Ore Monogatari has a remarkable ability to make the strangest things emotionally resonant.
Here’s a serious question: if the main pairing in a romantic comedy is the weakest part of the series, is that a weakness or a strength?
In a vacuum, I suppose I would reluctantly have to answer the above question with “not enough information”. But when I apply it specifically to Ore Monogatari, I think it’s a little of both. After all, the main reason that paradigm exists here is that the other themes and characters are so very good, not that the main couple is remotely bad. But the truth is no matter how good the side dishes are, if they overshadow the main course, I do think that represents at the very least an imperfection for a chef.
I loved this episode (no new OP or ED, by the way) – I’d rank it among the top three or four of the series – and I think it really shows off that dynamic in play. There’s an element of this in what Oda said to Ai-san after Rinko presented her with a coffee chiffon cake – like her, the cake was special because it was a little bitter, but has an inner sweetness to it. I love sweets, but a contrast of tastes is always more interesting than a singular one. And something mysterious is innately more interesting than something we already understand completely. Ai is bittersweet, and so is her story – Makoto is mysterious, and so is his story. Takeo and Rinko are sweet and good, but there are only so many ways to show that two inexperienced young people are in-love with each other.
“Bittersweet” would be a perfect way to describe this episode, and why it was so good. There’s just something innately sad about Ai-san. Yes, her infatuation with Takeo is odd and a little pathetic in a way – but that just makes it sadder, because it’s clearly genuine. And Oda being willing to go to such lengths to push her to move on (one can argue whether his motives are partially or totally self-driven) when Ai has never given him a crumb of evidence that she’s interested is pretty sad, too. Both of them are in love with someone based on a very simple act of consideration – one clearly given with no romantic inclination behind it. They’re both in love with someone simply because that person was decent towards them, and acts of kindness given freely are rarer than they should be.
Yet while there’s more than an undercurrent of sadness to Ai and Oda’s story, this episode would also be thoroughly enjoyable simply for the comedy. The whimsical and just a little snarky take on Disneyland is a secondary track running through the episode (like Suna’s slit-eyed disapproval), and watching Takeo try to literally fit in provides many moments of hilarity (especially the scene where he and Ai share a ride in the teacups).
Oda doesn’t miss a beat – he’s even surreptitiously sabotaged Takeo’s cellphone to make isolating him easier – but this ep is really all about Takeo and Ai. The moment when she asks him if he remembers telling her she reminded him of a flower is pretty heartbreaking, because he doesn’t – the defining moment of Ai’s childhood isn’t even one Takeo remembers. Yet, almost in the same moment, Takeo finds the same flower and again tells her she reminds him of it. This is a pretty deep thing, actually, because it really show how true and unchanging Takeo is – and that’s both why Ai loves him, and why her love is forever fruitless. He’s still a child, and in their relationship he always will be. What Ai loves about Takeo is the reason they can never be a couple.
It’s pretty sad and heavy stuff, really. And if I’m honest, much more emotionally powerful than the declarations of love between Rinko and Takeo. Oda’s role here is definitely as a facilitator, and he plays it well – in his way, he’s forced Ai to move on from Takeo at least a little (though not entirely, as her reaction when he recounts – in a hilarious Namikawa Daisuke impression of Eguchi Takuya’s Takeo voice – an episode from their shared childhood). Takeo and Rinko’s love survives another test, but as always, Ai’s painful longing and Makoto’s Sphinx-like emotional reclusion are the real headlines of Ore Monogatari.