Like Kaoru way back a few months ago, Rihoko was someone who already shared a friendship with Junichi, though, in her case, it went way back to childhood, not just a few years. At points while watching this arc and Kaoru’s, the same thought occurred to me several times: what if Junichi doesn’t “win” this time around? What if these girls who start out as friends, end up as friends as well? I thought it would be a great idea, the ultimate FU to the viewers expecting the couple to end up together as expected.
Well, be careful what you wish for.
The arc started off giving me hope, especially with Rihoko’s narration stating outright that she had an unrequited love for Junichi. The problem was that things never went further than that. Instead of focusing on the relationship between Junichi and Rihoko, the show focused on the succession of the tea ceremony club. With the ice skating and Christmas festival, the show showed sparks of impending romance at times, but in the end, Rihoko explicitly gave up – though I don’t know that she even tried – and remained “happy” remaining still with her unrequited love.
Rihoko’s arc was even more similar to Kaoru’s arc in that way – sterile and devoid of emotion, which is why they didn’t end up together in this arc and why everything felt so forced and artificial in Kaoru’s. Except Rihoko’s arc suffered in all 4 episodes instead of just the last 2. Also like the Kaoru arc, this one didn’t exploit the preexisting friendship between the 2 enough. Since Rihoko was a childhood friend, there was a lot more material there to use, but besides a few amusing flashbacks in the first half of the arc, the fact proved to be inconsequential. Really, for these 2 heroines, the “friends” thing was more of a feature to be checked off than a genuinely meaningful character trait.
It’s telling that the climactic moment of the arc and the final scene was about Junichi and Rihoko running the tea club. Where was the charged emotional content? Where was the romance? When I envisioned Junichi “losing,” I pictured it as a true loss, a separation of two people who have feelings for each other but who can’t be together for whatever reason. I was foolish to hope for such complexity and drama from Amagami SS, I suppose.
Another source of hope at the beginning that was quickly dashed was that Rihoko was narrating at the start. Could the arc switch around the main character, have it follow her instead of him? Unfortunately, no. That particular narrative trick was abandoned quickly. Shame, because it could have made entertaining what was otherwise rather boring, much like how the sarcastic narration made Sae’s arc not only good but great. This arc began and ended following Rihoko as the main character, but everything was same old run of the mill in between. Or rather, it was less than run of the mill.
And what of our heroine? Rihoko was great as a side character in the other arcs, but as a protagonist proper, she was just boring. Her spinelessness with respect to Junichi’s ignorance of her feelings – even in the face of constant encouragement from her friends – was what really took down this arc. With the parties lacking the desire or the initiative, no chemistry could develop. At least she always looked cute while eating. Speaking of which, her complex about her weight stopped being funny or endearing a long time before the arc even began. And like everything else about this arc, this trait of hers didn’t develop at all and remained nothing more than a running joke.
The ED was decent, nothing to write home about. Not as good as Ai’s, which remains the best. But the cutesy animation went well with Rihoko’s innocent aura. And as I learned just recently from watching Kurenai, in which she sings the EDs, Ryoko Shintani has a fine singing voice. Ironic that the one “real” singer of the lot – Haruka’s voice actor Shizuka Itou – has had the worst singing in her ED so far, excepting Sae’s squeakfest (though everything in Sae’s arc gets a free pass thanks to the fact that the whole arc was meant to be ironic).
So this one was just a whole lot of nothing. I do give credit to the writers for having one arc end in “failure.” And I did like how it twisted the now standard format of ending things on Christmas Eve, instead placing the festival in the 2nd episode, not even halfway through the arc. But high concept alone isn’t enough to make a work good; what really matters is execution, and the execution just wasn’t there.
We’ve got one arc left, Tsukasa’s. I’m looking forward to finding out if there really is something dark behind her perfect image, but I’m certainly not looking forward to seeing how the story will fail once again. At this point, it’s safe to say that Amagami SS has been a huge disappointment. In order to redeem itself, Tsukasa’s arc will have to be the perfectly told high school love story in 4 episodes. It can be done, but I for one am not holding my breath.