Asatte No Houkou

September 24, 2010

Be careful what you wish for no matter how much you want it. Maybe it does seem at the spur of the moment but if the wish doesn’t turn out to be as one desired and that there is no turning back, you’re going to regret for the rest of your life. That is what I feel when I watched another retro anime recently, Asatte No Houkou (The Direction Of The Day After Tomorrow).
 
It was one of those interval times whereby I take my time off ecchi and mindless fanservice comedies and go watch something which is more of a drama. It’ll be a good break, so I thought. Well, at least it satisfied my curiosity and dilemma whether if I should go ahead and watch this 2006 production based on a 5 volume manga of the same name. For those who aren’t into the slow pace of the romance drama and little fiction, you may find it hard to sit through the dozen episodes offered. I thought the synopsis of 2 girls who aren’t happy with their current lives somehow swap ages to be a little interesting, thus giving it a try.
 
Set in a sleepy town away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Shouko Nogami has just returned from USA and sees little Karada Iokawa praying at a small shrine believed to have stones that grant wishes in episode 1. She goes over to pray with her. Karada’s elder brother, Hiro, turns up and Shouko seems surprised. Come Sunday, Tetsumasa Amino and his sister, Touko, meet up with Karada, Hiro and Shouko at the train station to go to the beach. A flashback reveals Shouko knew Hiro as an acquaintance and she came back from USA to restart everything all over again. That’s when Karada invited her to the beach. The usual fun in the sun and good tasty food courtesy from Karada. Touko talks about to Shouko and assures Hiro’s just a regular customer at the cafe where she works. She asks Shouko’s relationship with Hiro but she raises her voice and says that it isn’t like that. Hiro talks to Shouko and tells her that 4 years since their parent’s death, Hiro and Karada both took turns doing chores and look after each other. He mentions Karada hates being treated like a child. On their way home, Hiro picks a nice ribbon for Karada. She shows it to Shouko but she says it suits her… like a child. This hurt her feelings as she runs away so Amino chases her down and talks to her and soon she feels better. When they reach home, Hiro confronts Shouko and tells her that what she did to Karada was mean. Shouko tells her story that when he disappeared 4 years ago, she believed he would return. She didn’t even know he had a sister and wonders if he broke up with her for Karada’s sake. Hiro asks if she still loves him but got slapped instead. She calls him the worst and runs away (oh man, can’t understand woman!). Shouko trips on her way and sees Karada praying at the little shrine. As the full moon becomes visible, suddenly both girls swap body size as they stare at each other in disbelief. Seems Shouko body has shrunk (clothes no fit, loose) and Karada’s all grown up (clothes too tight, sexy and a little busty – no pun intended).
 
While Shouko quickly grasps reality in episode 2, Karada is in shock and can’t believe all this is happening. She starts breaking down so Shouko brings her back to her own place. Hiro, trying to find Karada, calls Shouko’s handphone but was cut off. He regrets having sent her home alone. Morning comes and Karada still can’t believe this dream and sinks into depression as Shouko plays the grown up (in reality isn’t she?). Amino notices Karada didn’t come to class that morning. Hey, they’re classmates?! Their differences in size sure don’t tell! It goes to show that looks are deceiving. Well, let’s just say Amino is taller than normal kids his age. And I thought he was a loli lover seeing how his body reactions are towards Karada. Anyway he goes to look for her at her home after school but only sees Hiro. He asks about her whereabouts but Hiro doesn’t divulge much and runs off. Karada thinks the source of this to be the shrine and rushes there. But to her dismay, the stones have turned into charcoal and thinks it has granted her wish. In tears and on her knees, she reveals her wish to grow up fast to free Hiro because she feels she’s a burden to him ever since. After much thinking, Hiro also arrives at the shrine and sees both girls. However he apologizes and rushes off. Karada breaks down further not knowing what to do now seeing that Hiro doesn’t even recognize her.
 
