The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide After The Rain
How would you rate episode 1 of
After the Rain ?
What is this?
Seventeen-year-old Akira Tachibana was at loose ends after an injury forced her off the track team. When she was caught in the rain one day, she ducked into a café where a kind older man brought her a free cup of coffee to help her warm up. Now she's found new purpose working there while she nurses her crush on the man who gave her coffee, forty-five-year-old manager Kondo. Kondo's not sure what to make of Akira, who always looks as if she's glaring at him, but he can't help wondering what would happen if they were the same age. Does their May-December romance stand a chance? After the Rain is based on a manga and streams on Amazon Prime on Thursdays.
How was the first episode?
There's a sequence in the opening minutes of After the Rain's premiere that tells you everything you need to know about our story's protagonist, Akira. Having already been introduced as a withdrawn and even standoffish young girl, we catch Akira gazing wistfully at the girls participating in her school's track team practice. As the captain of the team glances back, we see the mix of recognition and melancholy on her face, even though Akira has already disappeared out of sight. We immediately cut to a wide shot that places the track team and Akira parallel to one another as they each go in their separate directions. The captain marches with confidence and speed alongside the rest of her girls as they chant their team motto; there is a clear sense of direction and camaraderie between them. Below, Akira strides along at a slower pace, not another soul in sight around her. For just a brief moment, she seems to almost stumble, holding her leg in pain. Then without a word, she stands and continues on her way.
This scene, like every other in the episode, is immaculately shot and lovingly animated, brimming with character and color and a truly unexpected sense of warm, earnest affection. When I first read the premise for After the Rain, I assumed it was going to be another salacious forbidden love story, like this season's Citrus or last winter's tale of angst-ridden lust, Scum's Wish. What I got instead was something much more surprising, a gorgeously animated tale of a girl who's been cut off her previous life and focused all of her attention and affection on her work and a crush on her boss, who's old enough to be her father (and indeed has a young son of his own). While this could have easily turned into the kind of lurid and exploitative tale that I have little interest in engaging with, After the Rain manages to frame its premise and central protagonist in a firmly empathetic and understandable light. Everything about this episode's production, from its diverse moments of character animation to its slightly exaggerated visual style, lend this story a youthful perspective that goes out of its way to prevent viewers from feeling gross about this young girl's crush on her middle-aged boss. These things do happen, and it's hard not to be invested in the way Akira's story is being told.
Kondo, Akira's boss, is also presented in a favorable light, which is the other key to this story's success. He's definitely a dork and something of a pushover, to a degree where it becomes more understandable that a withdrawn girl like Akira would take a liking to him. It also helps that the show is smart enough to give us scenes from Kondo's perspective on this, so his amusing inner monologue can reassure the viewer that he really is the gentle and self-aware man we hope him to be. Only one scene near the end of the episode hints that Kondo might reciprocate the affection Akira has for him, but it's framed as the wistful imaginings of a man who nonetheless understands his situation. While the story could very well lead to Kondo taking advantage of Akira's naivety, I sincerely hope we're headed in a less trite and more humanistic direction. Akira and Kondo's feelings can be explored and validated in so many ways that don't lead to statutory rape, that's all I'm saying.
To borrow from the parlance of the youth these days, let me just say that After the Rain has me positively shook. I'm a sucker for stories about young adults that can be complicated and sincere without descending into cynicism and hyperbolic melodrama. While I'm sure that Akira and Kondo's story will have its own share of ups and downs, After the Rain's premiere delivers that story with a caring tone and eye for characterization that blows nearly every other show this season out of the water, and it manages to look damn gorgeous at the same time. I absolutely can't wait to see where this story goes from here.
I don't know what I was expecting when I first heard the polarizing premise of this show, but it definitely wasn't this! The most important thing you need to know about this series is that it's easily the most beautiful and immaculate production of the season (not counting the nebulously available Violet Evergarden and DEVILMAN crybaby which exhibits a very uh, different kind of beauty). Akira's world is an idealized wonderland that reflects her emotional state at all times, from the hectic yet homey flavor of the cafe where she works to the vaguely melancholy distance she feels from her big empty school. This is very helpful for the audience in trying to suss out her hidden feelings, since she has so little to say in any given scene, and her taste in men is shall we say a little unusual.
Yeah alright, the production of this show could be among the most unique and beautiful of the entire year, but the premise is still going to give people pause. For my part, I'm not interested in kinkshaming Akira on this one, because I have no problem with the idea of a girl her age falling for an older man; even if most of us don't jump to a 28-year gap, crushes on out-of-reach adults are a completely normal part of adolescence for most people, and there's no crime in chasing silver foxes provided you don't catch one until you've matured enough for such a relationship to be healthy. But obviously, Akira is not in that position, so while I find her infatuation as endearing and believable as the rest of the show's overall tone and aesthetic, most of my comfort or discomfort with the premise is going to rest with her Dadliest catch, Kondo.
