「桜井梨穂子編 最終章 サヨナラ」 (Sakurai Rihoko-hen Saishuushou – Sayonara)
“Sakurai Rihoko Final Chapter – Goodbye”
They could have gone several ways with a childhood friend character and while I feel this was a unique way of going about it, I’m not entirely sure it would’ve been anywhere near the top of my list. I was already a bit wary of the prior three episodes and how the spark just wasn’t there between Junichi and Rihoko, and this finale episode didn’t really subside that feeling as the minutes trickled down. The real downer is that not only did the two of them not end up as a couple, but Junichi still couldn’t see Rihoko as anything more than a childhood friend even after this arc took the story well past Christmas and all the way to Valentine’s Day and the graduation ceremony. While I am a bit disappointed there wasn’t even an inadvertent kiss, I’m nowhere near as disappointed as some people probably are since I was prepared for such an ending back in Kaoru’s arc. The “remain friends” ending as Rihoko continues to try to get Junichi to notice her feelings undoubtedly leaves a lot to be desired, but I have to give the writers credit for having the balls to go with what will probably become the least favorite arc of the entire series.
I mentioned last episode that I simply wasn’t feeling the love was in the air, so for believability sake, it’s somewhat relieving to know that that is what they were going for. In what I would describe as bringing the anime viewer down to earth, Rihoko’s story depicts the way a childhood love will probably end up most of the time, i.e. as an unrequited one. Be that as it may, I’m still leaning towards the side that wanted to see a happy ending more so than a realistic one, especially when it concluded fairly open-endedly with Junichi joining the Tea Ceremony club as his way of congratulating Ruriko and Manaka on their graduation. As a consolation prize or sorts, it was nice to see Junichi decide to help Rihoko keep the club going and draw a very emotional response out of her though. It was at that point that I was hoping everything that his seniors had been suggesting to him would finally click in that thick skull of his, but alas, it was not meant to be. If I were to look on the bright side, Rihoko was happy to have his support in their final year together. On the other hand, the letdown was that her feelings still haven’t reached him, even after all the help from just about everyone.
For a really innocent and earnest character like Rihoko who does put in the effort to get her feelings across, it’s almost cruel for her to be in love with a blockhead like Junichi. However, if there’s one thing to take away from this route, it’s that Junichi remained the most respectful and respectable version of himself to date, because he never once succumbed to his teenage desires. As much as I enjoy seeing the girls themselves, I always have my eye on what kind of an effect they have on Junichi. Assuming that he and Rihoko eventually do start dating, I’m almost tempted to say that they’d make the cutest couple for the innocence in their relationship alone. The sparks definitely aren’t flying, but not all couples are like that to begin with. It’s just too bad they won’t be animated it, because this finale feels more like it should have been the third episode in the arc and there’s just one more on the horizon to seal the deal. For those who can’t contain themselves, let the rage begin. Tsukasa’s arc is coming up though, so I’d imagine Rihoko’s will be a mere afterthought before long.