Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

Never trust synopses prior to starting a series: That’s always been my belief when it comes to deciding what anime to watch. They never quite do a series justice. Just Because has been no exception to that watchword. Indeed, it has proven the rule. Far from being the story of a return of a classmate who brings happiness back to the lives of his listless, melancholy peers, he brings with him feelings long buried and the pain of opening old wounds—and another character entirely might be the real agent of change for the group.

Just Because presents us with characters who seem unwilling to answer or explore the question “why are we doing all of these things we do?” To say that in their third term of their third and final year of high school the characters are just going through the motions is something of an understatement.  Eita Izumi has transferred back into the area after four years of absence and he chooses to attend the same high school as one of his former club members and best friends, as well as the girl he has always mostly secretly liked. There’s not much to do in the last term. Most students are so busy preparing for exams or for graduation. Izumi would seem to have arrived at the worst time to rebuild old friendships or pursue an old flame.

Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

[This article contains spoilers for Just Because episodes four and five.]

The First Episode of Just Because Accurately Captures the Listlessness of Many Japanese Adolescents

I’ve previously explored how everyone in the series is locked inside a life they don’t particularly like. This is especially true of Haruto and Natsume. Haruto, Izumi’s former baseball club mate, has already obtained work after graduation and has already left his baseball club with nothing to show for it at the nationals. He seems to already consider his best days behind him. And Natsume is torn between a high school life full of only studies and a future of limited prospects. In the present, she uses studying for entrance exams to keep herself from making any decisions, frightened to make a decision in case it is a bad one. If you take the synopsis at its tone, well, then you might just think Izumi snaps these two out of their ennui and restores their happiness by being all awesome and fun-loving. Well, no.

As happy as Haruto is to see Izumi, and as happy as Izumi is to see Natsume, there are secrets that will soon come out. Haruto is desperately smitten with fellow high school classmate Hazuki (who has her own hangups about her brass band club’s failure to place nationally), but what Haruto doesn’t know is that Natsume has been in love with him since junior high school. Izumi, close both to Haruto and Natsume, figured it out quite early. What Natsume doesn’t know (but Haruto does), is that Izumi has been in love with her for that entire time and had carefully been watching her. This is how he realized her feelings for Haruto. No one is in love with the person who is in love them, and not everyone is on the same page about who feels what towards whom. This isn’t going to go well at all. 

Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

And indeed it does not go well, but in place of teenage ennui, instead we find that old feelings are erupting and our characters are starting to show life again. They’re hurting and they’re angry, but they finally seem not to be so content with just letting life happen at them. Haruto makes an obvious move and asks Natsume and Izumi to join him and Hazuki for a traditional New Year’s shrine visit. His intent is obvious, even to Hazuki, but going as a group gives him so cover. It also allows him to try to help his former best friend with the girl his friend likes. This, however, is a surefire setup for awkwardness between Izumi, who knows Haruto is the one she likes, and Natsume, who doesn’t know about Izumi’s feelings at all. It’s a disaster for all involved.

Embarrassed that his moment alone with Hazuki comes when a group of popular and nosy girls from their high school pass by, Haruto grabs her and drags her to a more secluded area. This is not an auspicious start, especially as Hazuki was already signaling that she had become uncomfortable with how close they had become in such a short period of time. Her signals were quite clear, but Haruto ignores them, choosing the worst possible time (a time directly after he ignored her bodily integrity and freedom of choice) to confess. And while Hazuki admits later she didn’t really consider his confession carefully, her rejection of him in the moment seems quite reasonable to me. Further, she tells Natsume that even if she gives him a carefully considered answer later, it will almost certainly be the same.

Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

Left on their own, the awkward alone time between Izumi and Natsume doesn’t go much better. Uncomfortable with the boy that she likes off confessing to someone else and embarrassed by being alone with the one boy who knows how she feels, she attempts to make light of her situation by again saying it doesn’t matter because her focus should be on studying. Although harsh, I agree with Izumi when he calls her on her bullshit, saying she’s just making excuses to avoid having to face her feelings. Angry, she tells him it’s none of his business and he’s not involved.

As viewers, we know how painful it is for him to watch Natsume suffering over Haruto, and we are not surprised when his equally angry response is to refute her assertion. He refutes it on the basis of what he knows and that she reminded him of what he knows (that she likes Haruto), but we also know he refutes it because he’s in love with her. The idea he’s not involved when the girl he likes actually likes his best friend, a best friend who tried to set it up to leave the two of them alone together, is patently absurd. 

The only character who seems to have avoided walking into emotional landmines is Ena, a second-year who still has a purpose and time to complete it. Her drive to save her photography club, and her belief that goals are best sought, actually serves more as a catalyst than Izumi. Ena’s constant badgering of the other characters to do things, say things, admit things, and reach for things, makes the gap between her and her seniors seem far more significant than one year. The synopsis makes it sound like Izumi is going to be the one to change the status quo, but he is just as listless as the others. Ena acts on him, and in turn, he acts on others. The question is, a year from now, how will Ena feel about her contributions?

Just Because can be watched subtitled on Amazon’s Anime Strike.

Comments (1)
  1. Thank you for making this review of Just Because. I was planning on skipping it but now I’m thinking of giving it a try. Thanks again, it’s really appreciated!

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