Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Video Backlog: “Golden Time”

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks (USA)
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 24 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 2013 - 2014
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Banri Tada has moved all the way from a small town in Shizuoka prefecture to Tokyo in order to study law in a university specialising in the industry. Late for the entrance ceremony, Banri follows two fellow female students from the auditorium in order to get to orientation, but looses them as they exit a convenience store. Outside he runs into Mitsuo Yanagisawa, another first year student who is also lost. The pair form a camaraderie between themselves and make their way to what they think is the way to orientation. Along the way a taxi stops right next to them and a young woman dressed to the nines steps out with a large bouquet of roses. She congratulates Mitsuo for getting into university, but much to the surprise of everyone the woman smacks him in the face with the bouquet and promptly leaves. Mitsuo explains that the woman, Koko Kaga, daughter of owner of a large private hospital, is his childhood friend and since they were children has wanted to marry him. Unfortunately for Koko the feelings aren’t mutual. Much to Mitsuo’s horror, he finds that during orientation that Koko has also been accepted into the same university as well.

Later in the crush of student clubs trying to recruit first year students, Banri is saved from pushy club members by a second year student called, Nana Hayashida, Linda to her friends, from the Japanese Festival Culture Research Club. Over the next few days Banri is feels compelled to help out Mitsuo who is being perused by Koko. Banri soon realises that Koko hasn’t really made any friends and without Mitsuo seems lonely. But despite suggesting to Mitsuo that he shouldn’t be so harsh to Koko, he remains steadfast in refusing to make any contact with her. Later Banri encourages Koko to join a club when a student overhears them and ropes both of them into an overnight trip with a small group of students including Mitsuo in tow.

Unfortunately when they arrive at their destination it becomes apparent that the club is just a front for a Kofuku no Kagaku (Happy Science) like religious cult to recruit students. Once the penny drops, the students demand that their luggage be brought to them and they be let go. Selflessly Banri pretends that he has been persuaded to join and that due to his amnesia brought upon an accident days after he finished high school, that they could help him. He manages to convince the cult members to let everyone go, however Koko decides to stay with him. After escaping into the forest (after convincing the dim witted cultists they need the key to the storage room in order to put away Koko’s luggage), the pair rest after being pursued by the cult members after they twigged as to what was going on. Banri explains to Koko that what he told the cultists about his amnesia was true. Banri fears that he will lose his current self if his memories return and dreads his memories returning. The pair return to civilisation with Linda finding them. The Japanese Festival Culture Research Club are practicing their dancing on the edges of the forest.

Days later Linda asks Banri and Koko to come to the Festival Club to practice the dance for an upcoming local festival, in order to recruit them. She manages to get Banri to join which has Koko seriously considering. Meanwhile Mitsuo decides to confront Koko I order to stop her harassing him and also in order to try his luck with Chinami Oka, a cute first year student in the Film Club. The very public break up, in the student cafeteria with Banri and the pair’s other friends, doesn’t end on amicable terms as you can imagine. The depressed Koko ends up going to a punk concert with Banri to drown her sorrows, but is thrown out by bouncers and ends up spending the night at Banri’s apartment. Koko admits to Banri that she needs him and he confesses his love to her. This is the final push for the couple to officially start dating. Koko later texts Banri telling him not to forget about his memories. This in turn inspires him to return to his home and go though the boxes relating his old life. In a yearbook of his final year in high school, a photograph of him and Linda at high school falls onto the floor. He looks at it in shock.

You may look at the promotional artwork for this series and even the opening animation and incorrectly assume that it’s a shoujo anime focusing on a female protagonist (Koko). It’s nothing of the sort. It’s actually based on a seinen light novel series and as you can tell from the synopsis, while Koko plays a large role in the show, Banri is the key to everything, and the cornerstone in the story. What makes the show so interesting to me is his condition, his retrograde amnesia. And this plot device is not handled in a clichéd way either. In “Golden Time” the condition is explored through the eyes of the protagonist in what seems to be a very believable way. The way Banri’s confusion and anxiety of his position comes across clearly and realistically. He’s built up a new life for himself, but is rightly worried that the return of his old memories will wipe out his new relationships and he’ll be left to start all over again. That doubt about if his memories will return and snuff out his new life are interestingly portrayed as a “ghost” from the past who not only plans to completely possess him, but also scuttle his current plans in his new life.