Shouko takes Karada to the clinic in episode 3 but the latter isn’t used to her body and becomes clumsy. At the train station, Shouko continues to comfort Karada. They have to get use to their new bodies and no point feeling disappointed. They go shop for clothes and order a new bed. They act as sisters but it seems odd each time Karada has to refer to Shouko when being asked by the salesperson. It’s a topsy-turvy world. Back home, Shouko puts on the ribbon Karada bought at the beach and praises Karada’s cooking. That night Shouko notices Karada crying in her sleep and calling her brother’s name. Hiro patrons Touko’s cafe and tells that the police investigation doesn’t come up to anything. A lost delivery guy comes in to ask for directions. Seems he was delivering the new bed to Shouko’s place so she gets a shock to see Hiro at the door soon after the delivery. He spots those familiar ribbons but Shouko feints she doesn’t know him and that she’s Shouko’s little sister and that her ‘sister’ went out shopping. She invites him in to eat. He notices how she’s quite independent as she can cook and clean. Shouko says it’s because her ‘sister’ got a new boyfriend unlike the useless old one (hint, hint). Shouko got upset that she reminded him of his little sister and rushes out. He manages to catch up to her. She starts saying lines from Shouko that Hiro would know. Flashback of how Shouko and Hiro were a couple in USA (as far as including intimate sex?). One day he got a phone call and needed to return to Japan but promised to be back. Shouko agreed and waited throughout the season but he ‘disappeared’ after she received his break-up letter.
 
Hiro still thinks little Shouko as the sister and feels Shouko should’ve complained to him directly and not get Karada involved. He also thinks she knows where Karada is since the ribbons belong to her. Shouko tells about Karada’s wish upon that shrine but Hiro still doesn’t believe. She starts hitting him so he tells her that Karada isn’t her real sister. His family took her in when her mom died when she was young. Karada doesn’t know about this. He intended to return after the funeral but changed his mind after seeing the burden she was bearing. After all, she is his precious little sister. Shouko brings Hiro back to her place whereby Karada is preparing to cook. Shouko points out to the real Karada as the latter herself is shocked to see Hiro.
 
Episode 4 begins with a short flashback. Hiro brought Karada to the festival to see the fireworks. In present time, Hiro still doesn’t believe all this. Till he says "That girl is Karada-chan, right". Karada storms off and locks herself in the room so Hiro leaves. Shouko goes after him. She ticks him off for hurting Karada because she’s the person whom she had wanted to believe the most. Since he still can’t believe it, Shouko kicks his shin and calls him an idiot. She goes back to comfort Karada who is blaming herself for making that wish. Shouko also apologizes for bringing Hiro back suddenly. She assures her he’ll believe her when the time comes. Soon, Hiro returns to their doorstep and stays with them. Morning comes and cheery Karada makes him breakfast. Touko teases Amino that he’s ‘studying hard’ on Karada since he can’t concentrate on his books. But I guess he had to sneak out to go find the missing loli. Of course he can’t find her lah. Shouko calls Hiro at work (he’s a pharmacist by the way) to tell him to meet up with Karada at tonight’s fireworks festival. She lends Karada her never worn before yukata. At the crowded festival, Shouko leaves the duo alone. Hiro brings Karada to the place where they usually watch the fireworks. He gave her sit on his shoulders since she was too short to see them. He asks about her wish to become and adult so she gives him that burden answer. However she notes she isn’t an adult and still caused him troubles. She starts weeping and apologizing. When it’s over, they return to Shouko. Noting that everything is alright, Shouko leaves. But Karada wishes for her to come home together with them instead so she agrees.
 
