by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Just Because! ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Just Because! ?
Near the end of Just Because!'s second episode, after the cast has made a LINE group to celebrate their trip to the aquarium, one of its high schooler stars says “it's just like we're high schoolers!” One of her friends jabs at her for that obvious statement, but a third agrees, acknowledging this as an “extremely high school” experience. On the edge of young adulthood, with almost the entirety of the life we've known behind us, we often cling to such experiences. No one wants to waste their youth. Everyone wants to live memorably, to build dramatic memories to look back on, to have fond and distinct feelings of their early years. But most of the time, our lives are not a series of substantive set pieces - our lives are constructed of countless inconsequential moments, of the space between these big experiences.
Just Because! is a show that seems utterly fascinated with this space between. Its scenes rarely proceed according to the strict demands of narrative consequence, of “this happened, and thus this happened as a result.” It's not shapeless, but the key consequential moments are given room to breathe. When two minor characters leave a scene with one of the leads, we might follow them for a while, learning more about their goofy friendship. When an intended declaration of love goes wrong, we see not just the moment after, but the moment after that, and the one after that - the moments where staple dramatic devices give way to simple, awkward humanity, and conversations must continue after everything has been said. When the leads go home, we watch them do it, and the time shared with them on train rides and at bus stops offers unique insight into their character and world. These moments in between tell their own narrative, building up the lives of these characters into something enchanting and real.
Of course, there is an inherent challenge to focusing on less overtly dramatic moments. To properly capture the uniqueness of these moments, a show needs a phenomenal eye for shot framing and visual characterization. Fortunately, Just Because! has demonstrated a remarkable ability to breathe life into all its characters so far. There's a fair amount of fluid, expressive character acting, but even when these characters are motionless, Just Because! has a sharp understanding of how posture and expressions reflect our fundamental identity. No character in this show walks the same way, sits the same way, or smiles the same way. They are all consistently their own individual selves.
Focusing on incidental moments can also leave a show feeling unfocused, but Just Because! gracefully avoids that issue as well. Its first episode proceeds in linear fashion while jumping between various focus characters, where instead of moving forward according to a strict narrative line, we segue between subplots as if the overall world were one larger character. When the story of a new boy at school is interrupted by shouting from the next room, we transition right over to that room's story in process. When two boys head home from baseball practice, their lingering forms then dash across the far background of the next scene. The overall effect creates both a unique sense of narrative consequence and also a strong argument for the solidity of this world. The awkward intersection of their personal dramas within a larger class whole is emphasized without any actual dialogue, another reflection of Just Because!'s excellent unspoken storytelling.
The actual stories being told through this vivid style are mild, charming, and just a little melancholy. Eita was friends with Haruto and Natsume back in grade school before he moved away; now he's back, but there's only a semester before they all leave again. Haruto has a crush on Hatsuki, and Ena wants to save her photography club. The first episode culminates in a cathartic reunion between Eita and Haruto, as the long years spent apart dissolve while playing baseball together. Hatsuki's trumpet rings out from the annex walkway, the same trumpet that made Haruto fall in love with her. In the next episode, Haruto's attempted confession is redirected into a group trip to the aquarium, where Haruto bonds with Hatsuki's little brothers while Natsume and Eita walk careful circles around each other. Much of the show's emotional interplay must be inferred—when Natsumi and Eita first reunite, Natsumi's smirk seems to imply she's underplaying some lingering baggage, while Eita's formal response reflects his deeply mixed feelings. The spoken dialogue is the part of the iceberg that breaks the water's surface. The awkward glances and choreographed stances tell us far more.
So far, I have almost no complaints about Just Because! Not every line of dialogue is quite as sharp as it could be, and the fluid character acting isn't consistent across all scenes, but the result is still dramatically effective and incredibly distinctive. I haven't even gotten into the show's music, a diverse mix ranging from roaring orchestral peaks to understated piano valleys, often used to elevate long sequences with no dialogue at all. Just Because! is a resounding argument for narrative minimalism, its subtle style perfectly suited to a story about the intangible yet deeply felt far edge of youth. I am ready to follow wherever it leads.
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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