A couple podcasts back the Random Curiosity gang and I played a round-table game I’d suggested, about what the one element was that tied all our favorite series together. It was an interesting exercise trying to find the common link, and the one that struck me in looking at my all-time favorites was how many of them employed misdirection – that is, they superficially appeared as if they were going to be a certain type of show, and in practice ended up being something very different.
Well, I certainly seem to have the opportunity to test that trend this season, with two Thursday series that seem on-course to be shining examples. The first is obviously Samurai Flamenco (as I write this I haven’t watched Episode 8 yet). And the second, it now seems very likely, is Golden Time. As game-changers go Ghost Banri doesn’t quite reach the level of Guillotine Gorilla, but it’s still a pretty big curveball if he turns out to be real and not symbolic – and after this week’s ep that very much appears to be the case.
This is a tough road for me, because I was quite happy with both series as they were presented – Samumenco’s modern take on the need for heroes in a society in decline with little violent crime, where apathy is the greatest enemy. And Golden Time’s straight-up college romance, a refreshing change-of-pace from the endless string of mediocre high-school relationship shows which litter the airwaves. I didn’t especially feel the need to inject a supernatural element in what were already compelling stories (much as I felt about Tokyo Magnitude 8.0) but as of this moment (I may feel differently after Samumenco’s next ep, but I’m not counting on it) it appears very much as if that’s what we’re going to get.
Zanibas, one of the writers over at RC, compared GT to Natsuyuki Rendezvous today and that actually represents another interesting parallel. I found Natsuyuki a similarly refreshing grown-up take on the romance drama but had no problems with the ghost element at all – so why is it different now? Perhaps (and this wouldn’t make me especially proud) it’s no more than the fact that I knew it was coming in that series from before it aired. I do think there’s more to it, though – Atsushi’s ghost status seemed a much more intrinsic part of the romantic premise, where here the ghost element feels superfluous – as of now my take is that Banri’s conflicts would be more interesting if they were addressed at face value. Amnesia is already a pretty major game-changer – it’s not as though we needed anything more piled on top of that.
Of course Golden Time and Samumenco are both two-cour shows, so there’s lots of time to see how all these elements are executed before making any final judgments. What I’m really waiting for with GT is for the series to make the case that Banri’s relationship with Kouko should be regarded on equal terms with his relationship with Linda. It’s an odd narrative – we started out deconstructing Kouko’s destructive “relationship” with Yana with Linda barely on-screen, but since then her deep and profound emotional connection with Banri has been strengthened every week, while we’ve seen no such advancement for his connection with Kouko.
The story of Linda’s older brother was quite a strong plot in its own right – Linda’s dilemma was a very realistic one, and quite deftly portrayed. The upshot of the incident was that it convinced Banri beyond a doubt that he wanted to be with Linda forever, to the point where he promised her he would – though he lacked the self-belief to answer when she seemingly extended him an invitation for a mutual commitment. But what “Ani’s” story says about each of them is interesting in its own right. Linda at first wants to utterly destroy the fiancee who’s cheating on her brother, but later realizes she doesn’t want to be the one to destroy their relationship. Banri is the more idealistic (“romantic” if you like) of the two – he only holds himself back from revealing everything because Linda changes her mind. But of course in doing so Linda now must resign herself to living a lie – and Banri is the only other person with whom she can commiserate.
There are other questions I might want to ask about this incident – whether the guy the fiancee was cheating with might have been the one on the scooter who caused Banri’s injuries, for example. But that’s for later – for now it’s just another deep emotional tie between Linda and Banri. It’s clear Linda has never forgotten the promise Banri made to her that night, even if he has. The big question with Linda for me is this: is she holding herself back with Banri because of his situation, because she’s just generally bad with commitment, or because she never loved Banri romantically in the first place? Take what happens at the end of the episode how you will – does it simply symbolically represent Banri regaining his memories, or is it a literal case of possession in the mold of Natsuyuki Rendezvous? It really doesn’t matter in the sense that both of them are hopelessly entangled with the other to the point where extraction is going to be very difficult and time-consuming, assuming that’s what both of them decide they want.
Either way, Banri’s feelings for Linda are now surely going to be out in the open, and the one who stands to be hurt is Kouko. Even if her relationship with Banri has been almost entirely superficial up to this point she still deserves honesty from him, though he undeniably has a good reason for not revealing his true feelings up till now. As vulnerable a state as she’s in it’s hard not to think this will utterly devastate her – indeed, merely a suspicion of it has rendered her virtually a recluse for a week. I stand by my assessment that even attempting to enter a serious relationship is a mistake for her until she makes some progress with hew own issues. She’s in love with being in love and as people who are obsessive about romance often do, she threw herself into a new relationship immediately after her last one (even if it was only in her mind) ended – and throwing herself so bombastically into one that was built on quicksand always seemed likely to lead to disaster. It’s the aftermath of that disaster, I suppose, that’s likely to tell us a lot about the direction of Golden Time in its second cour.