The trio start living together in episode 5 but Karada seems to do the chores herself instead of letting Shouko. After Hiro left for work, the girls go to the library. Shouko tries to find clues on the shrine but naught. Then alone at the park watching the other children play, she remembers her own past when other children didn’t let her play with them. Shouko meets a friendly girl who has just returned to this town after years of travelling, Kotomi Shionzaki. Till Kotomi has the other kids play with her, did Shouko got up and ran away. Embarrassed? Hiro lies to Touko that Karada has been found and is currently living at her relatives’ place for the rest of summer. But she’s suspicious since it isn’t like Karada to leave not to say anything. Next morning, Shouko helps around the house. Hiro leaves for work and talks to Shouko alone. He is glad she came because he didn’t know how to interact with Karada and is just controlling himself with Shouko around (you mean he will turn into a ‘monster’?). Shouko thinks he hasn’t changed and is selfish. Hiro thinks she’s the same too and that she’s angry. Of course even if she denies that, obviously her expression isn’t. Seems Kotomi returns to Amino’s house and knows his family well. It has been 4 years since their last meeting as she teases Amino that he has grown taller. Shouko at the park is reliving her past again as the kids didn’t want her to play with them. Till a girl cheekily makes her ‘it’ so Shouko naturally joins them. There’s a kid in all of us. How can you beat her when she has a mind of an adult? When Shouko returns home, Karada emotionally hugs her and was worried where she might have been. Touko spots the trio together and wonders who those girls Hiro with are. She then gets a call from mommy that Amino has sneaked out of his room. Seems she knows where he is. Sitting outside at her apartment (she lives independently from them). Touko informs him that Karada has been found but decides to talk about it inside.
 
One morning, someone comes knocking on the Iokawa’s door in episode 6. Karada opens it and to her surprise sees Amino but he doesn’t recognize her. He asks questions like the place of Karada’s relatives but doesn’t get any answer so he leaves. Karada (acting as Hiro’s girlfriend) follows Amino as he goes round asking everyone if they have seen Karada. Of course he spots the stalker. He tells her he has a feeling Karada is in town but just couldn’t pinpoint where. OMG! It’s right under your nose! She’s just before your eyes! How ironic! Shouko does shopping and meets Kotomi. She accompanies her to the post office to post a letter to her dad since she’s new here. Amino and Karada go to places as he reminisces about the things he did with Karada. Like he got the nickname Crispy Amino for unsuccessfully breaking an egg during economic class. Like his futile search for her at the recent festival. At the shrine, Karada asks why he is so concerned about her. His answer: He can’t just leave her alone. Damn. I was hoping he’d confessed that he loved her. Amino takes her through the jungle trek to reach a cool water source. He says he wanted to bring Karada here but she got scared halfway and ran home. Karada says to bring ‘her’ here next time and she’ll really like it. Karada happily returns home so when Hiro asks where she had been, she says it’s a secret. That night, Karada tries to indirectly ask advice from Shouko on how to reconcile with a friend but can’t meet in person. Shouko suggests writing a letter. Touko comes back from work and gives Amino a postcard from Karada. His face lights up as he happily reads Karada’s late summer vacation letter at her relatives. We know how recent and where the letter was written, right?
 
It’s Hiro’s birthday in episode 7 but he even doesn’t know it himself. At least don’t forget your girlfriend’s… After Hiro leaves for work, the girls plan to bake him a birthday cake. They shop for ingredients as Karada pleads to Shouko to use her place to do so. Since her room is still unpacked, Shouko allows Karada to try some of her stuff. Karada wonders if Shouko has a boyfriend seeing she has beautiful clothes and accessories. She says yes and hints that useless irresponsible liar. You know who lah. Meanwhile Touko treats Hiro her birthday cake at the cafe. Shouko and Karada work together to make the cake though Shouko is clumsy but with Karada around, they both get by. Shouko’s so tired that she fell asleep. She dreamt how she and Hiro were a couple dating back in USA. She wanted to roast him a turkey for his birthday but it got over-burnt so they went out to a fine dining restaurant instead. Shouko wakes up when Karada calls her and gives her a little cake piece as token of gratitude. They share the cake. On the way back to Karada’s place, they see several adults making a commotion at the shrine. They are upset about the prank of coals being put there. The duo also see Kotomi who says how she made a wish before but it didn’t come true. Before the duo left, Kotomi asks Shouko if she had made any friends. Shouko shyly points to Karada. That night they happily celebrate Hiro’s birthday as he blows the candles. While Shouko accompanies Hiro to buy cigarettes, Karada spots a photo jutting out from one of Shouko’s books. Next morning, Hiro wakes up to find Karada gone. Seems she’s at the train station spotting a gloomy outlook.
 
