For a group of high school seniors, a chance reunion with a transfer student will change the course of their final year. Eita Izumi has come back to his hometown after four years and encounters some unlikely acquaintances: Haruto Soma, Eita’s childhood friend; Ena Komiya, the photography student who witnesses Eita and Haruto’s reunion; Mio Natsume, whose feelings for her middle school crush still linger; and Hazuki Morikawa, a girl who seems uninterested in romantic relationships. When the paths of these five cross, their fates turn in a way none of them could have seen coming.
Source: Anime News Network
As slow coming-of-age stories set in high school go, Just Because! takes a slightly more interesting tack than many: all of the characters are in their final year as the show starts, on the cusp of having to decide what to do with their lives. Each character is caught in an in-between kind of space, their personal problems sometimes representational and sometimes directly related to anxieties over their futures.
Haruto and Komiya, for example, are passionate about their clubs; while Haruto seems content to aim for Nationals in his remaining time, Komiya wants to win a photography award to prove her club deserves to continue existing at all. Eita is among people he simultaneously knows and doesn’t know after almost four years away. Mio’s social life has completely vanished in favor of going to cram school. Morikawa is the only character whose goals are more hinted at than established, but seem linked to her future as a musician.
While the first half of the episode throws too many characters out at once and has an overall busy feel that’s hard to follow (the use of on-screen text messages is a cute conceit, but it’s one more overwhelming thing while the viewer tries to get their bearings), it finds its stride once Haruto and Eita reunite and things slowly coalesce into the other three characters reacting to the two-person baseball game. The episode shines there, bringing the viewer into the moment through a focus on small details like the turn of a foot or a ball flying across an otherwise still screen.
The little things are the best part of Just Because, in fact. It has a solid eye for details, like Haruto and Eita losing touch once they stop seeing each other every day in spite of their close middle school friendship. The dialogue is mostly natural as well, apart from a very Anime-feeling scene where Komiya protests her club being disbanded. There’s a strong feeling of “natsukashii” that doesn’t feel forced or overly nostalgic, a problem it’s easy for high school stories to run into.
The three girls are also well-established as people, with goals and friendships with female classmates. They feel important, even if the latter half of the episode mostly focuses on the two boys. It kind of breaks my heart that the last few minutes of the episode, along with promotional materials, skew this primarily toward being a romance.
While that “last chance” feeling of confessing to a high school crush is certainly part of the feelings of impending loss the series seems interested in exploring, there’s been many a promising slice-of-life that’s had the characters’ career goals, friendships, and family issues swallowed up by tension over whether their crush likes them back (an issue that also tends to disproportionately affect the girls).
If Just Because can keep its romance elements from taking over the story and hold onto the other character goals it established in its premiere, it could be a high quality coming-of-age drama. Any viewer who isn’t as gun-shy as me on the subject will definitely be rewarded by the premiere (if you have access to it, anyway—this is the first of this season’s Anime Strike titles).