Ena is playing a game she can’t win. I would pick Ena, because I don’t really know any of these characters; they’re not my friends. So stripped of any context, I’d go for the girl with the gumption to always go for what she wants. Her behavior is a bit childish, but it’s also refreshing. It’s nice to see someone whose intentions are clear and straight to the point. You don’t have to guess at what she wants. For an example, we’d need not look any further than this very episode. Ena has only just developed feelings for Eita — hell, they first appeared in the middle of the baseball duel in last week’s episode — but she immediately takes action. She doesn’t slink back to her home and torture herself with questions about what this “queasy” feeling might mean. She goes for it. She goes right up to Mio and asks for permission to go on a date with Eita. I like that. This move takes an amount of courage I don’t personally have. And I suppose that’s one of the many reasons why I always prefer the assertive girl over the demure maiden who often seems to take center stage in anime. Oh, you know the type. I’m talking about the Mios of the world. Nothing against the girl, really. She’s very nice and sweet and certainly not as annoying as many of her anime counterparts. Plus, maybe now that Ena has emerged as a serious threat to steal Eita away (not really), Mio will develop a backbone. But I’m a reserved person myself, so if I had to pick between the two, I’d go for a girl like Ena. Always.
But like I’ve said, this is a game Ena can’t win. It’s clear as day now that Eita has and will always love Mio. Yes, love. He actually loves that awkward girl with all his heart. Most anime series never really get a good grasp of that concept. The word ‘love’ gets thrown around a lot, but there’s often little to back it up. Characters get that “dokidoki” feeling and think that they are in love. But those are just budding feelings. They’re just starting to like someone. So as much as I’d like to root for Ena, her queasy feeling whenever she sees and thinks about Eita is just that. She’s only starting to like him. What she feels for him is way too nascent, and how can that compete with love? I’ve often said this before whenever I cover romance anime, but love is an action, and Just Because! understands this more than any recent show I’ve seen in years. The heavy snowfall overnight has stalled the trains and blocked off the highways, so Mio’s in real danger of missing her entrance exam. While everyone else sits comfortably in their homes, offering the frantic girl nothing more than half-hearted alternatives, Eita races against time to find her. He’s going to get her to the testing center no matter what. But don’t get me wrong; I’m not blaming Mio’s friends for not taking on a more active role in helping her. I merely want to highlight the vast difference between friendship and love.
Eita: Why the hell does this have to happen on Natsume’s big day?! The snow and stuff should seriously screw off! It’s always like this. This only ever happens to her at a critical time! It’s been this way ever since middle school! The Sports Day she had made preparations for in student council was cancelled due to the rain! She couldn’t go on the school trip because she caught a cold! She’d only get called on when she didn’t do her homework. I’m seriously begging you! Please make it! Dammit!
Imagine yourself asking Eita, “Dude, how do you know all of this? Why do you still remember all of this? You must really love her, huh?” He’d probably sheepishly reply with, “I just pay attention.” But isn’t that what love is? Care and attention? And this is why Ena can’t win. Later that day, she surprises him at the bookstore. On the previous night, he had finally given her permission to use his photo. Ena got what she wanted, and it was no easy task. She had to pour her heart out to him. The strong, assertive girl summoned up all her emotions, and yes, her tears as well. She had to make herself vulnerable. So much so that it gave Eita pause: “What happened to that enthusiasm of yours?” The photography club is everything to Ena. It’s the only place where she can feel as though she belongs. So embodying all of the selfless protagonists before him, Eita finally relented. And I don’t think he gave in because she was in that moment desperate and vulnerable. Even if she can be annoying at times, I believe he’d rather have Ena be her usual self than how she was last night. That is why he wondered where her enthusiasm had gone. Eita gave her permission to use his picture because he wanted the old Ena back. Nevertheless, this whole journey has been like pulling teeth. Ena didn’t just ask for permission over and over. She befriended Eita. She hung out with him at school and after school. She’s gotten to know him as a person. If you keep yourself in such close proximity with someone, sooner or later, you’re going to catch something. In other words, she’s been paying attention to Eita. Very close attention. It’s only fitting that the world around them begins to snow. Heed Haruka’s advice: if you don’t protect yourself, you’ll catch a cold.
Nevertheless, Eita is curt with Ena at the bookstore. It’d be heartbreaking if her feelings for him were more serious. He thinks she’s only there ’cause she needs something else from him. Maybe Eita thought he’d never have to see her again. After all, she already got what she wanted from him, right? What more could she want? In a sense, she does still need something; she needs him. When she tells him that she feels queasy, he quips, “You ate too much greasy food yesterday, didn’t you?” Despite his insensitivity, however, the girl rolls with the punches: “I’m young, so it’s okay.” She doesn’t quite realize how true her words are. Even though she won’t be able to steal Eita away from Mio, she’s young so she can afford to make mistakes; she’ll get over him. In any case, Eita doesn’t stop to partake in the banter. He’s completely determined at this point to pass his entrance exams (maybe the recommendation was a lie), so he’s going to go home and start studying. The guy can’t begin to care about Ena and her queasy feeling, because he doesn’t even notice it. Unlike how he was with Mio, there’s no care and attention here. And for these two, this is how it’s always been. It was always obvious from the get-go that Ena only needed his photo because something really important to her was at stake. He could’ve asked her why from the start, but he didn’t care. She had to finally spell it out to him in order to thaw his heart a little — to coax him out of his comfort zone a little (seriously, one photo in a contest isn’t going to kill him). So even though Ena now has feelings for Eita, he’s never going to notice unless she spells it out to him again. And while that might work in the short-term, it doesn’t bode well for a long-term relationship. Ena deserves better. We all do.
