by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 4 of
The story of Days is synonymous with main character Tsukushi's determination to run himself ragged being as sweet, earnest, and hardworking as possible. He's just so gosh-darned innocent and energetic! This episode holds the key to keeping us from hating a character so virtuous—it shows us another initially unsympathetic character who does hate him. Being confronted with Tsukushi's purity stokes Chikako's fury, and the contrast between these two characters renews my willingness to root for Tsukushi no matter what.
Tsukushi is late to soccer practice every day because he can't corral the lazy Maintenance Committee into cleaning up the classroom in time, and Chikako couldn't be happier about it. This intimidating, prickly girl wonders "how bad do you have to mess up to end up like Tsukushi," and she seems personally slighted by his determination to reach his goal. At first, I thought Chikako was a foil because she weasels her way out of obligation and thinks people who put effort into things are too stupid to do the same. But of course, it turned out that Chikako has her own baggage. People who confront and insult you really do have their own issues to deal with most of the time. It's not that Tsukushi is “living his life all wrong,” but that he reminds Chikako of her own abandoned goal. When she calls Tsukushi “too stupid,” it's almost like she's talking to herself, and it's a beautifully done portrayal of internal agony.
In each previous episode, Days has compared clumsy beginner Tsukushi with effortlessly talented Kazama Jin. It's a contrast that fits the sports anime narrative and shows us just how far Tsukushi has to go to succeed, but it certainly doesn't make Tsukushi look very good. This episode makes Tsukushi look like a saint by allowing Chikako to air the concerns viewers have also had in the backs of their minds. “Isn't Tsukushi too shrimpy to ever do well at soccer?” we have secretly wondered. “Isn't his goal too unrealistic?” Seeing these thoughts expressed openly to Tsukushi's face, by a character who doesn't exactly enter the playing field in a sympathetic manner, puts us squarely in Tsukushi's corner. Heck, it even puts Chikako in Tsukushi's corner by the end of the episode! It's a decision that transforms Chikako into a multidimensional character capable of change, rather than just a plot device to urge Tsukushi forward and remind us that he's worth emanating.
Days has never shied away from showing us Tsukushi's flaws, but this episode takes the cake. “You're too slow,” Chikako tells him. “You're too gullible,” his teammates say. And Tsukushi's reaction faces in response to processing all this are fantastic. Days isn't exceptionally animated, but it makes sure you can always see Tsukushi's feelings written all over his face. Oddly enough, this episode's lack of chill toward criticizing Tsukushi just makes him look great. After twenty minutes of whaling on Tsukushi's dreams, his defeat of the judo team member in gym class is triumphant rather than predictable. This story does a better job than most of portraying a world where everyone actually is against the main character, at least at first. The simple story of him winning them over with his actions is feel-good and rewarding.
DAYS is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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