For the second time in as many weeks I’m going to reference Sekai Soredemo wa Utsukushii in talking about this series. It’s not as though the two shows are all that similar, but I do sense something common in the reactions – especially as regards the second episode of Sekai Soredemo. In both cases I think we’re talking about something that can only be appreciated with a certain suspension of disbelief and, even more, a rejection of cynicism. Trying to explain why the scene at the end of that episode or pretty much everything that’s happened in this series effect you is like trying to describe the color blue or what “sweet” tastes like (without saying “sweet”). I think you pretty much either get it, or you don’t.
To some extent that’s the reason why I said last week that if the first episode of Isshuukan Friends didn’t work for you, it probably isn’t going to. If you’re waiting for the other emotional shoe to drop, you’ll be waiting for a long time. Things will change over the course of this series – characters and relationships will develop and gaps will be partially filled in – but there’s no game-changer coming in terms of emotional tone. These people are exactly who they seem to be, and their situation is painful exactly why it seems to be. If you feel connected to that, I suspect that connection will only grow. If you don’t, I doubt very much whether that will change.
I’m not sure how well the specifics of One Week Friends hold up to analysis (gossamer, you know) but Kaori’s strange condition is certainly what defines the series, both in literal and metaphorical terms. I was never more reminded of Memento than with these chapters, which focus heavily on her decision to keep a diary – a decision that’s strongly influenced by Yuuki (in essence, he’s the one that suggests it). It seems self-evident that keeping a diary is something someone in Kaori’s situation would do (recall the endless notes around the apartment in Mememto), and thus, it’s perfectly logical for Yuuki to suggest it. Sure, he has a selfish reason – having to go through the ordeal of “friendship confessing” over and over isn’t easy. But there’s also a profound desire to help Kaori maintain the essence of who she is.
With the benefit of distance, of course you and I know it can’t possibly be that easy. The relevant question, for me, is why Kaori hasn’t been keeping a diary all along? As she and Yuuki go through their second week together, a perfectly normal first romance that’s at the same time unique, Kaori dutifully records everything that’s happening and even what she’s feeling. The most profound event comes on Sunday, the day before her memories fade. It starts out as a “date” for crepes (at the same place she wanted to visit a week earlier) and ends up at a karaoke club. In addition to the obvious relationship implications of such a place (and the hilarious disco ball moment) it’s obvious that karaoke is an essential part of high school social life that Kaori has always longed to experience, and it doesn’t disappoint.
That night Kaori leaves herself a note to check her diary in the morning, and that “Hase-kun is my friend” – but after she kills the lights she bolts upright and writes in her diary again. What is she doing – crossing out her entries? Fictionalizing events to make forgetting them less painful? We don’t know – but it becomes clear the next day that she was, in fact, asking God to let her remember Yuuki. And this is of course the reason she doesn’t keep a diary (likely, she did once and stopped) – because it was simply too painful to see the heartfelt words on the page and feel no emotional connection to them. She lies for Yuuki’s benefit, telling him she does remember bits and pieces, but he sees through this quickly enough – and feels even more guilty for forcing her to lie, in addition to keeping the diary in the first place.
In truth this is really a very simple, very sad story of two incredibly nice people coping with pain. Iwasaki-sensei is wisely keeping it very simple in the adaptation too, letting the emotions carry the story. Again, this is such a perfect fit for Brains Base – the look of the series is a cross between Natsume Yuujinchou and Art Director Ito Akira’s Hourou Musuko, and it suits the material perfectly. The music is beautiful but unobtrusive and used sparingly, and the relatively inexperienced lead seiyuu project an awkwardness and innocence it would be hard to match with more well-known voices. I view the final scene here – with Kaori lying to Yuuki as she pictures a cipher standing next to her in the images from her diary, Yuuki seeing through her lie and she (eventually) writing down that he’s wonderful person – very much as I do that final scene from this week’s Soredemo Sekai. It’s unabashedly sentimental and very un-Japanese, and certainly isn’t going to ring true with everyone. If you’re one of the lucky ones for whom it does, Isshuukan Friends is going to be a powerful experience.