by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Just Because! ?
Romantic dramas often seem tethered to the idea of “destined love” - that two characters are truly “meant” to be together, and that whatever fate might throw at them, they're simply too perfect for each other not to eventually get together. The concept of destined love has inspired some excellent stories, but I appreciate how Just Because! seems to consistently emphasize the opposite. Sometimes people are compatible, but sometimes your feelings for a person occupy a shape that person can't truly fill. Sometimes we're not even sure we like someone, but more time together proves we always seem to be smiling when we're close. Sometimes we fall into or out of love for the most unexpected reasons, and sometimes things just don't work out.
That sense of ambiguity and almost un-destiny threaded all through this episode's conflicts, as Mio, Hazuki, and even Ena tried to sort out how they really feel. Though Just Because! continues to falter in a visual sense (with this episode's awkward composites of character and background suffering the worst of it), its emotional acuity keeps it as sharp and intimate as any character drama around. Watching these girls wrestle with feelings that eluded narrative convenience felt like one more articulation of Just Because!'s razor-sharp understanding of the high school experience.
Eita and Haruto spent most of this episode hemming and hawing, uncomfortable in acting on their far less ambiguous feelings. Though Haruto received a message from Hazuki early on, he wasn't sure how to respond to it, and his delay in responding eventually became its own familiar conflict. His actions also reflected the natural comfort of ambiguity, something he articulated through the bracingly honest “I don't know what she wants to meet me for, and I'm scared of making things clear.” An ambiguous relationship status may not be satisfying in itself, but the fear of confirmed rejection can easily keep someone trapped in that stasis. And on Eita's side, his attempts to copy Haruto's “once I win this baseball showdown I'll confess!” gambit ended in awkward failure, leaving him unable to confront Mio. These boys are extremely bad at expressing their feelings, and Just Because!'s articulation of that remains as convincing and true to life as ever.
On the girls' side, Mio and Hazuki's shifting feelings towards Haruto made for both a great contrast and a sharp articulation of the mutable nature of love. While Mio has harbored feelings for Haruto ever since middle school, when she finally confronted him, she found herself satisfied with simply handing him back a substitute eraser. As it turns out, “crushes harbored for years while barely speaking to someone” rarely result in meaningful relationships. Isolated feelings nurtured for years tend to become their own self-propagating emotional fuel, utterly divorced from the original source of those feelings. Mio was infatuated with the idea of being in love with Haruto, but when she finally confronted him, it actually felt like a relief to simply let those feelings pass.
On Hazuki's side, though she'd never really thought of Haruto in a romantic sense before, it was clear that his confession actually prompted her to consider the prospect and perhaps even desire it. We won't always recognize good romantic matches from the moment we first meet them, and given a reason to actually think about Haruto that way, it seemed clear that Hazuki's feelings were shifting. I liked how their emotional bond was articulated through Haruto's baseball prompting Hazuki to return to the trumpet, as well as the symmetry of Hazuki “wanting to play this part perfectly” before confronting Haruto aligning with Haruto wanting to hit a home run before doing the same. Their feelings came together wonderfully in this episode's dramatic peak, a riverside trumpet performance that encapsulated Just Because!'s quiet appeal.
Of course, having Mio and Hazuki switch emotional places and then letting Mio hook up with Eita would be almost as convenient as any “destined love.” Thus it fell to Ena to muck up the convenience of this handoff, drawing closer to Eita across a series of friendly and charming encounters. It's become clear by now that Eita actually enjoys hanging out with Ena, and her energy and blunt style play off his own personality far more naturally than Mio, who's frankly too much like Eita to hold a decent conversation with him. It seemed that Mio suddenly realized the threat of Ena in this episode's final scene, but given this show's generally naturalistic storytelling, it's an open question as to whether she'll be able to do anything about it. Sometimes we realize the things we thought we wanted won't actually make us happy, and sometimes we only recognize the things that make us happy when they're already gone.
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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