Isshuukan Friends – 04

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This series is definitely the express to the right side of the brain.

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.

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  1. F

    Very well said Enzo – and I agree with what you have written here.

    When I saw the ep I found myself pained to see what Hase was doing – with all the emotional accuracy of the series I found myself feeling for Kaori and not liking Hase for his moment of weakness hurting her, even if was very true to life and everything else.

    I have had a hard time expressing this elsewhere as well, actually. And it is not an objective criticism with the series itself, rather to my mind it is a testament to it's consistent excellence. It is rather an emotional reaction to being sad to see Hase and Kaori experience something like that.

    Even though everyone goes through things like that and much much worse I still get pained when seeing it happen.

  2. w

    I like the fact that Hase acknowledges that he has selfish motives for helping Kaori, even though he also genuinely wants to help her. I think that scene by the river was an excellent moment of lucidity for him. He manages to convey a much deeper understanding of himself, what she means to him and what drives him to become her friend. Most importantly, even though he doesn't say it, I think he's managed to get all that across to Kaori herself.

    I was actually a little worried for Hase's character by the halfway point (mostly for being a little too pushy with Kaori), but by the end this episode he's managed to completely shed me of any fears I had about him.

    By the way, I reeeeaally like the look of this series, the colours, shot composition, character designs are all so lovely.

  3. Yes, it's the Hourou Musuko Art Director with the classic Brains Base look – it's really perfect for this series.

  4. w

    It feels like something out of a story book. Which now that I think about it meshes fairly well with the way you seem to view the series.

  5. I would say that's not quite how I view it. I think it's a little more abstract than that, but it's not too far off.

  6. w

    Something metaphorical, that you feel as opposed to see. But which also belies something universal, and can be taken as a lesson as much as it can an actual story. …And is also very beautiful to look at. Something like that?

  7. v

    I fully agree that this is one show not to be taken literally or to be subjected to intellectual scrutiny. On hindsight, I am a little ticked off by the timing and how he found the diary. But it doesn't really matter at that point as I was too emotionally invested into the episode.

    Btw, I'm a sucker for the "play the ED before the episode ends" trick and I think this show is playing that card well especially with the piano entrance of the song.

  8. B

    I knew it would be just a matter of time before Fujimiya lost her diary. Speaking of which, if she's been religiously writing comments every day then reviewing them before Monday class, how would she manage in, say, six months later? How could she cope with reviewing six months worth of diary entries if, because of memory loss she'll naturally want to start from the beginning every time?

  9. s

    Once again, this series shrugs off a somewhat absurd plot point and scores an emotional win… Not only does Fujimiya lose her diary at the worst possible time, catch a terrible cold, but she also accidentally removes the poster she uses to remind herself to read the diary–as if these were the only *traces* of her relationship with Hase. But, as you point out Enzo, Hase's emotional state is terribly human, and this episode is important, precisely because it keeps him from becoming such a saint that we can no longer relate to him. I was always astonished by how calmly he accepted how his crush would *completely* forget about him every week; yes, she had a diary, and it's clear her fondness for him comes through that diary, but she forgets him every week, and from his perspective, he's very much starting over every week with her–a real problem in the long term, since he doesn't want to just be "friends" forever. Which is part of the reason why I think Fujimiya actually holds some responsibility for their fight; in principle, I think she should have had a sense of how Hase would resent having to keep his friendship with her secret, while rumors spread about her and Shougo. I even felt she she was, to some degree, taking for granted Hase's kindness and patience–but that always happens on both sides in *any* relationship. But in the end, they figured things out, and I'm pretty sure Hase will be honest about their fight, and take responsibility for his own flaws–and I don't think Fujimiya will be quite so gushing when she talks about Shougo in the future–although he certainly deserves some praise. Another score for the emotionally perceptive cynic, who always asks the right questions!

  10. B

    ahh it's been a while since i have been here since i haven't watched anime in a while – but i was looking to start something and your blog came mind – and thankfully this review caught my eye. just got back after finishing ep 4 and it was so heartbreaking to watch. Hase frustrated me with his bratty behaviour this ep. i get it. he met her first and they have been through quite a journey together but thinking she just belongs to him is so wrong. i cringed where he basically told her she shouldn't talk about his best mate. he did redeem himself somewhat towards the end though. i think shougo might be my favourite out of the three. when he approached her on those steps i honestly had no idea how he would approach the situation. so i was glad when he was such a dear friend and pushed her in the right direction. but seeing him watch over them at the end broke my heart a little, because i can see him catching feelings for her in the future and it's going to be really tough for the lot of them. anyway, i can't wait for the next episode. the new addition is adorable!

  11. Welcome back!

    I actually liked Hase better after this ep. It really made him more human and relatable.

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