I wish I could say that the show bounced back strong after last week’s disappointing affair, but this episode was pretty limp as well. It was certainly more entertaining than last week’s, but not by much. To the show’s credit though, the ending twist to the second half was so unexpected and funny that it might have made up for the entire episode.
It feels as though the show has been packing more mini clips around the now standard half-episode segments, and the cold open to this episode was probably the most significant one yet. And it was actually really funny. I liked how it started off with Shizuka just finishing reading The Gift of the Magi, a classic and touching short story about a very poor husband and wife having to come up with Christmas gifts for each other (if you haven’t read it yet, you should do it. It’s only like 5 pages). The couple that comes into Shizuka’s shop in the cold open clearly don’t have such a loving relationship, though they do seem to have a lot of money. Watching Shizuka calmly and blatantly exploit them for financial gain was a riot.
Then came the first half episode, which was all too uneventful. It drove home one of my main problems with the so-called “slice of life” genre, which is that “slice of life” shows, in order to be successful, rarely show us just another slice of the characters’ lives; they have to show us something special, unusual, or interesting in some way. I guess Toshiko’s table tennis game against Harue sort of counts. At least the reference to Harue’s special training (via drums) from the previous episode was a nice touch.
The most enjoyable part was seeing the middle school versions/caricatures of Toshiko, Harue, and (especially) Futaba. It seems that the people at their middle school really took table tennis seriously. Hotori’s insertion into – and disbelief at – the scared townspeople flashback was quite funny. I did find it odd that Toshiko was shown to be a lefty in table tennis, even though she’s a righty when playing the violin. Since dexterity and precision are required for both activities, it would be highly unusual for someone to use opposite hands for them. I wonder if it was purposeful.
And then for the second half, featuring Shizuka doing some detective work of her own, all in order to track down a cookie with no source. Really, what made this segment was that completely unexpected ending. Yet the Town Keeps Going has been wacky, off the wall, and crazy at times, but it has never broken continuity or its own internal logic as far as I can recall, so I have no choice but to take this at face value and accept that, yes, there really are time travelers in this show which has suddenly gone down the route of science fiction.
Of course, chances are good that this is just a one time thing in order to facilitate this one gag, but already in this one episode, there’s more to this little side story. Specifically, the fact that the couple from the cold open were both from the future – the green haired wife being one of the people at the conference and the husband being the time traveler. Does this mean anything, or were the guys at Shaft just having fun using the same characters? What about the allusions to ancient artifacts and the effects of time on precious objects during the opening narration of the previous two episodes? And was Hotori right when she thought that a warp zone had been responsible for her falling off to the side in the first half of this episode? Is there some sort of time travel twist yet to be revealed in this show? Could this show be far more similar to Shaft’s other “seaside” cafe show, Natsu no Arashi! than anyone had previously thought!?
Probably not. It’s more likely to be a running joke, similar to the aliens in Pani Poni Dash! instead of being an actual plot point. Or maybe it won’t be a running joke at all, but just something to spice up this one episode that badly needed it. At least this show is keeping me guessing. But I’m hoping that the show quickly returns to the situational comedy that it had so excelled at instead of continuing with the gags and gimmicks that made these past 2 episodes so dull in comparison.