Isshuukan Friends – 03

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When it comes to telling a story, it’s often the case that less is more – and Isshuukan Friends has that figured out.

This is definitely the season for good shows that are challenging to blog – I’ve already discussed this as regards Mushishi (which actually qualifies as “great” by a comfortable margin) and Haikyuu, and One Week Friends is another one to add to the pile.  The formula here is so simple – show characters viewers will like and care about feeling things, and the audience will feel things too.  And for me at least – and seemingly for a good chunk of the anime audience, as this series is showing early signs of being a possible sleeper hit – it’s working.

I want to touch on an element of why this show works which I think is easy to miss, and that’s silence.  “A picture is worth a thousand words” indeed, an old statement we’ve all heard countless (a thousand?) times.  But most directors and writers – in anime and other visual mediums – are frightened of silence.  It requires both a confidence in their ability to tell a story and a trust in the audience, and most are lacking one or the other (and often both).  In watching this episode I can’t help but be struck by how many silent moments there are in this series – lacking not just dialogue, but music and ambient noise as well.  It’s just alone with the character or characters, who are alone with their thoughts.  What we know, we know from their faces – and from our own emotional radar.

This formula works especially well with Isshuukan Friends, I think, because the situations it presents are so self-apparent.  I found this episode the saddest of all, perhaps strangely so given the events that transpired, but it was in watching Kaori emotionally buffeted by events around her that did it.  The scene where she tries over and over again to go back into the classroom to retrieve her diary, only to abort every time she hears voices from inside, is quietly devastating.  Kaori has unique issues, but most people (especially anyone who’s introverted or has been the subject of bullying) can identify with what she’s feeling – perhaps they’ve even had that same experience.  There’s not a lot of padding or embellishment here – director Iwasaki Tarou just lets us watch it play out and connect the emotional dots ourselves.  And that’s exactly what he should be doing.

Asserting his role in the narrative this week is Shougo, the first outsider we’ve seen allowed inside Kaori and Yuuki’s world.  It’s Yuuki who convinces Kaori to let him in on the secret – perhaps pushing a little too hard, I felt – on the grounds that Shougo is the only one “twisted enough” to believe and understand Kaori’s problem.  Shougo is a strange one, as we’ve seen hints of already – stone-faced, blunt – and his initial reaction when Kaori shares her secret (again, it’s actually Yuuki doing all the sharing here, which is a red flag for me) is to try and explain the problem logically.  Was it physical trauma, or mental?  When did it start?  Quickly enough though this leads him to question whether she’s telling the truth at all, and to condemn Yuuki as being too trusting.  The latter may very well be true, but the former certainly comes off as incredibly harsh under the circumstances even if a certain skepticism is natural.

I’m not sure where all this is going, to be honest – I’d assumed Kaori’s parents were fully aware of her problem but this episode almost made it seem as if she was keeping it a secret even from them, as she offered no mention of a proper medical diagnosis in response to Shougo’s questions.  There’s a critical change here, too – Kaori actually remembers cooking eggs for Yuuki’s bento when she writes the number 18 (the number of grams of sugar he likes best) on the board.  She doesn’t remember Yuuki himself, which causes him to momentarily freak out that she does remember Shougo – but of course it’s actually a compliment, given her condition.

My response when all this was happening was that we were looking at a false dawn of sorts.  There was no reason in theory, of course, why we couldn’t be looking at a series that details Kaori’s slow recovery from her condition with Yuuki’s (and now Shougo’s) help.  But that just didn’t feel right – it seems too early in the story for the heartbreak to start to diminish, and Yuuki’s narration seems to bear that out.  I think this is a story about the journey and not the destination and about living in the moment, and the memorable moments are going to keep coming, and the aforementioned classroom scene is certainly one of them.  It concludes with Shougo retrieving Kaori’s diary for her and delivering it along with his usual blunt assessment of her situation, and Kaori speaking out to the girls who were mocking her as “weird” behind her back.  What we’re seeing is that with the boys’ help Kaori is changing, even if she isn’t “recovering” in the obvious sense – and even if that’s a painful process for her, it’s one that she absolutely had to undertake.

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  1. Too depressing to see no comments here…

  2. A

    I think some readers are running into much the same problem that you have Enzo, the material largely speaks for itself. The things that make Isshuukan Friends notable are subtle aspects of execution, not clever plot or melodrama.

