For people keeping track of where we are in the manga - so, me, basically - this episode takes us to the end of chapter twelve. I have to say, the possibility of this being two-cour is looking more and more likely, even though it would leave a second cour more than a little bit short on material. If it continues at the pace it's going at, it'll end on chapter seventeen or eighteen of the manga.
In this week's episode, after Kakeru collapses at a football game - something which was never mentioned in the letters - Naho and Suwa decide not to rely entirely on what the letters tell them. When Kakeru volunteers for a relay, though, something the letter warns will leave him distraught after he lets the team down, the two of them scramble to get Kakeru to drop out, despite his insistence that he wants to compete and is looking forward to it. As they do this, they draw the attention of Azu and Chino.
I actually really enjoyed this episode, more than the last few, and I think there are a couple of reasons. One of them - and the less important reason of the two - is that Ueda is completely absent from this episode, and it seems like her subplot is well and truly done with. I did enjoy Ueda's vaudeville villain antics, I'm not going to pretend I didn't, but it did eventually wear thin, and with that part of the plot out of the way, the show feels like it's returned a little more to the tone and mode it had at the start of the series.
|Suwa is so pure.|
The more important reason, though, is that this episode sees the characters all being very active - instead of a lot of time spent having Naho agonise over whether she's just going to do what the damn letter says, we have the entire cast taking different approaches to following the letter, and eventually coming to a conclusion in which they take on board what the letter is saying, but do not follow its instructions precisely.
Apart from the fact that any episode of any show in which the main characters are actually driving their own destiny along, with the conflict coming from well-meaning disputes over the best course of action, is always better than an episode where one character is just angsting endlessly over whether they should follow obviously correct instructions, this also represents a big turning point in the series.
Specifically, it has always been a little odd that in a series about choices and regret, the characters would be beholden to other people's choices, always kind of railroaded into doing what the future versions of them want. In a story about breaking free of regret, it has always been a little jarring that the characters have been functionally slaves to their future selves' regrets.
|Hagita is where romantic moments go to die.|
So seeing them take what the letters say to heart, but finding their own, better way of dealing with the problem is important, because it marks the point where their arcs and development over the course of the show culminate in them growing into the series' main themes.
It was also a turning point because we finally discovered that Azu, Chino, and Hagita all had letters of their own. Again, thematically that's a key point, because another big part of this series is the friendship and bonds between this group, and them all deciding together to send the letters makes it immediately obvious that while their regrets might have sent them off in different directions, they still share an unbreakable bond.
Which is all very warm and fuzzy and nice. It's also clarified explicitly by Naho seconds later, so -- thanks for ruining a nice, implied moment, I guess. One day, I'll do an editorial about the importance of leaving things implied, but not today.
|The gang, minus Kakeru.|
Quick rundown of technical stuff: The animation is very pretty - in fact, it looks noticeably better than the last couple of episodes. Voice acting remains strong, and Okitsu, Kinugawa, and Takamori as Hagita, Chino, and Azu actually all get significant amounts of lines in this episode, so they get to show their stuff a little. There's a few particularly nice moments where Chino and Azu are talking in perfect unison.
So, I quite liked this episode. It feels like we're heading into the final stretch - Naho and Kakeru have already said they love each other, after all - but obviously there's still a lot more story left in the manga, so we'll see. Maybe some disaster will hit in the next episode. Maybe it'll pull a Samurai Flamenco and suddenly change genres. Who even knows.