Just Because! is, in many ways, a pretty large departure from the shows that we as the Backloggers have covered in the last three seasons. While we try to decide on the show we’ll be covering episodically for any given season, we work to whittle down our choices to what seems interesting, what we feel would be neat for our readers to check out for the season, and honestly just what seems like would be an enjoyable watch. It’s kind of funny to me that over the last few seasons, we’ve ultimately gravitated towards shows that are essentially fantasy light novel-esque shows with a penchant for action and the dramatic. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with that, and we’ve genuinely enjoyed Youjo Senki, SukaSuka, and Princess Principal, as we were mulling over writing about, say, Kino no Tabi or Juuni Taisen, we kind of came to a collective realization of “oh god, we can’t do a show like this for a fourth consecutive season”. With this idea being part of the inspiration for our choice this season, we’ve happily decided to shake up our usual formula a bit. Why?
Yes, I’m sorry, I know that joke has been beat so far into the ground that it should be right around the earth’s core right about now, but in a lot of ways, the choice really did come as conscious choice to just do it because we could (and because we haven’t covered a show quite outside of our unintentional genre bubble yet), especially after the first two very strong episodes that this show presented us with out of the gate.
Perhaps one of the more interesting things about the show is that when compared to other shows of its ilk, Just Because! has a rather slow pace to it – it takes its time getting where it needs to go, and this pace very much fits the atmosphere and tone that the show is trying to set for its story so far. This is exemplified quite well through the show’s opening sequence that shows off a good chunk of the main cast. Eita’s old crush Natsume studies hard late into the night at cram school; Morikawa, the once-member of the school’s brass band, walks her dog at night with her sister, and thinks about the following day’s closing ceremony; Komiya, a member of the dying photography club, sits by the roadside on her scooter, taking in the night; Haruto, the baseball player in his final season, stands outside with his grandfather, and mimics his smoking habit, blowing out hot breath into the cold night; lastly, Eita takes a late train back into his hometown, where he will be living once again. Everything in this sequence moves at a notably slow clip, and there is hardly any dialogue used at all. We are meant to focus on the characters in the moment, even though at the time, we know little to nothing about them.
The slow pace of this opening segment definitely carries over into the show proper, and it makes the show stand out from its peers, in a way. Usually, when you come across a high school romance/drama show, often the pace is somewhat more lively, with the main characters itching to live out the last year of their high school lives to the fullest, doing whatever they can to eke out those last drops of youth. Here, this is not so. Natsume, for instance, is deeply concerned with getting into a good college, and as a result, her only activity after school is cram school. Eita himself takes things slowly as well, talking to an old friend and sending pictures of his hometown around. Even the energetic Haruto takes his baseball practice slow, as well. It’s not some high-octane practice, but more of a meditative time for him; a prayer of sorts, he calls it.
What’s nice about this slow pace is that it keeps the first episode from feeling bogged down and janky with too much information at once. We learn a bit about each of our main characters as we go, and specifically about how they are approaching their ever-looming graduation. In this sense, though, the show also does a decent job of making the characters, their actions, and their motivations feel realistic and relatable. Their conversations feel like those that I remember having with friends around this time, talking about trying to get scholarships through sports, or thinking about career paths, or what schools we wanted to get into.
It’s not just the excitement of some of these issues that carries through, though, but also the melancholy of the situation. While the show is quite pretty at times, and the conversations can be quite lighthearted as well, the lighting, coloration, and sound design of the show often convey a somewhat gloomy backdrop for a show that already explores some of the hardships and inherent sadness of this time of life for high schoolers. For instance, the show often makes use of more muted color palettes, so when bright, vibrant colors come along, they really pop out at you. The darker colors work to reflect the harder decisions that the characters are going to have to face in the coming times ahead, and the tough realizations that they are working through in the moment. It also works to incorporate facial features quite a bit as a way of the characters expressing what is really on their minds, they often these work well to give us a sense of how the characters are feeling.Beyond the visuals, the show makes use of silence often, with the majority of its scenes not including any backing music, and it feels that doing so places more emphasis on the actions of the characters. However, when there is music, it is often a track of soft strings, wind instruments, or piano music, keeping with the less-energetic tone of the show. Music like this comes into play at some of the more important times in this first episode, such as when Eita and Haruto reminisce about their time as baseball teammates during middle school, how they swore they would keep in touch after Eita moved, and how, ultimately, they stopped contacting each other entirely. The scene definitely could have worked without the music, but it really does highlight the bittersweet nature of their moving on after the fact.
