First Impressions – Isshuukan Friends

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That was exactly what I was expecting – and hoping for – from Isshuukan Friends.

OP: “Niji no Kakera (虹のかけら;Shards of a Rainbow)” by Natsumi Kon

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I talked about “horses for courses” with Soredemo Sekai, and this is another perfect example.  When I read the start of the Isshuukan Friends manga it never occurred to me that any other studio besides Brains Base would be right to do an adaptation.  Of course I would have said the same of Hourou Musuko too, and AIC rose above themselves there and flat nailed it, but I’m glad Brains Base was this powerful story’s landing place (and that they got the Hourou Musuko Art Director, Ito Akira, to fill the same role here).

What is about this story that makes it a perfect fit for this studio?  It’s something of a subtle thing, but in its classic mould Brains Base laps the field when it comes to unabashedly sentimental series about good people dealing with painful things.  As with, say, Natsume Yuujinchou, this is a show where you really need to check your cynicism at the door.  This is a studio that isn’t afraid of honest emotion displayed without embarrassment, and of depicting people who are kind for its own sake.  Irony has its place, but that place isn’t in every single story – once in a while it’s nice to see one that plays it straight emotionally.  And it’s nice to see that despite the way their catalog has shifted and the fact that they’ve had a sub-par couple of years, Brains Base can still nail it with this sort of material.

This was one of my three top picks going into the season (along with Baby Steps and Mushishi) and happily it likewise delivered.  Story-wise I’ll freely admit we’ve seen echoes of this premise before – in anime with the likes of Ef: A Tale of Memories, and out with the likes of 50 First Dates and even Memento.  But Hazuki Maccha’s (she’s only 23) manga is all about the execution – there’s a kind of high-wire balancing act with cloying on the one side and overly restrained on the other, and she never seems to put a foot wrong.  And the premiere didn’t either.

It’s not as though Brains Base has changed a lot from the source material, but the little touches – like Ito’s backgrounds and the lovely music of American-based composer Toda Nobuko serve the function they need to by making Hazuki’s pages come alive.  This is an anime, not a book, and it should feel different while maintaining the feel of the manga – just as Hourou Musuko and Mushishi do – and that’s what Isshuukan Friends does.  Iwasaki Tarou is a relatively inexperienced director but he resists trying to do too much with a story that’s emotionally transparent enough not to need the push, and let’s the dialogue and the situations speak for themselves.

At the heart of the story are two people, a boy named Hase Yuuki (Yamaya Yoshitaka) and a girl named Fujimiya Kaori (Amamiya Sora).  There are others who will be important – most significantly Yuuki’s deadpan friend Kiryuu Shougo (Hosoya Yoshimasa) – but really, One Week Friends is an extraordinarily simple story built around two people and one hook.  The hook is that Fujimiya has a medical condition where on every Monday she forgets all the people (except for her family) that she spent time with the week before.  The miracle is that the story is able to mine such subtlety and depth from such a spartan premise – it’s that old simple/profound double bill that’s at the heart of so much great anime.

As we meet him, Yukki-kun is unaware of Fujimiya’s condition (as the rest of the school seems to be).  All he knows is that he’s liked her for a long time and never worked up the courage to speak to the girl his classmates call “cold”.  She keeps her distance, has no friends – and indeed, when Yuuki comes right out and suggests that they become friends, she tells him it’s absolutely impossible for her to have them.  It’s an odd thing to hear, and Yuuki’s thought process (starting with the idea that it’s simply him she’s rejecting) is totally natural.  But he’s nothing if not persistent, and eventually wears her down enough to where she’ll agree to eat lunch with him on the roof – but only as long as they’re not “friends”.