Thankfully, Kondo's personality is another saving grace for a potentially divisive production. I've seen plenty of ojisan-fetish romances in manga and otome games before, but they're usually centered around gruff older detective types with a small goofy side, not Literally Captain Dadjoke here. Kondo's extremely nonthreatening normalcy makes it easy to trust him around Akira, and it's my hope that their blossoming "relationship" will turn more into a healing experience for a girl who's obviously shut herself off from the world and may be sabotaging herself by wasting her youth on regrets that Kondo's experience can illuminate for her with his greater life's experience. That's where I hope it's going, anyway. We'll just have to see.
For this first episode alone, the tone tightrope walk is absolutely perfect, and I couldn't think of a single uncomfortable part of the experience so far. If the basic premise of a 17-year old girl bearing a crush on a 45-year old guy doesn't bother you outright, it's worth at least a shot for the gorgeous execution, especially if you don't have Netflix and can't watch the only two more impressive-looking productions this season.
After the Rain's promise of a romance between a high school girl and a middle-aged man is guaranteed to prompt some double takes, but my impression of the manga was that this is more a story about the aimless malaise of youth than the allure of forbidden love. Having watched this first episode, that focus seems to remain true here. It's a very well-titled series; After the Rain is about how youth can often feel like a time spent waiting for the rain to stop, watching life through the window but unable to go out. This humble cafe is just a stepping stone, but what awaits out the door, you can't really say.
The central goal of this first episode is to introduce us to life at Akira Tachibana's pace. We experience her life as a series of routine motions, half-awake reveries, and ever-so-slightly bitter nostalgia. We only learn by this episode's second half that she was once a track star, but she was permanently sidelined by a serious leg injury. And yet that doesn't prevent this episode's early scenes from reflecting her frustration at seeing old friends happily jogging, living their golden youth, already having escaped the rain. Outright expressions of anger are rare; instead, we're treated to graceful visual storytelling like a shot that contrasts her own attempted jog against the track team marching above her, a sequence that quietly underlines just how much she has lost and the slow-paced life she must now accept.
Graceful and quiet storytelling are the name of the game here. Tachibana herself isn't a willingly expressive person, but After the Rain's excellent character acting and purposeful framing make her array of feelings clear at all times. Tachibana is routinely framed as lost within a beautiful wide-open world, and though her preoccupation with work manager Kondo seems strange at first, the show smartly builds towards a climax that contrasts her despair after learning about her leg against her current infatuation, explaining both her sorrow and her current crush at once.
It also helps that After the Rain is just straight-up gorgeous in all respects. I've already mentioned the excellent direction and animation, but the show is also bolstered by its terrific color work and smartly used digital effects. After the Rain's visual embellishments often make it feel like a living shoujo manga, complete with blooming sparkles and radiant eyes, an effect that further secures us in Tachibana's fanciful headspace. Even the show's comedy benefits from its great aesthetics, whether through the absurd cartooniness of Tachibana's high school suitor or the repeating gag of Tachibana's inability to not scowl at Kondo.
Of course, all this beautiful scene-setting and thoughtful storytelling are still being applied to a story that's framed as a romance between a teenage girl and an adult man. I personally don't think this story is moving toward an overt relationship, but it's also not really condemning that possibility, which means your tolerance for that premise will play a big part in your reaction to this show. Personally, I'm game for a beautifully told and potentially thorny drama like this—if the premise isn't an immediate show-killer for you, I'd definitely recommend giving After the Rain a shot.
After the Rain's plot is not going to be for everyone. Its central romance is between a high school girl named Akira pining for her 45-year-old manager. This manager is not a suave, rich, typically good-looking guy. He's a pinnacle “Dad” down to the lame puns and lackadaisical style choices. He also probably has a growing attraction to Akira despite her inadvertent glaring. There's inappropriate written all over this, but Wit Studio is selling this series well by focusing on a very nostalgic sort of feeling.
That probably sounds weird since very few of us have nostalgia for a time we fell in love with someone almost three times our age. The success comes from the sometimes subtle framing that fleshes out Akira's feelings of distance when she's in her normal environment at school. Broken jump hurdles, being surpassed by the track team during their practice as she walks down the street, and missing the bus all reinforce how lost and out of place she's been since her injury. The script doesn't come out and say that Akira is cut from the track team due to an injury until much later, but all the signs are there early on. Akira had a place she belonged, but she can't be a part of it anymore, and she's started to disassociate from her peers are a result.
