Isshuukan Friends is a pretty unique series in being able to pull off what it does the way it does. I shudder to think what this sort of material about these characters with this general tone could be like in lesser hands, but the source manga is strong enough that, paired with the fact that Brains Base is uniquely adept at getting the feel of this sort of show just right, it just works. But this isn’t just fluffy slice of life – that a series could be a feel-good anime while maintaining a constant undercurrent of sadness like this one does is remarkable.
It’s repeating myself I know, but it bears repeating – Shougo is just about the best wingman ever. The thing about him is, he doesn’t just put up with everything Yuuki throws at him – that would be merely good-natured (even if it’s done in ill-natured fashion). No, Shougo betrays how deeply he cares by actually analyzing the situation and trying to push things along between Yuuki and Kaori. A dropped birthday date here, a pointed question to Kaori there – this week it was especially keenly felt when he asked Yuuki “Are you sure this is what you want? Shouldn’t you push things a bit more?” and followed that up by scooping up Saki and beating a hasty retreat, leaving Yuuki and Kaori alone.
What a fascinating fellow Shougo is. He certainly doesn’t have to do stuff like that – he already does enough that he doesn’t have to that he’s comfortably past the “true friend” threshold. Yet he does, over and over – and it really makes me curious about just what kind of guy he really is. Does Shougo have dreams of his own? Is there a girl (or guy) he likes? It would be easy to rag on Yuuki for never asking (at least when we’re in earshot) but it’s the nature of adolescents to be self-involved, and male friendships usually do tend to shake out along these sorts of lines. I’ll repeat myself again – I really hope we get a chance to see an episode that focuses on Shougo for his own sake, because I’d love to see what he’s like when he’s not putting Yuuki first.
As always the focus gets back to Yuuki and Kaori, and this week that means a beach episode, because that’s one of the friendship rituals she’s always wanted to experience. Initially he’s keen to make it just the two of them, but when she demurs based on embarrassment he quickly gets on-board with the group trip idea. These two are about as pure-pure as high school romance gets, so it’s fitting that it’s a beach episode with no fanservice (unless you’re a foot fetishist) whatsoever. It rains as soon as they arrive at the beach (naturally) but this allows Kaori to have a couple more first-time experiences, like Purikura and the arcade (naturally Yuuki stinks at the UFO crane game and Shougo is sugei jouzu). Finally the weather clears, and the quartet head back to the beach for some low-key frolic, including evening fireworks (another first for Kaori).
As I watch all this play out (enjoying it thoroughly) the question I keep asking myself is whether Kaori really is this innocent, or whether she’s simply too shy to admit she has feelings for Yuuki. When Kaori says, “Ne, Yuuki – I like…” and then, after a pause, “fireworks!” I wasn’t sure whether she was ready to admit the truth and chickened out or not. But I think the evidence is growing that Kaori’s inability to process romantic feelings is directly connected to her memory block. She tells Shougo that she “felt funny” seeing Yuuki talk to another girl (even if it was Saki), and later says “I’ve been thinking about “like” a lot lately.” Whatever has caused Kaori to block out her memory of friends is likely also causing her to block out feelings of romance – just as she lacks those memories in her conscious mind once Monday comes, she lacks the emotional vocabulary to describe being in love with someone.
That, methinks, is surely not a coincidence – I’m assuming all of this ties back to whatever incident prompted her to go running off on that fateful day when she was in the accident. And it’s surely connected to this fellow, Kujou Hajime (Asanuma Shintarou) who we see arriving back in Tokyo after having been in Hokkaido. It’s implied that he’s been gone awhile, and it’s a certainty he’s directly involved with Kaori and/or her family in some way. Isshuukan Friends isn’t the sort of series to throw a villain at us, but I’m expecting that something complicated took place involving Kaori and Hajime, and that his return is going to bring some heartache to Kaori and Yuuki. Things have been mostly upbeat for several episodes, even if that melancholy vibe is always faintly there, but we’re probably looking at a return to the more bittersweet tone of the first few episodes now.