I don’t want to dig too deeply into the mechanics of the story for fear of spoiling it, and there’s definitely a fairly large symbolic element to the way Hazuki employs Fujimiya’s condition.  But my gut reaction is that this is going to be one of those shows that either works for you, or it doesn’t – there’s not a lot of contextualizing or waiting to see how things develop required.  If you liked the premiere you’re the sort of person that will like Isshuukan Friends, and if not I really wouldn’t expect to change your mind later on.  And that’s just fine either way – I can see where the unvarnished sentimentality of the piece would be off-putting, but it’s so rare to see in anime and it’s brought off so tastefully and honestly that I’m nuts about it.  We don’t get shows like this very often, and I treasure the good ones when I get them.  This is the right story in the right hands, and with the manga only at four volumes so far one cour is plenty to give viewers a sense of what’s so special about it.

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ED: “Kanade (奏 (かなで))” by Kaori Fujimiya (CV: Sora Amamiya)

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  1. K

    This was my favorite premiere, sucked me right in. I just hope the rest of the series will be this good.

    One question I wonder if they will explain how she remembers that she forgets in the first place. Did someone ever tell her? I mean I guess that question is venturing into spoiler territory.

    On another note I can see why you mentioned Natsume Yuujinchou but for some reason the first episode reminds me the most of Fruits Basket. In Fruits Basket the characters couldn't hug characters of opposite sex so they kept their distance and here the MC forgets so she keeps her distance. Just the use of "something fantastical" to tell a more simple story about the difficulty of getting close to others.

  2. There are many possibilities, and bear in mind the manga is still quite new so nowhere near all questions have been answered. Maybe her parents tell her… And she may not even forget that she has the condition – only the people the condition forces her to forget.

  3. M

    If I remember correctly, she only forgets her memories of her friends. Everything else, including family, day-to-day life, and school, is intact. It would be generous to call her condition "amnesia" or to give it any medical name at all – "magic" would possibly be better.

    I have only read the first volume of the manga though (just to hype myself up for the anime), so it might be explained differently later on.

  4. m

    yeah, i'm pretty confused with that too. Why remember only her family and nothing of friends. Her memories of her family are entirely intact too.

  5. n

    It's highly implied (in the anime, by the ending) that she keeps a diary. There's a scene at the end during the credits (~23:00) with a poster on a door that reads "Make sure to read the journal on the desk!"

  6. w

    Hooo boy.. This isn't going to be an easy watch. Not in a bad way, mind you; I can just see myself crying a lot. I haven't read the manga at all but I had a feeling this could be my pick for best series of the season. And it looks to be on track so far.

    I really like the Art Direction here, the character designs and the soft cell colour pallette really add to the atmosphere. The injections of humour were spot on as well, and the character interactions feel very authentic. Hase and Kaori's interactions as they were becoming friends were especially good, really cute and charming without going overboard. Plus I like that Hase was clearly going to straight out tell her he likes her, and had genuine reason to hold out.

    I'm also a big BB fan, and appreciate the work they're capable of doing when on top of their game. Hopefully this series will represent a return to form rather than their swansong.

  7. B

    this was pretty good, the premier did a great job at introducing the characters and the main conflict. I also liked that it went at it's on pace, it didn't feel desperate to grab my attention which is usually a good sign.

  8. B

    side note: since i study psychology this already picked my interest. Because this manner of amnesia, that affects with precision a specific type of memories, could only be result of a psychological trauma of sorts. Depending of how this show explains things it will either win me or lose me.

  9. l

    With this first episode, it is meeting my expectations of being the bait to soften the viewer before it goes for the jugular to get those tearducts working overtime in the subsequent episodes. Enzo, you should have a competition to see who comes up with the best excuse for tears forming/shedding.

    That all said, it's an interesting premise and, so far, I'm curious to want to see more.

  10. M

    From the manga it didn't seem like a serious tearjerking series. More like a cute romance with a healing vibe and some drama sprinkled in.

  11. l

    Haven't read the manga but if this anime is going to amount to something based on the premise, they will have to face the root cause of her problem very soon in the limited number of episodes. Will probably also have to account why she did not just keep notes in her diary to recall the week and the friends she made. These are some of the basic questions that need to be addressed. Otherwise, it's wasted opportunity and becoming fluff.

