Just Because was one of the romances of last season I was most looking forward to. One of the reasons being that it strived to depict life for high school students during that interim period between college exams and graduation. Mixed with the problems of adolescent romance, it looked as though this could be a series that accomplished something different. I think we have far too many school romances that focus on the whole of high school life or the middle of it. They may depict college exams and graduation, but they don’t start their story there. This turbulent time adds to the drama and adds to the stress the characters are feeling as well as giving a sense of limbo to their relationships. Even with the problems surrounding this series production, I did find myself enjoying the ride through mundane life and romance.
This original series was written by Hajime Kamoshida, the creator behind The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Production was handled by the small studio Pine Jam and licensed in the US on Amazon’s former Anime Strike. This anime follows the lives of a group of high school students during their last semester and the drama that arises with the appearance of a new transfer student, Eita Izumi. Izumi had lived there during middle school but had to move away because of his father’s job. On his return, old feelings resurface and new relationships are formed. For most students, the end of the school year is expected to be devoid of fanfare, but not for these students.
The production of Just Because was rife with delays, breakdowns on twitter, and melting animation, but somehow I still managed to enjoy the series for the most part. The Sakuga Blog had a very detailed post about what exactly went wrong with the production, and I would highly recommend reading through it. The short of it is that Pine Jam was just too small of a studio to take on such a complicated show. The director, Atsushi Kobayashi, wanted the focus of the animation to be the depiction of the mundane life of the characters. This means focusing on minute movements and details, which puts pressure on the small and inexperienced staff of the studio. It also meant Kobayashi had to recheck storyboards and key animations, leading to delays in future episodes. The overlap of their previous series, Gamers!, also didn’t help matters, leading to outsourcing and mistakes in in-between animations.
However, I felt like I didn’t notice these mistakes as much and attributed any messiness in animation to the overall style of the anime. I feel like raw animation that sometimes comes out of inexperienced artists is gaining fans across anime, one of whom is myself. The production troubles were the most noticeable with the inclusion of a live-action episode featuring the voice actors that I believe was quickly made to cover-up the delays. But Kobayashi’s insistence on showing a high amount of detail did pay off. Small movements and mundane actions all contribute to the building of a character’s personality. It’s all too often that we see shows either dramatize actions for short bursts of characterization or have exposition where characters talk about another’s personality. The way Just Because focuses on its characters is much harder yet more rewarding for the viewer.
The strength of this series comes from its characters, a fact Kobayashi was trying to emphasize through his animation and direction. Slice-of-life animes like this generally don’t have a concrete plot as they rely on the characters to drive the series forward and hold interest. Just Because is a fairly standard slice of life anime in that regard. Each character feels real and has their own dreams or aspirations that they work towards throughout the series. Ena Komiya for example has a desire to save her photography club, so all her actions revolve around taking photos, getting in trouble for taking photos, and trying to convince Eita to let her use his photo for a competition. In the process of trying to convince Eita, it starts to seem natural that her relationship with him would grow. Then we have Hazuki Morikawa, a member of the school concert band who is also stuck with the care of her younger family members. We see through the course of the series her want to leave her home and go to college and the meaning she begins to ascribe to her music. Even though I feel the story mainly focuses on Eita and Mio’s relationship, each other character feels real and distinct from one another and there are not many side characters that just seem to fade into the background.
However, the one problem I have with this series is the ending. It almost feels like the production issues forced either a rush to the ending or some amount of changes to it. Considering this wasn’t adapted from a manga, it’s entirely possible that the plot was affected by delays in the storyboards. The main action arc of the series begins with Eita and Mio changing their top picks for college without telling one another, and consequently taking the tests for each other’s former top choice. It’s here that this show begins to feel like a comedy of errors. They each vow to tell each other everything if they pass their tests. In the end, only Mio passes, but when she tries to talk to Eita, he’s nowhere to be found. Queue dramatic baseball scene that ties into the beginning of the series, and EIta goes running off after a home run ball presumably to find Mio. Only…that doesn’t happen. The energy of that scene just ends and we’re left with a fairly low-key scene of Mio and Eita meeting at college. The whole ending feels like a let-down with the whole energy build-up of the baseball scene just cut off and left to hang unresolved.
Even with all the problems, I feel like this series is worth checking out just for the characters and extreme detail put into every scene. If you like character-driven, slice-of-life I think you’ll like this series. If you’ve already given it a watch, let me know what you thought in the comments below.
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