After the Rain has raised a few eyebrows with its taboo subject matter, but is its controversial story hiding beauty beyond its gorgeous production work? This week in anime, Nick and Jacob explore the highs and lows of this romantic minefield.
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You can read our weekly coverage of After the Rain here!
Well Jake, it's taken years of waiting but finally Noitamina
has given us the second season of Usagi Drop
hahahahaha Let's Hope Not Tho
Okay, After the Rain hasn't gone close to that direction so far. And unless we get a sudden revelation about the baby girl Kondo and his ex-wife gave up for adoption in their 20's, it probably never will.
Yeah, this show comes with a premise that will definitely singe some nosehairs (17-year old girl falls in love with her boss, a 45-year old man), but god help me, I love it. I find After the Rain really rejuvenating, thoughtful, and hell, even kinda romantic. It walks a very fine line exceptionally well, even if just approaching that line means it won't be palatable for everyone.
I certainly get the trepidation some folks would have about that setup, but personally I'm all for fiction that delves into messy and troublesome emotions. One of my favorites from last winter was Scum's Wish
, and that show is Problematic with a capital Problem.
Yeah Scum's Wish (which I also loved) actually does go into statutory territory. I don't think After the Rain is headed that direction, principally because despite its premise, it's aiming for sweetness rather than scandal.
It helps that instead of a manipulative predator, the older half of this relationship is just like, Your Dad. And not in a "Daddy" way. In a "backyard barbecues spontaneously appear if he's outside too long" way.
Yeah, as a single divorced dad who capitulates to everybody over absolutely everything (usually with Awful Dad Puns), Kondo is about as non-threatening as a middle-aged love interest could be.
But naturally, that prompts criticism in the opposite direction. Why in the world would a confident and stoic girl like Akira fall for this old dork? (Some might argue why would any teenage girl, but I don't buy that argument at all. I have known many a silver fox hunter and I was one myself, even at that age. It definitely happens, but you just keep your "weird" taste in men to yourself for fear of mockery, which Akira definitely faces in the show.) If Kondo was a more stereotypical ripped gruff ojisan type, like a detective from an otome game who wasn't timidly avoiding her affections, the attraction might make more "sense", but it would also be a more uncomfortable fantasy. So it's a damned if you do and damned if you don't Hard Mode premise that this story has given itself.
If I'm being honest, I do think the show tips its hand a little much on making Kondo a clueless doofus sometimes. How does a 45-year old man who's been married and had a kid not know what a pedicure is?
You're an adult, man. You have a job. You presumably pay taxes. Get it together.
Right. He is the Dadliest Catch to an almost absurd degree, but I'm fine with this both because it doesn't go too far into unrealistic (I've certainly known men as dense and meek as Kondo), and it's kinda the only way to make this story heartwarming instead of tense or lurid. Making Akira the instigator in all their interactions puts us firmly within her perspective. Instead of being a magical young girlfriend sweeping in to save Kondo from his loneliness, we see her projecting her own expectations onto a reluctant Kondo, and this challenges us to ask why she's so obsessed with him in the first place. It's clear how Kondo feels about this situation (confused), so we can spend more time exploring how Akira feels.
And for me, the way Akira feels was pretty #relatable. I mean, this was literally me
in every high school class before lunchtime. (I was a B- student and got yelled at in class a lot, naturally.)
The show definitely puts a lot of time and effort into fixing us firmly in Akira's headspace. She's a former track star who suffered permanent injury from overwork, and now she feels adrift in her everyday life with her former dream lost. Her attraction to Kondo sprouted from him giving her comfort and reassurance when she was at her loneliest. We've also gotten some insights into Kondo's life—mainly that he's pretty regretful about where he ended up, a divorcee in a middle management position who's lost his joie de vivre. So we've got two people in pretty vulnerable positions who are actively (in Akira's case) or inadvertently (for Kondo) reaching out for some emotional peace. It's a pretty melancholy starting point for a...romance? I don't even know if I'd call it a romance?
Yeah, so far it's been more like two people sharing feelings that they don't feel like they can express to anyone else. Which is kind of romantic! But by a different definition, I guess. This isn't like Koi Kaze
or other "forbidden relationship" stories where sparks are flying between them that they have to hide for fear of recrimination. It's more like two people who happen to make each other feel more alive through the circumstances under which they met, like the rain of monotony and anxiety over their glum lives lifts only when that person is there and they remember that feeling like everything was going to be okay in that moment. Since she's 17 and lonely, Akira has wrapped this into the form of a crush, but Kondo is already thinking seriously about what this renewed longing for his youth might mean for him on a deeper level.
It turns out heartwarming because none of this is communicated with angsty monologues or melodramatic twists. The characterization comes through in the changing environment, so you're thinking more about what the weather or sound design says about Akira's nuanced emotions than "THEY GONNA FUCK?"
It's certainly an interesting dynamic to chew on, but if I'm being honest I kind of like the parts of the show that aren't Akira and Kondo being together more. Part of this is because I'm ridiculously picky with fictional romance, but I often find both characters more engaging to follow when they're not being contemplative together.
