Sing "Yesterday" for Me
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Sing "Yesterday" for Me ?
Seemingly set to run for a cool cour-and-a-half, the anime version of Sing "Yesterday" for Me is still very much in its setup phases. We've got to establish what the specific angsts of all these characters are before we set out to really address them, and this week is Rou's turn in the barrel. Apparently the youngest of the show's key quartet, he, like Rikuo, mostly has his problems rooted in his fixation on Shinako. Though rather than idealizing her directly, that fixation is itself tied up in an inferiority complex towards his dead older brother Yuu. Focusing on his art talents as the one thing he has to define himself by, Rou thus ends up reflecting the idiosyncrasies driving the other three main characters: He's running into similar issues to Rikuo's burnout, his issues like Shinako's go back to Yuu, and he's overcompensating for it by projecting a character like Haru.
This could lead to concern that Rou would merely be reflective and not function as his own independently-interesting character, but in practice he does work out better than that. Despite his youth compared to some of the other characters, the momentum his past is presented with just in this episode paints a surprisingly complete picture of him, making him come across as one of the more fully-formed people in the show so far. It also means we can already read him as the absolute mess he's destined to be as a part of this story: He's trying to live up to the image of his dead brother specifically because he's got a crush on Shinako, who herself is emotionally unavailable on account of that situation. On top of that, there are concerns that his art skills that he singularly prides himself on may have peaked far too early for what he wants to accomplish, leaving him the possibility of burning out entirely. It's no wonder he takes those projected worries out on roasting Rikuo any time the two of them interact.
As so many other issues in the show have thus far, Rou's are dramatically articulated here via some choice verbal jousting with others, specifically Shinako. This early in it's appreciable to have someone privy enough to Shinako's rooted fixations that he can directly call her out on it, even if she's still coming across as emotionally immobile by the end of this episode. The problem with the execution, however, is that it still results in these characters just yelling their feelings at each other more for our benefit than their own. Not that I'm wanting or expecting major developmental breakthroughs this early in the story, but there's a frustration to being impressed with the specificity of Rou and Shinako's call-outs of each other only for any follow-up to make it seem like their barbs just bounced off of one-another. At least Haru and Rikuo have seemed like they were trying to make progress, however incremental.
Another interesting quirk of the outpouring of details we get on Rou through this episode is that he actually becomes less likable and sympathetic as we continue. His aforementioned issues with creative burnout or measuring up to his brother were relatable enough, but then a more selfish side comes into relief. He brushes off his spat with Shinako by presuming that she won't look for an apology from him and come back to visiting soon enough. There's actually an interesting read here in how both Rou and Rikuo's fixations on Shinako seem to be rooted in taking her for granted to some degree. Rou, also like Rikuo, is content to make excuses for his transgressions as an element of the personality he's trying to embody. If a moody selfish brat is just how he's supposed to be, then he doesn't have to try to change.
That immobility stands alongside Shinako's to make both of them frustrating characters to follow at this point in the story, even as it is presenting realistic, effective portrayals of that kind of life-phase. They're both stuck perpetually recovering from the loss of Yuu, and while the flashbacks we get do seem to make him out to have been a pretty cool guy, it's also clear that after his death they've only kicked that idealization into overdrive. Unlike the impossible standards he embodies for Rou, Shinako seems still attached to Yuu at least partially out of a sense of nostalgia. It's a convenient tether for her own brand of burnout-based immobility, that as long as she's fixated on this boy in her past that she can now never return to, she won't have to move on into the horrifying unknowns of new human interactions. It's actually not dissimilar to Haru's interest in Rikuo as a crush of convenience: If relationships are inherently selfish, then one-sided relationships are entirely self-serving.
All that heady establishment of how insufferably stuck Rou and Shinako are right now thankfully doesn't totally overwhelm this episode. Sing Yesterday continues to do a great job of playing Haru opposite other characters in scenes, thankfully further distancing her from that initial presumption as entirely Rikuo's ‘muse’. Her interactions with Rou in this episode definitely help to undercut so much of the focus on his internal strife, and compared to everyone else's angsty shuffling, her actions and personality as a character are charming as heck. That's valuable because apart from her, the content of this episode simply necessitates that the presentation shift to a slower, more static one that feels like Doga Kobo showing off less than they did in the anime's opening weeks. There are still some neat tricks, like the shift in lighting as Shinako turns to transition into a flashback late in the episode, but overall the emphasis in this one is on moody atmosphere that's as static as the characters' development is now.
As effective an establishing character piece as this episode is, that's probably my single big issue with it. This is all very strongly presented, but it still amounts entirely to a time-slot dedicated to explaining a couple of characters to us with no indication of movement on the fronts of their development or anything resembling an overarching plot. That's not the worst thing, and this episode will honestly play just fine as part of Sing Yesterday as a whole once the show's done. But it's still hard to judge as an individual component, especially as the characters being established are still in the ‘frustrating’ stage of their journeys to being actual grown-ups. Perhaps it's honestly a testament to the effectiveness of this story that I'm just impatient at having to wait to see the rest of it.
Sing "Yesterday" for Me is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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