by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Just Because! ?
After an episode largely focused on the Mio-Eita and Hatsuki-Haruto couples, Just Because!'s third episode offered some much-needed time prioritizing Ena and Yoriko. We opened on photo buff Ena, with sequences of her photography and her travels around town introducing us to life at the pace of Just Because!'s most energetic protagonist. After running into the mysterious transfer student, she demanded he wait right there, leading to another of Just Because!'s signature sequences as the camera continued to follow Ena well past the scene's probable dramatic endpoint. Ena headed home in high spirits, string instruments singing her elation—and then it started to rain, and she realized she really should have gotten his phone number. It was a strange little moment of non-drama that both set the stage for a rainy day and also gave us a little more insight Ena as a person.
Just Because! is partially able to get away with scenes like that because it has such a strong understanding of narrative economy. It emphasizes these odd “life as it is lived” digressions well because its characters demonstrate their feelings in their actions, giving us many insights into their lives without much deliberate emphasis. The next scene emphasized that strength, as we witnessed Haruto at home in a twenty-second snippet that established his dead father, often absent mother, and live-in grandparents without any fanfare at all. Just Because! can be extremely efficient when it wants to, prioritizing key moments without propulsive editing or dramatic exposition.
It also helps that Just Because! has a strong grasp of ensemble storytelling. This show is the story of about half a dozen characters, but all of those characters meaningfully reflect on each other both dramatically and thematically. In this episode, the overarching concern was “what am I doing with my life,” a concern that hits home regardless of whether you're on the verge of adulthood or at any other point in your life's journey. Mio seemed to envy Ena for her focus, marveling over how Ena was “really putting her all” into trying to save the club. By contrast, Mio seemed to have no real plans, and Eita's motivation was no stronger than “if I didn't study hard, people would look down on me.” Characters with concrete plans didn't necessarily seem better off, either. In an intimate discussion with Yoriko, Hazuki essentially seemed to have given up on personal dreams, admitting she wasn't interested in continuing with her music because her future was already set in stone.
That conversation also granted us solid insight into Yoriko's own character. Yoriko came across as sensitive, but not the most emotionally intelligent person. Her concern for Hazuki's dreams was charming, and her blunt remarks reflected a straightforwardness that she likely saw as a lack of intelligence, but it came as a breath of fresh air compared to this show's many circumspect leads. Throughout this episode, she worked diligently to bring Hazuki and Haruto together, a scheme that ultimately seemed to imply that she and Haruto would make a much more coherent pair. There was also a great showdown between Haruto and one more questionably-drawn dog, ending in one of the most dramatically justifiable cut-to-dog reaction shots I've seen.
On Ena's side, her eventual meeting with Eita and Mio made terrific use of the contrast in their personalities. Ena's headstrong enthusiasm meant she likely hadn't even considered the possibility Eita wouldn't let her use his photo, and the grumbly battle that ensued brought out the childish best in both of them. Mio also continued to carve out a clear and relatable space for herself, solidifying both her snarky persona and her underlying fear of not finding a purpose.
Aesthetically, this episode was a bit more conservative in animation than the first two, though still full of lovely incidental character acting. In place of the first two episodes' copious but sometimes rough movement, this episode was livened by more exaggerated reactions, dedicated comedy beats, and plenty of restless tricks of direction. I didn't feel all of those choices totally worked, and the show's off-kilter ear for comedic timing was a little odd, but it was still a beautifully executed episode on the whole. Perhaps my favorite aesthetic accomplishment of this episode was its portrayal of a rainy day—from the subdued pacing to the beautiful backgrounds and limited use of music, this episode's whole first half perfectly captured one of those wet, somber, nameless days.
Overall, in spite of slight execution issues, Just Because! continues to be a roundly phenomenal experience. The show's character writing is terrific, its structure uniquely effective, and its thematic priorities deeply resonant. I'm very thankful anime continues to give us strange, amorphous, beautifully wrought character studies like this.
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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