I've only just gotten around to listening to the full ending theme, and it's actually really nice. Very soothing. Would recommend.
In this week's episode, we see the events that led Kakeru to his suicide, and in the future, the gang decides to send letters back in time to themselves, hoping to avert Kakeru's death and create a timeline where he survives. In the present day, Naho struggles with the aftermath of her argument with Kakeru, and although her friends assure her it will be okay, she sets out to make things right with him, worrying what will happen if she doesn't.
The episode gets off to a pretty strong start, devoting its entire first half to following Kakeru through the events of the series so far, but in the alpha timeline. Initially, it's not made at all clear that it's the alpha timeline's events that we're seeing, so the audience is left to figure it out from small clues until the point where it becomes obvious (which is about the point where Kakeru visits his friends in Tokyo, and we get to see what would have happened then).
It's a section with very little dialogue apart from Kakeru narrating his thoughts, and it's probably one of the best sequences of the series, giving us a glimpse into how alpha timeline Kakeru ended up committing suicide, and showing us all the events that led to his feelings of isolation and regret, and the instigating incident (which also helps contextualise his mother's actions).
|Kakeru's friends still come off as jerks, though.|
Done badly, I think this could have very easily come across as hamfisted and expository, and it definitely toes the line more than a few times, but it ends up working pretty well, and it helps to both establish the stakes going forward, and to further contextualise exactly what would lead Kakeru to ride in front of a lorry.
My biggest problem with it is that at times, the exact timeframe is unclear, and I wondered at a few points if we were seeing events out of order: We see Kakeru and Naho argue, an argument which apparently is their last real conversation, since future Naho says she never gets a chance to apologise, and yet we see them talking (and pretty amicably) at that afterwards, for example.
The episode continues on that strong note since, wonders of wonders, when we return to the show's timeline, we actually get Naho being proactive, and pretty promptly at that. It only took her twelve episodes to actually start doing things without having to be forced into it by her friends. That's -- that's sort of character development, I guess. Even better, she takes a pretty logical course of action, by quickly apologising to Kakeru and explaining both that she knows she was being insensitive, and exactly why she was.
|Also, there is a scene in English class, and it's -- it's a little painful.|
Instead of the conflict coming from Naho and her inability to take decisive action, the conflict comes from Kakeru and his continuing attempts to distance himself from her, which is a much more logical place for the conflict to come from.
Unfortunately, it's in the final section of the episode that things start to fall apart, and they do so in catastrophic fashion. Because in the final section of the episode, we go back to the future versions of the gang, as they figure out how to send their letters to the past. As you continue reading, I want to be entirely clear that I am not embellishing or altering this plot detail in any way.
Hagita says that there is an urban legend of a black hole in the Bermuda Triangle. The group, using this information, decides to put letters into a time capsule and send them out to sea, along with a note asking the black hole (which is in the Bermuda Triangle, halfway across the world from Japan) to deliver the letters within the time capsule to their past selves on a specific date in April 2012. We never see the characters do this, nor do we see them alter their plan in any way, so the implication is that this plan proceeds exactly how it is laid out and that it works perfectly.
I'm not convinced I have ever seen a more stupid reason for time travel given in a piece of fiction. It never having been explained at all would have been preferable over what we got, because that at least preserves the general tone and worldbuilding of the series, and since the why of the time travel only really becomes relevant to the series if you start to go into detail explaining it, since the series isn't really about time travel, so much as it is about human connection.
(The series does try to briefly counterbalance the idiocy of this plot element by saying that Hagita, and by extension the audience, should just 'believe in a miracle,' and I swear to god one day I'll write an editorial on good and bad use of miracles in fiction.)
|Older Naho really does just look identical to younger Naho.|
I actually checked what this scene is like in the manga, and somehow in the manga it is both more ridiculous -- as Hagita tells them that the Bermuda Triangle mystery was recently solved, and there is no black hole, prompting Azu to yell "YES, THERE IS," and for everyone to continue talking as if the entire foundation of their plan hadn't just vanished -- and less ridiculous, as the inherent absurdity of the situation is played up (with Hagita constantly remarking on how it's impossible while the rest of the cast drown him out by yelling about how it'll work) and then (rather than just having a lampshade hung on it for no reason) used to leverage an emotional point, with the 'miracles' line being played less as a thin justification, and more as a moment that's meant to demonstrate how committed the characters are, and how deep their love for Kakeru goes.
It is by no means a perfect scene in the manga, but what it is is more palatable, as the pseudo-scientific explanation is deliberately played for laughs and then used to underline the major themes of the story, rather than just being straightfacedly used as an actual explanation that the audience is meant to accept. The only conclusion I can draw is that the anime's writers honestly didn't understand the point of the scene, and attempted to downplay or offset the ridiculousness as much as possible while still having it play out in mostly the same way.
Just -- just ugh. Ugh. The episode was doing so well, too. Well, for anyone following along with where we are in the manga, we just hit the end of chapter eighteen. Go read that chapter if you haven't already, and see how you think it compares to the anime version of the scene.