One of the most controversial (and best) shows this season has been After the Rain, a seinen series examining a blossoming May-December romance between 17-year-old high school student, Akira Tachibana, and 45-year-old Masami Kondou, the manager of the restaurant at which she works. The question for a lot of viewers was similar to those for Citrus—would the series be exploitative and smutty (like Noitamina shows tend to be) or would it approach the topic sensitively (also as Noitamina shows tend to do)?
I approached episode one with skepticism, but was almost immediately surprised by the maturity and thoughtfulness of the show. The animation has been beautiful, of course, but one thing that really struck me was how little fanservice there was, as if the series wanted to say, “See, Akira isn’t just a piece of meat—there’s a real story here.” After the Rain has subtly and carefully moved forward to allow its audience time to accept the possibility of romance, and to convince us to have a change of heart (for while some are willing to give it a shot, certainly a huge chunk of the audience is not accepting of the relationship).
It’s done a good job of that—that is, until episode seven.
The latest episode was strange and out of character from the rest of the series, particularly in the scene where Akira comes to visit Kondou at his apartment. While things didn’t move forward as they might in the real world (I kept thinking that in this situation, with two people attracted to one another, they might actually make love), the two of them took big leaps in strange directions. Akira whined and sulked and, maybe, manipulated Kondou. In turn, after consoling her with words, he gives her a romantic, long-lasting hug, accompanied by his thoughts which are at once poetic, compassionate, and carnal. The intimacy in the scene is palpable. And it’s icky.
Warning: This post will delve into territory uncommon for this blog, and I absolutely know that some readers will find the screencaps offensive.
It seems the Internet is with me. I posted a collection of screencaps from the episode on Tumblr, as I usually do, and the response has been very strong and different from before, transitioning from “I love this show!” to “This is gross.”
I’m not sure how the manga approached this situation (or the romance at all, though just as with some classic piece of literature, somehow manga makes forbidden romance feel more acceptable), but it’s clear here that the animators desired to push the romance forward. No more sitting on the sidelines for them, not with just five or six episodes remaining. And eating their cake, too, they had Kondou remark that the hug was one of “friendship,” trying to move back toward that successful (if dangerous) balance that had existed all previously.
It doesn’t work—the relationship has moved too far into new territory.
Regardless of where the show goes, though, I wonder what it would take for me to accept Akira and Kondou as a couple. What if their thoughts toward each other were better explained or developed, for instance? Right now, the motivation we’re given for Akira liking him is that he’s stability and kindness for her when the world has thrown her the opposite in the form of her injury. There’s also a sexual attraction there, which was explored more in this episode than in others (as the show treads into heavier fanservice territory—I’m not showing caps for that—which also made the episode uncomfortable). Kondou only sees her as a reminder of his youth and a chance for acceptance. Yeah…I’m gonna need more than that.
And I want to examine this question in their particular situation. I could add a year or two to Akira, take a few off of Kondou, and remove them from their manager-employee relationship and be alright with it (or at least less judgmental), but that’s not the situation. Would those fundamental changes, though, have to happen for me to approve?
I want to know your thoughts, though. What would it take to make Akira and Kondou’s romance okay for you? Or are you already fine with it as is? Let us know in the comments below!
After the Rain can be streamed on Amazon Prime.