- Make very material muffins with very material ingredients
- Pray at the altar of another dead person
- Go screaming through the woods because someone says they saw your ghost. Oh, yeah - that's you!
Without question, this has been the most consistently involving series of the season for me so far. All three episodes have been stellar, and emotionally right on target. There was an awful lot happening in the third episode, which felt like it lasted about four minutes - but it didn't feel rushed. In Mari Okada I trust - she knows her way around both plot construction and human emotions. She's good.
Although perhaps my favorite line of the episode was Menma's "I'm dead, too - but I'm doing great right now!" while praying at Jintan's mother's altar, I think the truest scene was Jintan's walk to school. The internal monologue playing in his head - "Sweat. People. Glances. Sweat. People. Disgusting." - that was perfect. No one who has never missed extended time at school can understand just how difficult it is to bring yourself to face it all again. The conflict within him was beautifully portrayed - the genuine desire to keep his promise to Anaru and please Menma vs. his fear and loathing (projected both inwards and outwards).
We also know, now, that his last words to Menma are not the only regret poor Jinta is carrying with him. His mother died young, of illness - and while we don't know if the scene in the hospital was the last time he saw her (probably not) it represents another moment he can never make right with another loved one forever gone. It's becoming clear than Jinta is a perfect example of how the sheer weight of regret can take an ebullient, outgoing and confident child and turn him into a beaten, mournful young man. That, as much as anything, has to be part of what brought Menma back.
Speaking of her, there are a couple of mysterious bookends involving our little ghost at either end of the ep. The first being Poppo's glimpse of "her" while taking a moonlit piss, the second being Yukiatsu's claim that he saw her when he arrived at Poppo's BBQ at the clubhouse. Given the clues revealed earlier this week by enterprising viewers - namely, that Poppo's "ghost" was wearing a wristwatch - my theory is that it was actually Yukiatsu in drag - which would also explain the dress-sniffing scene in episode two. So Yukiatsu isn't just sniffing Menma's dress, but wearing it? I guess that's even creepier - but if anything it makes me feel sorry for him. As for his claim at the end, my suspicion is that it was simply a bogus claim to try and draw some attention to himself. It appears from the flashbacks that Yukiatsu was always at the fringe of the group, and certainly resented Jinta for always being at the center of attention - which of course he was again with the ghost story.
The entire BBQ scene, in fact, was revelatory to say the least - another great bit of writing. It acts as a natural follow-up to the Nokemon scene last week, which was so wonderful - and the magic this week was in finally seeing all five (or six, depending on your POV) Super Peace Busters together. Like the Nokemon scene, despite the awkwardness you could still see the connections between all of them - the strings of fate that brought them together as kids, still intact. All of these characters are fleshed out, complex and real - contrary to many other pretty good series this season that are struggling to make their characters more than two-dimensional plot devices - but it was Yukiatsu and Tsuruko who were last to be fleshed out. Tsuruko's choice of candles for the BBQ - eerily lit in the night forest in a beautifully staged and animated shot - revealed almost as much about her as her conversation with Anaru (looking adorable with her hair down). The tension between them was thick enough to cut with a knife, but you could see what was lurking underneath - Anaru's frantic desire for acceptance, Tsuruko's effort to retain the icy facade and not show the affection she clearly felt.
Lastly, how great - again - to hear the Cross Game leads in action once more. Miyu and Haruka-san especially shone this week - I can't imagine anyone else capturing the complexity of feeling that Jinta is struggling with, and nobody does brash overcompensation better than Haruka. As with Aoba, she has the ability to take what could have been a standard tsundere role and fearlessly show us the vulnerability underneath.
This is great stuff, really - top-notch drama that's firing on all cylinders. I remain astonished that this show is as popular as it appears to be, but let's hope it keeps up and the studios take notice.