This is quickly shaping up to be not only the most original, but also the most ambitious show of the season. Shinbo is definitely going to be heavily represented in the Originality Awards at the end of this year…and, if the emotional promise that this show makes is delivered, it just might be one of the more meaningful and affecting ones too.
This is a slice of life show in a different mode; they are slices of subjectivity as much as slices of different characters’ lives. For me there is a definitely hierarchy of interest, though; I’m far more interested in the Renji-Chihiro relationship than the other stories, though each has its own peculiar charms. But the Renji-Chihiro situation is the thematic key which holds the show together, where the theme of memory is starkest and most meaningful. I remember when I first read the show’s logline “do you have memories you don’t want to forget?” that it sounded like a standard ren’ai tagline, an invitation to remember lots of girls wanting to jump your bones. I didn’t quite expect that it would be taken so literally, and so effectively shown through the artistic directing.
One pleasing thing to me too as a wannabe writer myself is how much of the show is about artists. All three male characters are artists of some sort: Renji the novelist, Kyosuke the filmmaker, and Hiro the manga-ka. (Of shoujo manga, of all things–but he seems rather clueless about women!) There have been a few comments too about the artistic process that are worth mentioning, and they too are connected to memory and to the subjective vision which the artist is supposed to rely upon to create. That’s why the filmmaker insists on taking his own shots, on trying to find that place where he can somehow capture a dream. It’s no wonder that Shinbo includes so many closeups of eyes, and that it’s significant that Chihiro has lost one of her eyes; so much of this show is about seeing. So much about creativity is about seeing things differently, and so much about memory is being able to see with the mind’s eye, and both eyes for Chihiro are damaged. For her, the ability to tell a story may be literally lifegiving; to write things down, as she does already by reading her diary before going to bed every night, and to make sense of her life, is the only thing that keeps her from disappearing from her own consciousness and from those of others’. I haven’t seen in anime a more potentially good exploration of that idea except perhaps, indirectly, in Serial Experiments Lain where the notion of memories sustaining our very existence comes in at the end.
The typical romantic comedy scenes with Hiro are more cliched and less interesting to me, and that is perhaps reflected by how the visual style returns to “normalcy” during that time. There’s almost a harem situation with his kouhai and Miyako, not to mention his “little sister childhood friend” Kei. I suppose it’s one of those instances where even daring and experimental shows need some kind of ballast, much like the way Evangelion needed an entire first half of “monster of the week” scenarios to prepare the viewer for the chaos to come. This is a show that grows out of the ren’ai game genre after all, and it’s refreshing to see that the usual identity markers of the genre are there mainly as starting points for something much bigger.
I will be very impressed with the show if they decide to focus on Renji and Chihiro trying to write a story together. Perhaps Hiro, Renji, and Kyosuke and Chihiro will somehow get together to create something. What a beautiful outcome and metaphor that would be. I haven’t been this interested in the artistic potential of a show in a little while and I really hope they don’t waste it.