In a way, watching kids be casually cruel to each other is more painful than any Urobutcher despair-fest. It’s because it’s something we’ve all seen and experienced in our own lives (much unlike any Gen series I can remember), and of course no one is better at being casually cruel than kids. And one thing I certainly remember from my school days is that as bad as guys could be, girls were usually the ones who were really cruel – especially towards other girls. While the kind of idiotic hazing that boys engage in is no bargain, what girls do somehow seems more personal and pointed, and often to leave deeper scars.
I’m not going to come out and say that Hajime is a sympathetic character now, but now that he’s gotten a little background it’s easier to see what made him the way he is towards Kaori. Hajime is blessed with an annoying personality, but he may not actually be a bad guy. It was nice enough of him to call his old school friends out to try and fill in the blanks for Yuuki, for starters – though I suspect it was partly motivated by the chance to flaunt how much better he knew Kaori than Yuuki does. And his reaction to their story seems quite genuine – he really was surprised and dismayed to find out what actually happened.
As to what actually did happen, it might seem as if it’s nothing so terrible as to cause someone to lose their memory. But to have all of one’s same-sex friends turn on them in that fashion over a guy, as a sixth-grader… I could see that traumatizing someone in a big way. To have one’s entire world come crashing down around them like that, on top of losing the person she was crushing on and then being in an accident, was probably a sort of perfect storm of pubescent angst – enough to make Kaori just want to crawl into a hole in her own mind and disappear. Obviously this is a fictional drama we’re talking about, not a documentary, but I pretty much buy the general theme as presented.
I think it’s actually interesting to speculate on whether sixth-grade Kaori was genuinely innocent in all this, or whether she wasn’t in-fact trying at least a little to pre-emptively claim Hajime before her friend Naomi did. But either way what Naomi and her other friends did to Kaori was cruel indeed, and they no doubt spread the word after their crocodile-tears hospital visit that Kaori was faking memory loss to avoid admitting the truth. I think it’s very possible Kaori even switched schools to avoid them after she got out of the hospital, or at the very least made sure to choose a different middle school.
In any event, though, it’s not the past that’s the real issue now but the present – and yet it’s the past that’s causing issues in the present. Yuuki now knows more about Kaori than he ever did before, and she seems to have come to terms with what she’s been forced to confront (she’e retained the long-term memories, but still loses the short-term on Mondays) and retained her desire to be “special friends” with Yuuki. Yet now, of all times, Yuuki seems to be pulling back from Kaori just as she’s trying to edge closer to him. Just what the heck is going on here?
Well – I’m no fool, I’m not going to pretend I know when we’ll all find out in a week anyway. But it seems to me that Yuuki is just tired – he’s been the one doing all the heavy lifting to make up for the elements of the relationship that Kaori is unable to provide due to her circumstances. I also think that while Kaori’s condition was more or less a mystery, it was easy to cast is aside as merely an obstacle to be overcome – now that it has a concrete form, Yuuki has to decide what he wants based on a complete picture of who Kaori is and how she got to the that person.
I’m sure it will be a common interpretation that Yuuki’s simply freaked out by what happened when Kaori was in sixth-grade – by her obvious interest in Hajime and perhaps even because he feels she did betray her friend. I don’t think that’s likely, personally, just as I didn’t think it was likely Hajime was a real villain – Isshuukan Friends just isn’t that sort of series. I think Yuuki is simply feeling worn-down and unrewarded, and having second-thoughts about whether he has the patience and stamina to do what seemingly needs to be done to have a real relationship with Kaori. And I think he’ll realize that he’s making a mistake – that he does have what it takes and that Kaori is worth it – and the story will pick up from (and leave off, as an anime) there.
By the way, Shougo and Saki’s little side-plot isn’t forgotten either. Saki’s current behavior is feeding the conspiracy theories that she actually remembers a whole lot more than she pretends to, and that she’s been playing up the helpless card for all it’s worth because she doesn’t think she can fend for herself. She certainly remembers her “proposal” to Shougo in excruciating detail as she’s too embarrassed to face him, and the girls’ busybody friends intervene to enlist Kaori into helping set the two of them to rights (until more dramatic events take center stage). I still think Shougo’s primary role in the finale is going to be to try – as usual, the eternal wingman – to smooth things over between Yuuki and Kaori. And while I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have doing that, ultimately the impetus is going to have to come from Yuuki himself.