Reviewby Nick Creamer,
After the Rain
Episodes 1-12 streaming
Akira Tachibana used to be the fastest girl on her school's track team, but after a debilitating leg injury, she now spends her afternoons waiting tables at a local diner. Masami Kondo once dreamed of inspiring readers as a professional novelist, but now he manages that same diner, huddling by the embers of his own youthful dreams. In each other, these two will find something; perhaps not what they needed, perhaps not what they were looking for, but at least something beyond the drab gray of the everyday. When you've lived so long beneath the clouds, it's hard to believe there is sunlight waiting after the rain.
It'd be easy to skim After the Rain's premise and dismiss it as pure exploitation. “High school girl falls in love with her manager in his '40s” feels designed to cater to male fantasies, and even if framed with great sensitivity, it'd be virtually impossible for any sort of actual relationship between this show's leads to feel equal. Akira Tachibana is a naive young high school student, so with his decades of experience over her, Masami Kondo would be an improper romantic partner even if he weren't also her boss. But fortunately, After the Rain is not at all about validating a potential romance between these two; it is entirely about the feelings that lead both parties to feel adrift in the first place and the ways that unexpected friendships can change our lives.
As After the Rain opens, we are introduced to Akira's headspace through sight and sound and color, as the bustle of her classmates filters through to her own classroom. Other students are playing soccer, rehearsing music, laughing with friends; Akira sits at her desk, head down, the sounds of their youth muffled by her headphones. Motes of light hang in the air, reflecting the stillness of the moment. As Akira's phone buzzes with a work reminder, we turn to the window, witnessing a vast blue sky that only emphasizes Akira's own imprisonment. Through every possible aesthetic choice, After the Rain's first moments make Akira emotionally real; her sadness, her isolation, and even her resignation, all made clear through framing and music and gorgeous lighting.
This style of characterization carries through After the Rain's early episodes, making Akira's sense of displacement in her current life tangibly felt without betraying her inherently uncommunicative nature. We don't need Akira to tell us she longs to return to her friends on the track team; it's made clear in visual contrasts like her own divergent path after school, or the way everything lights up and the world seems to hold its breath whenever she dares to run. And when those moments end, the gray squallor of the world returns, and we see why she might see something special in her clumsy boss Kondo. When she was lost, he was kind to her. Sometimes that's enough.
Of course, Kondo is no simple object to instigate Akira's personal growth. While Akira's thoughts and feelings are generally conveyed through After the Rain's terrific visual storytelling, Kondo's weary reflections are more often relayed through direct monologue. It's a narrative choice that naturally reflects the emotional distance between these two characters, and what each of them sees in the other. As a divorcee and failed novelist who now manages a diner, Kondo sees his life as essentially over, and can find no color in his daily existence. To him, Akira's sadness actually demonstrates her vibrancy, her ongoing attachment to the rigors of life. In contrast, from her own directionless spin, Akira sees Kondo's common decency and general calm as a kind of maturity and stability that could potentially bring certainty and happiness back to her life. Neither of them can truly fix the other's problems, but each of them senses something missing in their own lives that seems so natural to the other.
As After the Rain's episodes spool out, any potentially romantic framing is discarded in favor of focusing on this common unhappiness, this sense that life is passing each of our heroes by. Kondo essentially never sees Akira as any sort of true romantic partner; her infatuation is entirely one-sided, whereas Kondo's feelings for Akira slot firmly into a combination of friendship, occasional fear, and natural jealousy at her youth. Through conversations that shift from stiffly awkward to charmingly still-awkward, Akira learns about Kondo's son and old writing passion, while Kondo learns about Akira's track injury. Episode after episode, After the Rain beautifully conveys a story of the failures and self-doubt that can chasten any of us to stillness, and of the unlikely ways we find the strength to stand up again.
After the Rain's storytelling is thoughtful, compassionate, and professionally articulated throughout. You could perhaps accuse it of being a bit slow-paced or laboring over some specific emotional turn a bit too much, but the show overall feels consistently purposeful, and its reflections on both youth and middle age feel uncommonly sharp. The show's respect for Kondo's passion is likely its secret weapon; we only learn he ever wanted to be a novelist around the halfway point, but by the end, After the Rain's thoughts on the seduction and self-destruction of life as an artist are some of its most well-observed. And all the while, the show balances its welcome interrogation of adult anxieties with equally thoughtful illustrations of Akira's emotions, using all of its formidable aesthetic resources to bring her feelings to life.
The visual touch-up techniques that Studio Wit polished on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Attack on Titan are put to terrific use throughout After the Rain, creating rich and colorful compositions perfectly suited to the often fanciful tone of Akira's headspace. Some shots use variable linework and soft colors to evoke the sense of a shoujo manga panel, while others simply linger on Akira's eyes, or the austere beauty of her hometown. After the Rain's animation is on the whole just above par, but it's applied well; sequences like Akira performing a little victory dance are terrific at revealing her feelings, and reflect After the Rain's general intelligence in applying its aesthetic resources.
On the whole, After the Rain is a thoughtful and beautifully realized story of rediscovering your passion for life, finding universality in both Akira and Kondo's stories while illustrating those stories with all the visual splendor it can muster. The show's later episodes can't maintain the beauty of its opening, and the consistent diner setting occasionally limits its visual range, but the storytelling is sturdy and emotionally rich throughout. If you were repelled by After the Rain's premise, I'd urge you to still give it a chance. Though quiet and unassuming, this show is one of the best dramas of the year.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Thoughtful and compassionate story about finding passion in life, rare articulation of the anxieties of middle age, terrific art design and strong visual compositions
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