Members of the track team marvel over Kurata, one of their peers from another school. Not only has she fully recovered from an Achilles injury similar to the one that Akira had suffered, she’s even looking to set a new personal best on the field. Clearly, it isn’t impossible for Akira to find herself back on the team again. It’s not that she can’t do it. One major problem, however, is that she has no support. Yes, the girl is ultimately responsible for holding herself back, but it’s not as though she has people to encourage her and lift her up when she’s down in the dumps. We know Haruka hasn’t been there for her. She seems to have a friendly enough relationship with her mother, but they don’t appear to be all that close. We don’t know if Akira has any other friends at school, but she probably isn’t close to them either. In the first episode, we saw hanging out with a few girls, but they seem to just be acquaintances. Yui is a friend, but she’s also a work friend. It’s different. My point is simply that Akira doesn’t have much of a support network.
So what is Haruka going to do about it? Just to be completely frank, she’s starting to get on my nerves. All she’s ever done is stand around and look sad. I could understand it if she had a good reason to avoid Akira — like if they actually had a falling out — but she doesn’t. She said it herself that Akira made things “difficult,” which meant Haruka wanted her friend back without any of the hard work of repairing their fraught relationship. She wanted their old, carefree friendship back without having to help Akira fight through both her injury and her depression. To put it bluntly, Haruka has been a bad friend. She’s also been cowardly. Luckily, it’s not too late for her to turn things around. Even now, Akira still wants to mend their friendship.
So when Haruka sees Akira later outside of school, she tries calling out to her former best friend. The latter can’t hear her over the rain, so Haruka has no choice but run out from cover and get herself wet. It’s really quite poignant if you think about it. Up until now, Haruka has shied away from “the rain,” or more importantly, Akira’s “rain.” She has shied away from approaching Akira because she didn’t know how to approach and deal with her depressed friend. And to be fair, she’s just a kid. She can’t bear the burden of her friend’s mental recovery on her own. But as a former best friend, Haruka still could’ve provided much-needed support. Unfortunately, she wanted to have it both ways: she wanted to reach out to Akira, but she also didn’t want to make herself uncomfortable. In a manner of speaking, she didn’t want to go out into Akira’s “rain” and get herself wet. But sometimes, you just have to tough it out. Maybe hearing about Kurata has finally light a fire in Haruka. If so, it’s about time.
Haruka takes a chance, but the world conspires to make her fail. First, a truck blocks her vision, then a red light prevents her from crossing the street. By the time she can look for Akira again, her friend has disappeared from view. The key, however, is to never give up. Just like anything you do in life, there are always going to be setbacks. You just can’t give up. As a result, she pays the diner a visit. It would help if she didn’t show up with such a glower, but this is still progress. She should’ve done this months ago, but it’s never too late to start.
Just earlier, Akira had made her shift request and she wants to work more days than normal. Upon hearing this, Kondo can’t help but think back to their conversation from last week’s episode. He’s finally clued in on what’s truly bothering the girl. He’s also smart enough to realize that if Akira takes on too many shifts, she won’t have any time to go through rehab. Maybe this is her goal. Maybe Akira is unintentionally sabotaging herself. It’s not that she deliberately wants to avoid rehab. It’s more that she doesn’t even want to think about it. And she can’t think about it if she has prior commitments: “Ah, I’m just too busy with work. Maybe next month…” And pretty soon, next month becomes next year, and next year becomes never. We are very interesting creatures. We often set ourselves up to fail without ever realizing it. With only a few episodes left in this series, however, it’s about time for Kondo to push the girl in the right direction. Like Haruka, however, the world conspires to make him fail. He wants to say something to Akira, but what’s-her-face keeps haranguing him about some meeting that he has to attend.
