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.