The artistry is also gorgeous. Like its name, the scenery and sometimes the characters are dripping with a dewy afterglow. The restaurant where Akira works transitions from a Denny's to a moody diner whenever the need arises. The bleached sunny days on her school campus are just as bright as they are suffocating. Everything is meant to serve as Akira's own lens, so of course, the place where she sees her crush will feel more homey than the sprawling school campus.
In that sense, the viewer can understand how the manager's small acts of kindness and goofy demeanor would appeal to her vulnerability. Wit Studio is showing enough nuance to add humanity to what would usually be a skeevy premise. Ideally, her manager would not reciprocate her feelings, but the imagery in the opening sequence seems to indicate that he probably will. Still, maybe he'll defuse the situation in favor of a mentor role that gets Akira to reengage with the friends and hobbies she's abandoned instead of fixating on her crush. It could go either way but based on the first episode, I feel confident that Wit Studio will handle either scenario with compassion that permeates throughout this premiere.
In some past eras, a 45-year-old man taking a 17-year-old girl as a wife wasn't considered unusual. These days, a love affair with such an age difference would be widely frowned upon, which makes the premise behind this series intriguing. If the series explores the complications of this dynamic going forward, then it has the potential to cover some interesting ground. But so far, what attracts Akira to Masami isn't all that compelling. It's plausible that she's just into older men, although I suppose it's also not unthinkable that an act of kindness when you're on the rebound from a career-ending injury could spark romantic interest.
For all of those concerns, the first episode is actually executed well. Despite some awkward attempts at filtering in comic relief and a weird caricature of an older waitress at the restaurant, the episode gets the tone just right, which is more important than anything else for a story like this. I don't find it improbable that Masami would be incorrectly reading the signals that Akira is sending, since despite the final scene revealing that he entertains the notion of a relationship with her, someone in his position might not be quick to believe that a girl her age would be interested in him. Giving him these sorts of quirks also reduces the risk of a weird power dynamic making the story more off-putting.
I'm curious enough to see what the series does with its premise that I may watch more, even though I'm not really a fan of the character design style; Akira's neck is similar enough to the ones that made Welcome to the Ballroom unwatchable for me. And I could do with a few less sparkly effects too.
Actress Billie Burke once commented that age is something that doesn't matter unless you're a cheese. That's generally a sentiment I can get behind, but it becomes more difficult when applied to romances. After the Rain, based on the Manga Taisho-award winning series by Jun Mayuzuki, features a seventeen-year-old heroine with a major crush on her forty-five-year-old boss, and in this first episode there's some implication that he may be heading towards reciprocating her feelings. That's definitely a bit uncomfortable, and it is, unlike The Ryuo's Work is Never Done!, the actual foundation of the story, so if you're not a fan of May/December romances, this might not be the show for you. If you don't mind, however, there may be something worth seeing here, especially in some of the artistry.
As far as the actual storytelling goes, After the Rain does a beautiful job with implication and showing rather than telling. Long before we see the scar on the back of Akira's ankle, we know that she's had to leave the track team thanks to speaking glances and small meetings. Her treatment of Yoshizawa, the classmate who has a major crush on her, lets us know that she's not interested in boys her age, a supposition supported by the fact that she later doesn't know who the school heartthrob is. And well ahead of the uncomfortable scene where she sniffs Kondo's discarded shirt, we see her gazing at him and trying to get as much information about him as she can while still being relatively subtle. In fact, the only place where the episode fails spectacularly on the subtlety front is with its excessive use of Floaty Shoujo Bubbles™ whenever a moment is supposed to be romantic or telling. Presumably they're supposed to look like sparkly rain falling upwards, but they just felt excessive to me.
For the most part, this episode errs on the side of soft and slow, which suits it. Poor Yoshikawa is the only real note of humor (apart from Akira's tendency to drop dishes when she's shocked), especially in the scene where he tries to emulate Akira's description of what her type of guy is, from sneezing loudly to unzipping his pants. There's a luminescence to the colors that really works with both the rain theme and the softness of the overall episode, and the art is sufficiently unique to really make the characters stand out among the season's other offerings.
Whether or not you're okay with the idea of a potentially mutual romance with this kind of age gap is probably going to make or break your relationship with this show. Right now the major enticement is that we don't (yet) have any daddy issues to deal with; Akira just seems to genuinely like Kondo for who he is. If it maintains that and continues its quiet progression, this might be a story worth setting aside my sensibilities for.
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