Sing "Yesterday" for Me
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Sing "Yesterday" for Me ?
The drama in Sing Yesterday For Me has thus far largely revolved around the main characters being shot down or denied in their interconnected crushes on each other. Since everyone's already had a turn but the show apparently wants to keep that structure going, in this episode they introduce a whole new character just to get shot down by his crush at the end of it. Say hello and then good-bye to Minato. One of Sing Yesterday's core strengths has been how the characterizations of its characters all intersect and reflect each other to different degrees, and Minato continues that trend just in his one episode here. He's a collection of what-ifs of motivations and life decisions that Haru and Rikuo have to grapple with upon interacting with him, inching them just a bit closer to figuring out what they want to do, both in life and relationship-wise.
That ‘characterization through other characters’ element of Sing Yesterday is active here pretty much from when we first meet Minato. It's an effective writing strategy since it lets them engage with the audience's presumed impression of a character through the others' reactions. No sooner does it become apparent to us that Minato is a pretentious kid playing at puffing up how he handles his photography, then Rikuo remarks on how pretentious he thinks Minato is. On the one hand it gets us onto the side of the ‘main’ characters, but it also helps to inform their personality in-fiction as this story goes on. It's not just that Rikuo dislikes Minato because he's pretentious, as we do, but because he reminds him of himself in a lot of ways, particularly in his formative aspects. He is, you guessed it, dealing with a degree of burnout exacerbated by interacting with someone he's had a long-hopeless crush on. Sing Yesterday has a definite type.
Minato's interactions with Rikuo are fewer than he has with Haru in this one, but I still want to discuss them because of the extremely particular feeling they capture for our focal guy. Rikuo's been waffling on how much he wants to pursue photography as more than an idle hobby, and meeting Minato perfectly encapsulates that intimidation of coming to think you haven't been approaching an interest with nearly the seriousness or knowledge base that you should have. Apart from Minato's pretentious opinions on Photography As Art, he has an actual interest in the cameras, the tools and techniques of creating the images aside from Rikuo's casual snapping. It's another layered exploitation of the reactions of the audience and characters to Minato: He doesn't just get under Rikuo's skin because he's irritating, but because he inflames Rikuo's inferiority complex even more.
I dunk on Minato because he's a doofus and it's easy, but he's honestly as astute as the main characters could stand to learn to be, and his for-now one-and-done appearance status means we get to watch him achieve a short but effective character arc through this thing. He cottons that Haru is amazingly dense at picking up on his feelings for her just as the audience is supposed to be facepalming at it, and for all his pretentiousness on the craft of photography he's at least committed to doing something in that, which itself ends up motivating Rikuo to take the forward step of entering into the competition at the end; He even gets a ‘real’ camera to do so! It's easy to find fault with his outlook on the ‘art’ of photography or his obviously-motivated hanging around with Haru, but a lot of that, at least from an older perspective, comes from a recognition of our own similar faults we worked through in youth, and Minato actually does seem to be working.
This leads into the main thematic thrust of Minato's inclusion in this episode: Interrogating a passive manner of entering into relationships, somewhat paralleled in Rikuo but especially in Haru here. Sing Yesterday has shown it can be subtle, but this isn't one of those cases, as Haru relates that the crow that accompanies her latched on because she just regularly fed and was nice to it. This leads into Minato relating his belief that simply pleasantly existing around someone and letting them grow on you is a good way to get into a relationship with them. We can immediately grasp that he's referring to himself and his crush on Haru and cringe at the ‘friendzone’ implications of the whole exercise. But then as Haru reflects we're able to do so ourselves and realize that this supposed strategy virtually applies to all the main characters and their romantic interests. It's a microcosm of the way they're all trapped in stasis in their lives in general, like Rikuo not being able to move on from Shinako or forward with his photography. So Minato gets to espouse the thesis of the story to us again as he goes ahead with his doomed attempt to actually confess to Haru: "If I don't act now I might end up stuck for the rest of my life". Minato gets to leave the country and the show immediately after that, while the main characters are still going to be stuck here for a while, deciding what they'll do.
An interesting aspect that gets called up in the crossfire of telling Minato's story is Haru realizing more what affect she actually has on people aside from just playing herself up as a cheery accessory. I've alluded to Haru's ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ stylings before and how the show has ended up manipulating that aspect to more interesting conceptual ends. This time we get the not-infrequently dissected discussion of how such a character might feel attracting all this attention from various flavors of sad boys. There is an irony to Haru not being able to see how Minato is pursuing a relationship with her despite her enacting basically the same setup on Rikuo, but there's also a relatability in her reasoning for turning Minato down when he does confess. Her hanging around Rikuo has her still categorized as a ‘backup’ relationship, and it could be argued that she deserves someone like Minato who actually wants to be with her. Except that doing so would effectively render Minato as her ‘backup’, and she doesn't want to inflict that lopsided relationship status on him. Even if I could see the flaws that needed working through (in so much personal perception) with Haru's initially-stated philosophy that all relationships are selfish, it's still incredibly easy to follow her reasoning on this one. That goes double if, like so many other elements the characters are working through in this story, you personally recognize the younger frame of mind and idiosyncrasies that led them to that. Does Haru only know how to pursue a relationship with Rikuo the way she has been because it's how she's been exposed to people doing the same with her all her life? Or is it rooted in a desire not to selfishly hurt people?
It's obviously a bit of both as well as other aspects, especially as Haru and Rikuo's chemistry actually grows a bit in the backdrop of this episode's work with Minato. Yume Miyamoto's chipper vocals as Haru contrast especially nicely with Chikahiro Kobayashi here as she relentlessly messes with Rikuo in this one, and the studio is still clearly having a blast animating her body language (there's a wonderful bit where she crouches down next to him and we watch her slowly scooch closer). At this point I'm still not sure an actual relationship between Rikuo and Haru would be the healthiest thing for them, but there's entertainment value in seeing them together, and at least trying something might help them, and the narrative, move forward the way the show's storytelling so strongly suggests doing. We'll have to wait and see if Minato's little visit imparted upon them an example to learn from, besides Rikuo getting a new camera.
Sing "Yesterday" for Me is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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