Yesterday wo Utatte, Episode 1

I’m just happy about this thing—and I hope I have more reason to be in the future!

At about the ten-minute mark of the first episode of Yesterday wo Utatte (Sing “Yesterday” for Me), I was starting to feel like the episode was getting ready to close, so I took a quite look at the time. 10 minutes. That’s how long it took this premiere to cover what felt like a single episode’s worth of content—and then it just kept going and going and going until it finally ended with Rikuo snapping Haru’s picture. In an episode completely hung up on a near-past that feels inescapable, it seems as if that picture might be the first, very small step forward.

For those of you who might not already be aware, Yesterday wo Utatte is an adaptation of a completed manga from a number of years back, and will be getting 18 episodes (you can more details on the production of the show on Sakugablog). All of that is pretty unusual in our contemporary anime space, but having seen the first episode, it’s clear that this show might very well be unusual within the context of anime as a whole.

As seems to happen all too often to me these days, the thing that’s most remarkable about Yesterday wo Utatte‘s premiere is the thing that’s almost most difficult to explain—you truly have to watch it to understand. A good script is one thing, but the way the episode just flows effortlessly from one small conversation, one bubble pop in the character’s somber lives, to another is something else entirely. Every moment is exactly as long as it needs to be, but no more. Big details are revealed through short lines (and through meaningful cinematography as well), so there’s no labored exposition.

And all this results in an episode that truly feels like we’re just living these characters’ lives alongside them. The ten-minute mark I mentioned earlier comes in the middle of Rikuo and Haru’s first conversation in the park, in which she asks him if he remembers when they met. Rikuo’s response is a characteristically elusive, “I have too many things that I’d rather not remember,” and in thinking it was characteristic I realized that I already had been given enough to understand the kind of person Rikuo was. In 10 minutes!

Now, this isn’t to say that Yesterday wo Utatte achieves the same feat with the other characters, namely Haru and Shinako. Rather than presenting them as fully fleshed-out characters by the end of the episode, Yesterday is content with instead dropping hints about who these two women are beyond being potential players in a love triangle (although I do love the uncomfortable, dysfunctional romantic tension in the air). Haru, for example, already seem unable to maintain the nonchalant, cheerful mask she puts on, in ways obvious as not so much. In the first park conversation, her pained reaction (and quick recovery) to Rikuo’s fair but ungentle comment about being followed around by a random chick are illustrative of a person easily hurt but unwilling to show that vulnerability.

There’s much more of the story to be told, but these kinds of small highlights may very well be representative of both a narrative that allows these kinds of complicated people to exist within it and a production staff that fully understand the characters and material they are working with. The whole premiere’s a tour de force of animation-as-character, and this level of insightful character acting, again, is something that can only happen when the creators have a clear vision for who these characters are.

Last, but not least, the final stand element of Yesterday wo Utatte‘s first episode is the general cynicism and world-weariness pretty much all of the characters display. Haru calls relationships “illusions,” Shinako in flashbacks seems pretty down on her job prospects despite knowing what she wants to do, and Rikuo gets called out multiple times by others and by himself for his self-pitying, low-effort engagement with life. Rikuo’s self-awareness about this actually made me a little open to his character than I think I would have otherwise been. He’s not really under any illusions about the lies he tells himself, and the moment of catharsis he finds in trying to push himself forward is telling—even if he does have it while laying a pile of garbage.

The fact that this ennui is shared by all the characters gives the episode a really cohesive feel, as if it’s a quality possessed by the show as a whole rather than just being a feature of the individual characters. That’s an appreciable characteristic because it may very well lead into some genuine thematic work.

Obviously, it’s very early, so I don’t want to be too excitable. But the overall level of excellence in the writing and visual execution somehow put me in the mind of Toradora! There’s just a solidity to the characters that arises so quickly, and the potential for a character-driven thematic throughline (coming to terms with adulthood in Yesterday where Toradora! was more about overcoming our masks, perhaps?) is thrilling.