Kondo leaves without the information that he needs to present to the head office, so he hurries back to the diner. As a result, he comes back just in time to see Akira and Haruka’s terse exchange. With Haruka already at the diner, Akira’s two worlds — the two worlds that the girl has fought to keep separate up until now — are threatening to collide. Haruka bluntly tells Akira to return to the team. She confesses that she can’t bear the thought of them growing apart any further. The air is heavy with tension. Even the drinks on the table are sweating profusely. Kondo is in his own diner, but he feels like an outsider peeking in. Eventually, Haruka’s emotions get the best of her, and she’s the first to break the silence. She’s leaving, but not without mentioning Kurata. Upon hearing this, our heroine suddenly feels as though she’s drowning. She didn’t want to think about it; she didn’t really want to acknowledge it. As for Haruka, she said what she came to say, and the ball’s now in Akira’s court.
In the second half of the episode, Kondo’s old friend Chihiro unexpectedly drops by to hang out. Shortly after crashing Kondo’s apartment, the guy wants to take a glance at Kondo’s manuscripts, but our middle-aged manager is feeling shy. Luckily, the former is persistent. At first, these two old friends attempt to write one-minute novels before their coffee is finished brewing. How quaint. Chihiro remembers how Kondo would brag in his youth about one day surpassing Akutagawa. The 45-year-old manager can only sheepishly reply that he was thoughtless in his younger days. This is ironic, of course, because seems unable to put any words to paper nowadays. Eventually, the topic turns back to Chihiro and his newfound success: his novel is getting a movie adaptation. Much to our surprise, however, his old friend is not pleased: “That novel is a piece of shit. An attempt to gain the public’s favor.” This is an interesting development, because when we last saw Chihiro, he was defensive about his novel. In any case, Kondo tries to keep things in perspective: “But your work is helping a lot of people.”
“Literature isn’t something that’s supposed to help people,” Chihiro replies, “Literature should be a poison.” Eventually, the guy confesses what’s truly bothering him. He’s certain that fame will inexorably change his character: “In the end, you just continue producing pieces of shit.” As a result, he came here to find his old self — an old self that is still being preserved in Kondo’s memories. It sounds like he doesn’t want to write gutless tripe that appeals to the masses, but since the guy is barely giving us any supporting arguments for his thesis, I can only speculate. Still, not everyone can become a Van Gogh. Sometimes, you just have to put food on the table. Sometimes, you have to accept that you’re living for more than just yourself. And when that’s the case, you’ll definitely wish you had chosen to become a Thomas Kinkade. Luckily for Chihiro, he appears to be a bachelor with few attachments and obligations in life. He can still afford to be selfish. He can still avoid selling out. But right now, Kondo is seeing what might have been. If he had had Chihiro’s stroke of luck, he would’ve had to choose between writing what he believed in or selling out in order to support his family.
Instead, Kondo just can’t write at all. Chihiro then tries to play off his previous tirade, but that’s only because he’s switching gears. He now wants to be frank about his friend’s mental block. He’s merely echoing what we had already concluded last week. Namely, Kondo can no longer write because he feels guilty. If he tries to rediscover his youthful passion, it’ll only remind him of how he cost himself his own family. If he tries to write without that spark, however, then he’ll only disappoint his former self. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Staying true to one’s dream is equated with naivete. For Chihiro, it means financial failure. If he refuses to write for the masses, his next novel could very well strike out. And if that happens, he would find himself quickly fading into obscurity, becoming nothing more than a footnote in history — a one-hit-wonder that’ll only ever come up in games of trivia. As for Kondo, he already knows what naivete got him. But then Chihiro makes another salient observation: “You’re still living for that one dream. That room isn’t about your regrets, it’s about your obsession.” Kondo may have his regrets, but he hasn’t given up. Even though he’s already lost his family, he can’t afford to lose his dream as well. This is why he keeps writing even though he can’t quite finish anything he starts. Kondo will continue his Sisyphean struggle even if all he can do right now is to keep that fire with him from going out completely.
