It has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but wherever this is, I want to go there ASAP.
I’m straddling so many fences I’m starting to worry about groin pulls, but Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou is yet another show I’m not quite decided on. It’s close – I think I’d rank it just behind Kanojo ga Flag but ahead of Chaika and Sidonia in the “likelihood to follow and/or blog” list – but there are still numerous elements of Bokura wa (isn’t there an abbreviated title for this yet?) that aren’t quite working for me.
The truth is, while blogging is still up in the air I’ll almost certainly keep watching this series because I’d get enjoyment out of it even with the audio and subtitles turned off – it’s just that beautiful. I hadn’t even noticed that the series was set in Otsu – the area just East of Kyoto that hugs the shore of Lake Biwa and includes some beautiful temples, shrines and nature (it was also the shortest-lived capital of Japan – 667-672 A.D.). But this week the series really worked those locales into the story, including some amazing shots of Mt. Hiei, the home of the hugely important Enryaku-ji temple complex, and its cable car lines.
But man cannot live by visuals alone, and the narrative of the series is less successful than the art. I sense a bit of uncertainty about what sort of show it wants to be, committing neither to the madcap comedy or the poignant teen emotional drama and as a result not totally working as either. This ep was certainly the most low-key and earnest so far, and it may just have been my favorite – which I suppose should clue me in on which mode I prefer. The execution was still hit-and-miss but there does seem to be an emotional honesty here than can work.
Fundamentally Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou is, so far, another series about a teenage boy who’s a doormat for a house full of females. Usa is a good guy but the whole routine of following Kawai around everywhere panting like an overager puppy is wearing thin – and on her, too. She’s pretty mean to him generally but I was with her when she told Usa to back off – he was being way too pushy. Of course that was thanks to the meddling of the troublemaking Sayaka, whose redeeming qualities we’ve not yet been shown as far as I’m concerned. Mayumi is certainly better but the fact it she was Usa digging himself a hole, and chose to enjoy his struggles rather than warn him off. It’s nice that Mayumi (unlike Sayaka) has the decency to feel bad about feeling good about other people’s misfortune – but that doesn’t change the fact that she feels good about other people’s misfortune.
The saving grace for me is that this was really the first episode where I started to feel empathy for Kawai. She’s in a bind, really – her impulse really it that she just wants to be left alone so she can do what she wants (i.e. read) rather than deal with needy and annoying fellow teenagers. But being both human and intelligent, she realizes on some level that this isn’t exactly healthy. Is she unhappy because she’s alone, or unhappy because she doesn’t think she should be happy alone – and in the end, does it matter? The scene at the bookstore was especially effective – in effect, Kawai proves that she can fake it well enough to fool Usa as he watches her interact with two old middle-school acquaintances (I think it would be too much to call them friends). But later she confides that she “just wanted the conversation to be over as soon as possible”. Kawai is a mess of contradictory emotions right now – she believes a number of things which are mutually exclusive, which means she’s being dishonest with herself.
Reading back through all that, there’s probably enough here to keep me invested unless Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou takes a serious turn for the worse (though there are enough yellow flags here to make me believe that’s a real risk). The most telling moment of the episode for me is the expression that leaps to Kawai’s face when Usa interrupts her on the way home yet again, revealing as it does how she really and truly feels at the time. Rather than a cliched story about Kawai opening up to the world socially and overcoming her unhappy loneliness, I think this would be a much more interesting series if the journey we’re on is towards the notion that some people are simply introverted souls, happy in their own company – and the real problem is others making them feel bad about that. Shiro’s conversation with Kawai admits at least the possibility that we may be headed in that direction (though I’ll believe it when I see it), and I’m reasonably curious to find out which road we take.