「オレのトモダチ」 (Ore no Tomodachi)
The relationship between Suna’s screen-time and Ore Monogatari’s effectiveness is not coincidental.
This was one of the best episodes of Ore Monogatari, I’d say, and neither that or the fact that the B-part was much the stronger half is down to chance. It’s not so much that Suna is the most interesting member of the cast (though I certainly think he is) but that his involvement takes the series into directions that are just more interesting and emotionally complex. As good a romance series as this is, at heart – and I’ve said this from the very first episode – I think it’s more of a friendship story.
It seems Kawahara-sensei is playing with expectations in some subtly interesting ways here. Where Suna’s character might normally be the straightforward and predictable one and the awkward and misunderstood Takeo the inscrutable and somewhat dark one, the roles are clearly reversed. Takeo is indeed misunderstood (though almost exclusively by females), but he’s an emotional bulldozer. He plows straight ahead, undaunted, and seems constitutionally incapable of taking offense at any slight directed at him (though not at those he cares about). He’s wholly admirable and funny, but rarely surprising. Suna is a still pond that runs deep – he never reveals all of himself, while Takeo rarely hides any bit of himself (and certainly not in his new work uniform). They’re a contrast in a way great fictional friends often are, but the photo-negative of what we usually see in anime (and shoujo).
For a while here, it looks as if we’re going to get a pretty conventional lovey-dovey episode akin to last week’s. Takeo discovers (by asking directly, of course) that Rinko’s birthday is only 10 days off (June 15th). These two are so blissfully in love and Rinko so guileless that when she says all she wants is for Takeo to spend the day with her, we know she really means it. But Takeo knows enough to put himself in Suna’s hands here, and it pays off. Suna – as usual – goes above and beyond the call of duty in making things right. He gently steers Takeo away from the stuff that just won’t work (like his boot camp itinerary), suggests stuff that will, and lets his friend know that no matter what Yamato said, he needs to buy her a present (he even has some good ideas for what, based on the fact that he’s always observing).
I’ll be honest – I really love characters like Suna, who never miss an important fact about those they love, but never call attention to themselves. Suna knows a lot more about Takeo than Takeo does about him, but it’s not Takeo’s fault – that’s just how he is – and it doesn’t reflect a lack of concern about Suna on his part. So when Takeo senses that something is off with Suna, you know there must be a good reason. Suna, as ever, would just as soon keep himself to himself, and Takeo respects his desire not to share. But even as he loses himself in preparing for Rinko’s birthday, he never totally loses his nagging concern that something is up.
When I say Suna’s involvement takes Ore Monogatari in more interesting directions, this is exactly what I mean. Takeo’s giddy courtship with Rinko is sweet and fun, but he’s really more interesting as Suna’s friend that Rinko’s boyfriend. There’s some intriguing new stuff with his mom, too – she’s pregnant (it’s OK, though – she’s 40, but she “has the body of a 22 year-old”). And Takeo gets a part-time job to help pay for Rinko’s birthday rather than borrowing from Suna – at a “macho cafe“, where’s he’s paraded around in short-shorts and a tank top in front of an (almost-entirely male) admiring clientele. Japan is the mecca of theme-cafes, of course, and there’s one for every fetish – but it does seem a little skeevy (this is the second time the show has ventured into uncomfortable comedy) for a 16 year-old to be put into that kind of work environment, irrespective of the gender of either the 16 year-old or the patrons.
This is all building up to the revelation – courtesy Takeo’s mother – that Suna’s father is in the hospital. Naturally Suna hasn’t said a word, but neither has Yuriko-san – both of them protecting Takeo-kun. And on top of that Suna is alone, his mother and sister traveling abroad. The issue is a heart condition, which almost claimed Sunakawa-san once already (again, Suna never told Takeo), for which surgery is scheduled June 15th. What’s important here is the way each of the boys reacts to this all being out in the open. Takeo declares that he’ll put off celebrating Rinko’s birthday to be with Suna at the hospital, and Suna shows anger for the first time in the series in insisting that Takeo do no such thing. If he does, Suna says, that will only make him feel worse.
The reason this is such a great friendship is that we know, indisputably, that both of them are being completely genuine here. As deeply bedazzled as Takeo is, he’d absolutely set that aside to be with Suna. And Suna would absolutely hate it if he did. This is developing into one of the great bromances in modern anime, no doubt about it – both of these guys just care for each other, emotionally and practically. It’s no slight to Rinko, but this is quite simply the central relationship in Ore Monogatari – just like the looks and personalities of the two male leads, superficial appearances are deceiving. Good romances are pretty uncommon in anime, no doubt, but friendships this profound are winged unicorns. And it’s that element that makes this series really stand out as something special.