Like a country bumpkin in the city in episode 8, Karada wanders around looking for a place to stay but has no money. She tries getting a job nut doesn’t know what a resume is. Even getting resume sheets and a guidebook on how to write them, people are just suspicious, though she continues trying. She’s 12 years old in reality but does she really look her age? Night falls, she gets harassed by several punks and runs for her life. Sure got a culture shock. Sitting alone at the playground, she remembers the time she was playing with her parents. They showed her a photo of Hiro who was in USA and was introduced has her brother who may return home if she’s a good girl. One night she overheard them talking that she isn’t their real child and cried. They consoled her and continue to shower her with lots of love till their deaths. Hiro returned shortly and apologized for coming late as the duo started a whole new life together. Realizing Hiro has sacrificed a lot, that’s why Karada wished upon that stone to become an adult and free him of his burden. Not until she saw those photos of Hiro and Shouko together and thinks of it as his ultimate sacrifice. In present time, next morning a taxi driver notices a looking-lost Karada. He goes talk to her but she runs away into the train station, dropping her resume. Meanwhile Hiro saw those photos and thinks it’s the reason Karada left home. He wonders why she still kept them and it seems she forgot that they were there. Hiro gets a call from the taxi driver about Karada’s whereabouts. He goes to fetch her alone. Karada must be in a dilemma to step onto the train the whole day but when she sees Hiro coming out across the platform, she quickly gets on. That made up her mind, eh? Hiro tries to catch up but the door closes. Karada in tears just said sorry as the train leaves.
 
Hiro comes back empty-handed in episode 9. Amino goes there to look for him and for some answers. Seems he noticed the postcard stamp is local so he knows Karada is around and wonders what’s going on. But Hiro didn’t reveal much except that Karada has run away and may never return. Amino is sulking at Touko’s place so when she finds out, she kicks him out because she’s disgusted with his indecisiveness. Though she acknowledges his stupidity. Double insult. Amino makes up his mind. He’s going to look for Karada. Taking a train, he meets Kotomi who is on her way to visit an old teacher of hers. When she learns he’s looking for missing Karada, she decides to help out. Amino plans on asking everyone but Kotomi has a better idea. Photocopy Karada’s picture on leaflets and distribute them. Karada under the name of Satou, is working at a part timer at a beachside pension run by an elderly couple. They talk about the sea, work, life and sacrifice. Karada calls Shouko via public phone. The latter apologizes for not telling her things and would like for them both to sit down and talk. But Karada says she’s fine and not to worry before hanging up. Shouko calls Hiro to meet her at Touko’s cafe and tells him about Karada’s call. She thinks something is amiss and she couldn’t have left just because of discovering their past relationship. She wonders if Karada knew she wasn’t his real sister and if he’d really made it a point to find out that she didn’t know. He says there isn’t a need since they’re siblings. But she tells him off he’s a coward still trying to escape the truth, scared of hurting her feelings. She adds she isn’t worried but lonely because she’s gone. Amino and Kotomi’s search is futile as they rest. Amino plans to continue but hasn’t thought of a place to stay. Kotomi suggests her old teacher will allow them to stay and takes him there. It seems her old retired teacher, Isogai, is that couple who runs the pension. Talk about fate.
 
