by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
“Happy Jet Coaster” is a perfect example of how 22/7 can be perfectly successful at using fairly cliché setups for its girls' background stories when the execution is solid. Like the rest of the cast, Jun has basically been a background player up until her spotlight episode, with her defining characteristic being a vague positive attitude that plays well with the rest of the idols' personalities. With every other member out for the count with a bad case of food poisoning this week, though, Jun's boundless energy and enthusiasm for idol work is pushed to its absolute limits as she has to do the work of eight girls across multiple demanding engagements. As expected, her flashbacks reveal how she grew into the supremely reliable and energetic young woman she is today, and while it hits every single note you'd see coming from a mile away, it does so with grace, poise, and a surprising amount of darkness.
It turns out that Jun wasn't always so full of life – she was born with a respiratory illness that left her constantly teetering at the edge of asthmatic spasms, and regular hospital visits kept her withdrawn and bitter from a young age. Naturally, all of this changes when she meets Yuu, a ray of sunshine and optimism that perfectly fills out the age-old mold of the Tragic Hospital Friend™. You know the one: She's that character who is stricken with a terrible but conveniently vague illness that has them living every day to its fullest, which therefore inspires our cynical protagonist to do the same. Yuu shows Jun how to laugh, how to love, how to take risks and break rules and even embrace the healing power of music. She's a terribly sweet girl, and she really has an impact on how Jun sees the world and looks at her own limitations. This of course means that you can accurately predict Yuu's sudden and traumatizing death within thirty seconds of meeting her.
What I wasn't expecting was how raw and painful the experience would be for the viewer, as well. I figured the show would communicate Yuu's passing with the usual parade of crying parents and wistful inner monologue, but 22/7 actually pushed Jun and the audience across the threshold by forcing us to bear witness to the poor girl's corpse. The way the small white cloth lie still over Yuu's unmoving face was genuinely a shocking sight to see, which made it incredibly easy to empathize with Jun when she completely breaks down in the face of it, making the pain all the more palpable even when Jun's illness vanishes just as suddenly, and she decides to put on a brave face and use her newfound lease on life to honor Yuu's commitment to appreciating every moment one has on the Earth.
The episode is probably the best looking that 22/7 has ever been, but these flashback scenes are paid special attention, with the lush colors and stark shadows evoking Jun's many emotional states in a relatively short amount of time. Whoever was in charge of Jun's breakdown deserves extra commendations, especially for allowing Jun's face to twist and contort in a surprisingly realistic way. It wasn't strictly in keeping with the 22/7's typical aesthetic, but I'm a big proponent in letting characters look a little ugly when they cry, be it in live action or animation. Nobody ever feels beautiful when they are overcome with pain and grief, after all, and I've always found it more relatable when sad characters look truly torn apart, like Jun does here. Kudos to A-1 Pictures.
My one issue is a recurring one for this show, and it's that the present day idol story isn't actually all that compelling compared to the flashbacks. Jun's likable and funny enough to make her extended montage of doing the whole group's job without rest or reprieve generally amusing, but that nagging lack of conflict rears its head again. It's true that the present day stuff is meant to contrast the flashbacks and demonstrate Jun's growth, but I'm a believer in the LOST formula of balancing flashbacks and regular narratives, where both plots have to be in equal balance with each other for each story to have the impact it should. The worst Jun's day gets is that she's pretty worn out when everything is said and done, and it should be obvious where the lack of balance comes from when you compare that to discovering the dead body of your best friend/possible first love.
Thankfully, what “Happy Jest Coaster” does well is so good that I'm inclined to forgive a too-breezy approach to its tonal shifts. I've seen this kind of story done plenty of times before, but it still has the power to impact and inspire its viewers when done well. Compared to having a character sit in a bus for thirty minutes, and this episode feels downright masterful. By the time the credits rolled, all I could find myself asking for was that this idol anime might have the good sense to deliver a proper stage performance again, but then The Wall's next order arrived, and it looks like the girls are going to be putting one heck of a show soon. I guess The Wall really does know what's best, after all…
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: Jun's character song is, unfortunately, not as strong as the material that preceded it. Without the benefit of subtitles, I can't really speak to its lyrical content, and the music sounds to me like a fairly generic anime ending song. It isn't bad at all; it just doesn't stick out as especially creative or surprising, either.
• Being for The Benefit of Mr. Wall: This is a weird one, because The Wall has virtually no presence in this entire episode, though given how much it has orchestrated things behind the scenes so far, you'd think it'd be obvious to suspect that it was behind the tainted coffee jelly that poisoned the crew right? If not, then this is the first episode of the show to have the central conflict be an entirely random one, which would be weird, but it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense for The Wall to do this if it's purely for the sake of helping Jun grow, as its past choices have been framed. Jun was already changed by her experience with Yuu, and it doesn't seem like she needed more than your basic amount of prodding to do a truly inhuman amount of work for her friends. In that case, did The Wall poison its idols just to give one member an opportunity to do some marketing for the group? That's cold, Wall. That's cold.
• Shoutout to the crowd that took an absurdly long time to catch on to Jun's “impersonate everyone in the group” routine at the meet-and-greet, and an even bigger shoutout to the one guy who was brave enough to break the silence by loudly proclaiming “Oh, she's doing a joke! I get it now!”
22/7 is currently streaming on FUNimation.
discuss this in the forum (28 posts) |