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.