There are no mixed feelings for me with Dagashi Kashi – it’s all good. I love this show, even if I would make no attempt to ascribe greatness to it. It’s clever in a simple way, vastly entertaining and ridiculously likeable. It may not be a masterpiece but there’s no sense of unfulfilled potential here, of missed opportunities – Dagashi Kashi takes its very simple premise and extracts the maximum possible comic (and even occasionally dramatic) value from it. It’s a series that’s very comfortable in its own skin, which is something not to be under-appreciated.
One other thing I would say about Dagashi Kashi s that it’s deceptively innocent. There are basically five characters here – even cameos by others are almost non-existent – and all of them are fundamentally childlike in their own way. The teens in this show are adorably unsophisticated – that Saya is basically a complete naif is no doubt a big part of her curb appeal, but when you see Kokonotsu and Tou get together it’s hilarious how much they’re still little boys at heart (not that You-san is any better). That’s obviously fitting for a show built around candy as a theme.
As a result of that, the way sex is used in this series is also, for lack of a better word, innocent. It’s all about fantasy, and not well-informed fantasy either – the fantasy of small-town kids who haven’t seen a whole lot of the world by any stretch. I mean, do Coconuts, Saya and Tou even go to school? I don’t remember any mention of it and in Japan education is only compulsory through middle school. And for that matter, are there even any more high-school aged children in this town? Rural Japan has been hemorrhaging youth for decades, and many villages are now comprised almost entirely of senior citizens.
Into all this bucolic idyll like a typhoon comes Hotaru, who’s innocent in a wholly different way. I think it’s extremely clever how she keeps unconsciously inserting double-entendres into the situation and causing these poor local kids (it was Saya this week, with hilarious results) to go on “tilt”. I sometimes found myself wondering if Hotaru might not be as clueless as she was letting on – if there were times she knew exactly what she was doing. But no – I think she really is that clueless (and blindered by her love for dagashi).
If one was hoping for anything remotely definitive in this final episode, they certainly didn’t get it. It wouldn’t have been completely out of character for Dagashi Kashi to go for a dramatic ending, but I think this is closer to its essential nature. What a particularly Japanese show this is, in the sense that it’s almost impossible to imagine it ever being produced anywhere else. This fascination with minutiae is in part of a reflection of something in the Japanese character, and also I think of the nature of manga. There are so many hundreds and hundreds of them out there that the medium seems to lend itself to specialization to a delightfully ludicrous degree.
That said, I do believe Takayanagi Shigehito and Yokote Michiko – two very experienced hands – made a wise decision in making the anime more character-driven and increasing Saya’s role (even if it did piss off some of the surliest manga readers I’ve ever encountered). As amusing as Coconuts and Hotaru’s Socratic dialogues on dagashi were, I don’t think they would have sustained a 12-episode full-length anime that was nearly as good as the one we got. The tonal contrast added a layer of texture and depth Dagashi Kashi desperately needed, and Saya proved herself a very winning character and a good foil for Hotaru. I do find it intriguing to speculate on which way Kokonotsu’s heart might turn in the end, but this just isn’t the sort of series to devote its ending to that question.
It seems kind of fitting to end the series on the exchange we did, with Hotaru noting “The bus never came, did it?” and Coconuts answering “It’ll get there eventually.” That captures so much of what rural Japan is like, and the sense of a place suspended in a more innocent time that’s such a part of Dagashi Kashi’s appeal. A shared candy, a discourse on the relative merits of its flavor options, a furtive glimpse at the wonders hidden beneath a rain-soaked blouse, and a long walk home. That’s life as a teenager in this forgotten place, consumed with that which seems important in the moment – which is so much of what being a teenager is generally. Dagashi Kashi may not be a masterpiece, but it’s a hidden treasure and sometimes even a little profound. That’s what really defines a sleeper as much as anything, and why picking them out successfully is so richly rewarding.