Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 13-24 Streaming
Banri and Koko's relationship was shaken by the revelation of Banri and Linda's history, but at least on the surface it has returned to lovey-dovey normal. Their bond takes an even more serious hit, however, when accumulated feelings explode after a beach vacation goes very, very wrong. Just as their love emerges from that storm, stronger for the stress, it must face the ultimate test: the return of Banri's memories. Can Koko and Banri stay in love, even if Banri isn't Banri anymore?
Golden Time's first half was a battle between the series' deeply emotional writing and its perfunctory direction. Its second half is where the writing tears through the direction like a tank through infantry lines. These twelve episodes are packed to overflowing with big emotions, delivered with big impact. Sure it's stilted. Sure it fails to address some important flaws. And sure Chiaki Kon's persistent mediocrity destroys nuances and blunts emotional edges. But the squeeze the show puts on your heart makes all of that downright moot.
As sweet as it was, and as much as you can't help loving them, Koko and Banri's romance never quite felt real. Because Kon is the kind of director that she is, it was hard to tell if that was on purpose or not. It could have been her grinding away the details that would have made the relationship real, or it could have been author Yuyuko Takemiya's intent all along. In retrospect there's some of the former, but it's mostly the latter. Koko and Banri love each other going into these episodes, but in an uninformed and idealized kind of way. They are kids (experience-wise, Banri is only a year or so old), as much playing at having a relationship as actually having one.
But that doesn't mean they can't be hurt, especially Koko, whose identity is so wrapped up in loving someone—first Mitsuo, now Banri—that it feels like she'd shatter to pieces if her love, even if it's a game of love, ceases to hold her together. And their romance is in danger. Banri's confession to Koko—that some part of him still loves Linda—changed their relationship. They've forced their doubts behind them and returned to their snuggly-cute ways, redoubling their devotion to each other, but their happiness feels brittle, forced. They aren't innocents in love; they're dinged and damaged and so is their relationship, and they're trying desperately to pretend that the dings and damage never happened and that everything is the same as before.
This is Takemiya's writing. Emotional, dramatic—perhaps even a little melodramatic—but intelligent and insightful, with a fine-grained eye for psychological detail and relational nuance and an infallible sense for how to bring everything to a boil. The reckoning, when it comes (and it must), comes from an unexpected direction—namely Koko, with a little push from her father—and is sharp and hard and devastating. It's the pair's first real fight, and it's a doozy. It smashes what remains of their old relationship, but it reforms into something better: stronger, more honest, more real. They're smarter about their feelings and their relationship: they keep no secrets, they talk things out. For the first time, they feel like they're really, truly in love—in that messy, painful, but beautiful way that good fictional couples love each other.
And that's but the beginning, the true starting line. Because after that, we're in whole hog—invested up to our ears. We've always wanted Koko and Banri to be happy together. They're cute and vulnerable and in love; we'd have to be cads not to care a little. But now we want it. Really, truly. Bone-deep, with passion. We care plenty. And what comes next isn't easy. What's next is an unraveling—of Banri, and of their relationship—and it is big, dramatic, triple-hanky stuff. But we're in so deep that melodrama doesn't faze us; indeed it just hits us that much harder, until we're as leaky and ragged as the battered principals. Until the gloriously cheesy last episode comes along and leaves us, patched up and sated, at the new starting line to their future together. As I said, that's Takemiya's writing.
What hasn't been said is that a lot of these insights come after the fact. You don't come across them in the natural course of the show's running. That's Chiaki Kon's direction. She doesn't seem aware of unspoken complexities or nuances, or if she is, she can't quite coax them out. To her, it's enough to get the progression of events out there and the subtleties of what is happening can take care of themselves. In my personal lexicon of director types, she's a "show and tell" director. She doesn't get inside the story. Her direction stays outside, observing rather than experiencing.
Emotionally, the show feels like it's on a kind of variable time-delay. Something will happen, Kon will fail to make its significance intuitive, and then some random period of time later we'll figure it out. It could be a few seconds, or it could be after the episode has already passed. Oka, for instance, will drop a crucial hint as to her recent behavior—during a nighttime chat with Koko—and we won't catch the full meaning until she explains herself later. Immediately as she said it, our chests should have hitched. We should have felt that little zap of understanding and empathy. Instead we must hitch and zap in retrospect.
In terms of pure aesthetics, the series is pretty decent. It's attractively illustrated and competently—if sometimes stiffly—animated. But there's a lifelessness to it that's hard to pin down. It has to do with the flat, standardized ways characters move, their personalities affecting not at all the way the animators animate them. It has to do with the staid framing and the stolid, TV-movie sequencing of shots. There's no glaring incompetence, but no imagination or artistic investment either. Kon gets emotional impact by pasting big, sometimes nasty, expressions on her characters faces; gets laughs only when a sight-gag pre-sells itself (Koko's special move "The Exorcist" is a killer). Kon does have the good sense to keep Yukari Hashimoto's score away from the show's more delicate scenes, but she tends to let it overplay its hand in lighter scenes. The result: a show that looks, sounds, and often behaves as if it's but another member of the faceless anime horde.
But it isn't. That's made ferociously clear when Takemiya's characters and their feelings come gnashing and clawing their way through the deadening veil of Kon's direction. And it isn't just Koko and Banri; their supporting cast gnash and claw as well. Oka in particular is murderously effective, her invulnerable cheer and innate sociability only barely covering a heart that, we realize, has recently been badly shattered. When, late in the series, she and Banri commiserate over the scorched earth of their mutually wrecked love lives... well, let's just say you should keep them hankies handy.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : C-
Art : C
Music : C+
+ A second half that hits you like a sack of heartbreaking bricks; Koko and Banri's relationship finally feels real and whole; secondary cast really steps up.
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