That was pretty special. I hope I don’t have to convince anyone of that, but I’m certainly not going to try. There’d be no point – it’s not as though the case could be made any better than it already has been. As this episode wound down I kept thinking of Gegege no Kitarou 2018’s Episode 20, “Memories of the Y?ka” (the war one). That was a masterpiece, and so was this, for some of the same reasons.
That’s not to say I’m not going to talk about how great it was, because I am. First of all the direction was really spectacular – Aoki Ei is the big name series director, but people like storyboarder Katou Tomoyoshi and Animation Director Matsumoto Masao have their stamp all over this ep. The way Kouya and Haruka were framed in their scenes together was stunning in itself, and when the ante was raised with those moments from the tragedy (based on NHK footage of that day) were brought in. Also, Utatane Kana’s soundtrack this week was a huge part of the episode’s success. It all just worked.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake, and that was on my mind too for a number of reasons. In the century since that catastrophe changed Japan forever, I think the country has had three events which most scarred it emotionally – World War II, the Sarin gas attacks, and 3/11. What GGGnK did in its anti-war episode was take a traumatic time in Japanese history and treat it with respect, restraint, and insight. That was an inherently more political act than this (you can read my post if you want more detail on that). But they have much in common, as Overtake has displayed exactly the same traits here.
The one element with Overtake which always concerned me was the writing, because Sekine Ayumi really has nothing in her resume to suggest she’s capable of this sort of work. I believe those questions have totally been put to rest with this episode, which validates every major creative turn the series has taken so far. We were always building to this moment, and events of this magnitude require no embellishment. But the reason this is so effective is because of the characters and their individual stories. Kouya and Haruka are fantastic characters individually, but it’s with the dynamic between them that the magic really happens.
I’m not gonna lie, I really love these two guys. They’re deeply kind and vulnerable in a very realistic way, and they give each other so much through their distinct experiences in life. For Haruka to do what he did – follow Kouya to Touhoku after effectively detective work – had to touch Kouya very deeply. We’re talking about a boy with no father (no disrespect to Futoshi-san) and a man with no children, and they’ve come to depend on each other in a very profound way. Every conversation between them here was so natural (again, full credit to Sekine-san) it almost felt like eavesdropping on them.
Haruka just wants to help – literally. That’s all he’s here for, that’s all he cares about, and that really hits hard. It’s so pure and so straightforward. Of course so much of this is beyond his power to impact, because Kouya’s pain runs very deep. But just knowing another person cares that much can make a huge difference. Haruka’s inexperienced perspective is slowly being filled in as he learns more about what happened from Kouya. And he’s intuitive in his own right – he’s figured out that Kouya had already stopped photographing people before the firestorm over that photo ever happened.
One could totally see this happening. A photographer snapping that photo in the spur of the moment, the world – including the family – unjustly blaming him for doing so. The earthquake and tsunami comes in the aftermath of Kouya spending time in Yoshima, where among the locals he’s especially bonded with an old-timer named Shouzou. The irony is that Kouya was already chronicling the demise of a small town, it’s just that it was happening in slow-motion (as it was and is all over Japan). When March 11, 2011 came, everything changed.
The girl in the photo is Shouzou’s granddaughter, Momo. The circumstances of the photo itself were more or less what you’d expect. Of course Kouya did blame himself, but intellectually he knew that he was powerless to do anything else. He stayed behind to help rebuild the town, but he could no longer snap photos of individual people. The truth is quite different than what was hinted at – it wasn’t the controversy that gave Kouya the yips, it was the harrowing nature of that moment. That makes me respect him all the more, honestly – in point of fact until his dishonor caused problems for Haruka he never cared much about it at all.
The conversation between Kouya and Haruka about Eddie Adam’ ‘s famous Saigon photo (which Haruka of course knows nothing of, as Mana knew nothing of what the war was really like) was such a smart and insightful way to frame this story, and so respectful of the audience. Adams did indeed regret that photograph which made him a hero in many people’s eyes, because he realized that it didn’t tell the full tale of that moment (which is the nature of photographs, as Kouya points out). Kouya doesn’t regret the photo that made him a pariah in many people’s eyes, because it told a story he – and Shouzou – believed needed to be told. That’s deeply ironic, and incredibly brave on Kouya’s part.
One can completely understand the hostility Momo’s family shows towards Kouya under the circumstances, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re completely in the wrong (as Shouzou always maintained). Kouya can’t change what happened that day – no one can – nor any of the consequences that followed. But with Haruka’s help, just by being with him, he is able to find a sort of closure. The past is forever closed to us, which is why photographs are so vital and precious. But the future is forever there to be explored – the choice is ours whether we do so or not, and in what manner.