Every so often, I stumble upon an anime series that just seems to get it. The show will be written in such a way that it knows precisely what story it wants to tell, understands the span of time it needs to fill, figures out a proper scope of characters, and then turns all its focus into the execution of story and the growth of its cast. This level of polish does not have to be genre specific; great examples across different styles of work would be Clannad, the Crest of the Stars series, Katanagatari, Mushishi, and Tokyo Magnitude.
For those familiar with my ratings over the years on Anime-Planet, you’ll know it’s damn hard for me to give a series an 8 or above – especially when it comes to romance. Having watched anime for over 20 years, I’m quite the snob when it comes to picking out critical flaws in a series and slamming its scores because of them. Thus, when I say Just Because nobly tips its hat in the ring of contenders of “great” anime series in the 8+ category, and it’s a romance, you can be sure that I think pretty highly of the show. Indeed, despite being a high-school drama/romance, Just Because knows precisely what it wants to do and what story it wants to tell. It steers away from the many of the flaws that plague similar contenders, such as Myself;Yourself and True Tears, which all suffer crippling problems with character development or story pacing.
The show has five main characters and a handful of minor support cast, but balances screen time very well. Cuts between characters and the interwoven story arcs are handled skillfully to keep the emotional tug and pull of the story steady and balanced. Too many times a drama or romance series will want to overplay its emotional strings, causing an early peak-and-crash or a sense that the events are fake or forced. In contrast, Just Because has a surprising dearth of melodrama or angst, and avoids tedious filler or belabored side plots to try to give meaning to conflict between the characters. The writers instead include many scenes with the characters’ families, handled with a delicate and deft touch to individualize and distinguish each backstory and provide a very realistic sentiment as to why the characters interact with each other the way they do.
Overall, the story juggles a handful of themes – ranging from nostalgia, duty, heartbreak, and love – with a certain elegance that only the top tier of storytellers can produce. Just Because is a fundamentally simple tale designed to make you empathize and relate to its characters, partake briefly in their fictional lives, and then move on with that small tug in your chest and a faint smile on your lips. It taps into that baseline essence that, despite having vastly different lives and circumstances, all its viewers will understand and share. In the series’ own words, it hits a “home run.”
The animation of Just Because is by far its weakest attribute, plagued at times with awkward character animations and some scattered frames. Still, overall the series is visually pleasing, focusing heavily on mood-based lighting and detailed backgrounds. The monorails and cityscape architecture, especially, are exceptionally well-drawn and compensate for some of the character flaws. It’s clear the animators cared about doing the best they could on a drama/romance series, and the attention to subtleties gives the show a solid visual score.
The soundtrack in Just Because is awash with soft violin, guitar, and piano pieces that shift ever-so-slightly to target each scene’s intended vibe. While many series have a wide range of musical style, bouncing back and forth between high-energy and slow-dramatic tracks, there’s a certain steadiness and consistency with the overall musical score that just works. The music plays a major role in keeping the story’s intended emotional pacing, and always carries with it a drop of lingering sadness that perfectly conveys the presented themes.
While many romance series start with a generalized archetypes for characters, all five of the main cast in Just Because are unique and avoid standard tropes. The three female leads – Mio, Ena, Hazuki – all feel very well fleshed out. Each character has certain themes which all foil and interplay with one another: Mio’s story is one of nostalgia and unrequited love, Ena’s of loneliness and heartbreak, and Hazuki’s of longing and duty. Though the story avoids prominent twists and turns such that the big-picture events are largely predictable, the manner in which their tales are told is exceptional. Both Mio and Hazuki are strong female leads, and each is likeable and relatable in how they struggle through their particular stories. I admit, at the beginning I disliked Ena’s character and thought she would be the odd one out, but by the end her story hit me the hardest out of all five cast members. The writers give only ever-so-subtle glimpses into her personal life, with some implications of alcoholism and a certain level of neglect by her family, but at her core she’s a girl burdened with a remarkable amount of hurt who constantly wears a big smile. Her final scene is particularly touching despite the viewer knowing it’s coming for quite some time, and still managed to deliver a good wallop into the old feels.
Eita and Haruto are the two male leads who, like the girls, are both are believable and solid. Each has a very different personality, but the writers foil the two with one another quite well in order to push the romance arcs along. Haruto probably grows the most out of all the characters, starting as a charismatic and charming guy who falls apart around girls before turning into a patient, collected young man who begins to understand that the pacing of life and relationships is not all about feelings and passion. Eita’s the quiet type whose social circle is constantly torn apart due to his father’s work, but he’s written such that he’s not an awkward or antisocial buffoon. Despite being fairly stoic, his writing highlights an honesty and straightforwardness that makes the girls’ attraction to him believable – none of the “harem of girls attracted to loser nerd” syndrome is present in his character.
My only real major complaint with Just Because is how it wraps up Eita’s and Mio’s arc – it feels as if the last episode ran out of time to finish their story, and crammed together a trimmed version to give the story its close. Still, in the grand context of the show, this is a pretty minor complaint, and all-in-all I have no substantive criticism of how the characters are given closure.
Just Because is a somber, emotional, and beautiful dramatic tale conveying the story of five friends wrapped up in the turbulence of life. While set in a high-school with young characters, the themes presented have a definite cross-age appeal, as they target the human experience in ways that extends beyond a simple school setting. With perfect pacing and solid direction, the show knows exactly what it wants and executes near-flawlessly. Despite some minor flaws that aren’t really worth mentioning further here, the show really stands firmly as top tier in the genre – for any fan of drama/romance, this is a must watch.