I started off last week’s post by saying I was steeling myself for an emotional haymaker, but such was the mastery of this episode that it still packed a lot of wallop. I did indeed know it was coming (and not from having read this far in the manga, either) but the way the ep played out was perfectly tailored for maximum impact. Fair play, it was artfully done – but with only three episodes left it is indeed a blow to see the story spin off in this direction. Isshuukan Friends is (surprisingly) another show that’s looking strong enough in Stalker to where a second season might happen, but I don’t think there’s going to be enough manga for quite a while yet even if the desire is there to produce one.
This was really a classic Venus Flytrap scenario – draw us in with sweet, sweet nectar and then close the jaws of death. The key was both just how effective and charming the slice-of-life in the first part of the episode was, and that it lasted all the way up until the final couple of moments of the episode before the hammer fell. Isshuukan Friends has really stepped it up in the last couple of weeks, so my emotional buy-in was already on the rise.
Things kick of innocently enough (innocence as only this series can do) with a 4-way study-date at Kaori’s house on the last day of summer vacation (heaven forbid Japanese kids should actually have a vacation without endless homework). About the edgiest thing here is Kaori’s Mom, who I’m beginning to suspect may just be a bit of a cougar (methinks she doth jest with Yuuki too much). This is nothing fancy, just first-rate slice-of-life with great atmospherics. I especially like the way we get a lot of long reaction shots of the characters (especially Shougo) to what the others are saying or doing.
One interesting development here is the hints of possible interest in Saki by Shougo, which I frankly hope is not the case. It’s revealed that not only did the two of them go to elementary school together (naturally she’s forgotten, and she’s amazed that she had an elementary classmate so tall) but when he gives her a ream of handwritten notes for the summer homework she’s just slagged off Saki remembers that Shougo did the same thing when they were in grade school. He says it was to encourage her to change her ways – clearly a total failure as she then and now completely took the wrong message away from this act of kindness – and hopefully that’s all it is. I would lose respect for Shougo if he was into someone as self-involved and irresponsible as Saki simply because she plays the moe card.
Meanwhile the setup for the sucker punch deepens as Hase and Kaori are shown growing closer and closer. There’s a lovely natural quality in watching the two of them together, and even if she hasn’t formally beaten her problem it’s clear that the process of building a relationship with Yuuki has done a great deal of emotional healing. We get a somewhat cliche moment where he slips on a notebook and falls on top of Kaori, and her mother walks in on them, but like the beach episode it doesn’t play like a conventional example. Her reaction is neither flustered or angry – indeed, it’s at this moment that she betrays what can only be seen as physical attraction towards him. And when she surprises him on the way to school the next day, it’s hard to escape the impression that a threshold has been crossed – though she may not be aware of it in literal terms, it seems as if Kaori now views Yuuki as a boyfriend and not just a friend.
But Kujou is out there, lurking menacingly like a rabid dog from a horror novel, and I never quite forgot about the last moments of last week’s episode. Back at school things start out well enough, and Yuuki even draws a precious back-row seat in the lottery, and next to Kaori to boot. But that’s when the transfer student shows up and things go to Hell in a handbasket. He clearly recognizes Kaori and seems surprised to see her there, but naturally she has no recollection of him. When Kujou strikes a wounded tone at being forgotten, declares that Kaori forget her promise to him and calls her a “traitor”, something breaks inside her and she collapses to the floor.
Surely we all knew this – something like this, anyway – was coming. But it still hurts to see, and Kaori’s reaction when Yuuki reached for her after she woke up was brutal – he reacted like he’d been punched in the gut, and that’s what it felt like watching it. I’m still of a mind that Kujoe isn’t a “bad guy” because Isshuukan Friends doesn’t seem like a bad guy sort of show, but that his impact so far is bad can’t be denied. Perhaps the most logical explanation is that she was on her way to say goodbye to Kujou before he moved to Hokkaido when she had her accident, and when she was injured and thus broke her promise to him she retreated inside her disorder to block out her guilt. Whatever it is I suspect Kujou’s side of the story will paint him in a better light than we see him in now, but the Sisyphean frustration at coming so far with Yuuki and Kaori and then seeing the boulder roll all the way back to the ground is a cruel blow, indeed.