Sing "Yesterday" for Me
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Sing "Yesterday" for Me ?
So we've got to start this week by straightening something out: Turns out that previously-reported eighteen-episode count for Sing "Yesterday" for Me was actually taking into account six ‘shorts’ that accompanied the aired episodes on a select TV station, not yet included in any way in Crunchyroll's streaming release. This update means that the series proper is in fact a twelve-episode single-cour long, and this is the last episode. I obviously wasn't aware of this going in (to say nothing of my alluding to my expectations of a longer run in previous reviews), but I daresay it says a lot about what this episode accomplished that it prompted me to go “Wait, that's definitely an ending, isn't it?” and do some double-checking. On top of that, it seems this truncation doesn't actually reach to the true ending of the source manga itself, resulting in some finish-line compromises that don't feel as tight as the rest of the series up til now.
There's one entirely appropriate part of the finish at least, presenting the end of Rikuo and Shinako's brief attempt at a relationship as the beginning of the next stage of their lives. There's a lot to go into regarding how this was influenced by the way Rou and Haru got hurt due to being in the couple's orbit. But the actual decision, reached about halfway through this episode, is decidedly reflective of just the two adults involved in it. Rikuo and Shinako come to a joint realization that the connection they were circling each other with all season had nothing to do with romance or dating, and was instead the supportive friendship they'd had all along. Such as it is that ‘The Long Way’ referenced in this finale's title represents the roundabout way they go to being true friends. It's an immensely satisfying answer to the early show's eye-rolling “Can men and women be friends?” question. Of course they can, that's often for the best, and realizing that is one more step in growing up. This scene is also one of the most genuinely healthy scenes of a respectful, mutual break-up I've seen in a while. Even when they stop being a couple, I love seeing Rikuo and Shinako together.
The roles of the other main characters before and after this milestone are decidedly more uneven, contributing to more of an incomplete feeling than I think the story wanted to tell. Rou is obviously the most contentious for me; I think I've made no secret of the issues I take with his character, and he's all over the place in the scant screen time he gets finishing up here. His dejection upon discovering Rikuo and Shinako's relationship at the end of the previous episode comes off oddly trying to split the difference between him forcing himself to move on, while still seeming to heap some blame on Shinako for spurning his unwanted advances. At the end I'm still not sure what to make of the kid, though that ambiguity feels intentional, especially in how it's used in Shinako's side of the story.
We're asking less questions about Rou himself, and more about how Shinako defines her relationship with him, same as she spent all this time figuring out how to define where she wanted Rikuo in her life. Shinako has to figure out if she values her relationship with Rou himself, or simply as a lingering last connection to Yu. As much of a twerp as Rou can come off as, the latter still wouldn't be fair to him, arguably leading him on in a more hurtful way than Rikuo keeping Haru around. With that in mind, him realizing this possibility is an understandable reason for him to be angry, though none of it seems to manifest as tangible character growth that we see by the end here. Rather, it all ends up heaped on Shinako again, guilting herself into thinking that's one reason she should break up with Rikuo. As I argued last week, I don't think that's Shinako being fair to herself, but the narrative not giving her anywhere else to turn only reinforces that kind of unhealthy dynamic we can project onto ourselves. The next stage of her personal growth is laid out as her seeking to actually find a definition for her relationship with Rou the same way she had to work through things with Rikuo, but stopping here and leaving it to our imagination unfortunately ends up lopsided. Shinako humbly drops herself on Rou's doorstep while he did nothing but wait around after throwing a fit and storming off.
In fact, my biggest issue with the breakup of Rikuo and Shinako is their resolution immediately after to go out and try dating the kids who've had crushes on them for the whole series. Setting aside the obvious age imbalance issues (though at least Shinako waited for Rou to graduate high school) it makes them come off a bit thick in their assumption that just because they were able to figure out their own relationship via a failed romance that it's the ticket to doing so with the other connections they've been entangled in for a dozen episodes. It just rushed me back to my previous presumption that Sing Yesterday would be best ending with none of the characters dating, but here we are wrapping with Shinako jumping into taking her dead ex's teenage brother as her third boyfriend ever, while Rikuo rides a bus several counties over, doubting himself the whole way until he gets a chance to blurt out that he thinks he likes Haru because she likes him. The show has demonstrated that taking chances on messy barely-formed relationships is necessary in constantly growing, but I worry that our erstwhile young adults may have gotten overconfident just because it worked out really well one time.
I suppose that's supposed to be the point they're trying to make here, that they'll continue to make mistakes and find successes and have hopefully been equipped to not get stuck in the stasis of convenience that we found them floundering in at the beginning of the show. And for all the potential issues with it, Rikuo's confession to Haru is pretty dang cute in the moment, Doga Kobo using up the last of their amazing animation energy they've thrown into this show the whole time to render some adorable reactions. Apart from the tension inherent in Rou and Shinako's potential courtship, all of Rikuo's growth makes me believe that things could actually turn out okay between him and Haru, regardless of whether they stay romantic in the long run. That's an example of a solid ending this show arrives at in its finale, and one of the big indicators that this finish worked just well enough. It feels like an ending that's transitioning to a new beginning, the motif Sing Yesterday has utilized well at so many points in its run.
At the end, this whole series was just one brief snapshot of the larger lives of these characters. We can't judge what came before, particularly in the case of Shinako and Rou, whose past motivations and feelings remain intentionally obtuse throughout, but they're also asking us not to worry too much about what comes next. The least we can do is reflect on this photograph as a parable for how we interact with the relationships in our own lives, as Sing Yesterday very strongly advocates for action over self-limiting malaise. The people here aren't perfect, nor is the storytelling surrounding them. But it's a testament to the characters' appeal that I would happily have followed them on this next leg of their personal journey. I'm not sure if this was the best place to stop and let them be on their way, but it is what we were left with. The result feels complete enough but with a lot of contention on how they chose to leave us there.
Sing "Yesterday" for Me is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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