「オレンジ色の景色」 (Orenji-iro no keshiki)
I’m really vexed that there’s still no announcement on Ao Ashi’s series length. At this point – halfway through the damn season – that’s forcing me to conclude that it’s a single cour. Which would be, you know, epically stupid yet so very anime. The manga has gotten possibly the second-biggest anime boost of the spring after Spy x Family (which is out where the buses don’t run, so not a comparison) and it was already popular. At the current pacing of about 4 chapters per episode, they could go two cours and still not cover even a third of the published source material. The manga is a critical success, and the anime very well received. So what the hell, man – what gives here?
I know there was a time not all that long ago when a sports anime like this (commercially I’d put it in broadly the same category as Baby Steps) would certainly have gotten 3-4 cours or more. But that’s not the time we’re in now where anime is concerned, and I’m trying not to let that bum me out too much. Because, you know, this series is really good. It’s a rock-solid sports manga and it’s getting a rock-solid treatment by Production I.G.. The difference in class between this and most sports anime these days (especially originals) is pretty stark. And as much as it’s a bitter pill to swallow, it’s better to have something really special like this for one cour than not to have it at all.
This was indeed a special episode for Ao Ashi for a couple of reasons (and while the timing is surely coincidental, a fitting one as tomorrow is Mother’s Day here). A pretty big heavyweight – Mahoutsukai no Yome director Naganuma Norihiro – was brought in as episode director and storyboarder. As I’ve noted I generally try not to look too hard at demographic labels, but after a four-episode intro that had a lot of shounen elements, this ep was pure seinen – which is what Ao Ashi is. Simply put, a shounen sports manga isn’t going to do what Ao Ashi did in this episode. You might get a few pages on it, but not the intense focus it got here.
The first thing the series does right is basically split the sequence down the middle, half from Ashito’s perspective and half from his mother’s. Through this we see, among other things, that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree – the son is a lot like the mother. But we also see what Noriko goes through here with a lot of sensitivity and depth. I especially loved the way she berated herself over the comment she made to Ashito when she told him he’d been accepted – “I feel like soccer is taking you away from me”. Why? Because this was a moment when her normal steely facade cracked, yes. But also because she knew the impact it would have on her son – that it would instil a ton of guilt in him over something Noriko knows he really has to do.
Hana is a real trooper here, urging Ashito to do the right thing and talk to Noriko, then doing her best to try and calm Noriko’s anxiety over sending Ashito away. But ultimately there are no painless options here. Ashito loves his mom and she loves him – there’s no hidden resentment or lingering feuds. It’s a close family and this will break it up, there’s no sugarcoating that (Ehime is a long – and expensive – way from Tokyo, even by plane). Nothing either can say will change that, so Noriko does what so many of us do in such situations – she avoids the conversation altogether.
It’s easier for Noriko to do that having overheard what Ashito told Hana on the phone – that his reason for wanting to be a pro soccer player is to help her. In a sense it’s sort of cruel for Noriko to never give Ashito the chance to have an emotional catharsis with her – she doesn’t even come to the station on the spring day when Ashito finally leaves. But it’s also very human – most of us have done similar. And Ashito for his part is wired to try and do the same thing – avoid a sloppy emotional farewell, if not with Noriko than with Shun and his classmates. And he manages to hold it together until he opens the bag Noriko told Shun to slip him right before the train leaves.
That train scene hit pretty hard, because I can’t imagine reacting any differently in Ashito’s situation. It’s a bit sad that Noriko couldn’t say those things in person but that’s just not who she is – what she said in her letter left no doubt of her feelings. For Ashito this was definitely a moment he had to have, brutal as it was – to carry that unspent emotion with him to Esperion would have been a lot worse. It all plays out in very believable and relatable fashion, which is why the emotion packs as big a punch as it does. It’s writing that really respects its audience – and that’s as priceless a quality as there is in manga and anime.