by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Real Girl ?
After spending the last couple of weeks setting up conflicts between its main characters, Real Girl finally lets the tension boil over in this episode. The whole cast heads out to the woods for a camping trip, and at first things seem all right. One of the first dominoes to fall is Ito, who is constantly distracted by his newfound crush on Ayado. He manages to keep his conflicted emotions in check, but the same can't be said for Ayado, who finally tells Iroha that she's in love with Tsutsui. This reignites Iroha's lingering feelings of jealousy, causing her to run off into the woods after a confrontation with the ever-clueless Tsutsui. These are the plot points we've been expecting for a while now, and yet they somehow fail to make an impact.
The issue is not so much in the premise as it is in the presentation. Some of the ideas Real Girl puts forward are actually pretty decent, and they could easily make for compelling drama under different circumstances. Take Ito, for instance. As his bottled-up feelings for Ayado start to drive him away from the group, he draws an interesting connection between his current situation and the early stages of Tsutsui's relationship with Iroha. It's an interesting moment of introspection for Ito, and it could've easily led to a nice heart-to-heart conversation if he were to ask his best friend for advice. Instead, Ito decides not to tell anyone about it, and he slips back to the sidelines to make room for the other big plot threads. That leaves us sitting in more or less the same spot we were in last week, with no significant developments in this storyline apart from a slight increase in Ito's level of unhappiness.
There are also a couple of potentially significant moments as both Ishino and Takanashi are taken to task. First up is Ishino, who makes a play for Takanashi only to be rejected on the spot as Takanashi rattles off a litany of flaws in her personality. This seems like an intriguing consequence of Ishino's questionable reliability as Iroha and Tsutsui's friend, but it's played primarily for comedy and the matter never comes up again. Iroha ends up telling Takanashi off in a similar manner later in the episode, but again the scene feels like it exists in isolation from the rest of the story. Since we already know that Iroha has no interest in Takanashi, their conversation's only significance is as a belated piece of fallout from the rumor story arc, as if the series decided that Takanashi had been let off the hook too easily for his actions. Much like Ito's dilemma, both of these incidents seem like they could yield some worthwhile results, but they just aren't given the necessary time or attention.
Finally, we have the love triangle between Tsutsui, Iroha, and Ayado. This is the big one, the narrative express train that pushes everything else aside, and yet it still feels underwhelming. There's a brief spike in emotional intensity during the bedside conversation between Ayado and Iroha, but for some reason Real Girl cuts the scene short and tells us about Ayado's confession after the fact, thus robbing us of the opportunity to see the most important part of that exchange. The ensuing argument between Iroha and Tsutsui is more frustrating than compelling, partly because it relies on a fundamental breakdown of communication between the main characters. At some point, Real Girl needs to stop leaning on their past social isolation as an excuse for why Tsutsui is physically incapable of noticing when Iroha is unhappy or why Iroha is consistently unable to express her desires. Going back to that same dynamic over and over discounts the growth that both of these characters have gone through over the course of the series, and it increasingly feels like a case of the story failing to keep pace with the character development. Having Iroha disappear into the woods afterwards makes for a weak (and overused) cliffhanger ending, and it comes across as an artificial attempt at heightening the drama.
After some plausible setup work in previous weeks, the poor execution in this episode leaves Real Girl chasing its own narrative tail. The latest conflict between Tsutsui and Iroha forces them to go through the same old steps one time too many, and by prioritizing that weak storyline, the series ends up ignoring its fresher and more compelling elements. Real Girl definitely needed to crank up the intensity after the last episode, but doing the smart thing doesn't mean much if it's not done well. With its art and animation looking even shakier than usual, this series risks falling apart if it can't find a way to get back on track quickly.
Real Girl is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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