「クリスマス・キャロル」 (Kurisumasu Kyaroru)
The great run of form for Yesterday o Utatte continues unabated. I think a great secret of its success is that it never tries too hard. There’s so much emotional heft built into the premise that all the writing and direction has to do is let it flow naturally, and that’s exactly what it does. Forcing the issue too much would wreck the dynamic tension, and in nine episodes that’s almost never happened. I also love the beautiful bursts of inspiration in the artwork, like the backgrounds at the supermarket. They’re a reminder that this is a series created by individuals, not just a committee.
There’s more to that notion I think, given that half of the principal characters are visual artists, but it’s hard not to focus on the relationship side of things given how compelling it is. The reaction to Yesterday among viewers (in English at least) has been fascinating to watch. Especially, to me, the reflexive defense of anything Haru does and what’s become a rather nasty hostility towards everything Rou does. It’s not surprising given that Haru is the most representative of a typical 2020 anime character among the cast, and maybe it points out a disconnect between the series’ vintage and the present environment. And it’s not as if the production committee is unaware of this – in the manga reissues spurred by the anime, literally every cover features Haru exclusively.
For me, I still find her sad more than anything else. I think Rikuo was genuinely trying to push her away for both their sakes, in the most direct manner he seems capable of. I was skeptical that would be enough, and indeed it wasn’t. Haru’s conversation with Sayama-san is very revealing – nowhere, at any time, do Rikuo’s feelings enter into it. Haru is only capable of seeing their relationship through the lens of her own happiness – and that applies to the decision to ignore his efforts to distance himself and keep stalking him. The idea that he was doing what he did for his own sake as well as hers never enters into her mind – she can only weigh the equation of whether she’s happier stalking him or letting it go.
Rou, by comparison, comes off pretty well here. His confession to Shinako of last week (for which he was flayed alive by many viewers) has certainly raised the tension level between them. But he apologizes for it here, which at least reflects that he’s both capable of seeing the impact his actions have on her and of feeling concern about it. The relationship counselors in the audience saying that Shinako should just cut off Rou and his dad really do this relationship an injustice. She loves both of them and she’s not afraid to admit it – they’re as close to family to her as anyone could be. It’s not so easy to toss something like that aside, even if Rou growing up complicates that immeasurably.
I still feel as if, for all the obstacles remaining, Rikuo and Shinako is the relationship that carries the least psychological baggage. He’s got his issues to be sure, but compared to all the other entanglements among the cast, this one is relatively straightforward. I found it quite interesting that he stopped taking photos of her when he became aware he liked her – in a sense that reflects how serious this is to him, even if he dithered too long before acting on his feelings. He says he wants to be friends even if that’s all they can be, but in a way I think that’s harder for them because they have the least reason not to be more.
Maybe, in the end, Yesterday is as much as anything an exploration of whether adults (or near-adults) can possibly remain friends when romantic love is a part of the equation. Christmas is a relationship catalyst of great significance in Japan – it’s primarily a hookup holiday and it can be a fast-forward button or a self-destruct sequence. Takanori-san tries to do his part by inviting Rikuo to invite Shinako to a Christmas party, but by the time Rikuo asks she’s already agreed to spend Christmas with Rou (Dad has returned home). As Haru rather pathetically stands in the cold outside Rikuo’s apartment, he heads to Takanori’s while Shinako goes to Rou’s.
The sequence at Rou’s apartment is really wonderful for the way Fujiwara-sensei is not afraid to use silence here, a really classic example of this show’s narrative confidence. It’s awkward between these two, but not in a skin-crawling way – they’re glad to be together even if they don’t know quite how to react. It’s never going to be the same as it was, and they’ll have to find a way to deal with that. As Rou sketches Shinako (a very different dynamic to the last time he did so, I’m certain) Shinako becomes acutely aware that she’s alone with him. He’s a teenager admittedly in love with her – this is complicated. She ends up bailing (because she’s Shinako) after he makes a joke about her neckline, but the interesting question is whether she does so because she’s worried exclusively over his feelings, or her own as well.
This decision has another impact, though, as – rather than go home and see herself as being pathetic on Xmas – Shinako decides to call Takanori and see if the party is still on. This, of course, is exactly what Takanori and Kozue wanted. We’ll see where it leads (if anywhere) but thanks to their meddling Rikuo and Shinako are together on Christmas, and are almost certain to leave the party together (I’m confident the Fukudas will make certain of that if necessary). That’s going to lead to a “now or never” mindset if anything will, but I’m not confident the winning option will be the one Rikuo would want…