This is a very strange series, full of genuinely powerful moments as well as awkward and stilted ones. In a way I think GT and White Album 2 form bookends as the two best romance series of the season by a wide margin. With the latter there’s never really been much mystery about what was going on, and the tension comes from knowing it. Here – at least for me – the show has me completely in the dark. I don’t know WTF Takemiya and Kon are going for here, and until this episode I wasn’t sure they did either.
That’s pretty much changed this week, though, because I think this ep was an overt statement that Golden Time is fully aware of the strange dichotomy as it exists around the main characters. Banri says it himself – it’s like his time with Linda is reality, and his time with Kouko a dream (though I would use the word fantasy, myself). Watch the way the scenes are shot, paced, and even the BGM – everything with Linda is warm and soft and tender, and with Kouko it’s harsh and bright and loud. As well, there’s almost no comedy where Linda is involved, and the scenes with Kouko often tend towards the farcical (and with her oversized personality dragging them there, that’s no surprise).
I can’t find a better word than the one Linda uses to describe the two of them together – “natural”. You can agree or disagree about the romantic element (I have my leanings, but the jury is still out), but they just go together like butter and toast. With Kouko, it’s different – there’s an edge of panic in the air, which might naturally enough be taken as a sign of romantic tension if you’re inclined to think that way. There’s obviously no way Kouko and Banri could have the same kind of rapport he and Linda do – that is, unless you truly believe this Banri is a different person than the old one, in which case he’s actually known her for less time than he’s known Kouko (thus removing one excuse for why he and Linda seem so much better-suited).
I’m not entirely happy with the way GT is choosing to portray that whole question, and I haven’t been for a while. I would really prefer if they stop dancing around the whole Ghost Banri question and settle it one way or the other – I don’t like the idea that Ghost Banri exists as a separate entity to begin with, but if that’s the direction we’re going let’s acknowledge it and play ball already. Instead, we get the incredibly cliched development of Banri falling and hitting his head – not 30 seconds into the episode, yet – and losing his recently regained memories (or not, if you believe Ghost Banri really exists). So we’re back where we started, not knowing whether this is a symbolic device or a dose of magical realism, and that allows the series to kick some of the major questions down the curb for a while instead of addressing them.
As always I prefer the notion that this is an identity crisis rather than a supernatural one, because I think there’s plenty of pathos in the story if it follows that route. While we’ve seen the anime cold done to death, I liked the way the first half of the episode played out, starting with the intervention of Nana (the “Nana” jokes were thick in the air this week). She calls Linda (Nana) naturally enough, but not before showing she does have a softer side by taking Banri to the hospital (with a 39.2 fever). Again, Linda and Banri could hardly seem more natural together – but what kind of love is this? Linda’s true feelings remain a mystery, but Banri – whatever combination of Banris he is at this point – seems fully reconciled to the fact that he wants to be with Linda. Linda, being Linda, calls Kouko – and with her arrival (with the rest of the peanut gallery minus Oka in tow) things immediately get funnier and stranger. And Banri gets confused, as Kouko’s presence seems to momentarily at least distract him from the emotions he retained from his encounter with GB at the end of the last episode.
I think it’s enough of a story if Banri is just confused about what he wants – torn between the love of his youth and the new girl. I don’t need anything more than that, but need it or not we’re getting it with the whole Ghost Banri question. Whether Ghost Banri is real or not I think the ultimate direction of GT is going to boil down to the answer to a very simple question – are new and old Banri the same person or not? I actually don’t think it matters if it’s the physical form vs. the ghost, the pre-amnesia vs. post-amnesia Banri, or just a young person confused about who he is and what he wants – the question is fundamentally the same. And until Banri answers it definitively he’s going to remain confused, no matter whether he follows through on Kouko’s invitation for a nooky-trip to the beach (a lot cheaper than Paris, as first times go).
Of course it isn’t only Banri that’s going to have a say about how all this plays out, even if his identity question is the central variable in the series. It’s still impossible to say just how real Kouko’s professed love for him is, given her insecurities (indeed, one could argue that her beach invitation at the end is an attempt to use the lure of sex to hang onto Banri when she’s afraid of losing him). For all her protestations it’s clear she was genuinely freaked out that Linda was taking care of Banri first. She remains a dizzying uzumaki of relationship dysfunction, and for all her reassuring solidity Linda is no slouch herself. She still hasn’t tipped her hand one way or the other about her true feelings for Banri, and given that she still believes she’s dealing with someone with no memories of their adolescence together, her deference to Kouko could easily be a simple case of not wanting to disrupt Banri’s life any further than she feels she already has. Trying to discern Kouko’s true feelings is like trying to pick out a single voice at a party full of noisy people, and trying to discern Linda’s is like trying to hear someone whispering from the other side of the room.