That being said, despite there being a large emphasis on the more wistful sides of these characters and the ways in which this affects their interactions, the show does have some serious highs so far. The biggest of these moments so far would likely have to be when Eita and Haruto practice baseball again one-on-one while reminiscing about the past. During their practice, the entire main cast ends up gathering around the practice, whether up-close like Komiya, hoping to get a picture of a home run, or far-off like Natsume, who watches from an upper floor as she waits for cram school. As their practice draws to a close, and Eita suggests a one-at-bat match between the two of them, Morikawa and the other band members continue their after-school practice, giving their game a lively musical backdrop, reaching a joyous fever pitch as Haruto hits an out-of-the-park home run at the very last bat. It’s an incredible feeling watching it, especially as Haruto shows such extreme glee in the moment after having a rather muted beginning of the episode.These ideas of showing both the joys of adolescence, as well as the melancholy that comes with aging and transitioning into a new stage of life are not merely hooks for the first episode that wane as the show progresses. They are very present forces in the second episode as well. One such example of this is the ever-present personal tensions that come from love, mainly of the unrequited variety. Some character relationships had been hinted at and explored in the first episode, notably giving us not a love triangle (or a love pentagram, as was present in Pine Jam’s previous work), but more of a love line. Eita has feelings for Natsume, who has been and still is in love with Haruto, who is in love with Morikawa, who, from what we can tell, does not have any particular love interest at all. In all of the above cases, there does not seem to be any requited feelings so far, partly because there has been no real action to properly state these feelings, aside from Haruto’s botched confession to Morikawa, which heads off this second episode. Thankfully for us, Haruto’s unintentional four-person audience confession leads to a fun (but also spiced with melancholy) romp at the Enoshima Aquarium, which ends up leading to some solid development among our cast. For instance, to Haruto’s initial dismay, Morikawa has brought her two younger brothers along for the ride, as they are obsessed with aquatic life, so much so that they even brought a book about sea creatures with them. In seeing Haruto try to get closer to Morikawa, we actually find out that he’s great with kids, and that Morikawa’s brothers take a shine to him pretty quickly because of his kind, curious, and patient demeanor. This is great for Haruto, Morikawa, and her brothers, who are all having a great time for different reasons, but Natsume is less than pleased, as she essentially has front-row seats to see her crush try to woo someone else. In the midst of this twisting and turning torrent of feelings is Eita, who is, more or less, simply present in the moment, and working to try to assuage the emotional issues of his friends. For example, before everyone meets up, he offers to “have something come up” so that Haruto and Morikawa could presumably have some one-on-one time, as Haruto intended. Despite the fact that Haruto refuses the offer, he is still glad that Eita even made the suggestion, showing that they’re still quite close, even after so much time apart with little to no communication. In much the same way, though, Eita is painfully aware of Natsume’s feelings for Haruto, and despite the fact that he is looking to help Haruto, he also seems to be in disbelief that Natsume isn’t pursuing Haruto at all. In essence, he seems to be cheering both of them on, despite the fact that their respective romantic goals are vastly different.
Despite these issues that arise, both publicly and privately, the gang ends up having a great time, and ultimately establish a LINE group among themselves to keep in touch, and to plan on doing more together in their last year of high school. It’s nice to see the crew coming together in an organic way, and it’s this kind of interaction that leads me to one of the things that has struck me the most about the show thus far: its use of phones, and their prevalence among this particular generation of students. While many shows of this nature use phones sparingly, or as a conveyance of information for certain dramatic scenes, Just Because! treats phones as commonplace, ubiquitous objects which fulfill numerous roles in the life of a teenager. Eita, for instance, seems to be a pretty reserved character, and for much of the first episode, he is seen nose-deep in his phone, whether he’s texting his friend Nakaji, taking photos of his hometown, or just scrolling to pass the time during the drive to his new home. They’re all actions that make sense for his character, and as a result, it helps to make Eita feel somehow more real, palpable as a character.
This can be said for the rest of the crew, as well. When Eita and Natsume are separated from the rest of the group, for instance, Haruto doesn’t go running off to try to find them. He just does what most other folks would do in the situation: text them. Just like that, the situation is resolved, and any unnecessary drama is avoided in doing so. Even more so, the way that near the end of the episode the group is both talking together and also communicating via messaging apps, essentially having two concurrent conversations, strikes home in regards to the ways in which so many of us use our technologies these days. Even the overlays of the conversations on-screen make sense both from a narrative standpoint and an aesthetic one – they don’t take up the full screen, but they also follow the involved parties around, showing the intricate involvement the characters have in these digital spaces, and also how important and present these spaces are to them.These small touches here and there, from the use of phones to the visual and sound design of the show, to the simple, everyday conversations the gang has makes Just Because! feel like a breath of fresh air for this genre, and it makes me hopeful for things to come in the season ahead for the show.