Can a single character – or seiyuu performance – ruin an otherwise good show for someone? It’s an interesting question, and in the abstract my experience tells me that the answer is absolutely “yes” – I know that from experience. But usually I’d say it has to be an especially awful instance or a show that isn’t all that good. I’m ambivalent about Saki as a character, and downright negative about Ookubo Rumi’s performance. But Isshuukan Friends is a good enough show to overcome it, at least for now.
I’ve liked everyone else we’ve met on this show, and that certainly includes Kaori’s mother Shiho (that she’s played by the great Nakahara Mai doesn’t hurt). Sure, she may be a little too nice to be wholly believable, but she fits well with the overall point Isshuukan Friends is trying to bring across. It’s probably best that we had the blanks about Kaori’s memory filled in by Shiho-san because she’s the right messenger, both in the general and specific sense.
All this comes about because Yuuki-kun is in trouble over the results of a math test (32% was the improvement he achieved and somehow a passing grade, so I don’t even want to know the original score) and begs Kaori to tutor him before the make-up test. She asks him over to study at her house, and Yuuki reacts rather normally, but it truly seems that Kaori is innocent of the implications (further evidence of her social awareness being frozen in elementary-school time). This is a pretty funny exchange, especially when Shougo (who’s probably my favorite character at this point) matter-of-factly says “See how pure she is.”
The problem is “solved” when Saki invites herself along for the same reason as Yuuki, and he ends up dragging Shougo along for moral support. I won’t dwell too much on how annoying Saki is here, except to say that she’s a complete cliché and for me at least feels totally out-of-place with the rest of the show. Some things are pretty evident right away during this visit, not least that Kaori’s mother is very much unused to her having visitors. It’s also clear from Shiho’s behavior that Yuuki is someone Kaori talks about a lot, and before the three depart Shiho slips Yuuki a note asking him to meet her at the park the next day.
The scene itself is quite charming – Shiho makes a joke (or is it) about people thinking they’re having an affair, but things get to the point pretty quickly. In short, Kaori’s condition is as much a mystery to Shiho as anyone else. Kaori had an accident on her way to meet a friend while in 6th grade, was hit by a car and suffered a concussion, but according to the doctors has no physical damage to her brain. Shiho tells Yuuki all this in refreshingly direct and matter-of-fact terms, and speculates that there’s some sort of emotional trauma her daughter is protecting against by blocking out these memories – but as to what that is, she seems genuinely puzzled.
I don’t think the cause of Kaori’s condition is the main point here, to be honest – as I said, I see Isshuukan Friends as more of a parable than a traditional drama – but it’s the elephant in the room so I’m glad it’s been acknowledged. The larger issue for me, really, is whether there might come a point when Yuuki quite understandably grows weary of having to start over every Monday and decides he wants more from the relationship than Kaori is able to give. I suspect that may be the trigger that finally brings Kaori to confronting her issues – though I further suspect that it won’t happen in the timeframe covered in the anime.