After watching the past few episodes, I think I figured out some of what makes this show so deliciously delightful to watch: the way it gets us, the viewers, to not only empathize with the characters but also, if we talk back to our anime like I do, vocalize the feelings that they won’t let themselves say out loud. But now that facade, that classic Japanese emotional suppression, is at last beginning to crack and decisions will have to be made, as Mao states in episode 16’s preview.
I have to confess that episode 16 helped me to understand the anti-Mao people a little more. The truth of the matter is, her depression results from pretty much one thing: she wants both Kai and Kouichi for herself, to have both the status quo of the past and the the New Exciting Romance that Kai represents. When it comes down to it that’s pretty selfish, if still human and even understandable, considering how comfortable and comforting her fake-sibling relationship with Kouichi is. The truth is of course that she can’t have both, and she knows it, and that’s what’s getting her down–and I suspect her end-of-episode running to Kai is one of those instances where poor Kai is going to think that this is is his chance while she sees him mostly as a comfort pillow for the time being. That ain’t right, and Kai–one of the most patient, mature, and upstanding male protagonists I’ve seen in anime for some time–totally doesn’t deserve it. She’s basically using him at this moment, and she may not even be totally aware that she is. Still, at this stage it’s hard to defend her actions. It’s a case of wanting to eat your cake and have it too.
The use of the movie-within-the-show device is rather hoary, at least as old as Hamlet, but it was effective enough in showing the real feelings involved here in stark relief. I think it’s kind of funny that Kouichi is still, at this stage, nearly oblivious to the situation, only noticing when Mao makes funny faces or calls in pretend-sick. He still seems to be in total blinding love mode, which Yuumi reciprocrates, and again I have to add that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an anime romance where the main couple fit together so well: they are similar in character, similar in aspirations and work together on projects effectively. You could actually imagine two people like this getting together in real life. Look at how simple and trusting Yuumi is during the whole “confession” scene in the movie and when he breaks off their date to go check on Mao. Kouichi better be as simple and unconflicted as he looks and acts, or things are gonna get ug-leee.
The other main love triangle is at last starting to move somewhere, and in a direction I didn’t quite expect. I confess I saw Hinano’s funny screencap modifications prior to watching to this episode, and it actually colored my expectations–but when Eriko asked her plaintive question sung by a million songwriters through the ages: “Why do people fall in love?”, it raised the emotional temperature of the confrontation a few degrees. Admittedly, the premise and execution of her “experiment” was contrived from the start; I can’t really believe a high school girl, no matter how anti-social, really would think that kissing is a good idea to use as an “experiment,” kind of like how I can’t quite believe that Sekai would really think “practicing” with Makoto would just stay at that level. The fascination and emotional engine that drives this, though, is in how it affects Kazuki, who is (rather more inexplicably than Kouichi) to this distant beauty who has trouble relating to anyone. As I mentioned before, she is clearly set up as Kazuki’s “distraction” person, though with the way things are twisting and turning, the final outcome is actually rather unpredictable at this stage. I have an intuitive sense where things should go were this a genuinely realistic situation–people should choose those whom they are most comfortable with–but Eriko suddenly breaking off the “experiments” as suddenly as she does, at this stage in the story, actually invites the genuine possibility that Sakino is going to “lose” after all, since that will make Kazuki pursue Eriko all the harder. That seems to be a motif, actually; Kouichi makes his vows of devotion only after learning Yuumi is going to move away soon. But, as they say, love is blind–and so there are no guarantees anywhere.
And that is one reason why this show is so entertaining. But more to the point, as I said at the beginning, is the huge contrast between the real feelings and the stated dialogue/words that we hear/read in subtitles. It has gotten to the point where it’s sadly comical, really, every time Mao hides her face and announces in her increasingly strained voice, “Oh, no, everything’s fine.” Sakino does it too. The show is directed in such a way, of course, where it’s perfectly obvious what they’re really thinking and feeling, and an engaged audience member is tempted to shout in affectionate derision, “OH NO YOU’RE NOT!” And the thing is, while many might find this frustrating, others like me find it entertaining. Maybe it’s the cultural gap here at work, or maybe that this gap keeps me the audience member engaged. It also helps because, absent H&C style monologues, when the emotional bursts finally come as they do in episode 16, it feels justified.
If anything, it’s reminiscent of (highbrow elitist artsy fartsy reference warning) the films of Yasujiro Ozu, except in a juvenile setting. Ozu knew that famous Japanese reserve very well, and played upon it in his domestic drama films like Tokyo Story and Late Spring. His films start out all pleasant, with people saying nice things to each other and covering up their tensions with politeness and smiles, but slowly you’d start seeing the anger, resentment, grief, and other unpleasant emotions show: first on people’s faces, then in their body language. Finally everything would come to a head at the climax, where there are outbursts and recriminations and characters saying honest things like “Isn’t life disappointing?”/ “Yes. Yes it is,” while smiling through tears. It feels like massive catharsis when it finally happens.
If Kimikiss manages to pull something like THAT off, I will be in awe and will have to reconsider my still-held opinion that this is not quite yet the equal of the director’s prior work. It still feels a bit too high school for me at times, and maybe I just can’t quite relate to this age group anymore. But until then, I’m definitely enjoying this ride.
All lyrical references in the captions, of course, are from Belle and Sebastian’s Seeing Other People which, in many ways, could be a theme song for this whole show.