I was looking forward to this ending with a great deal of trepidation even before I learned that in fact, Yesterday o Utatte was going to be 12 episodes and not 18. Turns out the 6 AbemaTV episodes were just the two-minute extras (the last of which I included in this review), and not actual episodes. That leads to some puzzling questions, such as why the anime paced itself perfectly for an 18-episode slot and then spewed out a mostly-original ending and basically skipped the last third of the manga. But then, one assumes that was a concession to commercial considerations from a series that made relatively few of them.
It’s a rather philosophical question – does a botched ending invalidate all the good things a series did over its entire run? The most obvious answer is no, and while I mostly ascribe to that view I don’t think it’s quite that simple. The ending – especially with a serious show like this one – colors and contextualizes everything that came before it. So the two can’t be totally cloven – one does not exist independently of the other. I enjoyed the first 11 episodes no less when I was watching them (even if they did drive me nuts) but this finale makes it feel as though they were largely a waste of time.
The fundamental problem I have is not that Rikuo and Shinako broke up, because this was clearly no starry-eyed love story between the two of them. They had serious problems and we saw no indication that they had what it takes to overcome them. No, the issue is that manufactured ending that has Riku wind up with Haru and, quite possibly, even Shinako with Rou. I call bullshit on that – it flies in the face of everything we saw for eleven episodes. But then, I suppose a “forever alone” ending for all parties isn’t an easy sell to a production committee.
I don’t know the exact details on how the manga ended and I don’t want to know, because my curiosity may prompt me to find out for myself eventually. I’m guessing it was considerably more open-ended and less neatly tied up with a bow happy than the TV ending, which rang as false as it’s possible for an ending to ring. Simply put, there’s no basis for a healthy romantic relationship between either of these pairings. It just doesn’t exist. Shinako and Rikuo bombing out – which always seemed likely – doesn’t necessitate the two of them ending up with their teen pursuers. Sometimes people do end up alone.
I suppose the ultimate miss for me – the sour cherry on top of a curdled sundae – is that if the anime were to manufacture a fairy-tale ending, it should have been between Rikuo and Shinako. As unlikely as that is with as conflicted and emotionally constipated as they both are, the foundation for it was at least laid. They had something real, even if they couldn’t get their fingers to grasp it. But Haru is obviously the main selling point, the tropey genki girl, and if the anime were going to jump the shark it’s not surprising she was the motorcycle in question.
In a sense, this reminds me a bit of the final couple of seasons of Game of Thrones. We have the same scenario – an original ending tacked onto the end of a largely faithful story construction – and the same disconnect exists. Nothing that happened during the buildup supports what the TV version did to finish the story. Rikuo’s behavior towards Haru (and Shinako’s towards Rou, for that matter) made it very clear there was no romantic affection there. The adults were simply too weak to be honest with the kids. The result is that in addition to a general falseness, the ending comes as a little creepy to boot.
It all makes me rather sad of course, because there was so much good work done here and it was badly undercut by the finale. But the not the production itself. I’m a huge admirer of what Doga Kobo and director Fujiwara Yoshiyuki (whose resume gave no hint whatsoever that this was possible) were able to do with a modest budget. Yesterday looked fantastic start to finish – the character animations were expressive and the backgrounds an impressionist masterpiece. From something as simple as a supermarket to the depiction of the beautiful Inokashira Park in the finale, this show was consistently a work of art.
I guess this is all an object lesson to appreciate what you get rather than bemoan what you don’t. It’s a miracle Yesterday o Utatte got an adaptation at all, given how somber and frankly depressing it is. It was probably too much to ask that it stick the landing. An ending that was true to the story (which the manga may or may not have delivered, I don’t know) would have been a pretty big downer, so I’m not surprised we didn’t get it. If we were going to get an asspull ending I would at least have preferred a different one than what we got, but c’est la vie – anime hasn’t given us much to be happy about in 2020 (partly through no fault of its own, though only partly) so that this show existed at all is worth being thankful for.