When I talked about some of the previous episodes of Just Because! serving as the climax for a first act of the show, I feel as though I inadvertently hit the nail on the head with regards to the shifts that episodes seven and eight set in place for what might be the last (or at least most central) major arc for the rest of the show’s season. There’s always been a focus on Eita in the show (and rightly so, considering he is set as the central character of the series from the outset), but for about the first half of the season, I felt as though Eita was mainly just playing a support role, and didn’t seem to have quite as active a role in the major plotlines. We knew, for instance, that Eita was quietly doing his best to pursue Natsume and support her, but we didn’t see anything quite as in-your-face as some of the antics surrounding Souma. The central focuses for the first six or so episodes largely gravitated towards Souma and the sort of love-parallelogram that encompassed him, Natsume, and Morikawa. Now that these threads have been resolved at least to a point, it feels like the stage has been set for us to see Eita’s own tangled web of infatuation sprawl out before us.
And boy, does it ever.
Episodes seven and eight really do feel as though the start of a second act for Just Because!, specifically with regards to how proactive Eita becomes in his seeming dedication to Natsume. In previous episodes, we’ve seen him quietly support her in pursuing Souma, and also get fairly nagging in it, as well, with choice, kind advice such as “stop using everything else as an excuse.” We’ve even seen him taking practice tests and studying for entrance exams for Natsume’s top choices. We essentially get the gist of how absolutely bonkers he seems to be for her through his (usually) quiet fervor. This changes pretty dramatically in episode seven.
For a brief bit of summary, it’s the day of the Center Exam, which Natsume has been obsessively studying for for what feels like the entire show thus far, and of course, the sky cracks open and decides to snow a metric tonne. The buses are either unbelievably late or just not running at all, it’s a miracle if Natsume’s dad could get the car to work, and the train she was planning to take is miles behind schedule. To say the least, things aren’t great. Seeing this, what does our mild-mannered, quiet protagonist Eita do? He rolls out of bed, takes one look at the news, and bolts out the door to help Natsume.
It’s at this point that we realize just how much Eita has paid attention to Natsume over the years. We knew he had a crush on her years back, but it wasn’t really expanded on much until this point, at which Eita seems to be able to rattle off every time Natsume ever got the short end of the stick, specifically after she had worked so hard to accomplish something. The depth of his affection is palpable, specifically because this is such a change in his degree of engagement as a character. Being such an energy-conservative person, it’s exhilarating to see Eita this animated. And animated he is; after he “just happens to bump into Natsume” at the train station, he picks her up from a near-meltdown and walks her onto the train, constantly reassuring her that things are going to be fine, and that the situation is nowhere near as bleak as she seems to be envisioning it. He gets her to the train just in time because he knows their services resumed, he reminds her to check the news to see if the exam had been delayed (it had), and beyond that, he starts quizzing her on test questions when she stresses over thinking that she’s probably forgot everything she had studied before. Once he gets her to the test center, he even has a good luck charm specifically for passing entrance exams. It’s an incredible amount of effort given what has been shown previously, and unsurprisingly, the guy falls asleep on the train back home.
Eita isn’t the only one who has been switching things up, however; we find that Natsume has been taking an increasing degree of interest and investment in Eita, recalling after the exam a specific time in middle school when he helped her move all of the student council supplies because none of her councilmates were available to help. We see her definitely coming to some degree of feelings for him, as she’s even remembering his grumpy demeanor with a certain fondness. It seems that in the wake of her dropping her self-insistence that she loves Souma, Natsume has been able to explore other feeling that she might have held for quite some time. This comes to a pretty strong head at the end of the episode, but we’ll get to that in a second. Talking about it would be pretty incomplete if we didn’t talk about our third major player in this second act: Komiya.
If we rewind back to the end of episode six and the beginning of episode seven, you’ll remember that Komiya was being accosted by a pretty loud older man screaming up a storm to a few police officers about Komiya apparently taking a picture of him. Komiya herself seems to have undergone a pretty substantial change recently, as well. She still has a lot of the gusto of the starry-eyed photography club president, but she’s also taken steps to be more open and honest, and not always genki first. This really manifests the strongest when she opens up to Eita about how the photography club isn’t just a club for her, but a place that she feels that she truly belongs. For a cast of characters like we have, and especially for our seemingly-adrift protagonist Eita, this need for a place to belong rings exceptionally true. It’s hard to find a sense of purpose and belonging in this world, and incredibly so for young, awkward high schoolers on their way out into the working world. It rings so true, in fact, that Eita finally, finally gives her permission to use the photo of him for the photography contest.
It has certainly been there for a while, but it’s partially this permission that really gets Komiya thinking that she actually has some degree of feelings for Eita, or at least, as she puts it, she’s “feeling queasy” with regards to Eita. Armed with this new manifestation of her feelings, Komiya asks to meet with Natsume, and we can now resume the revelation we find with Natsume that we previously mentioned. Of all things, episode seven ends with Komiya asking Natsume if she can ask Eita out on a date, and Natsume responding with grim certainty, “No.” The gears are shifting, and for the first time in this show, we now have two interested parties vying for Eita’s heart, both in their own way.
