All, Review

Yesterday wo Utatte, Episode 1

I’m just happy about this thing—and I hope I have more reason to be in the future!

At about the ten-minute mark of the first episode of Yesterday wo Utatte (Sing “Yesterday” for Me), I was starting to feel like the episode was getting ready to close, so I took a quite look at the time. 10 minutes. That’s how long it took this premiere to cover what felt like a single episode’s worth of content—and then it just kept going and going and going until it finally ended with Rikuo snapping Haru’s picture. In an episode completely hung up on a near-past that feels inescapable, it seems as if that picture might be the first, very small step forward.

For those of you who might not already be aware, Yesterday wo Utatte is an adaptation of a completed manga from a number of years back, and will be getting 18 episodes (you can more details on the production of the show on Sakugablog). All of that is pretty unusual in our contemporary anime space, but having seen the first episode, it’s clear that this show might very well be unusual within the context of anime as a whole.

As seems to happen all too often to me these days, the thing that’s most remarkable about Yesterday wo Utatte‘s premiere is the thing that’s almost most difficult to explain—you truly have to watch it to understand. A good script is one thing, but the way the episode just flows effortlessly from one small conversation, one bubble pop in the character’s somber lives, to another is something else entirely. Every moment is exactly as long as it needs to be, but no more. Big details are revealed through short lines (and through meaningful cinematography as well), so there’s no labored exposition.

And all this results in an episode that truly feels like we’re just living these characters’ lives alongside them. The ten-minute mark I mentioned earlier comes in the middle of Rikuo and Haru’s first conversation in the park, in which she asks him if he remembers when they met. Rikuo’s response is a characteristically elusive, “I have too many things that I’d rather not remember,” and in thinking it was characteristic I realized that I already had been given enough to understand the kind of person Rikuo was. In 10 minutes!

Now, this isn’t to say that Yesterday wo Utatte achieves the same feat with the other characters, namely Haru and Shinako. Rather than presenting them as fully fleshed-out characters by the end of the episode, Yesterday is content with instead dropping hints about who these two women are beyond being potential players in a love triangle (although I do love the uncomfortable, dysfunctional romantic tension in the air). Haru, for example, already seem unable to maintain the nonchalant, cheerful mask she puts on, in ways obvious as not so much. In the first park conversation, her pained reaction (and quick recovery) to Rikuo’s fair but ungentle comment about being followed around by a random chick are illustrative of a person easily hurt but unwilling to show that vulnerability.

There’s much more of the story to be told, but these kinds of small highlights may very well be representative of both a narrative that allows these kinds of complicated people to exist within it and a production staff that fully understand the characters and material they are working with. The whole premiere’s a tour de force of animation-as-character, and this level of insightful character acting, again, is something that can only happen when the creators have a clear vision for who these characters are.

Last, but not least, the final stand element of Yesterday wo Utatte‘s first episode is the general cynicism and world-weariness pretty much all of the characters display. Haru calls relationships “illusions,” Shinako in flashbacks seems pretty down on her job prospects despite knowing what she wants to do, and Rikuo gets called out multiple times by others and by himself for his self-pitying, low-effort engagement with life. Rikuo’s self-awareness about this actually made me a little open to his character than I think I would have otherwise been. He’s not really under any illusions about the lies he tells himself, and the moment of catharsis he finds in trying to push himself forward is telling—even if he does have it while laying a pile of garbage.

The fact that this ennui is shared by all the characters gives the episode a really cohesive feel, as if it’s a quality possessed by the show as a whole rather than just being a feature of the individual characters. That’s an appreciable characteristic because it may very well lead into some genuine thematic work.

Obviously, it’s very early, so I don’t want to be too excitable. But the overall level of excellence in the writing and visual execution somehow put me in the mind of Toradora! There’s just a solidity to the characters that arises so quickly, and the potential for a character-driven thematic throughline (coming to terms with adulthood in Yesterday where Toradora! was more about overcoming our masks, perhaps?) is thrilling.

But we can’t really tell anything for sure at this point. Suffice it to say that this is easily the premiere of the season so far for me—and who knows if anything will be able to beat it? There are still some heavy hitters to come, but I like Yesterday wo Utatte‘s chances.

(And yes, this post means I might try to cover it weekly.)

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