Review: Golden TimePosted: May 23, 2014
Back when the Winter season was starting, quite a few people got hyped up for Golden Time. After all, it was an adaptation of a novel from the same author as ToraDora, and that’s a show that’s beloved by many people. So hopes were high that Golden Time would be able to recapture even a bit of that magic.
I would know, I was one of those people hyping it up.
So now that it’s over, everyone wants to know: was it any good? Though a surprising amount of people consider a different question to be even more important.
Which is better: ToraDora or Golden Time?
Well to figure that out, it… it’s ToraDora. There’s really no point beating around the bush when the more important question to answer is why. It’ll be easy enough to answer by reviewing Golden Time.
Golden Time actually starts off pretty damn well. Well, not including the weird audio issue the first and sixth episode had. That thing where the sound effects, opening song, and some of the background music were about five times louder than everything else? That was kinda weird.
Anyways, I really liked the start of the show because it reminded me of why I like ToraDora so much: characters finding themselves, in a sense. In ToraDora, it was the discovery of what it actually means to love someone, whereas in Golden Time, Koko gets something thematically similar and Banri struggles with his sense of identity and self due to his amnesia.
By the way, the whole “amnesia” thing is bullshit, but I’ll get to that later.
Back to what I was saying, let’s start with Koko. She’s absorbed in the concept of “The One” and how she’s destined to be with Mitsuo because they were childhood friends. They’re special to each other, so it’s only natural that they’ll get together and live happily ever after, just like the fairy tales.
But that’s not how thing’s are guaranteed to play out. Sure, it can happen, but just because you grow up with someone and are special to each other doesn’t mean you’re absolutely going to get married, have two kids, a dog, and a decent-sized house. So obviously Koko is in the wrong here, but this idea of how love works doesn’t make her a bad person, if anything it just makes her overly idealistic.
The scene where Mitsuo crushes this mindset is honestly the best part of the entire show, because Koko finally has to confront the fact that no, her feelings will never be reciprocated. You can see and hear her completely and utterly break down as she’s forced to come to terms with the fact that the ideal she modeled her life around was totally wrong. It’s the kind of thing I watch shows for in the first place: conflict, inner turmoil, psychology, and character growth.
It’s also nice that this change doesn’t happen immediately. She does some serious venting afterwards at the concert where she goes crazy, but it still takes her a few episodes to fully get over Mitsuo. When you hold ideals that strongly for a long period of time, it takes a bit of time to pick yourself back up.
Enough about Koko for now, let’s move on to Banri.
Loss of memory – or more precisely, identity – is basically the goldmine of character writing. You can still totally screw it up, but that doesn’t change the fact that an identity crisis leads to some of the best characters struggles. Banri has to worry about whether his current personality is anything like his old personality, if he’ll ever get his memories back, or whether any of that even matters. He’s practically a walking inner-conflict.
Golden Time actually manages to take this a step further though. Normally Banri is kind of a goofball who takes events in stride and has your pretty standard “nice dude” personality, but when he starts talking about his amnesia to Koko you can see how deeply it actually affects him. He gets really serious and almost forgets he’s telling someone these thoughts. It’s a nice way of developing his character: he’s dealing with a lot of personal shit, but for the most part he puts on a nicer, more lighthearted persona in his social life.
So Koko and Banri spend a fair amount of time together and learn about each other’s faults and issues, which makes it pretty natural that one of them would fall for the other. Namely Banri, seeing as Koko still had lingering issues about Mitsuo and all. In fact, you could say that Banri falling for her and confessing helped her fully get over him.
Not many episodes later, Koko tells Banri she has feelings for him too and they start going out. It’s then implied that Banri probably had the hots for Linda before he lost his memory, so it sets up for him having to struggle with who his current identity loves, and who he used to love. Again, it’s a clever predicament using the defining features of a character, rather than some stupid third-party crap most shows resort to to add DRAMA.
Unfortunately, this setup is also where the good parts of the show come to end. The rest of the show just chugs onward into a complete train wreck by the end. Seriously, the amount of potential that was completely wasted is actually kind of baffling when you stop to look at it all.
