If you’ve ever been to Ikenoue Station on the Keio Inokashira Line – where I’m 99% sure Isshuukan Friends is set, despite having changed the station name to “Midorikawa” – you know it’s the perfect setting for this series. It’s as astonishingly cute and low-key little place where you’d never imagine you were ten minutes from Shibuya – it feels like a sleepy village with cute children and genki old folks all of whom smile at each other and say hello to all the shopkeepers (who of course say hello right back). If Beatrix Potter designed a modern Tokyo suburb, Ikenoue would be the place.
And if Beatrix Potter designed an anime, I bet it would be a lot like Isshuukan Friends. There are some things about this series which trigger the alarm lights on my console, but I’m totally buying almost all of it. The exception is when Shiro is on-screen, because the series is so sincerely kawaii all the time that when she vamps it up it crosses the line into saccharine and mannered. But in small doses like she was dished out in this week, it’s tolerable – and the rest of the episode was pretty much off the charts for me.
Normally there can be such a thing as too much niceness, but Kaori and Yuuki pretty much have me won over. When he blurted out “she’s an angel” it was hard not to agree, but he’s a rare fellow himself. Yuuki has shown more human frailty than Kaori but if anything that makes him more likable than if he hadn’t – I like the fact that he yearns to have some time with Kaori by himself and gets surly when he has to share her with other people. He’s a teenaged boy who’s madly in love – it wouldn’t be natural if that wasn’t the case.
The conflict here of course is that Kaori is almost preternaturally innocent – or else the best actor ever. Her new friends affectionately mock her – actually both she and Yuuki – for their “pure, pure” nature. Does Kaori really not grasp that Yuuki feels something for her that’s more than friendship? Given how unusual her situation is I guess it is possible, but clearly she’s developing similar feelings herself – even if she doesn’t have the emotional vocabulary to understand them yet. One of the most charming parts of the episode was in the epilogue, where Yuuki blurts out the “What do you think of me?” question and Kaori responds “I like you”. Yuuki half-audibly calms himself with “You know where this is going…” and confirms that Kaori also likes Shougo, Saki and math. But the truth is they’re a different sort of “like”, even if Yuuki doesn’t realize that yet.
Speaking of Shougo, he earns more points every week as one of the best wingmen in modern anime. Guys who have the patience of saints but express their displeasure about it constantly tend to be very winning characters and Shougo is no exception. He does have distinct Eeyore-like qualities, but he puts up with a lot from Yuuki and always remains there for him. Not only that, but the advice he dishes out – sometimes prompted, sometimes volunteered – is almost unerringly sensible (even if it’s subtly mentioning Yuuki’s birthday so Kaori will hear it). As much as I’d like to see real development between Yuuki and Kaori – which is a lot, and I think we’re starting to – I’d also like to see a little exploration of Shougo as a character in his own right, and not just as the support system for that couple.
We’re definitely seeing that development between Kaori and Yuuki – their “gears are becoming meshed together” as he says. It seems very significant that Kaori’s reaction when they meet over summer break is “I felt like I knew you”. It’s progress, either for her condition, their relationship or both. And I don’t know how anyone could not be rooting for them. When they forget to set a meeting place, and then both end up on the school roof… Just shoot me, seriously – the kawaii is a fatal wound. These are two of the sweetest, kindest characters I’ve seen in a long time and that they manage to achieve it without being annoyingly so is something of a miracle.