What’s it about? Rikuo Uozumi has never much been one for effort or putting himself out there. And now, a few months after graduating college, he’s working in a convenience store, and dealing with the fact that his crush Shinako, now a high school teacher, is back in town. He’s ready to just keep on keeping on, but when a teenage girl named Haru with the ability to communicate with crows appears, things get shaken up. She seems to know him, but he doesn’t remember her. Could she be the missing piece of his life?
“This whole thing smacks of manic pixie dream girl,” I holler as I overturn the coffee table in my living room and turn spring premiere season into shit premiere season.
Okay, I know there’s been a lot of cultural backlash against the “manic pixie dream girl” terminology. It was overapplied, and became synonymous with “slightly weird girl” in any form of fiction. That was bad. But every so often, a story comes along that so closely follows the tropes that it’s impossible not to bring it back up. As of the first episode, Sing “Yesterday” for Me appears to be one of those stories.
Rikuo is the archetypal disaffected male who doesn’t really care about anything in his life and is just kind of drifting along. Haru is cute and peppy and quirky with her pet crow and all–not to mention younger, because gotta fetishize the high school girl. She’s persistent, too, showing up at Rikuo’s workplace even when he seems to take little interest in her. She inspires him to put himself out there and confess to his crush! And even though he got turned down, at least he tried! And now he’s available for Haru!
But… but… I’m still going to give it the old three-episode try.
“But Caitlin,” I can hear you saying, positively tearful, “you just spent two paragraphs and a retooled dril tweet tearing it to shreds. You’re still going to give it a chance? What’s more, you’re asking us to give it a chance?”
“Well, yeah,” I respond, “but it’s really, really pretty.”
I’m not one of the sakuga types who’ll watch a show just because they like the aesthetic, but Sing “Yesterday” for Me’s is so powerful that it really did draw me in even when the plot was a bit tetchy. Doga Kobo has long held a reputation for making the most gorgeously animated moe girls and predatory lesbians, and now here they are, using their powers for… good? Okayness? Either way, it’s stunningly animated. Every motion is fluid and naturalistic, and the characters’ body language and facial expressions are expressive. The attention to detail in every frame and the color palette of gentle earth tones pulled me right in, even as my critic brain resisted.
And to be honest, we don’t know whether it’s going to be a manic pixie dream girl story or not. This is just the start of the story after all, and I’m not at all familiar with the manga. There’s plenty of space for them to actually give Haru a personality and purpose outside of lighting up Rikuo’s life and teaching him how to live again. What’s more, she’s quite troubled herself.
According to her, her pet crow is her only family, and she was expelled from high school for working in a bar. She keeps trying to bum cigarettes from Rikuo, and nothing quite screams “troubled teen” in fiction like underage smoking. If Haru turns out to have her own internal life outside of being specifically calibrated to teach Rikuo how to live again, this just might be redeemable.
But even then… there’s a problem.
Once again, we come to the problem of age-difference relationships. Considering she’d be in high school if she hadn’t been kicked out, it’s kind of an issue that she’s pursuing a man in his 20’s. I’m tired of rehashing those old arguments, so can we all just agree that it’s an issue that shouldn’t be glossed over? Not to mention the way Rikuo’s coworker drools over her… ugh. It’s an issue.
It’s a crowded season, and Sing “Yesterday” for Me may not be my best pick, but it still manages to set itself apart by sheer technical achievement. That may not make you feel as charitable as it does me, but I’ll at least be around for the three-episode check.