To the eye of an outsider, things are going pretty well for Banri and Kouko, but there’s trouble swirling beneath the surface.
While Banri and Kouko seem to get along well enough I’m still not entirely clear on what Banri sees in her romantically. Based on what we’ve seen thus far it seems to boil down to two things: her physical attractiveness (no arguments here) and the fact that she happens to be interested in him as well. When talking with Kouko Banri always seems to perk up when the discussion moves towards the beach (previously Paris). I get it. He’s a college student. They’re kind of obsessed with that stuff. By the same token, if this is a typical college relationship that’s not the best argument in favor of its staying power as most college relationships end up not lasting. The record certainly is better than high school relationships but it isn’t great. The point is, Banri acting like a typical college male isn’t unexpected but it also isn’t particularly inspiring as far as their future together goes. Even when he isn’t talking about the beach with Kouko, Banri doesn’t exactly do anything to make us reassess his intentions. His discussion of his trip with the other male members of the festival club immediately turns to the physical, metaphorically speaking anyway. Then again, what do you expect when you ask a bunch of college guys for relationship advice?
There’s nothing inherently wrong in being keenly interested in the physical portion of your romantic relationships, especially in college. The issue is that Banri’s affection being based on Kouko’s appearance and her current attraction to him isn’t sustainable. Those two traits are too transient and/or easily replicated to be the basis of anything long term between them. For proof of this we need to look no farther than Linda where the mere idea that she might have feelings for him has Banri feeling very conflicted.
Kouko isn’t exactly doing herself any favors either with her extremely controlling tendencies. She claims that it comes from a place of love but it often feels like her commands to Banri are geared more towards ownership of him rather than being motivated merely by love as she says. Kouko talks a good game when she speaks of sharing their time together but the sacrifices here seem to be largely one-sided. This isn’t to say that Kouko is a bad person or anything. I think that at her core she’s a kind person with good intentions. Rather, I feel like she hasn’t mastered the concept of compromise and is simply a little (a lot?) tone deaf to the needs and desires of others. The maddening thing is that she’s has moments where she’s aware of this so while I see her controlling actions as grounds for Banri to want out eventually, I like her enough that the heartbreak that would ensue should he make that call would hurt me as well.
Banri’s selfish in his own right though, although his selfishness is directed towards Linda. It’s possible that when presented with the same situation involving Kouko, Banri would be just as jealous as he is about Linda being around other guys but the fact that this jealousy regarding Linda exists isn’t a good sign for Kouko. The other bad news for Kouko this week was Banri’s decision to lie to her about taking a part-time job to make some spending money. Kouko’s demand that he not take any job was certainly an unreasonable one, but the fact that Banri wasn’t able to work things out with Kouko and had to result to deceit is another strike against their relationship’s overall strength. Banri, like Kouko, continues to say all the right things about loving Kouko and not minding her clinginess but the fact that he’s willing to lie about his activities in order to keep her away says otherwise. What you think of their relationship going forward will likely hinge on how much you believe what Kouko and Banri say versus what they do.
Now it would have been nice if we just got a full episode of Banri and Kouko relationship progression but a certain somebody had something to say about that.
I generally feel like Golden Time is better off when it resists its sillier side and sticks to building the character relationships through more typical scenarios. I commented last week about how I don’t really like Yana and 2D-kun as comic relief characters. Their role seems symptomatic of a larger tonal issue that Golden Time has where the emotional depth of some scenes clashes with the intense silliness of others. That said, if there’s a studio that’s capable of melding the two effectively, JC Staff just might be that studio. JC Staff gets a lot of hate, including from me (*cough* Little Busters Season One *cough*) but they do have a certain talent for sometimes silly but emotionally deep romance stories. While the skill is unmistakable, their ability to do this will often hinge on the source material. We’ve seen JC Staff produce shows like Toradora and Ano Natsu de Matteru that were successful in this regard but they’ve also delivered some clunkers like Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo. Golden Time seems to be leaning towards the positive end of this spectrum although it still has some moments that make you shake your head and wonder what they’re doing.
The birthday party that Banri and Yana (and Nana and Linda) worked is an example of this type of misstep. We’ve had fifteen minutes of excellent character interactions and relationship drama and then suddenly Banri’s cross-dressing and Yana’s wearing a flesh-colored speedo. It’s a testament to JC Staff’s adaptation work and Takemiya Yuyuko’s writing that this doesn’t feel more dissonant but I still think Golden Time would have benefitted from the party being a tad less outlandish. It certainly isn’t as dissonant as Kyoukai no Kanata has been (look at me, KyoAni bashing) but it’s a flaw nonetheless.
For all the silliness we did get a couple insights into where things may be going from here from the latter portion of the episode. One moment that stood out to me was how Banri reacted when he realized that the second devil was actually Linda. He had just finished telling Yana that he wouldn’t mind Kouko seeing him in this outfit but he becomes clearly embarrassed when he’s caught in Linda’s gaze. It isn’t clear whether he was just talking a big game and in reality he would be equally embarrassed around Kouko in that outfit but it’s yet another data point indicating that Banri’s feelings towards Linda are fundamentally different from his feelings for Kouko. You can spin it as Banri being more comfortable around Kouko but I’m inclined to think it’s another point in Linda’s column as Banri cares more about what she thinks of him than about what Kouko thinks of him.
The other big moment of the second half of this episode came right before the credits rolled when we find out that Kouko was indeed the one who moved Banri’s picture of himself and Linda together in high school. I’m not sure exactly what Kouko hopes to accomplish by taking this photo but I can’t expect her to think rationally when confronted with the specter of Banri’s past relationship with Linda. It’s not clear what Kouko thinks their relationship may or may not have been but it certainly isn’t helping her internal stability or her rationality around Banri. This probably plays a big role in how much she tries to control Banri’s activities (and maybe even her switch from “Paris” to “the beach”). That would be an argument in favor of her being a good person and not simply an obsessive controlling girl but that it reflects better on her character is a small consolation when faced with the prospect of potentially losing Banri over it. The more reason Banri has to doubt his relationship with Kouko the more likely it becomes that he’ll make a move towards Linda and Kouko stepping up her clinginess and attempts to control him will not do anything to help.
Despite all of that I’m not convinced that this means certain doom for Banri x Kouko in the very long run. I certainly don’t see their relationship lasting in its current form through the next thirteen episodes, but the idea of second chances has been a recurring theme in Golden Time and I could absolutely see Banri and Kouko breaking up in the near term but eventually coming back together once they’ve gotten to know each other better and are ready to enter a relationship with better perspective rather than rushing into things like they did earlier. Golden Time has set up some intriguing possibilities and I can only hope the writers can keep their propensity for silliness under control enough for that potential to shine through.