Koko is also a great character. In the beginning she seems a typical “ojousama”, a rich, flighty, slightly stuck up, always dressed to the nines young woman whom Mitsuo runs away from. A complete cliché of a character. However as the series unfolds it’s a little bit hard to pin her down as a stereotype. Well, maybe a bit of the stuck up rich girl. However it’s portrayed as caring character, if a little needy and naïve, and you can’t feel anything but empathy for her. She’s not the spoiled, bratty, self centred person she often projects in her persona, possibly in self preservation. It seems to me very brave to take on a new relationship (admittedly on the rebound after a nasty breakup) where the man you love might never remember you ever again the next day.

The secondary characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Mitsuo seems rather shallow. He seems to move on from one girl to the next eventually settling on wooing Linda who won’t have a bar of him. Another male character called 2D-kun, nicknamed because of his sudden confession to preferring 2D women over real ones at a party, is equally shallow. The women fare a lot better. Linda deeply cares for Banri and despite her past feelings for him, she has the maturity to understand that he’s not his old self anymore, and he should be free to have other relationships. We also have Chinami, who maybe a ditzy doe-eyed stereotype but shows some real depth with her self-portrait documentary made for the school festival. Another interesting character is Nana, a punk rocker who lives next door to Banri. From her character design it’s plainly obvious that she is based on the same Nana in Ai Yazawa’s manga of the same name. However she’s no one off gag. Often she will give advice to Banri, Koko and Linda, though she usually puts up a gruff, confrontational persona to hide her kindness. Also note that Linda’s real name is also Nana and both the Nanas occasionally hang out together, just like the Nanas in Yazawa’s manga.

You may think all of this interpersonal drama may make this show as melodramatic and awful as hell. Not so. When clashes and misunderstandings happen, the characters actually talk to each other and smooth out things. There’s none of that “lots of misunderstandings, no explanations or actually talking to the other person” melodramatic shoujo bullshit just to ramp up the tension. I find that stuff cheap and clichéd. Instead in “Golden Time”, people actually act like people. The other important element in this how is the humour. While it certainly breaks up a lot of drama, it’s also genially hilarious at times. A lot of that humour centres around Koko. In one memorable sequence Koko tries to seduce and have sex with a very surprised Banri and ends up injuring herself in the process. Another scene has her embracing Banri, bawling her eyes out profusely apologising to him and confessing her love to him, not realising her father is standing behind her.

However this show isn’t prefect by a long stretch. Towards the end there are few scenes which I thought weren’t all that well handled. Certainly the seemingly strange actions of some characters are explained later, but I wish it was done a bit better. Like a lot of anime some of the secondary and occasional characters have some really bland designs, especially the members of the Japanese Festival Culture Research Club. I know that some of these characters are one offs, but a little consistency design wise goes a long way. I stupidly read some reviews on the series before writing mine. God, I don’t understand modern anime fans. Deriding this show as being clichéd while praising the new Kyoto Animation show. You know the one, set in a high school after school club made up mostly of girls with musical instruments and/or members who have magical powers. Yeah, 100% original and most definitely not a slight variation on the other similar shows Kyoto Animation has shat out year after year. I suppose obscenely detailed animation and character designs that can be made into otaku-ready figures trump everything else now days. A lot of the criticism of “Golden Time” seemingly has to do with the director’s previous work. However I’m watching this show, not her others, so I don’t care about that.

I fully admit that I am a hopeless romantic, though you wouldn’t know this if you met me. But if a woman I loved asked for my hand in marriage, I couldn’t get the words “I do” out fast enough. So I’m a real sucker for genuine romantic stories like this one. Add in the fact this show has an intriguing premise, likable (young) adult leads, which is pretty rare in anime now, I really enjoyed this show. The humour balances out the drama really well and I even loved the opening and closing songs, which is rare because I’m not really a fan of J-Pop. The drama is amped up towards the end and a lot of the humour disappears, but considering where the story was heading this was a given. All things considered, this was probably ones of the best anime I have seen in quite a while. 8 out of 10. By the way the title “Golden Time” seems to refer to the pub the characters frequent.

Remaining Backlog: Eight series, one movie, also waiting for second parts for two shows to be released before viewing them.

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