“But Riyoga,” I already hear you asking, “what exactly went wrong? And why did it go wrong?”
Well I can tell you it was certainly more than just the incredibly stupid decision of spawning Ghost Banri, that’s for sure. But he’s also the easiest and biggest target, so let’s start with him.
The immense stupidity of the very concept of Ghost Banri is only matched by how utterly unnecessary he was. Seriously, what did he actually add to the show other than padding the length of some episodes by whining to the camera with a constantly bored look on his face? His lack of emotion about being a ghost or whatever certainly isn’t going to endear me to his plight, that’s for sure.
He starts off as some kind of symbolism of the memories that Banri lost, but so what? All his existence does is serve to separate the conflict of identity within Banri by making a completely different person out of the lost identity, which is bad.
Think about it, wouldn’t it make more sense for Banri to struggle with himself over time with his identity crisis and which identity’s feelings he should respect? By having a second Banri, we then have two people with solid identities just fighting over possession of the body or some stupid shit like that. All this dumb paranormal angle does is weaken Banri as a character because we see his old identity as a completely different person, rather than something that’s a part of himself that he has to deal with.
Seriously, Ghost Banri’s existence is so fucking dumb and counter-productive to how Banri is initially set up that I could even see him as anime-original content that Chiaki Kon and the scriptwriter thought up and figured was a good idea. The scriptwriter worked on the scripts for the Key game adaptations that KyoAni did, so maybe it was his idea that Chiaki Kon greenlit or something. I mean those shows had drama and supernatural stuff and sold well so why the fuck not, right?
But no, turns out he’s in the original novels. To what degree, I don’t know, I haven’t read the things since I don’t know Japanese, I just checked the rough translations to see if he was in it at all.
Anyways, I said before that Ghost Banri starts off as symbolism. That angle for justifying his existence comes to an end when they start giving him goddamn superpowers.
What was even the point of letting him be able to control the weather and traffic anyways? He’s apparently pissed off that Banri is going out with Koko instead of Linda, so he decides to throw as many obstacles as he can at them. What does he hope to accomplish by this? I guess it’s an attempt to break them up, but that’s a pretty stupid plan. Plus, Banri has amnesia and doesn’t remember those feelings he used to have for Linda, so Ghost Banri is just coming off as a whiny brat. Maybe I should say even more of a whiny brat considering almost all of the flashback sequences consist of him whining about something. Such an endearing character.
I mean whining is one thing, but most of the flashbacks have him panicking to the point where he either breaks down and starts crying or runs away. You can have a sympathetic whiny character when they’re just in a generally shitty situation, typically where their life is on the line. Past Banri just isn’t one of those.
But wait, I still haven’t mentioned the most dumb and nonsensical scene this stupid plot-device of a character caused! Namely one in the final episode of the show.
I don’t think I have ever seen a show finish with an episode that so blatantly ignores common logic, in-show logic, and characters’ personalities in order to wrap up a bunch of loose ends. …Except for maybe No. 6. These events were so fucking stupid that… that it’s… I can’t even think up a dumb excuse for why this stuff happened, all I can do is point it out.
So Banri is running across the bridge as he’s chasing after Koko and Ghost Banri shows up. Except Banri can now see and talk to him for some reason. I thought the guy had amnesia, not schizophrenia. But wait, then Linda comes running out of nowhere and leaps into Ghost Banri’s arms because fuck it I guess he’s also tangible now somehow. Not only that, but she then tells him how she does (or did? I don’t even know) in fact love him because she can apparently talk to him now obviously and there’s clearly no better time to be saying all of this.
No really, why did Linda even show up? She ran to catch up to Banri and give him those running shoes back on the hill, but then she stayed there and yelled at him to go as he ran off. So why exactly did she run after him again? Was it just to see Ghost Banri and tell him her feelings? How did she know he was there? How would she even know who he was if she could? If she saw two of the same person wouldn’t the first thing out of her mouth be “what the shit is going on?” rather than “Oh hey I love you by the way.”