Akira's awful blackmail "date" with this douchebag was maybe my favorite part of the show so far.
The guy's a complete heel, so it was engaging to see Akira rebuff him. Girl's got a look that could kill livestock.
It's definitely a "just because you're correct doesn't mean you're right" situation, to quote an entirely different anime.
"Just because you're right doesn't mean you aren't 10 pounds of shit in a 5-pound bag."
Akira's no dummy, and just being aware that she's falling into this forbidden romance to avoid feelings of grief and separation from her peers isn't going to solve her problem. Feelings of infatuation don't just go away with logic. You have to work through them, and fortunately for her, Kondo seems good at heart enough to help her process those feelings of loss without taking advantage of her. And maybe she'll help him work through his own stuff along the way.
Meanwhile, my favorite moments with Kondo are just him being a Very Divorced Dad.
For all the inner monologues and evocative environmental animation, the one thing that got me to feel for him more than anything was just this image.
I fucking died at that moment. His dad instincts, honed to a solid point after years of parenting a rambunctious little boy, kick in so completely after Akira passes out in his house and then gets a bunch of tea spilled on her, that he doesn't even stop to wonder why the hell she was in his house until he's halfway down the street at the laundromat. This story isn't going to work for everyone given its premise, but it's certainly doing its best to convey feelings of empathy and growth through its ojisan fetish.
It's definitely working overtime to be as sensitive with the subject as it can, but speaking personally I kind of wish it could get more problematic. These first five episodes have been excellently produced character pieces, but I find myself wanting Akira to cross a line or for something to stir up their dynamic. I don't need soap opera stuff, but another shoe dropping would do a lot to keep my attention.
I mean she's crossed plenty of lines already at this point. Sniffing his clothes, confessing to him over and over, demanding a date, using his kid to explore his house while he's gone.
Kondo's just so damn diffident that it never leads to anything, no matter how much his extreme conflict-avoidance sets him up for that possibility.
If Kondo was being responsible there, he would have just said no. But Akira keeps pushing him until he caves, resulting in the world's most awkward coffee-and-a-movie. The truth is that deep-down, some part of Kondo wants to feel like the best part of his life isn't over yet. He's clinging to that feeling, so against his better judgment, he doesn't push Akira away. While she's staring at him imagining a future, he spends their time together in memories of the past. At some point, both of them will have to be honest about what's really drawing them together, or else things are going to get Real Ugly, Real Fast.
And if I'm being honest, I don't want that. I do want closure for both of them, but I hope they can reach it peacefully, because I'm enjoying the sweet strangeness of their repartee. I just happened to be a lot like Akira at her age, and I reacted to feelings of isolation with similar taboo crushes, so I want her to grow from this experience without too much pain.
I can get that. Like I said, I'm really hard to please with a lot of romance stories, and I'm more likely to watch a 10-car pile up of emotions before ATR's gentler approach.
If nothing else, I appreciate how superbly produced the whole show is. Studio WIT brought their A-game here, and it's fantastic just to look at every week.
Yeah, I'm not usually a fan of twilit scenery porn for its own sake, but After the Rain does such a fantastic job of using its world to reflect every little change in emotion and perspective for its characters, instead of resorting to internal monologues. Akira's entire tragic backstory is conveyed without a single word being spoken, until that jerk tosses the short version in her face in episode four, and her resulting anger really hits hard. Seeing this personal tragedy summed up in a blunt, harsh, and judgmental way like that feels unfair to how Akira herself (and the audience alongside her) experienced it. The most common shot the show uses is hyper-detailed closeups of Akira's eyes, which should tell you a lot about its concerns as a story. It's marinating in some complex and potentially alienating teenage girl emotions, but it communicates them in a lot of empathetic and beautiful ways.
I also appreciate the focus on character animation, specifically with Akira. She's hardly a talkative protagonist, so a lot of her emotions and thoughts get expressed through her body language. I don't think there's a better way to show somebody getting giddy from talking to their crush than this.
Akira's feet are the only part of her more expressive than her eyes, because they represent the motivation and self-expression she lost that she's re-attached to Kondo. She can't run track anymore, and she's slowly losing all the friends she made through the sport. So a lot of meaning gets conveyed through what she decides to do with her feet, who she allows to see the scar on her ankle, all that stuff.
It does feel a little weird to compliment a show on how well it films a teenage girl's feet, though.
RIGHT? After the Rain is an awkward experience to describe, but provided the premise doesn't make you too uncomfortable on its face, there's a lot to love about this romantic dramedy. I'm still crossing my fingers that it won't cross any lines that break the heartening tone it's established so far, but right now I'm still rooting for these two (to figure their shit out and part ways as good friends).
It's a unique show with a lot to offer, and for all my complaints I am still engaged with it and want to see what it says through all this. My biggest fear is that it'll avoid giving any real answers to the cast's issues.
After all, not all life's problems can be solved as easily as