Amagami SS Episode 5 – When Your World Gets Turned Around
My coblogger noted in covering Tatami Galaxy that an advantage of rebooting a timeline every arc is that you don’t need to take the time to establish what you’ve already established. Amagami is no Tatami Galaxy, so there’s more repetition here than was needed, but this episode doesn’t have a single repeated scene from last time. Where the timelines diverge between arcs isn’t shown—I don’t think the show cares enough to establish such things—but it’s clear the setting has changed ever so slightly.
This arc’s girl, Kaoru Tanamachi, needs little introduction to those who have been watching through thus far. Jun’ichi’s friend since middle school, she spent most of the first arc acting like “one of the guys” (and was almost always in the company of Jun’ichi’s other, male, friend Masayoshi). Her relationship with Jun’ichi was playful and easy-going, featuring antics such as tossing stuff at each other in class and occasionally showing affection through headlocks. That relationship is still there, but a few small changes in how it’s depicted makes a world of difference.
Some of those changes are actually revelations, as it seems Kaoru appeared immediately after Jun’ichi’s junior high Christmas Eve debacle to cheer him up. (That Christmas Eve event remains central to his character, and I wonder if we’ll ever get more details on the events leading up to it.) In addition to establishing some facts about Kaoru, like that her father is absent and her family is cash-strapped as a result, it puts her and not Morishima in the role of Jun’ichi’s restorer post-rejection.
But the very nature of their friendship has shifted a bit; while it’s still obviously platonic at the start, Kaoru is much more of flirt this time around, or at least is shown to be such. She invades his personal space, melodramatically responds to slights, and generally is given more opportunities to remind the audience, and Jun’ichi, that she’s a girl. Some of these are related to some specific situations they fall in to (rather stupid ones, I hate to say), but others—a glance here, a pause there—seem deeper rooted.
Last arc we found out that Kaoru helped to set up her friend Keiko in her spare time, but this arc she comes to Jun’ichi to get a male opinion on her friend’s situation. That it’s him, and not Masayoshi, that she asks says something about how she distinguishes between the two of them (and she doesn’t tease Masayoshi in the same way either). For all their banter, she respects his opinion.
She also needs to learn to phrase her requests better; the way she asked for his aid made it sound like she wanted a private place to confess her love for him, which of course inspired all sorts of dirty fantasies from Jun’ichi. But when he jokingly comments on his confusion (minus the perverted thoughts), she’s immediately unnerved. While it’s clear she’s never thought of Jun’ichi in that way before, his comment triggers within deep questions about whether she could or does think about Jun’ichi that way now. And she has no idea how to deal with that.
Suddenly the interactions between them become distinctly more awkward, if only for her. The same girl who offered sarcastically over-the-top professions of love at the beginning of the episode now finds herself shooting off rigorous denials. She’s no longer as comfortable with him stopping by at her waitress job despite having invited him just that day. Soon, she’s hiding in the break room like a blushing school girl, and although she at least has the decency to be annoyed at herself for it, she realizes that she has feelings for him.
I have to hand it to the writers for their skill at making alluring female personalities. Morishima was magnetic in spite of herself, and there is no “in spite of” here: Kaoru is endearing, funny, warm, and discerning enough to know when to help out a friend and when to abuse him. She vied Rihoko (the other childhood friend) for the most appearances last arc—after Morishima, of course—and unlike Rihoko all her appearances actually mattered, as she alternatively consoled and encouraged Jun’ichi depending on what was appropriate for the moment.
Her introduction in this arc spoils none of the built-up goodwill. I never really bought into Morishima’s relationship with Jun’ichi, or at least didn’t find her a healthy match for him. Here, Kaoru obviously has affection of Jun’ichi even when in just a familial way, and they play off each other, comedically or otherwise, just as well or better as leads as they did when she was just an extra. I can easily see she cares about him not just or even primarily as a romantic partner, but as a person.
That said, her about face on thinking of Jun’ichi as boyfriend material is a bit too rapid. She goes from viewing Jun’ichi as a guy she can safely flirt with in jest (Masayoshi compares their antics to play-acting a married couple, which she happily acknowledges) to a fully realized crush with about an hour of transition time. The audience is led to believe that some of her previous actions might have been due to some repressed romantic attraction, but one has to wonder why there wasn’t a trigger point until now. I would think their normal antics would provide plenty of opportunities.
Another problem with Kaoru’s sudden change of heart is that it’s not reciprocated by Jun’ichi. Sure, he has fantasies about why Kaoru asked him to meet in private, and he checks her out while she’s in her work uniform. But that’s just because he’s a horny teenage guy (which is to say, a teenage guy) and girls don’t stop being girls just because they’re friends; he also checks out her coworkers at the restaurant. For him, nothing has really changed, at least for now. He might respond favorably to advances on her part, but not out of any deep-seated romantic feeling. In this arc, he’s the one to be won, not the other way around.
The greatest threat to this arc, however, is predictability. As fun as Kaoru is to see on screen, this is the sort of storyline that has been done to death in romantic plots worldwide, and especially in anime. A girl in a long-standing friendship with a guy suddenly coming to realize that she actually harbors feelings for him, and trying to further their relationship while treading fearfully to avoid losing what relations they have—this is a staple of the industry.
Morishima the blindly self-absorbed idol might have annoyed me to no end, but whatever else I could say about her storyline, it had some truly … unique moments. Will this? I’ve completely misjudged this show’s direction before, and it’s possible that Amagami will rewrite a tired formula well enough to make it both fresh and moving. The show’s first arc accomplished the former if not quite the latter; we’ll see if a more likable leading lady can deliver both.