    I'm really liking what I see here so far, the show is not ignoring the underlying question of how Kaori came to have her condition and that is pretty bold considering how contrived or plot-device like her condition tends to come off as. But even as I praise that bold step I cannot help but confess that I really do not care. I am far more interested in how the characters will cope with the consequences of Kaori's situation and the emotional impact it will have on all of them. I'm liking Shougo so far, I think it's important to have someone who is relentlessly honest about a situation like the one our characters find themselves in. I hope that he can help ground Yuuki and make him think hard about how his ideas will impact Kaori's life and feelings.

  3. I agree, but it was still sad to see! Mushishi is getting few comments for the same reason.

  4. F

    I can't believe I'm putting this show on my bubble list but I am. I was looking forward to how this story would unfold, and most importantly I was anticipating events and back story to give me a reason to care about the struggles the MCs are experiencing. But so far I feel as though I'm expected to just emote simply because the characters are trying to make me do so.

    I feel no connection with any of the characters which is essential for me to enjoy anime of this genre, and that really saddens me because I was hoping this show would be one of the good ones for me this season. I really really want to like this show. I finished this episode and thought to myself, "Did I miss something?" Being an introvert I thought that I would at least be able to identify with the struggles Kaori faces in relating to others, but after re-watching this episode I'm still feeling disinterested.

    One of my concerns about this show would be that it would be episodic in nature and that's kinda how it feels to me, and the preview for next week seems to confirm that. That may have worked for other anime (splendid Gingitsune is a wonderful example, and yet I felt much more involved and connected with the MCs than with this show) but without something here to make me care I'm just a onlooker hoping for a reason to invest my emotions.

    It may be unfair, but Baby Steps has a firmer hold on my heart than this one.

  5. Mine too, but that's a measure of how great Baby Steps is, in my case.

  6. G

    I'm worried he is too trusting and we are gonna see Shougo hit on her. Inviting your best friend to be friends with the girl you like does not always turn out well.

  7. A

    I have a hard time seeing that, it just does not fit with Shougo's character at all. Why would someone with a lazy streak as large as Shougo's pursue a relationship with a girl who has such a high maintenance condition? I'd be the first to say that Kaori is a utterly charming young girl once she lets her barriers down, but being friends or lovers with someone with her condition would be an incredibly difficult and painful process for anyone. From what I have seen of Shougo I can tell that he is more than intelligent enough to see that and so I doubt he would pursue such a course of action even if he did not hold any loyalty to Yuuki.

  8. Yeah, I really don't see that happening here.

  9. E

    It was embarrassing to start a comment when nobody did it, ha ha.
    This is another anime that sticks to what it's theme, and I like it.
    This time, it's about making friends.
    Other than the story, I like the drawing, which I assume that it replicates the manga's.
    The characters are adorable, and the color choice is refreshing.
    The main guy is a sincere and good kid, who tries to give her more friends, even though it contradicts his desire to date her.

  10. s

    Enzo, I agree that Yuuki's pushing a bit too hard, and comes off as overly naive and optimistic. That being said, he's got the best of intentions, he recognizes that he shouldn't monopolize Kaori's friendship, and if it wasn't for his overflowing optimism, he would never have made it through to her in the first place. Isn't it nice to see a male anime lead who is generally pretty good at reading emotional cues and circumstances–even if he's a touch overeager in this episode–although he *does* read Shougo correctly in the end.

    Kaori and Yuuki are a sweet couple, with great natural chemistry, mutual understanding, and an adorable touch of teen awkwardness. Shougo thus serves a good foil; he keeps the show from becoming cloyingly sweet; I loved the contempt with which he regarded the happy couple at the start of the episode.

    This is a series where the emotional pitch is true enough that I can forgive the underlying plot advice, which I find, well, absurd.

  11. G

    I love Shougo LOL…So blunt yet so necessary. I didn't comment because this is one of those shows I tend to forget to watch when it airs. Anyways, I'm liking it a lot. The first episode didn't quite grab me the way I had hoped but it has grown immensely on me. I was kind of worried it would become too saccharine but I think Shougo balances it all out very nicely. I love the dynamic here.

  12. J

    I like Shougo a lot: just Kaori and Yuuki are far too saccharine for me (is that what Shougo said in this episode as well?). I hope they move off the 'high school bullies / gossips' topic quickly because I always find that plot hamfisted.

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