And why is Linda even telling him this? Her entire character was built around having feelings for Banri but pushing them aside so that he could move on with his life rather than try to cling to his past. I guess they figured it was more important to give Ghost Banri closure or something.
That’s the thing though, as much as I just railed on Ghost Banri and the amount of stupid shit he caused, he’s not the main problem with Golden Time. There are two huge issues: the first is, as I just mentioned, that the story is often in conflict with the characters so one will end up getting sacrificed for the other; and the second is that the main two characters aren’t all that great after they start going out. Though to be fair, these two problems tend to influence each other most of the time. Mainly how the story will sacrifice characters in order to progress in some way.
The biggest example of this is probably the part where Banri wants to go to the beach with Koko but he doesn’t have the money to pay for even his own ticket. He wants to get a job to pay for the trip, but Koko won’t let him because she wants him all to herself. It’s obsessive to the point of being disturbing, but at least that fit her character. The problem is when Banri has the idea to get a job anyway and hide it from her.
No, it’s not just because communication is probably the most important thing in a relationship; the issue is that his plan has a major hole in it so he comes off as being a humungous idiot. What’s the issue with it? Well, say his plan were to work and he got the money to pay for the trip. How the hell is he going to explain this sudden financial blessing after he already told Koko that a job was pretty much his only way to get money? The plan was doomed to fail from the start.
If it had been addressed at all that would have at least helped, but it never was. It just makes it seem like the show is forcing characters to behave in certain ways in order to create DRAMA. Yes, drama is needed for a couple in a relationship so they can learn from it become closer than ever, but when you cause it by forcing the characters to act in ways that don’t make sense, it just ends up ringing hollow because it feels like the story is forcing it rather than being genuine.
It goes both ways though. Whenever the story isn’t forcing conflict a whole lot of nothing is happening. There’s some comedy, which is actually pretty well done; there are a lot of great scenes caused by Banri being Tada “Motherfucking” Banri, among some other fun parts. But that’s about it, unfortunately. It’d be one thing if they were meeting new people or preparing for some big event, but no, there’s nothing.
The problem here isn’t just that more significant things should be happening, it’s that I don’t care about seeing the characters just hang around even though I should. Banri’s only interesting as a character through his amnesia and his more silly moments, though for those parts he seems to practically take on a completely different persona compared to his usual behavior. So up until the last few episodes – where his memories start going crazy – he’s just some dude. There’s no reason to care about him more than any other student at the college.
Koko’s character on the other hand takes a drastic dip after she starts going out with Banri. From that point on, she’s only really defined through her relationship with him rather than as an individual person. There’s an episode where she hangs out at Chinami’s place and they pick out bathing suits or something for the beach trip. This segment lasts for a bit over half the episode, and almost all of the dialogue is them talking about Koko’s relationship with Banri and how she wants to do things for him and such. They could have spent that time talking about what they wanted to do at the beach, or current school stuff, or anything that isn’t boys, really.
This failure to really care about or empathize with the lead characters comes through an aspect of the show that I’m still not sure whether was intentional or not. I know a lot of people are going to be confused and possibly baffled as I explain this, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: Nana is the best character in the show.
They seemed to try to make her weird and come off as a bitch a lot of the time, but the extremity of her lifestyle actually just served to give her the strongest personality of anyone in the show, and a lot of those “bitchy” moments actually have sound advice coming from them. Nana cares about the main crew, especially Linda and Banri, she just refuses to coddle them, which is why she comes off as bitchy to some people. You know, if you can’t read context at all. Seriously, there are times where Banri is just running away from his problems and she’ll get in his face and tell him to stop being an idiot. It’s great.
Now, it’s a good thing to have well-written characters outside of just the main couple, but when you have a character that’s… well, better than them, they kind of get overshadowed. A lot of the time I found myself thinking that instead of watching Banri and Koko, I’d rather be seeing what kind of zany things Nana was up to. Seriously, she comes off as someone who went through some rough shit in her past which is why she turned out the way she did, but at the same time she seems to be perfectly confident in who she is as a person. She’s just so interesting and cool that I end up wishing the show was completely about her instead.
