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