May 19, 2016

Anime Review: Isshuukan Friends

Isshuukan Friends title/logoSigh. It’s my old nemesis, memory-related plot devices. It’s such a lazy, unrealistic contrivance and rarely is it ever a good choice but rather a convenient way to get out of a tight writing spot. I don’t require world-class quality authorship in my anime screenplays but come on. If you’re reaching for the amnesia cheat then you’ve lost sight of what’s important. And it’s doubly worse when your entire storyline relies on this one fact, nay cannot escape it narratively, continuously circling back on it to revisit the amnesia element as a central non-human antagonistic force. Well, here we go…

Fujimiya and Hase sit together on the roof during lunch

Isshuukan Friends (lit. One Week Friends) follows Fujimiya, a girl with a curious (read: ludicrous) memory issue, and Hase, a boy who’s very interested in her. Fujimiya is cold and distant to everyone but otherwise a well-behaved studious girl and Hase is sure there’s more to her than her façade lets on. He finds out she’s actually very kind and innocent (emphasis on the innocent, more on that later) but he also discovers her Deep Dark Secret: every week she forgets anything that had to do with friends. I’ll pause while you finish face-palming… done? Okay. Thus she’s decided it’s not worth it to hurt said friends and stays distant. Conveniently she doesn’t forget strangers, acquaintances (like classmates), or family.

Do you see the immediate problem with this? The entire premise is on a collision course for viewer frustration. You came for the cuteness, the sweetness, and the budding romance? How about we formulate this so that every week we reset to zero? All that progress? Gone. At least with shows like Nisekoi it never has any progress to begin with instead of giving and snatching away later. Romance shows live and die on the quality of their lead couples and the execution with which their relationship grows. We want to see the friendship begin, feelings develop into more, and the shared experiences that bring them closer. If you start your story by engineering one of them to forget shit periodically… what the fuck are you doing? Look, it’s not like this can’t be done. Someone could make this work. But the amount of cleverness required seems daunting. It’s like some kind of literary master level difficulty maybe. Why choose this path? Your chances of pulling this off successfully are about as good as me winning a prize for my shitty blog review of your shitty anime.

It’s not even that it’s unbelievable in usage, because plenty of sci-fi, fantasy, and comedy shows do all sorts of reality bending but they do so for aesthetic and/or humorous reasons. If your goal is to write a light fluffy romance thing and you’re relying on the mostly realistic portrayal of their relationship to drive the primary enjoyment and narrative, then please steer clear of the amnesia route. At best your audience will be able to look past it (see: Golden Time). At worst you’ll just annoy them to the point that they can’t enjoy the rest of what you’ve done, which may still be good.

So, spoilers (not really): they take the obvious and easy way out very early on into the series; we’re talking like episode one or maybe two, I forget. Hase suggests she fucking write things down. Like, on paper. In a notebook. It boggles my mind how Fujimiya not once in her entire life thought of this obvious solution, even though she is portrayed as sharp and intelligent compared to her classmates and especially Hase himself. Argh… are you seeing yet why this show annoys me?

I’ve harped enough on the amnesia gimmick and why it poisons so much of the show from the premise outward, but like Golden Time I might be able to ignore it enough if the rest is good. Sadly, any few redeeming qualities are squandered on a lackluster script and production. Dialogue is overly simplistic and predictable. It’s not that everyone is personality-less but just that they are boring and unsurprising. Fujimiya is sweet underneath and troubled by her memory issue. Hase is a whiny mushy nice guy. His best friend is the aloof Rude But Cool type. There’s another girl they befriend later that is the clumsy annoying lazy kid type. The conversations they have rarely lead to any insightful commentary, laughs, or even just clever banter. It’s never bad. It’s actually mildly cute at times. But it’s dreadfully lacking in anything memorable because it never does anything but the entirely predictable thing. There’s zero impact.

Did I mention Fujimiya was innocent? Because that feeds into the dialogue problem: Hase and Fujimiya’s interactions are about as provocative as fruit bowl art. The romance is as mild as uncooked tofu and the drama only manages to perk up once, for one episode, briefly. Don’t expect any great payoff by the end, either, because it’s not like they ever really solve the memory thing nor do they ever advance romantically beyond friends, despite Hase’s wishes. I hesitate even to really call this a romance or comedy or combination really. It’s far more just a slice-of-life with its pacing and progress. Which is… fine, if that’s what you want. (I do suppose the title is One Week Friends not One Week Lovers…)

From behind a fence we see Fujimiya and Hase in a more dramatic scene against the bright sun

And, I guess… that’s okay. I actually didn’t hate this one despite my harshness above. It was occasionally cute and easy to watch inoffensive pablum. The production is mostly just serviceable, with voices being fine, music unremarkable, and the animation itself simple yet consistent. There’s certainly worse to see out there and maybe this one would strike your chord better than it did for me. Initially I was more favorable but the more I look back on it critically it’s hard for me to give this one any recommendation.

As of this writing, you can watch Isshuukan Friends for free on Crunchyroll.

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