Just Because! : Swept Under The Rug



Why have I just now watched Pine Jam’s first anime original series that came out in 2017, despite having watched everything (and I mean everything) else in their catalogue? Because I’ve been participating in r/Anime’s monthly Anime Swap over in their Discord (which you should participate in as well). This month, I was recommended to watch Just Because!, and enthusiastically began the final series I needed to close out my Pine Jam catalogue. I can say now in hindsight- that was a grave mistake. As a completionist I’m satisfied that the hole has been plugged, but Just Because! was such a painful slog that if I had to choose to watch it again to complete the catalogue, I would be entirely comfortable with leaving it un-watched. And that’s no real slight against Pine Jam as a studio, it entirely comes from the narrative that brutalizes the good work that light novel author Hajime Kamoshida (Bunny Girl Senpai) did with the series.

It’s really a question of where to begin, but I think starting with the good is the best spot before I descend into exclusively cursing Just Because!. Pine Jam’s work with this original series is certainly juvenile in comparison to their modern catalogue, especially if you consider their most recent anime original Do It Yourself!!, which includes a subtle yet interesting nod to the use of an exclamation in their titles for original series. Either way, the weight of an original series was heavy upon their shoulders back in 2017, and unlike the series prior to Just Because! (Gamers!), it struggles a good deal with character models. Though, credit where credit is due, when Himura Kiseki is able to draw with both hands, they can create some very appealing character designs.

Though the struggle of Just Because! and Kiseki’s character designs is really only the most shallow and palpable of issues with the production of this original series. Just to give a bit of an insight into the upper-level mess of Just Because!, the second episode had a total of 5 different storyboarders, 3 (lead, not assistant) episode directors, and a massive cohort of animation directors. I haven’t tracked down any interviews with staff, so I can’t speak to how the production was perceived from the inside, but an exterior perspective paints it as a very uphill battle. An uphill battle doesn’t always mean a resounding defeat, though. In quite a few areas, I do think that for their era, Pine Jam did plenty fine with Just Because!. The most commendable effort of course comes from the art department and their true-to-life backgrounds for the series. Realism in an anime can certainly be a challenge at times, but Pine Jam successfully tackled that challenge and thoroughly delivered on their work. Similarly, when better obscured by the nighttime compositions, the 3D work in Just Because! is actually quite solid. However, the very neutral standard for the anime does expose quite a bit of inadequacy in the CGI.

In addition to the solid art work (though I suppose it is also artwork?), I do think that the air of Just Because! is presented really well- when divorced from the narrative. If viewed in a silent film style, the sense of weight and tension is still very palpable. The isolation of a high school student making the most important decisions of their life is present in the very atmosphere of the series. The very pale color palette, and variety of nighttime scenery that divorces the students from their classrooms does very well to deliver on that transition into adulthood. Though, I do very much appreciate the presence of parents here. As much as it’s a teenager’s world to wander, parents and adults should remain rocks within their lives to count on- as they do in Just Because!. Fathers and (far more often) mothers appear to provide insight and support at critical moments in the lives of the characters. It’s nothing all that major, but a presence doesn’t need to be commanding to be felt.

On the topic of commanding presences though, it’s probably high time I dive into the negatives- which might seem inconsequential against the praise I’ve laid out above, but trust me when I say it’s rather damning. Let’s start with our male lead character, Eita Izumi. He’s transferred back into a school in Kanagawa for his final semester after having moved away for the entirety of high school. With that, you’d think that struggling with the social dynamics of a new era in his life would be central to the story? Well, sorry to say, they’re nonexistent. His standoffish and aloof personality entirely deny the possibility of an awkward or difficult transition. Yes, I do love how Eita reunites with his middle school best friend Haruto, but to tackle every relationship with that degree of familiarity and nonchalance is straight up silly and a waste of time.

Similarly, the romance dynamics are highly questionable as they share in that sense of familiarity. I get it, I really do. Being called Just Because! certainly means you should expect a more casual and free-flowing nature for the series, but there does tend to be a limit with that. It doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to shirk proper development and expression for the sake of a journey from point to point. For example, baseball fanatic Haruto has a massive crush on all-around student and doting older sister Hazuki Morikawa… but the superficial nature of their connection can’t quite be understated. Their entire subplot is surrounded by one of two things- Haruto being a “good guy” in front of Mio Natsume (whom has/had a crush on him), or Haruto indirectly aiming for Hazuki’s heart. Their genuine conversation is woefully nonexistent, with their amount of shared lines numbering a presumably very sad number. To put it another way, we spend infinitely more time with Eita and Haruto in conversation than we do Haruto and Hazuki.

There’s only one other pair that can really contend with Eita and Haruto- the would-be couple of Eita and 2nd year photography buff Eno Komiya. This was enough to have me rethink my score about two thirds of the way through. The pair’s dynamic that’s very rough around the edges- and painfully honest- was really nice to see. It’s a great idea that takes advantage of Eita’s more isolated nature, and the passion that Komiya chases after. Their conversations are creative and passionate, and their interactions enjoyable from start to finish. It’s a dynamic that deserves praise and attention- but more importantly, deserved to be in a better narrative.

Imagine having a pair of characters hit it off so well that they’re essentially the number 1 romantic combination in terms of shared lines, but then so blatantly and disgustingly snub it for a pairing that results in the equivalent of a Hallmark movie. I’m not kidding. Komiya gives Eita the world, she gives him a high school send-off that would make any teenager fall in love. Instead, Eita can only express the love he has for a girl that: doesn’t really talk to him, was open about having a crush on his best friend, and was continually rude and inconsiderate towards. Mio Natsume has absolutely zero personality in Just Because!, and Kamoshida didn’t just miss the mark, they completely destroyed their own team with the move. From the moment she appears, Natsume’s meant to be the girl that misses out, the girl that misses the forest for the trees. She struggles with focusing on school, she selfishly gallivants about with Haruto, flirting with the idea of becoming his girlfriend despite how much Haruto likes Hazuki. She realizes her feelings for Eita in the final act for the series, which should be too late. The ship was christened, sailed, returned to port, and was getting ready for its follow-up voyage. I really can’t understate how brutal a twist of fate the ending was, and how much it utterly destroys the better work within.

Sure, there’s still rough pieces like plenty of extraneous characters that eat up screen time for no reason, and yeah, as I mentioned above there’s a lack of focus on the goals of the plot development. Even with those though, prior to the final moments of this story, I would have said I’d recommend it to people looking for a lesser watched romance series. There’s just no way I could, in good faith, recommend Just Because! to anyone looking for a worthwhile watch though. It certainly does make me feel bad for speaking so poorly on something that another person recommended to me, but I truly cannot stomach another soul being tortured by those final moments. I can’t imagine having someone else suffer that finale as they audibly beg for it to not happen, all because I told them they should watch it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.