by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Just Because! ?
Just Because!'s fourth episode centers on two supremely awkward not-quite-dates, as all of our protagonists except for Ena spend New Year's Eve awkwardly shuffling through shrine visits with their potential love interests. Both Mio and Hatsuki do their best to make these outings light, but Eita and Haruto are just so dour and nervous that things stay uncomfortable from start to finish. Meanwhile, Ena skips the holiday entirely, wisely choosing to stay at home and slurp ramen by herself.
Ena was the clear victor of this week's episode, pursuing her passions with great energy and consistently demonstrating that she's likely the most self-aware member of the main cast. Her confidence and enthusiasm dovetail nicely with her almost audience-aligned role in this narrative. From the OP's emphasis on her camera onwards, Ena is the documentarian of everyone else's struggles, and she often seems like the only one who's having any fun at all.
The episode opened with Haruto following through on his dog tolerance lessons, though his plan unfortunately didn't result in any new breakthroughs. This sequence felt a little protracted in a way that didn't necessarily tell us more about its characters—we'd already seen Haruto get harassed by dogs last week, and nothing meaningful came of this new lesson. The sequence's main purpose seemed to be getting the four non-Hatsuki characters split up into pairs, as Mio/Haruto and Eita/Ena each took their own routes home.
On the Haruto/Mio side, the big revelation of this sequence was learning that Mio used to have a crush on Haruto, and apparently she's still harboring feelings for him. I appreciated how well this episode portrayed Mio sending out emotional feelers, seemingly testing to see if she was still interested in Haruto, before getting almost frustrated by the positive response. On the Eita/Ena side, Just Because!'s lively character animation was put to great use emphasizing Ena's energetic body language. The combination of Ena's perpetually frazzled appearance and lively character acting successfully paints a very specific portrait of Ena's character, and watching her poke at a brittle Eita was quite entertaining. I felt this half overall dragged out the cast's musing about their crushes slightly too much, but I really enjoyed many of its individual moments, and I hope we see more Ena-Eita interactions soon.
After that fairly slow first half, Just Because! immediately leapt forward in time to New Year's Eve, where some judicious group trip cancellations resulted in Haruto and Hatsuki getting pushed together for a solo date. On the other side, Yoriko's quick exit left Mio and Eita wandering around alone as well, offering plenty of opportunities for romantic confessions.
Of course, this is Just Because!, so a great deal of this sequence was dedicated to simply exploring the emotional tenor of this uncomfortable emotional moment. All four characters handled the awkwardness of these encounters in different ways, reflecting their distinctive personalities. Hatsuki fared the best of anyone, likely because she wasn't aware of Haruto's feelings—to her, this was just an outing with an acquaintance, so she was able to act pretty much like her usual self. By contrast, Haruto's confidence at the aquarium was replaced by a nervous energy that almost kept him from speaking at all. From his failed first confession to gimmicky self-chosen quests like “becoming comfortable with dogs,” Haruto is clearly uncomfortable with this whole romance thing. The fact that his crush on Hatsuki was prompted by something as emotionally distant as her trumpet-playing makes sense; Haruto doesn't really know Hatsuki, and he can barely hold a conversation with her. His crush is cute, but it doesn't reflect any meaningful emotional bond with Hatsuki.
On the other hand, Eita's feelings for Mio are born of a long mutual friendship, and the two already have a comfortable rapport. Unfortunately, the two of them were both in terrible positions to enjoy their time together. Preoccupied with her feelings for Haruto and fears about his date with Hatsuki, Mio reacted by playing an exaggeratedly enthusiastic version of herself, bantering lightly about Haruto and dragging Eita to get their fortunes read. Eita's anxiety played out in the opposite direction; well aware of Mio's feelings and unsure about expressing his own, he retreated into himself, responding to Mio's comments with monosyllabic grunts. Each of their actions reflected their own emotional dishonesty, and though they were expressed in opposite ways, these reactions also underlined just how alike these two are. Both Mio and Eita are introverted, vaguely cynical, wrapped up in their own emotional baggage, and not truly interested in where their lives will go next. They're similar enough that they might not work as a couple, as each of their negative qualities seem likely to validate the other's.
In the end, both Eita and Haruto were rejected in their own ways. Haruto finally worked up the courage to make an outright confession, but Hatsuki responded with an apology, saying she couldn't date him. Eita broke through Mio's shell by correctly pointing out her scholastic focus was a way of evading her feelings, and Mio responded with the harsh but fully justified “this has nothing to do with you.” I feel the episode could have more gracefully contrasted these twin rejections, but I still appreciated the snappy cutting between these two sad scenes. The new year has finally arrived for our lonely kids, and it seems like everyone will be looking for a fresh start.
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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