It isn’t as though this is a new and revelatory story arc in anime; if you’ve seen some school romance of any variety, you’ve more than likely seen this kind of love triangle in some form. This is very much a strong change for Just Because!, though, particularly because of how this romantic element is approached. If we consider the romantic center with Souma, Morikawa, and Natsume, much of that was also about their future outside of one another – for Morikawa, much of the decision involved her own plans for college, as well as how little she knew Souma, and for Natsume, her seeming infatuation with Souma was more a hold-up for her own future than any true romantic feelings she planned to act on. When it comes to Natsume’s feelings for Eita, she might not be openly admitting any feelings for him in specific words, but she is staunchly staking a claim of sorts. It is very much a culmination of feelings focusing on feelings themselves, not necessarily feelings tied to baggage of future plans. Essentially, it’s changing how romantic interest has worked in the show up until this point.
After such an end to an episode and a declaration like that, what else do we find Komiya doing in episode eight but trying to ask Eita out on a date? Again, we’re seeing a major shift in Komiya’s often-impulsive personality to a slow, methodical approach to crafting the perfect text to court Eita. In a way, though, this more controlled, relaxed pace she takes has been a part of her, but one that is specifically reflected in the meticulous approach she takes when looking for the perfect picture. With a little bit of help from the smuggest-looking cat I have maybe ever seen in anime, and by that I mean the cat sends a text that Komiya was probably going to delete or rephrase entirely, she lands herself a date. This, of course, could not possibly go wrong.
I think perhaps one of the most interesting things about this episode is that despite Eita’s obvious infatuation with Natsume, Souma makes it a point to talk to him about what he perceives as Eita’s incredible chemistry with Komiya. In a lot of ways, having such a frank conversation with Eita and essentially telling him that there’s more people that he could be with than just Natsume is a telling sign of how back in sync the two of them are again as friends, and how much Souma cares for Eita. Even though he knows that it might not be what Eita wants to hear, Souma goes headlong into that conversation. Even though it gets rebuffed by Eita himself and changed to a discussion of Souma’s progress with Morikawa, the care that has developed between the two of them is heartwarming, to say the least.
The course of true love never did run smooth, and this is sure as all get-out the case for Natsume and Eita when she encounters him on his way to the date-but-not-really with Komiya. If Eita was being more proactive last episode, Natsume is definitely doing so as well, grilling him about whether or not he’s going on a date, and accompanying him of the train because of course her cram school is that way and not on the bus route that Eita mentioned. Case in point, in a way that I have yet to see this entire season thus far, Natsume makes a face so disgusted with Komiya when she sees her board the train that it gives me chills thinking about it. If there were any doubt about unspoken claims being made on Eita at this point, those should most definitely disappear with the short, clipped conversation between the two of them about permission to go on a date with Eita, etcetera.
When Eita and Komiya are finally alone, their date involves, obviously, a lot of time spent on Komiya taking pictures, and little else. However, it’s a very interesting bit of scene, allowing Eita to really grasp the more methodical side of Komiya that we as the audience have been privy to for some time now. There is of course some light banter between the two of them, and the business of Komiya changing poor technology-illiterate Eita’s phone background to a picture of her (I swear to god this is going to come up later, mark my words), but the last location of the date, the photography club’s classroom, sets the stage for perhaps the most genuinely caring side of Komiya we’ve seen this entire show. She pulls out a photo album of shots from the last few years at their school to give Eita a sort of compensation for not having many memories of his own about the school, considering he was only there for a short time. It’s such a touching moment that it honestly caught me off-guard, and it elicited a smile out of Eita the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, after it’s all said and done, Eita is still clearly infatuated with Natsume, and Komiya knows it, pushing him in a familiar way to just confess his love already. When he says he can’t yet, and that he might only be able to do so after he takes the entrance exam for Natsume’s top pick, it comes across as a huge reflection to the one-at-bat game that he and Souma had a few episodes back. Eita knows what he has to do, but he has a home run of his own to hit before he can do it. Taking this in stride and joining the “I still have things I need to do before I confess” club, Komiya fires back that she’ll confess her love to him if she wins a prize in her photography competition. And with that, she leaves. Date over.
Episodes seven and eight are, in short, one heck of a rollercoaster. We see sides of our main cast that we have yet to see, and those sides we already have had some semblance of are greatly magnified. The show has most definitely changed gears, and for myself, it’s a welcome change to see the interpersonal dynamics of our awkward young lovers getting a bit more complicated, while still staying pretty true to life, at least in the way that I and many of my peers have experienced such things in the past. Just Because! continues to not disappoint, and at this juncture in the show, with the things these dorks are doing for love, I don’t see that changing (or I sure don’t hope so, anyway).