by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Charlotte (TV 2015) ?
At first, this episode seems like an awkward return to normalcy after a life-changing event. Could Yuu just go back to hanging out with his friends at the student council like nothing happened? Should he? He's out of the deep, despair-fueled stages of mourning, but does that mean he's ready for fun, schoolyard antics? Well, yes and no. Life goes on, and Yuu's trying to step back into it, even if its not easy for him.
Fortunately, this is a melodrama, so a kindly stranger promptly shows up to lend him a helping hand. That's Sala Shane, the blind vocalist for Nao's favorite band, ZHIEND. She's in Japan for a concert. They bump into each other on the street, and Sala demands that Yuu help her find a place to eat. This turns into an evening-long adventure wherein the singer helps Yuu out with his personal problems. At first, Yuu decides to surprise Nao with a visit from her favorite artist. However, Nao rejects the gesture, saying that she “just wants to listen to ZHIEND's CDs and watch their gigs,” not meet the artist. (Also, she is a massive contrarian who refuses to accept help from anyone.) So instead, Yuu takes Sala to meet Nao's institutionalized brother in the hopes that her music might get through to him. It works, and the brother has a lucid moment for the first time in years, responding to his sister's name. It's a breakthrough, and Nao expresses genuine thanks to Yuu for the first time.
This all works because of it's composed of small moments when Yuu forgets that Ayumi died, instead of going full-force into acceptance or backsliding into last episode's depression. Maeda seems to have experienced something like this firsthand. It's so familiar – loss sneaks back into Yuu's life in realistic ways. For example, he starts to call home to tell Ayumi he'll be late, only to realize that he doesn't need to anymore. Small moments like these punctuate his daily life. It turns the initial jarring tonal transition into a deliberate calculation. Maeda's greatest strength as a writer continues to be his understanding of difficult emotional situations.
At this point the people-with-powers story could fall flat on its face, and Charlotte would still hold up as a strong adolescent love story. It reminds me most of John Green's The Fault in our Stars, of all things. Like that hit young adult novel, Charlotte is a heartwarming story about teenagers reaching emotional maturity by experiencing love and loss. Through each other, Yuu and Nao confront their past selves and grow into better people. Yuu's already shed his jerk-ish tendencies to become a valued and caring friend. Now, the show is starting to confront Nao's self-harming tendencies and inability to rely on others. Actually, Jun Maeda has a lot in common with John Green in general. Both started out writing works that use women as objects in a man's story. (Green had his manic pixie dream girls, and Maeda had his moe girls.) At some point, they learned that this wasn't great, and have deliberately included more complex female characters in their work to expand on their ideas. They also share a preoccupation with addressing past misdeeds on the path to individual self-actualization. In Charlotte, this shows up big time with Sala, who frames her blindness as a sacrifice she took on for her current humility and happiness. When she was young, she wanted fame, taking other people for granted and hurting them to get it. This resulted in some undisclosed tragedy. She survived, but had to find an alternate source of happiness. The same thing happened to Yuu when his cheating-fueled ambitions were dashed in the first episode. Now we're watching him piece together a more modest, but reasonable life.
Jun Maeda really wears his interests on his sleeve. This episode contained a conversation that I've never seen in anime before – teens ribbing on each other's favorite music. The conversation the student council has after Yusa's music video ends is very true to how friends rag on each other for their musical tastes. There's even a really on-point joke about obscure musical genres. Would you know what post-rock is just from reading the Wikipedia page? It helps make the characters seem more like real teenagers with distinct, adolescent interests.
Unfortunately, this also results in the worst part of the episode: Yusa's song. Musically, it was alright, more bland than anything, but the real problem is the lyrics. I don't know whether they were supposed to make much sense, but I don't think gibberish like, “I can't do it! Not the side there you. I can do it! Once me there you!” is entirely accurate. (That's supposed to be the chorus.) The subtitles in general have become distractingly off. There's a little too much passive voice and unnatural phrasing. The second song has its own problems. It doesn't work as a transcendent and beautiful musical experience that calls a guy out of his trauma-induced insanity. At least the lyrics are in clearer English, so the subtitles couldn't be too messed up. If Charlotte gets a dub, I'd be interested in seeing how this part turns out.
It'd hard to believe that there are only five episodes left. I do hope that the mutant plot comes back into play again soon. It's starting to seem like an afterthought. Something will probably happen to interrupt Yuu and Nao's concert date. Maybe a disastrous mutant incident? Maybe they'll finally confess their attraction to one another and become a real couple? Charlotte has had fantastic pacing so far, and I want it to keep up the hits.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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