been switched around

  16. t

    interesting. it does seem like Banri is the narrator. but his ghost?interesting. I can understand the director's decision not to show him immediately, it would ruin a bit the effect, but it did made the ghost's appearance all of a sudden.

  17. R

    Really interested how next episode is handled…quite a lot occurs

  18. A

    Very insightful analysis as always, Enzo.

    I have to admit — I'm not convinced that GT will pay off your psychoanalysis on Koko. When she has that breakdown in this episode, for example, the show plays it for laughs, adding in comical music and some pretty average straight-man gag dialogue from Banri. Banri sums her breakdown up to her still being frazzled over Yana as opposed to being symptomatic of any deeper issues. Generally, she's just too outlandish of a character for me to believe. She is at once the source of the show's most natural and unnatural moments, from moments of keenly uncomfortable human interaction (her accosting Chinami) to caricatured, anime-esque drama (sudden bouts of extremely accurate navel-gazing, every gag involving Yana). Attempts to study bipolarity or stalking are turned into slapstick.

    Aside from Koko, the introduction of a "Ghost Banri" was utterly bizarre and out of place. Even if it's meant only to work as some kind of symbolic device, it added absolutely no insight to this episode. These kinds of missteps, and the inconsistent direction as you pointed out, make the prospect of something deeper at work here a dubious one. But then on the flip side, I did write off that reincarnation joke of Koko's as some really flat humor — which it was — but the parallelism there is quite apparent, now that you point it out. I really want to see this show do something new and interesting, because there is certainly something "real" about this that is missing from most other anime "drama."

  19. R

    I'm very behind again, but what the heck. You're right, Enzo — this show isn't perfect, but I'm 100% converted and totally invested in the characters.

    First, we have Banri. The whole amnesia thing sounds a bit too convenient, and the appearance of the Banri ghost came a bit sudden to an anime-viewer like me. However, for the whole time, I love his interactions with Kouko. From knowing her, showing sympathy, to gradually falling in love with her and confessing, he sees both the good and bad sides of Kouko and is with her when she's vulnerable. We don't see this a lot in anime, and I really like it. Now that the whole plot around his amnesia kicks in, he's gonna be so torn between his past and present. It will be interesting to watch how he's gonna react to his relationships with both Kouko and Linda, while he's trying to sort out who he is and whom he wants to be. The amnesia thing isn't a very smart plot device, but I think it will add depth to Banri as a character.

    As for Linda, I like her from the moment she showed up. With the whole plot twist, there's more than what we've seen about her. Was she the one who rode the scooter and knocked Banri off the bridge? If not, why is she pretending not knowing him? If she and Banri were lovers before, how is she feeling now seeing Banri not recognizing her at all and hanging out with Kouko a lot? Is there a reason behind her invitation to both Banri and Kouko to join her club — even though she's not aggressive in doing so? Lots of questions popping up, and I can't wait for her character to be fleshed out.

    Now with Kouko. God, I can't help but see Tomoko in her. I know that Kouko is different from Tomoko, but I can't hold back my sympathy for her now. That's more than enough for me to ignore any imperfections of the show — I'm gonna sit behind the screen and cheer for her or give her a virtual hug from time to time.

    The only character that bothers me a little is Oka Chinami — her behaviours show too many signs of a stock character. Thank God that she doesn't show up often — to me, she's quite a distraction from other characters who behave like who they are as college students.

    In only a few hours we will see the next episode…can't wait.

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