But we can’t really tell anything for sure at this point. Suffice it to say that this is easily the premiere of the season so far for me—and who knows if anything will be able to beat it? There are still some heavy hitters to come, but I like Yesterday wo Utatte‘s chances.

(And yes, this post means I might try to cover it weekly.)

16 thoughts on “Yesterday wo Utatte, Episode 1

  1. Wow! One of my all-time favorite manga that I never dreamed would be made into an anime. I loved it because it’s about aimless young people—so it’s very realistic in my eyes, having often been just as aimless.

    Will you please mention where this can be seen? I want to jump on it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the anime certainly captures that feeling of aimlessness very well! It’s certainly relatable to being a young adult today – perhaps being a young person in society never really changes.

      And it’s airing on Crunchyroll this season. I believe they have rights for most of the world.

      Like

  2. I’m so happy that Doga Kobo decided to stretch their wings. They’ve been playing it very safe with their CGDCT shows over the past few years. They do a good job with those, but I think their last ambitious shows were Plastic Memories or Donten ni Warau back in 2014/2015.

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    • Well, they had Tada-kun Falls in Love from a few years ago, which is in a similar wheelhouse to this, but with a far less compelling visual aesthetic. And, reportedly, it. So they definitely do have these kind of form-breaking shows in them, but it seems they may have hit a jackpot for this first time with Yesterday.

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        • Tada-kun was a major disappointment . They made is so easy to accept that he was isolated and unlikely to reach out… And then expected us to buy the completely un-foreshadowed behavior in the final ep. A forced binary flip rather than any kind of organic growth.

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  3. After the premiere I looked up the director: Fujiwara Yoshiyuki: GJ Bu, Mikakunin de Shinkoukei, Plastic Memories. I had two opposite reactions: makes sense, he’s good at body language. And: but hasn’t he always been more cartoony in style? Excellent first episode. I’m glad to hear it’s more than just a regular season: 18 episodes sounds like they have a solid plan. You wouldn’t set up something this unusual, if you didn’t.

    What struck me was that the show has a clear anime aesthetic, but also somehow feels more naturalistic in animation than usual. My spontaneous reaction was Monogatari franchise, but grown up (style wise) – not sure why. It’s a very odd style, and works sooooo well.

    Are there going to be follow-up posts? If so, I’ll probably check back more regularly. (I only just noticed that you’ve watched Sora no Woto.)

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    • All those, plus New Game! as well. I didn’t finish PlaMemo and haven’t seen GJ Bu, but my experience with New Game! and Mikakunin is that even though he allows for a lot of cartoony stuff, he’s also a very grounded, sensitive director. Plus, the cartoony elements of all those might come from more of the source material (with the exception of PlaMemo, which I believe was an original).

      It is very naturalistic animation. A lot of focus on body language and movement that you don’t see. Kind of live a stylized live-action, in a way.

      And if the rest of the episodes continue to be as excellent as the first, I’m certainly hoping to do the whole show. It’s been a while since I finished an episode and immediately wanted to write about it, after all!

      Like

  4. “Yesterday is content with instead dropping hints about who these two women are”

    Have to leave something for the second episode, neh?

    For me, I got huge Just Because vibes with maybe a faint hint of Welcome to the NHK… A very realistic character drama well grounded in the real world. NHK is slightly more fantasy, but features the same kind off unhappy characters who have none-the-less accepted and resigned themselves to being stuck in a rut…

    Either way, I’m edge-of-the-seat here for more.

    Note: I don’t know if we’re going to get all eighteen eps. The plans (in Japan) are to broadcast twelve, then stream six. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean two licenses and potential license hell.

    Like

    • Yeah, stylistically it does put one in the mind of Just Because. Ironically, Pine Jam’s off doing Gleipnir this season, which is about as far away from Just Because as you could possibly be, meanwhile Dogokobo’s over here doing… this.

      I pray we do get all 18. Maybe the fact that’s it’s all getting streamed overseas will ease the process.

      Liked by 1 person

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