「ふたりの花道」 (Futari no Hanamichi)
“Their Path of Triumph”
I am a professional terrible person. One of my qualifications to be a terrible person is that I have a limited reserve of empathy to draw on. As such, when watching anime, my default attitude towards any character they care to introduce is ‘I don’t care’. No matter one’s level of terribleness, this should be understandable. These characters are strangers. We have no connection to them whatsoever. Even more, they’re fictional, so we’re not even obligated by any social contract to care. A writer’s first job in regards to any character is to make us care. This does not need to be a particularly involved process. Usually just laying out a plot or a world and getting a character involved in it is enough; the audience voluntarily buys into the story in the first place, and if a character drives that story we’ll naturally care. Anime also likes to make its characters cute girls, because we’re all lonely nerds at heart and sympathise readily with the moe.
For Kaoruko and Futaba, I must confess with heavy heart that the cute didn’t do it for me. I do not care. At least, not much. This is partly because Revue Starlight goes out of its way to make her unsympathetic. This episode opens by establishing her as a spoilt brat with no redeeming qualities save for an apparent skill at Japanese dance. Yet she is not a villain, but a hero, and we are supposed to be invested in not her downfall but her redemption. Revue Starlight attempts to make us care by giving her a bank of goodwill with other characters. Kaoruko has a loyal retainer in Futaba. Her friends seemed loathe to see her leave. But, why? We haven’t really seen her earn any of that. In a longer show with a smaller cast we would have had scenes dedicated to showcasing the charisma she apparently possesses but here they’re notably missing. Such is the way of ensemble casts; it’s difficult juggling all those characters and perhaps it’s impossible to make all of us care about all of them.
The main reason, though, that I couldn’t bring myself to care about Kaoruko and Futaba is that we’ve already seen their arc before. Twice, even, in this very show. Can we really say that they have that different a dynamic from Karen and Hikari? Or Karen and Mahiru? Two friends suffer a breakup. They rekindle their mutual devotion to the stage. They get back together. Sure, there’s some nuance in character motivations and who needs to inspire whom, but unfortunately the broad strokes of the arcs are rather repetitive in practice. We just know that Futaba will come after Kaoruko (despite it probably being better for both of them if she doesn’t), that Kaoruko won’t return to Kyoto, and that the two will mend their ways. There’s no tension anywhere because we’ve already seen how everything plays out and even Revue Starlight seems to be just going through the motions at this point. That said, the actual revue segments remain interesting, with each bringing their own aesthetic in both music and set (even if ‘traditional Japanese’ is still ultimately a pop duet with gratuitous cherry blossoms). All told, though, Mahiru’s episode last week definitely sits as the stronger one, if only because Mahiru is the stronger character. But I suppose they can’t really afford to give the whole cast as much time as they did for Mahiru, let alone the main leads who were actively involved in Mahiru’s chapter.
Mahiru herself has been demoted from jealous lover to ‘onee-chan’, though, so we’re evidently going to keep moving on. What now? There are notably eight lead roles in their play and nine main characters in our anime, which doesn’t quite line up (with Hikari being the extra and Banana being the dark horse). Instead of reaching for the top, maybe the game is now avoiding elimination, and the plot will start ramping. Or maybe we’ll just keep doing character arcs until everyone has had a turn in the ED. Or even both.