I’m noticing an interesting effect with Isshuukan Friends, which is that invariably I find myself much more wrapped up in the second half of an episode than the first. Though this is by no means universal to good series, it’s almost always an indication of a very good one – of writing that understands the art of build-up, of good intra-episodic pacing, and of a certain type of series that seems to require you to “buy in” to its emotional argument before everything really starts to matter.
This episode was certainly no exception to the above trend, and also, I think, a representative one in terms of the show as a whole. There were individual elements that might perhaps not hold up well to intense intellectual scrutiny, but Isshuukan Friends is a series that demands to be watched with the heart more than the head. It’s almost Impressionist in its narrative approach – do we look at a Monet or Renoir and critique it based on photo-realism? No – what these artists tried to do was capture an essence of realism through their vision, and I think that’s what Isshukan Friends is trying to do as well. It uses metaphor and somewhat outlandish (at times) story elements to try and capture basic emotional truths. And, I would argue, very successfully.
I was initially a bit shocked to see Yuuki so openly jealous of Shougo at the start of this episode, but ultimately I think it makes him more relatable as a character. Yuuki’s kindness has been the driver of everything from the first moments, so I’m certainly not going to hold a little human frailty against him. That said, of course there’s always been an element of selfishness in what Yuuki does – he likes Kaori and wants to be with her. But the larger point is that there’s always an element of selfishness in seemingly selfless acts – people can deny that the feeling of satisfaction that they get from doing something nice for someone isn’t a motivating factor, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just human nature, really.
The situation is something of a conspiracy against Hase-kun here, really. Fujimiya remembering Kiryuu and not him for starters is a little grating (though actually a compliment), and then there’s the rumor that the two of them are friends. And then there’s the fact that she can’t stop talking about Kiryuu. This is perfectly natural – for Kiriyama, this amazingly normal friendship is a complete novelty, something terribly exciting. But for Hase it feels unfair that his friendship with her is still a secret while Kiryuu’s has been acknowledged. And a girl talking non-stop about another guy, who happens to be his best friend, well… His reaction is perfectly natural too. Is it admirable? No, it’s jealousy and insecurity plain and simple – but understandable under the circumstances. Heck, I even thought for a moment that Fujimiya might have a crush on Kiryuu – but in the context of her situation, it seems unlikely.
This scenario raises some interesting questions about Kaori’s memory. Now that she considers Shougo a friend, will she no longer be able to remember him? It seems she has an incomplete memory of things besides friends, too – such as the reason she went to the river (to see a wayward seal) or what it was she lost (her diary, when she was struck by a cyclist). Does she remember them incompletely because they’re connected to Yuuki, or is it an indication of a more general fallibility in her memory? What’s clear is that this is the worst possible scenario for Yuuki, because not only has their first fight come on a Friday but Kaori has lost her diary and missed school on Monday to boot (in anime, a drop of rain in the hair equals illness every time). So when Kaori does show up on Tuesday, she responds rather icily to Yuuki’s familiarity.
Fortunately, there’s Shougo. He proves himself a good friend to Yuuki in many ways here, first and foremost because even if he loves to complain about it he’s always there when Yuuki needs to vent (cutting class when a friend needs you is definite bro points). He also goes to Kaori and pushes her back towards Yuuki, not spelling everything out for her but pushing the right buttons. It’s telling here that Kaori stops him before he can tell her everything – she wants to remember herself, which suggests this sort of situation isn’t completely new to her. Meanwhile Yuuki is redeeming himself by searching tirelessly for the lost diary, eventually winding up at the riverside where Kaori took her tumble.
There are certain coincidences here which, as I said earlier, might not hold up to rigid intellectual scrutiny. I wouldn’t blame anyone for finding that a problem, but for me it doesn’t really matter because what’s important is the larger picture Isshuukan Friends is painting. Kaori’s situation itself is obviously symbolic of the way we isolate ourselves emotionally to keep from being hurt anyway, so I don’t really view the series as something that’s intended to be taken literally. Envy, possessiveness, loyalty, affection – all of these things are a part of adolescent friendship and romance, and they ring spot-on for me in this series. When Kaori takes Yuuki’s dirty and scratched hand and cradles it against her face, that’s as true and authentic as any documentary could ever be, and that’s why I find Isshuukan Friends to be such a powerful emotional experience.