This, one of the best episodes in what is already a fine show, takes both the relationship and the artistic conflicts up a few notches and sets up the characters for a high-stakes climax. There were so many memorable images and memorable scenes that it’s hard to know where to begin.
A lot of the things I predicted or hoped would happen are coming to fruition. The main cast is starting to interact with each other more and more (Kyosuke making a movie starring Kei, Kyosuke and Hirono getting into a heated argument, etc), and the romance and the storytelling themes are become increasingly fused. My supposition that writing a novel was for the sake of Chihiro’s survival was explicitly confirmed. Plus, at least in this episode, the dialogue during romance-related scenes (Kei vs Miyamura, Hirono and Kei near the end) is somewhat less contrived than before. Particularly the final scene between Kei and Hirono, which, were it like similar scenes in Mai-HiME, might have come off as deeply annoying actually had a spark of genuine tenderness and casual, bantering affection, the feeling the creators no doubt had in mind in any relationship where the girl calls the guy “Onii-chan.” The argument between Kei and Miyamura was mostly saved by the startlingly Anno-like flourishes, which broke up dialogue that sounded alternately soap-operatic and authentically anguished. The hints of the anguish Miyamura really feels hit home by the final post-credits scene, and I have to admit, in this post-Nice Boat era, a shiver ran up my spine.
I suppose in the debate between Hirono and Kyosuke about how one should approach one’s art, I have to take Hirono’s side for the most part. It’s n0t that I don’t understand Kyosuke. Kyosuke is pretty much like every young artist with a modicum of integrity–he wants to do something wholly unique, soul-shaking, and heartfelt with every shot and every moment, trying to capture the irreplaceable snippets of ordinary life without a plan, without a solid vision. If the cliche is to have a story, I’ll have no story! If the expectation is to have characters, I’ll just have one! It’s not a documentary or a drama; it’s something totally new! (I think of the times I vowed to revolutionize the fantasy genre with my uniquely Asian-American perspective.) He doesn’t give a damn about audiences, and I find it amusing that in a possible pique of meta-humor, Kei pronounces Kyosuke’s film project as “boring” though initially beautiful, a judgment many have made of ef itself. In a way his heart is pure. He just wants to chase after that one moment above all else, no matter the cost, even if it’s by sticking a camera in the face of a girl in the infirmary to capture her tears.
Hirono’s comments, that you have to balance personal artistic desire with that of the audience, is one of the jaded pro in his case. But I can say that in the case of all the stories I’ve written for creative writing class and friends, and even in this anime blog, it’s true. Stories are meant to be shared, and writers more than other artists feel this acutely; we feel like there is no completion without publication. One thing that went relatively unmentioned, except for Hirono’s offhand remark about how hard it is to come up with something good (all too true!), is the necessity of craft. Kyosuke has the common artistic desire to be free from rules, forms, and anything except the eye of his mind that sees beauty. He needs to realize that constraints are often as essential to creativity as the willingness to be dangerous. Sometimes great ideas come when you are told you have a challenging: a deadline, these panels, this word count. What Kyosuke needs, actually, is someone like Hirono. They should work together, one with the fearless desire and pure heart to capture beauty in the raw, and another person to shape it into something well-crafted and appealing.
And what of the writers, Renji and Chihiro? We hear more of Chihiro’s novel, which reads so far more like a parable since there are no other characters, no other interaction except with objects. In many ways what she’s trying to accomplish is a lot more like Kyosuke’s project–capturing memorable (there’s that word again) snapshots in words of what it feels like to be imprisoned in her amnesia more than telling a story in the usual sense. That’s why the place where she develops writer’s block is in trying to write a description. And yes, what Renji and Chihiro do to rectify that is exactly what real writers do–first-hand research. (Something I don’t do enough of.) Most time is spent on the preparations to return to a place that, undoubtedly, causes her pain, and Renji is almost peripheral in this episode as a result. Which is fine. The less I have to think of Raki, the better!
Finally, a word about the humor in this episode and in this show in general. It’s here where the “otakuesque” nature of the show happens most clearly. Boobs to head, guy with girls’ uniforms, the cliche romantic encounters, the whole works. It’s not terribly annoying because there isn’t too much of it compared to other kinds of shows, though. At least it usually fits the scenes rather than being clumsy intrusions, like some shows I know. There is every hint that this rather serious show is going to get significantly heavier as we approach its second half, and I suppose we need to take every comic break for what it’s worth.
Like it or not, this is a niche show; you need to simultaneously otaku and tired of standard otaku shows, especially romances, to really appreciate it. It sometimes teeters between using the usual formulas and situations and trying to imbue them with different meaning and significance, but when it works–and it works beautifully in this episode for the most part–it works quite well. We might actually be watching a production that, for once, elevates its genre just a little rather than bringing it down to its level, which is how I feel about a lot of eroge adapations.
But this is the season of Kimikiss too, so perhaps things are slowly turning a corner overall. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.