And really, as much excessive detail as I went to, that is the problem with Golden Time: I just didn’t care about the people and things I was supposed to.
But hang on, I mentioned back at the start of these issues not only that there was a “what” went wrong to this whole thing, but a “why”. I’m not saying I know the absolute truth or anything, but based on what was presented in the show, I have a plausible theory for why this all went downhill, and the main clue lies in how all these issues started cropping up after Banri and Koko started going out.
I think the author, maybe a bit overwhelmed at the immense success that was ToraDora, wanted to try and follow it up with a story that was similar in a lot of ways. The main theme of it had been the discovery of what love really is, and the first major conflict in Golden Time is when Koko’s idea of love is contested by the guy she has feelings for. I doubt that’s a coincidence.
But at the same time, the author wanted to differentiate it from ToraDora, so the setting was changed to college, among some other, smaller tweaks. However, there was one other major change: the story would be about people in a relationship, rather than them eventually becoming an item at or near the end.
Yes, I’m saying the main reason a lot of people like this show – that it’s about people in a relationship – was the biggest mistake the author made. Let me explain.
There’s a reason most romance stories are about people getting into relationship: there’s a clear end goal or finish line or whatever, it’s the easiest point to develop the characters (or at least their thoughts about each other), and it’s the most easily relatable time frame – everyone’s had strong feelings to be with someone at some point in their lives.
Golden Time really should have been about the build-up to a relationship, not only because of the reasons I just listed, but also because Banri and Koko are characters that were practically built for it. The show should have really been about Banri developing feelings for Koko, but then having to deal with his past memories and feelings for Linda before he got into a relationship with Koko. It would have made better use of the conflict inside him, because once he starts going out with her you know he can’t just abandon her because of his past memories. It’s probably why they made it so that he’d forget his current memories whenever he regains his past ones.
As for Koko, she should have gone almost the entire show having feelings for Mitsuo. Her view on love is her most defining and interesting trait, which she loses when she starts going out with Banri. They should have had Mitsuo crush her hopes around the halfway point, and then the rest of the show would be her trying to get over him and redefine love.
Those changes would make the main characters a lot more likeable and interesting, and they could have them constantly developing with this setup, unlike the current layout where you have episodes where a whole lot of nothing happens. It would even link Banri and Koko together a bit more tightly thematically since the entire show would have both of them trying to come to terms with their past and present feelings. It just makes a hell of a lot more sense to me, and it also wouldn’t have Banri emotionally blackmailing Koko into a relationship with him. That shit was fucked up.
Oh right, speaking of Banri, I mentioned at the start of this whole thing that the amnesia thing was bullshit so I should probably explain that.
The dude doesn’t have amnesia. Well, I mean, he does, but that’s not his primary condition, it’s just a symptom of a larger problem. What he actually has is a severe case of dissociative identity disorder. It’s where you have more than one identity existing inside of you. More mild cases of it have people conversing with those other personalities actively, but in the worst cases, each of these has their own set of memories. Sound familiar?
It’s not the end of the world that the show fails to mention this or anything, I just kind of wish someone had mentioned it when Banri started changing into his old self and couldn’t remember anything in the present. In fact, I think at one point they still actively refer to it as just “amnesia”. But like I said, not a massive deal, and at least the author tried to label the illness, unlike a certain other popular author.
The potential was there for Golden Time to be a great show, I just think the author screwed herself over by making an effort to try and differentiate it in ways from ToraDora (assuming my theory is correct). I’m not sure I’d say the show is “bad” so much as it is just disappointing. There were parts I did enjoy, namely the first six episodes and the comedy scenes, but everything else was just poorly thought out. It’s still better than a lot of romance shows considering most of them tend to be downright offensive, but I can’t help but see Golden Time for what it could have been.
…No but seriously, what was up with that last episode?