Amnesia is one of those subjects that’s never done well in television. Often a series that’s beginning to jump the shark will have a character lose their memory, or a sitcom will have an episode about a character forgetting everything and the whimsy that ensues from what in real life would be a terrifying ordeal. The loss of memory and the effect that has on the self is at the heart of romantic anime Golden Time, which finds the pathos and existential depth of the subject.
Our hero is Tada Banri, a Tokyo university student who as it turns out has retrograde amnesia, unable to remember his life before an incident on a bridge in his home town. He has lived another life, but it is no more a part of his identity than if it were the story of another person. He has a devoted girlfriend, the beautiful Kaga Koko, but as his memories start to return, the past starts to interfere with the present.
The series is an impressively honest and mature take on the importance of memory. Banri frequently describes himself before the accident as a different person whose shadow Banri is forced to live in. The return of his former memories affect Banri as deeply as a disease; he reflects on and is scared by his return to his former self, as that necessarily means the death of his past self. This forces Koko to deal with accepting the loss of the boy she fell in love with.
Golden Time is a neat twist on your typical romance anime. Yes there’s a main character who has two potential love interests, yes there’s a best friend character, Mitsuo, and yes there’s a comic relief/audience surrogate character, 2-D. But the series adds depth to Linda the ‘other girl’, a character trope that’s normally two dimensional. By building Linda’s character and history with Banri, the story immediately becomes more interesting, and it is never obvious who Banri is supposed to end up with. 2-D, despite initially being the show’s comic foil, is taken seriously as a character, and ends up being integral to the story. However, the most interesting character by far is Koko, whom we first meet as an intense, possessive girl from Mitsuo’s past stalking him. The series takes time to let Koko dwell on her behaviour and learn from her mistakes, and against all odds, we end up rooting for her. Characters frequently reflect on themselves and their actions, and it is in these mature, introspective moments that the show really shines.
The thoughtful moments of the series butts heads with the show’s sillier components. The framing of Banri’s past as a separate entity is a unique and interesting way of thinking about Banri’s situation, but the series awkwardly coalesces this idea with supernatural element in the form of Ghost Banri. He starts off as (I assumed) a physical manifestation of Banri’s lost memories and feelings which works well, but by physically interfering with events, not only does it not really make sense (does that mean that Banri has two souls? Why can Ghost Banri only affect the physical world some of the time? Why doesn’t he just stop following Banri around and piss off if he doesn’t like him so much?), Ghost Banri’s actions make Banri less accountable for his, and remove some of the depth to his character. The show frequently mixes its human drama with comedy, which works for the most part, but occasionally the attempts at humour are unwelcome in the more sincere scenes.
Golden Time is a thoughtful and charming anime driven by its ideas and interesting characters. Though not life-changing, the shows has its moments that you are not likely to forget.
Dir: Chiaki Kon
Scr: Fumihiko Shimo
Cast: Makotu Furukawa, Yui Horie, Kaito Ishikawa, Ai Kayano
Music: Yukari Hashimoto
Runtime: 23 minutes per episode
Golden Time Vol.2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 9 May courtesy of Manga UK