My tolerance level with Isshuukan Friends is pretty high, in every respect. I take a lot from this series that I might not with most because I admire what the show is trying to do in the larger sense, and because it manages to present itself with completely straightforward emotional honesty. It seems to me very clearly the work of a young mangaka – it’s hard for me to imagine someone in their 40’s or even 30’s being able to convincingly tell this story with this perspective.
That said, this episode finally did lose me at several points. I wholeheartedly expect it to be the most well-loved of the series for obvious reasons but I think the balance Isshuukan Friends precariously maintained for four episodes finally slipped a good deal. In terms of contrivance and in terms of abject cuteness, the show was already past the point where I’d normally start to have a rejection reaction if I judged it intellectually – but this episode was just a little too contrived and unashamedly needy for me to buy it even judging it with the heart instead of the head.
I’m sure Yamagashi Saki (Ookubo Rumi) is going to appeal to the target audience, but she’s the first thing in Isshuukan Friends that really comes off as calculated to me (I swear, it’s true). Calculated to advance Kaori’s storyline, calculated to score moe points with the audience – and no doubt, successful on both fronts. Again, I see this series as a parable, more or less, so a certain level of contrivance has been present since the beginning. But we all have out limits, and this turn seems to have pushed the story outside mine for the moment.
I definitely think the idea of Kaori making a female friend is a vital part of the parable – it had to happen for One Week Friends to tell the story it’s trying to tell. I just didn’t really buy it as it came off. For one thing Ookubo’s performance was pretty insufferable. I didn’t realize at viewing that she also played the supremely grating Tohko in Servant X Service but it sure didn’t surprise me when I found out – neither this character or the performance is the disaster that instance was, but it’s still not a good combination. It sounds an odd critique to make of this show of all shows, but that’s just not how friendships happen. Forgetful and pushy little girls certainly exist, but the way she obsessed over Kaori and intruded herself into every aspect of her life just felt like the ultimate plot device. Maybe if there had been a bit of foreshadowing or it had been toned down a bit, it would have worked better.
Clearly Saki isn’t going anywhere and actually, I don’t have a huge problem with that because there’s reason to believe it’s the introduction that’s the biggest part of the problem with the character. The performance isn’t going to change, but I’ll just have to live with that. There’s certainly the potential more issues here but if the character is toned down a little, Saki can be a necessary catalyst for Kaori’s story to move forward, as well as her relationship with Yuuki. Will it work out that way? Who knows – but all I can do is hope for the best.
What does come out of this episode is a sense that the nature of Kaori’s condition might be changing. She certainly did forget about Saki on Monday – her reaction bespeaks the fact that she read about her in her diary – but she seems to recognize Yuuki. And the smile she gives him is definitely a “friend” smile – perhaps it too comes out of the diary but it didn’t feel that way in the moment. If the moral of Isshuukan Friends is what I think it is, all of this – Yuuki, Saki, all of it – is a metaphorical device intended to make a broader statement about adolescence and the human condition. The manga is ongoing (and relatively new in and of itself) so we’re only going to get a partial answer to all that from the anime in any case.