Twenty Perfect Minutes is an irregular column series where I take a look at single specific anime that shaped my experience with the medium, were important to me in some other way, or that I just really, really like.
So, full disclosure, this episode is the reason Twenty Perfect Minutes exists. YuruYuri is a good show, but it’s pretty orthodox. Its main point of deviation from other school life comedies (or slice of life shows if you prefer that term. Or even, *shudder*, Cute Girls Doing Cute Things) is the higher level of explicit Gay in the show’s text. (It is called YuruYuri, after all.) Shows like that don’t really tend to have singular standout episodes. I love Lucky Star, for example, but it’s a pretty consistent experience. You know what you’re going to get with each episode, something that’s largely true of the genre on the whole.
Occasionally, however, a series like this will get just a bit more narratively ambitious. “Ambitious” is an adjective rarely associated with the school life genre and it’s true that this is not, you know, Gunbuster, but when a series like this decides to cash in on the goodwill its characters have built up with its audience, the results can be quite surprising. I absolutely love this episode, there’s not a lot else like it in the genre.
Let’s be clear here; YuruYuri is not a particularly weird series. “The Akari Who Leapt Through Time”, however, is a pretty weird episode in the context of it. Not just because of the obvious, that it involves time travel (and is named after one of the most famous time travel stories in the entire medium). It has a peculiar, melancholy overtone, and casts protagonist Akari in a somewhat different light than the rest of the show. All of this is still filtered through the lens of a light comedy anime of course, but the difference in mood and tone is noticeable. This being the sole script turn for director Masahiko Ohta might explain things somewhat, but it’s unique nonetheless.
Akari herself is a neat, fun, straightforward character. Her central joke is very simple–she’s the ostensible protagonist, but because of that, she has no real standout characteristics. Thus, she has so little presence that she is easily overlooked, and in some episodes she can even literally turn invisible with an Akariiiin~! sound effect. In the series proper, Kyouko, and sometimes Yui, tend to fulfill the protagonist role more than she does. YuruYuri had previously made some gestures to the fact that she was legitimately distraught by this, but the accidental time travel that sets this episode’s plot into motion really puts that in focus.
Akari spends the episode’s first half trying to undo mistakes that her past self made. This is certainly amusing, (and serves to dish out fun callbacks to the very beginning of the series), but through the comedy it’s easy to see that she’s kinda desperate. Things like her scribbling a message on her first-year desk so Past-Akari doesn’t flub her class introduction, or trying to deflect Chinatsu from joining the Amusement club, are as amusing as they are revealing.
All of this falls through, and Akari is of course distraught. Where the episode takes a turn for the genuinely unexpected though is some particularly salient advice, and who dispenses it.
YuruYuri never quite felt like it knew what to do with Akane, Akari’s older sister. The character’s weak core joke (that she’s a siscon) makes her probably the least essential member of the entire cast. Indeed, that joke is present here, too, in one of the episode’s few missteps. Though it’s mercifully only brought up briefly.
Weak gag aside, this is an uncommon instance of Akane acting in a genuinely sisterly manner toward her younger sibling. Namely, in addition to letting her sleep over while school genius Nana works on the time machine to try to repair it, she points out to Akari it’s possible that changing the past might alter her memories. Our heroine is distraught over this, and in the episode’s most purely sweet moment, she nods off in her sister’s bed, and has a melancholy dream.
This sequence is so very simple: Akari singing a little blue ditty over some footage from prior episodes, and, eventually, crying at the possibility of losing her time with them.
So simple, but so sweet and affecting. The next day, when Akari has her final chance to perhaps change the course of things, she’s struck by the thought again that doing so might change her memories, and can’t bring herself to go through with it. She starts crying on the spot.
Later, when she uses the fixed time machine to return to her own era, we get the emotional payoff. The difference between how Akari thinks everyone will react when she returns, and how they actually do react, is stark.
School life comedies (and really, character comedies in general) are a genre that live and die by how well the audience connects to the characters. This is a principle that’s been understood in cartooning since the dawn of the medium, but it’s one thing to simply make a character likable. It’s quite another entirely to make the audience relate to them. Who among us hasn’t occasionally undervalued their self-worth? It’s quite a common problem.
The point I’m getting at here is: more than just a focus episode or the vehicle for some fun jokes, “The Akari Who Leapt Through Time” is the rare episode of a school life anime that feels like a genuine character study.
Is it still all, ultimately, pretty lighthearted? Yes, of course. As such a character study it’s a fairly simple one. And if I can levy a single main complaint at the episode it’s that the final revelation that the whole thing was a story told by Kyouko is unnecessary and cheapens the experience just a little. But honestly, the episode is otherwise so well put together that it doesn’t feel like it matters that much. Plus it does say a lot about how much Kyouko and friends care for Akari, all jokes aside.
YuruYuri is a good show overall, and I’m quite fond of it. (It may even show up in this column again.) But, I think speaking frankly, this was its peak. In a genre that can occasionally feel like it coasts on archetypes, “The Akari Who Leapt Through Time” manages the feat of making its lead, a simple redheaded girl who’s easily overlooked, feel genuinely human.
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