  12. M

    I instantly thought of Ef: A Tale of Memories when I saw this one. I'd say I'm not expecting it to be as good but that's just my bias talking and maybe due to other technical aspects such as the visuals. It was still very good and I'm totally hooked.

    I personally hate being a cynic but some shows seem to demand it. In the case of romance,I couldn't help it but be one with Golden Time & even Nagi(although to a much lesser degree). But it's damn good to see shows that give the viewer absolutely no reason to act as such(unless they're cynics at heart,but in such cases they shouldn't be watching these types of shows anyway).

  13. t

    the last few days were really intense. we had so many new anime, a lot of them are quite good or very good (of course there are dropped as always). well, spring is usually a strong season that quite loaded with lots of anime…but the opening shot seems good. and it's not over.

    anyway, among them of course was Isshuukan friends, which met my expectations.
    one week friends(OWF) doesn't have a shiny opening or something. it's simple and lovely.
    it's not really a romance show, but it's like..well…those kids know better than us and other anime and characters in this field. which is quite funny but I like it. their expressions, honesty, emotions. it's all so simple but great.
    brains base are doing a really good work with that – the animation, OST (including OP and ED) are all giving the right atmosphere for it. it's not heavy or something, it really flowing. funny or naive when needed. all this despite it's not an easy situation for the characters that are experiencing something unique enough. so yeah, brains base are doing it right IMHO.

    I can't wait for next episode!

  14. S

    I don’t share the sentiment here. I liked everything on the outside: the visuals, OP, ED, OST. Unfortunately, the substantial part wasn’t up to my liking: Insufferable slow pace, boring dialogues, dull dynamics and characters, basically a lot of nothing.
    I thought about giving it a second chance since it has favorable reviews, but then I read here that if the first episode will not emotionally resonate, the rest won’t either, so thanks for convincing me not to watch another one.

  15. S

    If slow stuff isn't your thing I really doubt this will change over time – it doesn't seem the kind of show that does that. Personally I loved it, but I couldn't imagine this going fast in any way or form.

  16. S

    The slow pacing itself isn’t necessarily a problem – I mean I loved Flowers of Evil and anime doesn’t get slower than that – but if there’s also no hook then it becomes a problem. I understand the themes of the show, but it doesn’t resonate and in the end that’s what it's all about, right?.

  17. S

    Well, Flowers of Evil had a lot of conflict and shock value. I liked that a lot too, but admittedly, if this is a look at the best side of human nature, that was a disquieting stare down its abysses.

  18. m

    I was a bit skeptical about the premise and how it could lead to nothing but in your face sentimentality. I agree that there are times when Irony, sarcasm, or just general cynicism need to be thrown out, but I think it gets annoying fast when there's too much sentimentality. I think this show hit the perfect amount of pure kindness and emotion without being over the top or cheesy. I am curious to see how far you can tae a concept like this though before it just becomes repetitious. .

  19. K

    I liked the premiere, but I thought the 1st half of the episode was oddly paced. I was surprised to discover that the manga was a 4koma, so it'll be quite interesting to see how the adaptation will play out. This also reminded me of Usagi Drop, especially the art style. They both have a relaxing, yet engaging feel about them.

  20. S

    This is going to be good. Emotional depth. Some darkness in the story. Believable characters. This could be one of the best of 2014. I wonder if her condition is anything like the prof from Yoko Ogawa's book ( I don't know the english/Japanese title)

  21. t

    One Week Friends is not in the same league as Hourou Musuko. The whole premise is such a sappy, silly, contrived trivialization of the social barriers which exist in reality.

    "Oh, that girl (whom I only want to be friends with) doesn't want to talk to me because she has her mind selectively wiped every week. What kind of delusional psychological underpinning from the author is that?? Even if I could accept the device, the characters are dull and their relationships are arbitrary.

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