Isogai calls ‘Satou’ to greet their guests in episode 10 and of course Karada and Amino are surprised to see each other. Karada continues to serve the guests. Amino thinks Karada has broken up with Hiro (remember, he thinks she’s his girlfriend). When Isogai asks if they knew each other, Amino says ‘Satou’ is his classmate’s brother’s friend. Isogai thought they were a couple so cheeky Kotomi teases by saying he’s a dedicated guy because he came all the way to search for her. Before she could reveal his crush, Amino shuts her up. That night as Karada sleeps, she remembers Amino’s still looking for her. Next morning, Amino leaves to continue his search. Kotomi talks to Isogai about some love legends by writing names in the beach sands and let the wave wash it away. Karada alone thinks about the times she spent with everyone else. Amino happen to hear her say "It’s a secret" and asks her what it means but she doesn’t answer. As they walk and chat. Karada wonders what if he doesn’t find her. This made Amino shout out he likes her so he’ll find her. The cat’s out of the bag. He got embarrassed and cycles off. Shouko packs her bags and leave. She thinks Karada was the one that kept them together but also concludes that Karada herself felt she was the one who separated them. She wonders if Hiro is just planning to wait. Amino continues to search in the heavy downpour and hurt himself after falling off his bicycle. Karada notices he isn’t back yet and goes to search for him and luckily finds him. She brings him back to the pension whereby he develops fever. Karada decides to care and nurse him. He’s still worried Karada may be out there so Karada thinks it’s her fault that this happened.
 
Amino feels better by morning in episode 11 but is told to continue resting rather than continuing his search. He tells her a dream whereby he showed little Karada the water source. Hiro remembers the time he trekked up the mountains with Shouko while they’re still dating. They let a passer-by take a picture of them which became that photo Shouko kept. Evening, Mrs Isogai has Karada take a walk with Amino. Finally Karada admits her true self to him. The Isogai couple notice both Karada and Amino acting strange when they return. Kotomi goes talk to Amino and finds out he has been told about the transformation that turned Karada into an adult. Of course he doesn’t believe all that crap and is quite upset. Kotomi goes to talk to Karada next. She tells her she knows all about the wishing stone because she grew up in that town. Plus, her dad always kept telling her stories of it. Karada insists what she told Amino is true. Flashback at that identity revealing moment whereby she told Amino the things they did on this beach together with Hiro, Shouko and Touko. Though she’s happy he went all out to search and finally found her, Amino is upset. He thinks she made up that story because she thinks he’ll never find Karada and ran off. Karada tried to tell him all the other things they did together but he didn’t listen and causes her to break down. Bad to make a girl cry. That night Karada calls Shouko. She doesn’t know what to do anymore and thinks Amino hates her. Realizing how she always felt relieved and warm inside whenever she’s with him, she then hangs up. Hiro then calls Shouko, admitting he’s a coward trying to escape all the while. He thought it would be much easier to be hated or be her true brother rather than telling the truth. He decides to go look for her but doesn’t know where. Shouko knows and tells him she’s at the beach they all went together. Next day, Hiro packs his bags and heads for the train station. He meets Shouko there and she has the same intention.
 
Amino goes out to continue his search in episode 12 when he bumps into Hiro and Shouko in episode 12. Obviously he hasn’t come to terms to admit Karada yet though he has found her because he has always thought of her this small. Size does matter. Hiro follows Amino to the pier. Seems Amino got some light guiding legend story from Isogai. I don’t know its implication but it seems it made Amino realized and okay so he goes back with Hiro. Shouko meets Kotomi at the pension and they’re both surprised to see each other. Kotomi brings her to the observatory where Karada is and tells Shouko about the wishing stone Karada told her and how they switched bodies. Shouko admits to it as they part. Shouko and Karada both talk. Karada feels guilty and the cause Hiro broke up with her. Shouko thinks otherwise. She got to see him again and that they’re all together. Karada still doesn’t believe that and runs away. Shouko tells the returning guys about it. Amino goes to find Karada (again) and sees her just outside the train station. He tells her if she’s going to run away, he’ll find her no matter how many times it’ll take. He confesses that he likes her. Finally. Karada is brought to tears and thanks him. You could say they make up.
 
