by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Just Because! ?
Just Because!'s finale was a firm reminder of everything this show did so well. Featuring the welcome return of the show's early character animation, along with a just-plain-gorgeous set of dramatic confrontations, it tied this show's story together in the only way it could have. Though Just Because! has lingered often on the ambiguity of leaving high school and the difficulty of finding a path to adulthood, for this moment at least, everything felt like it had a purpose and a place.
We opened by learning Eita ultimately failed his entry exam for the school he assumed Mio would be attending. In a practical sense, this felt very understandable; after all, Eita had only resolved to start studying within the last few weeks, and prior to that he'd been coasting on his existing acceptance letter. But his failure also was the natural choice in a narrative sense; not only did this clean up the awkwardness of the two of them accidentally attending each other's schools, but it gave Eita a reason to hesitate in confronting Mio with his feelings. As a naturally reserved guy who has difficulty expressing his feelings, Eita had pinned all his confession hopes on the momentum of getting accepted into her school. With failure fresh in his mind and their high school separation bearing down, how could he possibly confess to her now?
That failure seriously constrained his actions through the middle act of this episode, as we returned to school on the day of the third years' graduation. As Mio's speech to the class touched on all their triumphs and failures, we received lingering shots of their classrooms and hallways, shots that would later be echoed by familiar glimpses of their neighborhood. These environmentally-focused “pillow shots” emphasized once more how this town and school have always been one of Just Because!'s most important characters. Having spent all this time wandering these halls, shots of Ena's clubroom or Mio's walk home carried a resonance that is the distillation of Just Because!, a fond look back on these homes we love and leave.
PINE JAM pulled out all the stops in bringing the atmosphere of this finale to life animation-wise. From the sumptuous character acting of the first couple episodes, Just Because!'s visual ambitions eventually brought it to the point of relying on awkward real-life photography, rarely allowing its characters to visually illustrate their feelings. But here in this last episode, all of that glorious character acting was back, along with a buffet of movement as Mio and her classmates bounded through their school halls. In dramatic terms, this animation meant the school actually felt alive for one last time, with its recently vacated halls now brimming with active students. And for our heroes specifically, the return of this show's delicate character acting meant we were much better able to parse the shifting feelings of characters like Mio, who've always expressed themselves more through their shifts in posture and expression than their spoken words.
The first actual climax came when Eita called Ena to her club room. I really appreciated the twist of it not being Ena's photo that won the contest, but one of her clubmate's pictures of her taking that photo. Ena sought to capture Eita's vibrancy in a photograph, but ultimately, she was the one shining in that moment. The show's deliberate choice to put her a year behind the other cast members and frame her almost as a bystander to their drama was reversed at the last second, as the cataloger herself ended up best embodying the vibrancy of youth.
Of course, Ena's romantic prospects didn't end as fortuitously as her photography dreams. But even Ena's rejection ended up being its own kind of dramatic payoff, as the gorgeous framing of her tears sanctified all the emotional hardship she'd endured. That beautiful moment was then followed by an even more impressive sequence, as Eita and Haruto's first episode showdown was replayed with Haruto on the mound. Minimalist sound design placed us directly on the field, with only the rush of wind and clang of the bat interrupting the cold afternoon. And when Eita's inevitable hit came, the opening song dropped right on cue, leading us into one last missed-connection anticlimax before Mio and Eita's final, equally beautiful reunion.
On the whole, this was as good a finale to this show as I could possibly have asked for. Not only did Just Because! regain its visual luster, but all of its narrative threads were paid off in ways that matched dramatic holism with grounded realism, offering endings that felt both fundamentally right and true to these characters. Just Because! has been a lovely show on the whole, an exercise in minimalist drama that managed to consistently capture one emotionally charged moment in time. I've come to love every member of this cast, and though it's sad to say goodbye, this whole show has demonstrated that every goodbye is a new beginning.
Just Because! is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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