Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

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Adapted from the seinen manga by Jun Mayuzuki, After the Rain (Koi wa Ameagari no You ni) is a tender-hearted romance about a bold high school sophomore, Akira Tachibana, who develops strong feelings for the charming middle-aged manager, Masami Kondou, at the restaurant where she works.

A story that should’ve induced endless cringe was somehow realized into an uplifting slice of life. It certainly helps that Kondou, colorfully performed by the resonant Hiroaki Hirata, isn’t the one doing the pursuing. When Tachibana’s feelings for him become evident, he reacts responsibly. He’s fully aware of the ramifications of dating a teenager at his age, and is understandably resistant to the idea.

Tachibana, voiced with a quiet sharpness by Sayumi Watabe, is surprisingly insistent when it comes to what she wants, though guarded enough to not share everything about herself. Her apparent coldness frustrates Haruka Kyan, an old track partner who longs to rekindle the close camaraderie that they once had. Tachibana, who was—and still is—an exceptional runner, opts out of competition due to an injury, and seems quite content with spending the bulk of her social time pursuing Kondou. She distances herself from Kyan, perhaps because they’ve grown apart, or because Kyan brings back memories that she wants to forget.

Initially, I didn’t quite understand why Tachibana would be attracted to someone as old as Kondou. It wasn’t until around the fifth episode, when we get a glimpse of Kondou’s personal life, that it started to make sense to me. Outside of work, Kondou lives a modest life as a bibliophile and single father. He’s a caring parent to his young son, Yuuto, and maintains a comfortable home when the two of them are together. Tachibana likely sensed this kindness from her time with him, and thus sought him as a refuge after losing motivation for most everything else.

Director Ayumu Watanabe, who also helmed the anime classic Space Brothers, brings an understated sophistication to the performances and atmosphere. After the Rain doesn’t fear placidity. Scenes often break from the commotion to dwell with the surroundings, which are typically dressed with a relaxing ambience and rain covered petals.

The biggest negative for me was Ryousuke Kase, a character who appears in the fourth episode. In total contrast with Kondou, Kase has a lustful and self-serving interest in teenage girls. With near supernatural ability, he finds a way to interject himself into Tachibana’s life, and even gain leverage over her. Thankfully, the adapters realized that this character was about to break everything with contrived drama, and they quickly pushed him to the side; we don’t see much of him thereafter.

There was a moderate amount of what some academics have snidely deemed as “male gaze”, where the imagery is seemingly framed from a straight-male perspective. In the case of this anime, the camera occasionally gives the viewer an alluring close-up of Tachibana’s modelesque demeanor. Seeing as this is a seinen targeted to teen and adult males—or anyone who appreciates a nice story—some light fanservice should be expected. Personally, I felt that these visuals aptly supplemented the sexual undertones of the material.

Animated with dazzling finesse by Wit Studio, After the Rain is a portrait of two people, initially separated by a generation, who are drawn together by intersecting circumstances. The overall emphasis, for better or worse, is more on the everyday character situations than on the romance. Ultimately, the story is an exploration of the efforts that we take to reconcile the loss of the things that we cherish—whether it’s an old friend, or the dreams that we strive for. If you’re looking for something sweet and innocuous with a dash of poetry, you may find satisfaction with After the Rain.

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Mushishi Zoku Shou: Drops of Bells

8UVg2gdOur journey with Ginko, which started in 1999, draws to an end with an adaptation of Suzu no Shizuku (Drops of Bells), the last arc of the acclaimed Mushishi manga by Yuki Urushibara.

In the first half of Suzu no Shizuku, a girl leaves her family behind when she’s summoned to be the next lord of a mountain. Thriving lands, called “Rivers of Light”, require the presence of a lord to maintain the balance of life around that area. Choosing a human as a lord is an unusual move, however. Such a task is usually delegated to animals since they live with fewer emotional attachments.

Several of the introspective themes that were explored in previous arcs are summarized here—most notably interconnectedness, the indifference of nature, and the necessity of letting go. All life—plants, animals, and humans—are dependent on each other, and influenced by the ripples of cause and effect. Nature, which is personified in Suzu no Shizuku as the mountain lord, acts as the unbiased mediator. The overarching lesson is that we should appreciate what we have, and not cling when the time comes for us to move on.

The second half concludes this story without quite concluding the series. The ending leaves some of the questions that were raised in the previous arcs unanswered, but it ties up enough to provide a mostly satisfying conclusion, which I’ll refrain from detailing here. It’s something that really should be appreciated without any spoilers.

The art, animation, and sound design have remained remarkably consistent over the years. The backgrounds in Suzu no Shizuku are just as gorgeous as they’ve been since the first season aired in 2005; the character and special effects animation are fluid and precise; and the soundtrack features the subdued and ambient melodies that have become hallmarks of the series.

When you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that Mushishi, which is essentially about life experiences and nature, was made with such a substantial budget in today’s impatient, thrill seeking, climate. I’m grateful that ArtLand was willing to take a chance on such an esoteric and spiritual story, and that it’s been successful enough to adapt in its entirety. It’s been a truly remarkable experience.

Wolf Children

6711A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories. What’s less familiar is for this story to extend beyond the relationship, and detail the hardships of raising “half breed” children in a prejudiced society. 

On the surface, such a premise may seem absurd, but Wolf Children works thanks to the decision of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda to take a fantasy story and package it as a coming-of-age drama. There’s a lot of wonderful humor here, but the characters and their experiences are taken with the utmost seriousness. 

Hana is the quintessential altruistic mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and children. When she has time to herself, she spends it idly and alone. There’s a niceness and a sadness to this. It’s nice how helping others seems to be her biggest motivator. However, it’s also sad since she does so little for herself. Perhaps providing for her family is enough? 

Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame, are opposites of each other. Yuki, the girl, is rambunctious and loud, and Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more girly, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the more fun character, more screen time is spent on her, and, consequently, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels abrupt and overdramatic. 

Visually, Wolf Children is clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and animated with generous inbetweening. The designs are neither cartoony nor realistic; they’re a mix of the two, leaning slightly more toward realistic. Background characters are in 3D with cel shading, and the background art is detailed without calling too much attention. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings. 

Wolf Children seems to aspire to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. While it doesn’t quite reach this level, it comes extremely close. There are some aspects of Wolf Children that could be nitpicked, and some aspects that could even be considered troublesome, but the general experience remained a powerful one that I felt long after the ending credits rolled. This is an anime that I won’t soon forget.