Okay, well, at least the animation quality has evened out again. After last week's frankly horrendous animation, we're back to something more akin to episode eight: Riddled with some very clunky and obvious shortcuts, but generally pretty good. That's a relief, I don't think I could watch another episode of 'six emaciated flesh beasts attempt to do sports.'
Incidentally, this episode takes us to the end of chapter sixteen out of twenty-two. Fitting six chapters into three more episodes definitely seems manageable, especially as this episode itself had two chapters in it.
In this week's episode, as the relay race fast approaches, Hagita informs the others that Kakeru has an injured ankle, and this is what most likely caused him to fall in the original timeline. Interrupting Kakeru and Naho as they carry a heavy mattress, the gang tells Kakeru to get his ankle treated, and reminds him that they're here to help him, before heading to an emotional relay.
I have very mixed feelings about this episode.
A lot of it is devoted to the relay, and that stuff is all actually really good. Cheesy and corny as all get out, as the characters sprint to swelling music while passing on a message that becomes increasingly embellished and heartfelt with each person, but actually pretty moving. I may have teared up, just a little bit, while watching, but in fairness, I do that whenever there's any swelling, dramatic music in anything, so it doesn't necessarily mean anything about how effective the scene was.
(Oddly, this is actually not the corniest relay scene I've seen in anime, nor could it have been unless Suwa had transformed into an orca to bear Chino on his back. Orcas make everything that much more emotional, you know?)
The amount of build-up we've gotten to it is, admittedly, a little odd, since this will almost certainly be forgotten by the start of the next episode and have only a minimal impact on the plot as a whole.
We do also get a nice glimpse at what Kakeru's mother was like earlier in his life, and apparently she wasn't so against him taking part in sports then (and it seems like her insistence he not take part in any had more to do with her feeling like she couldn't function without him around), which helps contextualise her, a bit. Since all we've seen or heard of her has suggested that she was very controlling, it's nice to see her before that particular problem set in.
|Okay, the distance animation still isn't brilliant.|
The part before the relay, though, that has its problems. We see Naho realise that Kakeru has an injured ankle, but she doesn't know what to do, until the rest of her friends sweep in and not only make a point about how Kakeru doesn't need to do things alone, but also further Naho's romance with Kakeru by telling him that she's been watching and admiring his sports-playing.
The overall effect is that Naho and Kakeru's romance comes off as being unable to function without the presence of Suwa, Azu, Hagita, and Chino. The two of them almost never have romantic moments, or even moments of genuine human connection, unless they're pushed into it by the others. This crops up again later in the episode, when the four tell Kakeru that if he comes first in the relay, he gets to kiss Naho (and if he doesn't, then Suwa does -- which frankly seems needlessly cruel when last episode already established in blaringly obvious terms that Kakeru is jealous of Suwa, who is taller, more muscular, has known Naho longer, and is more emotionally open), which is already a slightly weird thing for them to suggest without consulting Naho first, but which also just hammers in the fact that this relationship cannot progress or survive without one or all of the others forcing the issue.
|This is just because Kakeru kissed her on the cheek, wth Naho.|
This is not a problem with any other pairing of characters. Naho and Suwa have plenty of moments of human connection. Azu and Hagita, whose romance is not even the main romance, have a more compelling romantic arc which is driven by their own interactions and not the nagging insistence of the rest of the cast. Hell, Suwa and Kakeru have more independently romantic moments than Naho and Kakeru, and they're meant to be the other two points on a love triangle, although to be fair this is not the only anime that has had this problem.
I certainly enjoyed this episode more than the last, but this series is still starting to weary me. Part of it is that it doesn't seem to have any idea of how to escalate, because it feels like the stakes in this episode are exactly as high as they were several episodes earlier, so it feels like we're just treading water until we reach the eventual conclusion of Kakeru not dying. Still, it is looking unlikely we'll get a second cour, which is a relief for me.