Whereas when it comes to Mio, everything is suddenly second nature for Eita. He helps her without even having to really think about it. He dashes out of his home and into the cold winter day without any deliberation. When he finally catches up to her at the train station, he grabs her arm and helps her onto the train without asking for her permission. He’s already checked the news so he knows that the trains are moving again. He even rides one with her to make sure she gets to the testing center on time. Then of course, when Mio loses confidence in herself on the way there, he gives her a pep talk. He peppers her with Japanese history questions to help the girl realize that she can do it. She’s put in too much work to fail. It’s as if Eita had been studying just in case he needed to help her one day. He may as well have. Finally, right before Mio enters the testing center, Eita hands her a lucky charm. I wonder how long he’s carried that with him, hoping for the golden opportunity to hand it to her. Just how much of his day does he spend thinking about Mio? It’s almost scary. But I also like this moment because the lucky charm immediately reminds Mio that she has something to ask Eita when she returns home. The charm made her think of the one she got from her Momoka. She then also remembers the lucky charm for love as well. So naturally, this leads her thought process back to the previous night and how she had seen Ena mirthfully embracing Eita. This scene exemplifies why I like this show so much. It’s something I rarely see in other romance anime. The characters can convey so much depth and emotions without having to spell things out to the audience. You can tell how much the lucky charm means to Mio:
Eita: Uh, what?
Mio: I might have something I want to ask you after I’m done with the test.
Mio: No, I do.
When Mio finally heads back home after a long day, she can’t help but reminisce. And through her memories, she starts to realize how Eita always supported her every step of the way and still does. And up until now, Mio was too blinded by her crush on Haruto. But of course, Eita shares the blame too. He was never quite certain that he loved her either until just recently: “I’ve known about it ever since middle school, after all…” Those were his words back on the night of his “confession.” Even he never realized how much he still cared for her until she told him to butt out of her affairs. They had been apart for four years without any contact, but he still has feelings for her. The intensity of his love hasn’t subsided one bit. If anything, maybe it has gotten stronger. No wonder he was so hurt when she told him to mind his own business. Still, Eita’s that kind of guy, isn’t he? He’s the kind of guy who pines and pines. He’s the kind of guy who does nice things for a girl, but he’s too scared to actually come out and say what he wants. Recall what he says to Ena earlier in this week’s episode: “If I were in your position, I wouldn’t have done anything… probably. I’d give up ’cause it’s out of my hands.” He loves Mio, but at the time, she liked someone else. Maybe he still thinks she likes Haruto. He can help her get to the testing center, but he still might think everything else is out of his hands. Hell, if Mio hadn’t gotten angry with him that night, maybe nothing would’ve changed between them. Mio finally realizes this herself: “You never say the most important things, after all.” She will probably have to make the next move.
What’s curious is that Ena has been portrayed over and over as someone who never asks for permission. She just does whatever she wants then tries to smooth things over later. I’m not just talking about the girl’s penchant for taking photos of people without their consent. Whenever she goes to hang out with Eita, does she tell him ahead of time that she’s coming? Probably not. And let’s now forget how she got the guy to share his contact info. And yet, here we are… Ena patiently waits at the train station just to ask Mio if she can date Eita. This could’ve been done over the phone, but she took the direct approach instead. And why does she even bother asking for permission? Mio doesn’t have dibs on Eita, but Ena still wants her blessing. So have we gotten the girl all wrong? Or is she perhaps interested in sussing out the reality of the situation? After all, she can’t expect Eita to open up about the awkwardness between him and Mio over the past few weeks. If Ena wants to know where things stand between those two, she may as well go to the other source. Mio doesn’t hesitate either; she immediately answers no right away. In doing so, I have to admit she gets up a few notches of respect in my eyes. Fight for what you want, girl. Always fight. But will Mio stick to her refusal once she’s had time to think about it? Or will she relent once she realizes the full implications of her answer? She hasn’t even gotten the chance to come to terms with the fact that she now likes Eita. Like Ena, her feelings for him are still young and unclear. Maybe she should beat her rival to the punch and ask him out on a date herself.
To wrap this post up, I guess I have to say something about Haruto and Haruka. After all, they’re still two of the show’s main characters. Nevertheless, this week is all about the Mio-Eita-Ena love triangle, so those two barely got any screentime. As a result, there’s really not much to say about them. It’s nice to see Haruto continue to hang out with his future co-workers. He seems content enough. He just revived his chances with Haruka, after all. It would be nice, however, to see Haruto plan a little more for the future. Sure, he’s already got a job lined up, but he should still take Haruka’s words to heart. Even if they start dating, what is he going to do when she has to leave for college? As for the girl, she’s continuing to open up and entertain new possibilities. Like Eita, she needs to step out of her comfort zone. On a shopping trip with her younger sister, Haruka at first resists any attempts to revamp her wardrobe, but when she sees other girls her age and how they look, she reconsiders. If stepping out of her comfort zone means dressing up a bit when she heads off to college, so be it. Baby steps, man. Still, whenever I see Haruka, I can’t help but wonder if there’s going to be a subplot where she sets her developing feelings for Haruto aside because she thinks Mio still has a crush on the guy. A love triangle is more than enough for this show. I’d be really disappointed if Haruto suddenly starts having feelings for Mio as well when he inevitably finds out that she used to like him. That sort of development would really muck the story up.