Author’s Note: I’m pinch-hitting for Zani, who’s on special assignment this week. He’ll be back with GT coverage next episode!
It’s early in the game yet, but my instincts are with Kouko-Papa on this one.
There have been some bumps in the road for me as far as Golden Time is concerned. In effect the execution hasn’t, on the whole, been on par with the story. That hasn’t stopped me from being totally invested in it – as much as I have been in any romance-first anime for a long time. The sometimes awkward exposition and scene transition/pacing may be an issue with Kon Chiaki’s direction, or with the realities of adapting too much too quickly. But the essential character dynamic is off-the-charts for me, and that trumps everything.
Happily, I think this was possibly the best episode in the series in terms of execution. The narrative flow was smooth, the pacing didn’t feel overly rushed and even the animation and art seemed a half-step up from its own modest standard. There was some of the sharpest comedy of the series – Banri’s one condom ending up in the box of "potatoes", the "OMG" moment, the nauseating but endearingly silly adoration between Banri and Kouko. The ep was also full of reminders of why anime set in colleges are such a welcome change from the relentless drumbeat of high-school romances and comedies – for all the awkward boy-girl moments, the relationship drama is simply operating on a higher level than it does in high school series. And damn, that’s nice see.
I think every major character in Golden Time is extremely interesting, even if I happen to like some of them better than others. Kouko is a difficult character, certainly, both on-screen and for the viewer. She reminds me of Watamote’s Tomoko in many ways – she displays some of the same idiosyncrasies common to those with significant psychological issues, even if hers are of a quite different stripe. She makes it hard to love her, sometimes, but as with Tomoko I always feel for Kouko. What she does, she does because she’s lonely and insecure, and that’s something anyone can understand.
That said, though, my every instinct when watching the first ten minutes of this episode was "Run, Banri – run!" Kouko and Banri may indeed genuinely love each other and have a future together (it’s still very much an open question) but my feeling grows stronger every week that she’s in absolutely no shape to be in a romantic relationship. At best she’s taking things way too seriously, too fast – but at worst, she’s simply transferring her feelings for Yana to Banri – with the important caveat that Banri actually said "yes". The degree to which she’s clinging too him is simply neither normal or healthy – there’s no sugarcoating it. if Banri were more experienced he’d no doubt be alarmed but it seems very likely that this is his first romantic relationship (we all know what happened the first time he tried to form one) and he’s still flush in the euphoria of having a girlfriend.
I don’t want to believe Kouko’s father that Banri is simply her next victim, but I do think he’s right at least that everyone would be better off if she got herself to a better place emotionally before they got serious with each other. And it’s not as though Banri is exactly free and clear psychologically either. Obviously he’s still dealing with his self-identity complex arising from his amnesia, but then there’s Linda. The irony here is that Banri takes an equally unhealthy tack that’s the exact opposite of Kouko’s dysfunction – he runs away. I don’t think there’s any denying that he was being a jerk to Linda, leaving her hanging and refusing even to respond to her texts. It’s understandable given his circumstances, but still wrong – and symptomatic of the fact that Linda is very important to Banri, enough so to cause him to act in a way that’s very unlike his usual self.
I don’t know where all this is going, but both Kouko and Banri are, at the very least, far too tangled in their previous crush to enter into a healthy relationship with someone else. As I mentioned last week, I freely admit my take on all this may be influenced by the fact that I absolutely adore Linda. She’s had me from the moment she briefly appeared in the first episode, and it was clear that she was someone very special. But when I see Linda and Banri together, it feels so much more natural and right than when he’s with Kouko – they seem to fit together in a way Banri and Kouko don’t. I really don’t know if Linda’s role here is to be nothing more than a supportive friend – I mean, the OP and ED are pretty much all Kouko all the time, and if that’s not the fate of the series it’s a major misdirection to say the least. But I feel something very deep and profound between Banri and Linda, and I don’t think that’s the partisan in me talking – I think that, at least, is real.
I haven’t totally discounted the possibility that Kouko could end up with Yana, crazy as that sounds – all the more so with last week’s vibe that he might actually he conflicted on the issue himself. He’s going through a bit of an existential crisis himself at the moment, ostensibly from having been rejected by Chinami but I’m not so sure – he’s dyed his hair blonde (in the act of trying to have it shaved). Meanwhile we have Nana #2 (the homage here is self-evident) actually impacting the story, being the one to finally force Banri to talk to Linda – it’s still not clear what her ultimate role in the story is going to be. We even got another Hachiko reference – that story seems incredibly elemental to the Japanese cultural identity. It’s pretty clear who Hachiko is in Kyousogiga – in Golden Time, I think the answer is a lot more complicated.