I have nothing much to lead with apart from that this was pretty fantastic on every level. Simply put, one of the better examples of its type that I’ve seen in a very long time. This sort of anime isn’t easy to do well. That may be part of the reason studios rarely try – although the main reason is surely that it generally doesn’t make money for production committees. This is a season of unappreciated gems, but Yuzuki-san Chi no Yonkyoudai. is one of the most criminally ignored of the bunch.
I think the series set itself a bit of a trap with the cliffhanger last week, because it wasn’t going to be easy to find a path forward in the Uta-Minato crisis that was both satisfying and believable. But I was more than happy with the route it took, and satisfying and believable seems to be Yuzuki-san Chi’s wheelhouse. For me as someone who’s taught in middle school, this rings true because the reality is there are kids that are like Minato. Wearing the uniform, but in every way that matters a child in elementary school. We all mature at different rates (it seems more stark in boys), and first year junior high seems to be the ultimate showcase for that.
After a hilarious bit with Hayato seeing Gakuto as an old man, the story firmly focuses on the pubescent pack for the rest of the episode. Minato decides to ask Google-sensei about dating after Nikaidou’s suggestion, and let me just point out that when I was this age, you didn’t have that option (and I sure wish we had). The results are rather alarming, because Minato simply isn’t ready for all this. And that’s fine – our time in life with a clarity unsullied by such complications is short. There’s no reason to try and rush through it before we’re ready. It does nix the idea of he and Uta going out, and Mikoto promptly rejects Nikaidou’s uncharacteristically-baka plan B that he marry her so she’ll always be close by for Minato’s convenience.
The devastating impact all this has on Minato is not overdramatic by any means. When you’re 12 there’s nothing more important to you than your best friend, and this is a kid already stressing over being too childish. What he doesn’t realize is that Uta’s remoteness towards him is not because she’s in-love, but because she’s just as troubled. A little interaction with her mom is a clue for Minato that he may have misread the situation, but the proof of that will come later. The shift from animation to real-life imagery to illustrate Minato’s angst was an unusual and interesting choice – I’m not sure I love it but it was certainly memorable.
Another element here that continues to really work for me is the way Mikoto and Minato’s cluelessness about this subject is brought across. Minato is just an innocent, and Mikoto seems to be wired in such a way that such things may never make sense to him. Nikaidou has the most practical view (low bar), but it’s the funhouse mirror effect of real-world experience filtered through the lens of a 13 year-old boy’s brain. The only way through this is going to be for Minato and Uta to talk like they always do, but that’s a tough point to reach.
As it turns out, Morita-kun is kind of a jerk – though more just insensitive in the way boys his age usually are. His comment about Uta “acting like a girl” is completely out of line but it fits his simplistic worldview. It’s terrible that Uta has to stress about such nonsense but at least it’s the impetus that pushes she and Minato together. She heads out to the fort to clear her head after her karate teacher (she’s been obsessing over it to work out her anxiety) kicks her out. Minato acquits himself gloriously here. He springs to Uta’s defense and calls out Morita’s bullshit for exactly what it is, sexist and juvenile. He may still be childish but in this case, that gives Minato the clarity to see through all the needless complications to the simple truth.
The irony in this denouement is inescapable. The two can now go back to being playmates building their fort, but you could almost hear an audible “click” when Uta was staring at Minato during his rant on her behalf. Everything in its time – and the time now is for fort-building (with Mikoto and Nikaidou now pitching in) and roughhousing. But the stage is certainly set for that to evolve, because when the bond between two kids is this strong and biology exerts its inevitable gravitational pull, all kinds of things can happen. Eventually…