The story’s focus now returns to Akira, who has been lying in bed, staring at her old teammates’ messages about Kurata. Unlike Kondo, she didn’t want to keep obsessing about track and field. Instead, she wanted to replace her one dream with another. This is why news about Kurata didn’t initially phase the girl at all. She had that shift request on her mind, and all she could think about at the time was how she could spend even more moments with Kondo. Haruka’s sudden reappearance at the diner, however, jarred Akira back to reality. She can’t keep brushing her past off forever. Even if she truly decides that she never wants to run again, she has to make a final decision. She can’t just keep running away from the problem and ignoring it. The girl eventually gets up from her bed and pulls her old track shoes out of the closet.
The next day, Akira finds herself lost in the miasma of her thoughts. She’s going through the motions as she continues to deliberate over her feelings. Once again, it takes another soul to jar her back to reality. A customer had left behind a phone, but they are now far off in the distance. Akira found herself in the same situation back in episode two. At the time, she had not fully recovered, so she ended up reaggravating her injury. This time, however, it should be different, but she’s afraid to take off. She’s afraid to admit to herself that she’s the primarily responsible for holding herself back from her dreams. Granted, she hasn’t been through rehab, so it’s entirely possible that she’d hurt herself again. Nevertheless, Akira didn’t even try. She didn’t even make a move. She called out futilely to the customer then proceeded to hang her head in shame as raindrops figuratively appeared around her in a dreamlike space. Akira knows she can only blame herself, but she’s remains paralyzed.
Back in the office, Kondo continues to mull over Akira’s shift request. He continues to be reminded of her words from last week’s episode: “The swallow that truly gives up on flying would likely even forget about looking up at the sky.” This is why he continues to obsess even though he can’t write anything. Now he’s wondering if he can afford to allow Akira to forget her dream. He must feel uneasy. After all, you could say it’s none of his business. He shouldn’t get involved. On the other hand, if he truly considers her a friend — and if he truly means what he says — then he has to meddle in her affairs, right? When Akira shows up in the office, Kondo tries to skirt around the issue. Won’t she have midterm exams to worry about? The girl assures her that she can juggle school and work without issues. He then adds, “If you have something else you want to do more than this job, you should use your time to do that.” That’s never going to work. Akira simply takes it as a rejection. The 45-year-old manager won’t get anywhere if he doesn’t just come right out and say what he wants to say. Like Haruka, he’ll have to put himself in an uncomfortable position if he wants to reach out to Akira. Like Haruka, Kondo needs confront the girl. By trying to avoid unpleasantness, he ends up just angering Akira. How ironic.
It begins to pour.
Misc. notes & observations
— I’m glad to see Kondo react so jubilantly to Chihiro’s good news. Despite his failures as a novelist, he holds no bitterness towards his old friend.
— Kondo’s old friend is quite effeminate, isn’t he? He even wears Chelsea boots.
— At least his son’s hamster buddy is still around. We haven’t seen much of the kid lately, though.
— When Chihiro said that he had brought something special for the two of them, I was not expecting a coffee siphon. How hipster.
— As an aside, I could never get into coffee. Smells great… tastes not so great. An espresso looks amazing, but it ends up just tasting like acrid dirt water in my mouth. And if you try to load up on sugar and cream, the purists start whining from the high heavens about how you’re not even drinking coffee anymore.
— Oh c’mon, you can’t buy a fancy coffee apparatus then resort to pre-grind coffee! Even as a non-drinker, I know that much! It takes only a couple minutes to grind your own beans. I used to do it all the time for my ex. She was the coffee lover, so we had a french press and everything.
— I love the way the show even animates the dust floating in the moonlight. It’s hard to capture in a screenshot. Even a gif wouldn’t do it justice. It’s only something you can appreciate with your own eyes.
— During the scene where Akira gets mad at Kondo, I also love how the frame subtly rotates to convey her spinning thoughts and confusion. She’s losing her grip on her reality.