Okay, so I was already pretty sure that this was going to be good after watching the first episode last week. Episode 2 though just completely seals the deal with excellent character development, a minor plot twist, and well executed emotional scenes.
Uehara? I think that’s his name. It’s only been two episodes, and it’s a fairly different kind of name than I’m used to seeing. (Note: fixed the name. It still looks odd)
ANYWAYS, this episode is about him. Whereas last week we built up Amano as a passionate, but off-track protagonist, this time we’re following a guy who’s made some changes. Uehara acts pretty distant and laid back when he’s with his gaggle of friends. He even ditches out on karaoke with everyone because he feels like the room is overcrowded, much to his girlfriend’s chagrin.
His whole day has been lackluster, but easygoing and carefree, he has a cute girlfriend (that he’s dating because he doesn’t hate her). He has friends he hangs around, but it doesn’t seem like they share a ton of interests. If you asked him though, he feels like his life is pretty sweet.
When he sees Amano skittering around the various arcade games, he starts to feel bad for the guy that they’d all ribbed on earlier that morning. Uehara takes pity on Amano and offers to play some together. They play a bunch of different games together and look like they’ve got a pretty good bromance going on.
What stands out though is how two of the games really show off that Uehara is actually a pretty strong gamer in his own right: The Persona fighter and the crane game.
The Persona fighter is the first game they play together and the one that Amano is most excited by. But when they start the game, Uehara confirms that Amano sucks harder than a three-dollar prostitute. They show actual Persona game play footage with annotations that demonstrate how badly Amano is at fighting games in general. The important thing here is that the commentary and analysis are all from Uehara’s point of view.
Uehara doesn’t just beat Amano, he beats Amano soundly without losing significant health. However, he does give Amano credit for looking like he’s having fun. During this fight, he starts to see a bit of himself within Amano.
The crane game has two parts. The first part is how Uehara meets Amano, and the second is when he’s making amends to his girlfriend by winning her a plushie.
During the first time, Uehara just left his group (the same group that’s cramming themselves into a single room for karaoke) and decides to play a crane game where the prizes are collectible vintage games. During the sequence, he starts to see his old self in his reflection. He calmly curses away his old image saying that he’s moved on and that he’s not “that guy” anymore. This literal “self reflecting” is caused by him watching Amano turn down Tendo (the blonde gamer who is currently stalking Amano) earlier that day.
His commentary on Amano during the Persona fight help paint the picture that he used to be a dedicated gamer himself. Key word is “used to be” though. Throughout his reflection, Uehara thinks about how he locked away that part of himself and worked hard to avoid being a geek when he got to high school. In a flashback where we get to see his bowl cut glasses look, it’s implied that he was either teased or ostracized for being as into video games as he was.
This feels like something that applies more to my generation than the younger ones though. It could just be because I spend every day working in a store full of gamers, but I was getting the impression that gaming was becoming much more mainstream than it had been years ago. Or maybe it’s because I’m actually just more plugged in now that we have this big, wide, internet thing letting us socialize through memes and blog reviews.
ANYWAYS, it’s because of his previous life as a gamer that Uehara (thank god I’ve had to type his name so many times, because I can finally remember what it is without looking it up) sympathizes with Amano and is willing to give the kid a chance. Amano dashes off after seeing Uehara’s friends (who, by this point, have only really been characterized as Uehara’s girlfriend Aguri, and a bunch of sardines content with being shoved into a single karaoke room). Uehara mulls over something for a few minutes before shoving his bag at Aguri and running off after Amano.
Uehara confronts Amano on the bridge. When Amano says that he wasn’t running away, he just didn’t think “someone with a life” would be interested in hanging out once Uehara’s sardine friends showed up. That’s enough to piss off Uehara who’s had to actively work for social acceptance. Uehara tries to antagonize Amano by calling Tendo’s club stupid.
Amano flips out, shoving Uehara against the railing. I love this because up to this point Uehara has actually acted like the proto-typical light novel protagonist. He’s cool, looks decent, and has some appealingly nerdy hobbies. But as soon as Amano has him shoved against the rail, Uehara loses his composure and starts freaking out. Normally the focus would be on Amano’s super cool speech about Tendo’s strong points. Instead, silly music plays as Uehara desperately tries to stay on the crossover bridge. He’s in complete bug out mode, reminiscent of when we got to see his inner thoughts in episode 1. Any remnant of a cool, collected protagonist is thrown out the window.
As an aside, this is part of what makes their budding bromance appealing. Amano bucks the trend of protagonists with his skewed priorities. You can argue that he’s kind of in a vein similar to Kazuma from the Konosuba series for his subversions, but for the most part Amano is a zag in a room full of zigs.
Uehara has been living his high school life like every other student. His style choices and behavior help him feel like a more typical light novel protagonist. But the moment that his life touches Amano’s, it’s thrown back into the the fun silliness that we often associate with video games. It’s because Amano doesn’t just love video games, Amano lives with a passion for them that helps Uehara is able to be “reinvigorated” by the end of the episode.
But what about that second scene with the crane game I mentioned? Well as much as I liked the episode up to this point, this is the part that really made me want to start hammering away at my keyboard.
Uehara makes peace with Amano and they apologize to each other. He heads back to the arcade to find that Aguri (*scrolls up to make sure that it’s spelled correctly) was waiting on him, with his school bag still wrapped in her arms.
Uehara wins another plushie to make it up to her with the crane game. We go back to the self reflection metaphor, and Uehara feels compelled to ask Aguri why she wanted to go out with him in the first place. He assumes that she’ll say something shallow like “I think you look good”.
Aguri meets his expectations at first by talking about how she thought he was so awesome, but it wasn’t just from his looks. Back when they were in middle school, he won a plushie while she was watching him. He gave her the plushie, which made an impression on her. She found out they were going to the same high school and she resolved to ask him out. But because Uehara turned into “such a hottie”, she worked hard to give herself a makeover.
This. This is what Uehara needed to finish this mini-character arc. With just Amano, Uehara probably would’ve gradually gotten back into gaming and realized that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his current life. But with this new confession from Aguri, he realizes that he has someone who knew him from back then and STILL LIKED HIM. Suddenly, he has validation for who he used to be as well as who he is currently. It’s okay for him to start opening up about the things he loves to the people who’ve gotten to know him since his transformation.
Suddenly, Aguri looks overwhelming cute to him. The affectionate cuddling that he handled with indifference now throws him off balance, and makes him feel so self conscious that he bolts to get away. It’s such a stark contrast to how he handled it before, and I can’t praise the show enough for giving us that emotional twist to really drive home how Uehara’s changed.
The very next day, he thanks Amano for the game recommendation and starts talking to his sardine friends about how he’s really gotten into video games. Everyone laughs, Tendo is heads over heels in love with Amano, and I’m pretty sure Aguri is hoarding cat plushies the way only horror stories can portray.
This is why I feel like I’m really going to enjoy this series. In a single episode, we got an entire character arc that had a satisfying conclusion. That’s not to say that Uehara is done growing, or that we aren’t going to see him develop any further. Just this much is enough to help him feel like a very strong character, and worth rooting for.