Home > Amagami SS, Episode Reviews > Amagami SS Episode 21 – Reading Between the Lines

Amagami SS Episode 21 – Reading Between the Lines

Basically since the end of Kaoru’s arc I’ve been looking for something, anything, to justify my continued interest in this show. Since then Amagami has convinced me that it can vary up its formula, and present different types of stories. What it hasn’t convinced me of is that it can tell interesting stories, or tell them well.

I should avoid sounding trumpets and declaring that the series has finally left its slump, because I did the that at the onset of Ai’s arc and it proved premature. But, like that story line, the one revolving around Tsukasa Ayatsuji presents us with at least two necessary pieces for a good romance story: an interesting male lead and an interesting female lead. That’s twice as good as we had with Rihoko.

I've mentioned it before, but Umehara really does seem like a good friend to Jun'ichi, even sacrificing his Christmas to cheer the latter up

Like every other arc thus far, this one begins with covering the effects of the Christmas Eve rejection that  Jun’ichi suffered in his last year of junior high. However, it puts a year’s distance between the event, showing that as a high school freshman Jun’ichi skips out on the Founder’s Festival because the wound is still too raw. So, we have the same pity party that always happens.

What changes this arc is that Jun’ichi actually takes the initiative to get out of his shell. On his own accord, he volunteers to help out the overworked Tsukasa on the festival planning committee. Unlike every other self-motivated act Jun’ichi has done thus in the series (which can be counted on one hand), it’s not for the sake of impressing a girl; rather, he wants to finally motivate himself to accomplish something, and to force himself to participate in the outside world (including the festival) even if he wouldn’t want to go otherwise.

That doesn't keep both Umehara and Kaoru from debating Jun'ichi's sanity for volunteering for the committee. The Jun'ichi they know (and we've known for the past five arcs) would never do such a thing

The closest we’ve ever seen to this level of motivation was his attempted wooing of Haruka, with his “training” of Sae coming in a very distant second. But wanting to win the school idol, who is offering constant if perhaps inadvertent encouragement for you to do so, is very different than taking on a self-improvement plan for its own sake. Given that “unmotivated” vies “clueless” as Jun’ichi’s most consistent character trait, I hope this change isn’t just for this episode.

Of course, just because Jun’ichi wants to be a better person doesn’t mean he becomes smarter or more organized overnight, so it falls on Tsukasa to show him the ropes and lead by example. In every way she seems to excel, keeping things organized, juggling multiple responsibilities at once, and even finding time to volunteer on the side. It quickly becomes clear that Jun’ichi couldn’t possibly do what Tsukasa does on a regular basis.

And this crowd of angry students is a good example as to why Jun'ichi can't handle such responsibility, at least alone

But there are cracks to her outward appearance which surface here and there. The flashback to the festival the previous year showed her almost wistful, longing for something to change. A chance encounter with her sister on the street puts her into a sour mood, and she works to cut off Jun’ichi’s conversation with her as fast she can. Given her sister isn’t lacking for courtesy, there’s a question of what Tsukasa’s problem is.

At least a partial answer comes later, as Jun’ichi finds a notebook left in class. When Tsukasa, still damp from swimming, dashes up to the room, he puts two and two together and realizes it’s hers. But when he admits that he looked inside the notebook (to find only a very detailed schedule written with precise handwriting), any further explanation he might offer gets cut short.

Tsukasa is wearing a swimsuit, still wet, and, if not exactly tiny, still noticeably smaller than Jun'ichi. None of that keeps the threat of violence from feeling real, or intimidating

Obviously, there was something in the notebook that Jun’ichi wasn’t supposed to see; that he didn’t actually see it may not help him, at least now. What we do know is that there will be a very different sort of relationship between Tsukasa and Jun’ichi than what we’ve seen before. Although the latter could hardly be described as having a dominant personality, the previous girls have kept a lead on him through basic feminine wiles. Tsukasa no doubt has those as well, but that isn’t her starting point.

In all it’s a promising opening with a good cliffhanger (and we haven’t had one of those in a while either) leading the viewer to want to see more. What does Tsukasa think Jun’ichi knows? How much of Tsukasa’s daily act is a front? These are far more interesting questions than “When will Rihoko trip over herself again?” or “How will Jun’ichi objectify Sae this week?” They are certainly questions I would like to see answered.

Tsukasa let her guard down around at least somewhat when her sister was present. She'd never show that face at school

So, does this episode restore my faith in the series? Hardly. It’s certainly a serious improvement over what’s come before, and the leads have much improved, but that doesn’t mean we’ll wind up with a good story. I liked both Ai and the Jun’ichi of her arc, and that plotline went nowhere. We have much better potential for an real plot here, but I’ll want to see more than its introduction before I make an evaluation.

The other concern is the continual use of the other heroines as a stalling technique. Yes, I know that the other girls are probably fan favorites to someone, but that doesn’t mean there’s a need to manufacture excuses to get them on screen. There’s a difference between conserving characters and wasting time on pointless filler, and I think this problem has gotten worse with each succeeding arc. Here their appearances are integrated with larger events (most of the time), but I can’t help but feel the time could have been used better.

The most egregious time-wasting heroine cameo was Morishima peeking in on Tsukasa and the others in swim practice. But multiple other events, including the swim practice scene itself, could also qualify

Outwardly friendly and studious and inwardly selfish, conniving, and/or just plain malevolent personalities have been done before, from the iconic His and Her Circumstances to the recently reviewed Toradora.  I doubt Amagami will reach the level of either of those shows in this arc, and it would be unreasonable for me to expect otherwise, given the radical difference in the quality of the source material. My only care at this point is that the show does a good job with what its been given. It would be nice if the show could end at least as strongly as it began.

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