While walking back, Shouko tells Hiro that she has no friends when she was young and despised everything when she moved back. Thinking it was her own fault that he broke up with her and dragging her past around, after meeting Karada, that’s when she made the wish. She probably wanted to turn back into a child like her and start over. It’s nice to see Hiro and Shouko holding hands but from a certain point of view, he may look like a lolicon… Amino and Shouko bid goodbye to the Isogai couple and Kotomi. Isogai thinks Amino found Karada (Shouko). Kotomi gets a call from her dad. At the observatory, Karada and Hiro apologize, reconcile and decide to become siblings once more. Back home, everyone continues to live their normal lives. Amino helps Touko at her cafe to cover the paid travelling expenses. He mentions he wants to grow bigger? To match Karada? Shouko sees off Kotomi at the train station as the latter is returning to her father. Before Kotomi boards the train, she hugs Shouko. Shouko realizes a little piece of wishing stone in her pants’ back pocket and thinks Kotomi must’ve slipped it in. She rushes back to the shrine and the next thing we see, they return to their own body sizes and are living together as the stone vanishes into dust.
 
Well, I guess the ending was pretty okay. It would suck big time if they didn’t actually return to normal though I felt the scenes shown that they have reverted back to normal was a tad short. How long do I want anyway? Everything is back to normal, right? I felt Karada was the main focus of the series instead of Shouko. We see her inability to cope with the drastic turn of events and when she thought she could just finally adapt to life, she starts to feel guilty and blames herself for what she thought she had done to Hiro and Shouko and then the shocking fact that Amino couldn’t accept who she was just like she did initially. Karada seemed like a fragile and vulnerable girl that lacks the strength to stand up on her own and all she could do was run away. Behind that smile of hers, there is a melancholic side to her. Thankfully even if Shouko did turn into a child, she still maintained her maturity and thinking as an adult with her calm and rationale thinking. Without her, I guess Karada and Hiro won’t grow closer as they are in the end. You can say that if Shouko had not returned and meet the duo by chance, things may have been status quo but I also think that their fateful meeting proved to be the better one even with all the painful obstacles faced because they all get to be together in the end. It bugs me a little to see how different Hiro looked when he was dating with Shouko. Back then, he looked like a decent looking guy with a bright future. Fast forward 4 years later, he looks more like an unshaven, long haired, down-in-the-dumps older brother.
 
As for cheery Kotomi, I felt that she was some sort of a fate reuniter. It’s like she’s some sort of goddess that puts the key puzzles together. Take a look at this. If she hadn’t return, Shouko may never have been able to overcome her fear of making friends. Also, Amino would never have gotten her help in finding Karada or even stay at the pension where the climax of the series is set. Without her, Karada and Shouko would never have returned to their original bodies. It is anybody’s guess on how she got the wishing stone but who cares about the minor details. Besides, I wonder what her wish that didn’t come true was. Something to do with Amino and love? Of course it can’t be… It was pretty amusing that Amino kept searching for Karada although there were many occasions that they come into contact with each other. In terms of looks, I don’t see any difference between the kid and grownup Karada. Like they say, seeing is believing. And is a good thing too that both of them finally get to be honest with their feelings.
 
The art and drawing feels pretty light as though they are made using water colour. Well firstly, this is of course an old production and secondly since the time line is set during summer, I guess that ‘bleached’ outlook is suitable to reflect the summer’s heat. The opening theme by Suara, Hikari No Kisetsu, sounds like a moderate pop befitting the pace of the series. The ending theme by Yuumao, Sweet Home Song, sounds like a slow country blues piece. I may be wrong but hearing it somehow conjured images of Norah Jones. Must be the piano. There are a variety of background music and some of them sound pretty nice especially the piano ones. But most of them have that melancholic feel to them.
 
I suppose the lesson of the story is to be with happy with what you have and when the grass seems greener on the other side, do not rush in and make a hasty wish that will bring lots of unnecessary troubles. That’s why even if you could have a single wish come true, make sure you think hard and thorough. I know myself that never in a million years I would never want to swap bodies with those of an otaku body. Big thick glasses, chubby, slouching, unkempt hair, unshaven face and anime print T-shirts. Hmm… Maybe I don’t even need a wishing stone, if I continue my current anime trend, I just might turn into one.
 

Asatte No Houkou