If you’ll indulge me, I find myself fitting everything about this week’s episode of Golden Time into the box called “duality”. There’s always been a bifurcated nature to this series, some of it by design and some not so much: two Banris, two love interests obviously being the former. But one thing I’m sure is the latter is the way the show can swing wildly from emotionally devastating brilliance to awkward and stilted (like the really unpleasant and unfunny scene in front of Yana’s apartment) at the drop of a hat. And as for the last one, I’m not sure which box it falls under – the way Golden Time takes on a completely different personality depending on which characters are on screen.
In short, I find this to be a completely different series when Linda is involved. It’s more dignified, more weighty, more emotionally sharp – sweeter, kinder, more painful. Her almost total absence from the OP/ED and the episode previews is fascinating – it really makes me wonder what sort of message Kon-sensei and J.C. Staff are trying to send about her character and where she fits in the story. I’m frankly confused about what this series is trying to accomplish, though not in an entirely bad way – it’s kind of fun to be confused about a show you care about, but again – I’m not sure how much of this confusion is intentional and how much is awkward direction.
Case in point – is GT going out of its way to make Linda far more likeable than Kouko, and her time with Banri far more meaningful? Of course Kouko is a very troubled person and that’s being presented intentionally (and quite well). But her scenes with Banri seem to lack any sort of meaning whatsoever – they’re cartoonish and absurd and their mutual affection is so hackneyed as to be not at all believable (at least to me). It also seems impossible to ignore the fact that she and Yana are being portrayed as still hopelessly obsessed with each other – indeed, it could be said that Kouko and Banri each represent a rebound relationship for the other. And we all know how well those work out.
But then there’s Linda. Setting aside Ghost Banri (henceforth referred to as “GB”) spelling things out, it’s obvious that Banri still has deep and profound feelings for Linda. As obvious as the fact that he doesn’t for Kouko, and so obvious that GB’s presence seems patently unnecessary to me – one reason I’m still not sold on him as a narrative device. Every scene between Banri and Kouko projects shallowness – every scene between he and Linda depth. Everything between them is deeper and more profound – the connection, the concern, the pain. Step back and ask yourself honestly – is there anything Kouko could do that would hurt Banri the way overhearing Linda say what she did to her girlfriends in high school did? If the answer is “no” – and it is for me – it makes it hard to take Banri and Kouko seriously as a couple. And on the subject of that being a “different person” in Banri’s case, I’ll address that in a minute.
What seems obvious to me is Linda’s “Isn’t it obvious” moment – when she told Banri her answer that night after graduation was going to be “no”, she was lying. You may feel differently but I’ve been down this road with more than a few anime, and my confidence is close to absolute. She has every reason to lie – Banri is with someone else, believes he’s not the same guy he was then, and Linda feels like she’s already done him enough damage. But the truth is all over her face – and it’s just another case of Banri and Linda hurting each other without wanting to. This is clearly a cycle between them, and every scene between them seems to be painful – but it’s the fact that the two of them are so deeply connected that makes it possible for them to hurt each other so much.
And then there’s Kouko, who’s the other main source of the confusion about where this show is going. Everyone can make their own judgements, obviously, but to me it’s clear she simply isn’t healthy psychologically. Her mistreatment of Oka is abominable (and entirely unjustified) and she’s 100% obsessed with the guy she’s been stalking since they were elementary-schoolers. The side-plot with Oka and Yana is a good one, but it gets overwhelmed by the sheer amperage of the main trio. It’s like a 100-watt light bulb outdoors on a sunny day – in a different setting it would be impossible to miss, but you can barely see it here.
If it weren’t for the OP/ED, and the promo materials, and the previews, I’d be convinced that Kouko and Banri was being set up as the obvious distraction from the main event, and that even if he never ended up with Linda it would be that relationship or its eventual end that would define the series. But we have all those things to consider, and if indeed Kouko and Banri is the centerpiece Golden Time certainly has a novel way of setting it up. For me, it feels as if the real issue here is the duality of Banri himself. Is he right that he’s a different person now, and the symbolic (or literal) presence of GB is the proof of that? Or is Banri merely fooling himself and in point of fact, he’s still very much the same man he was before? My instincts tell me it’s the latter, which is why they also tell me that Linda is the relationship that matters for him, not Kouko. But I think it’s the answer to that riddle that ultimately determines which course the series takes.