After the Rain is not what it seems. Go to MyAnimeList, Anichart, even Wikipedia, and it seems to be a love story between a high school girl and a divorced middle-aged man. In fact, the first few episodes do little to alter this impression, as the girl confesses her feelings and they even go on something of a date — and the opening reinforces this romantic mood, with its playful tone, bright colors and abundance of heart iconography.
As always, this article is provided in video format and transcribed directly below. I would like to note that my articles are written first and foremost to be experienced as videos (that is, read aloud), so no guarantees that jokes, grammar, or anything else will transition entirely smoothly to text.
However, the greatness of After the Rain is that it’s not actually a romance, not exactly. As opposed to the opening, it is the ending which portrays a much more accurate picture of the series: a wistful and melancholic theme whose lyrics touch on longing and goodbyes, lamenting the loss of good things while being left with bad things, set to imagery of a dark and rainy track field that slowly transforms into a bright and sunny one.
This symbolism is rather on the nose, because the girl, Akira Tachibana, is a former track star, forced to quit the team after a debilitating injury, and over time the show’s incredibly able direction communicates her resulting solitude and grief without having to say a word, juxtaposing her friends running on the track with Akira herself struggling on the sidewalk, or stranded alone at a desk, or (at its most obvious) consumed by the darkness of rain. And in this moment of such deep despair, a fleeting act of kindness from a total stranger captures her heart. That stranger just happens to be the 45-year-old Masami Kondo.
But while Kondo at first seems to be simply a kind and carefree old man, his life has hardly been sunshine and roses either. He’s a manager at a family restaurant, that can’t have been his childhood dream — and it isn’t. Kondo is continuously pained by the what-ifs and could-have-beens, an avid writer in his youth whose work just never took off and is constantly, unavoidably reminded of that fact by his famous and successful college buddy.
Akira is certainly infatuated with Kondo, and his own heart may skip a beat when he realizes this, but an actual relationship never develops between the two. As the story goes on, romance is repeatedly pushed to the background, in favor of developing a certain kinship and healing between two people with pain and regrets that they don’t know how to handle.
A sizable portion of the show is spent establishing and articulating these characters who (for the sake of time) I summarized in only a few words, as well as the two coming to realize these aspects of each other, which deftly culminates in Episode 10, when Akira and Kondo strike up a conversation about a suspiciously metaphorical swallow. Akira questions if a swallow that refuses to leave the nest, and fly with others of its kind, can find happiness. Kondo, after some hesitation, asserts that while there may be some happiness to be found by staying behind, the swallow would forever long for the sky.
This conversation is dripping with meaning, for the both of them. For Kondo, an old man burnt out before ever achieving his dreams, it’s a pensive reminiscence, a contemplation on how he’s led his life and where that’s taken him. For Akira, it’s a gentle warning, a push not to drop out of youth so soon, and settle for anything less than the height of her ambitions — that is, reconnecting with others her age and rejoining the track team. Then as she leaves the room, we’re brought full circle, Akira returning the favor, telling Kondo that she looks forward to reading any novel he’d write, allowing him a hope and satisfaction that he likely hasn’t experienced in years, or decades. In the remaining episodes, these feelings are reinforced for the both of them, encouraged to reignite their passions by concerned old friends, and finally, they do exactly that.
Much of the criticism I’ve seen directed at After the Rain comes down to the perception that Kondo is the real focus, the character we audiences are given the most footing with, while Akira is ultimately an object, a shallow cute thing to accept whatever feelings we project onto her. I strongly disagree with this sentiment, but I do understand where it comes from. There’s very occasional snippets of uncomfortable male gaze, and After the Rain was published in a seinen manga magazine, a publication whose target demographic is specifically adult men. I wouldn’t be surprised if those readers resonated a lot with Kondo’s story; very few people actually achieve their dreams, so Kondo’s struggles and failures being affirmed through a cute anime girl’s love and acceptance is an alluring fantasy.
Kondo also gets most of the series’ internal monologues, while Akira’s own thoughts are ostensibly more unclear and opaque.However, to me that can’t help feeling like a very reductive reading of the series. It is an objective fact that Kondo gets more internal monologues than Akira, but does that necessarily mean we know him better? Not in my opinion. In fact, I felt Kondo got the short end of the stick, because while he is often characterized solely through straightforward flashbacks and monologues, the show as a whole is otherwise designed to put us in Akira’s headspace, with absolute oodles of subtle visual storytelling. Not only does it use the directorial tricks I mentioned to establish her depressive mood (and many more, like different weather highlighting contrasting emotions), but it also does so to flesh out her crush, exemplifying playful body language, such as the wordless joy after getting an awaited call, or through intentional minor actions, like moving her shoes closer to Kondo’s when visiting his house.
And I think the crux of my glowing opinion of this series is that After the Rain does not ultimately condone Akira’s feelings. It paints them for what they are: a childish infatuation borne of immaturity, not truly deep romantic feelings that should dictate the course of her life, and gently reminds her of this. It is a story about love, but not romantic love — rather, rekindling one’s own love of track, or of literature; a story of two people with problems who knowingly and unknowingly help each other through them, then go their separate ways. In this, we come back to those ending credits, and revisit the very clear meaning of the title. After the rain, after any long stretch of darkness and uncertainty, there can eventually be only light.
There’s much more to the show beyond this that I loved, from its thick and atmospheric soundtrack to its beautiful watercolor effects, but this was meant to be just a brief overview of my general thoughts, jotted down almost entirely from memory on the spur of the moment. After the Rain is something I highly encourage every one of you to check out, regardless of any misgivings you may have had while reading over the synopsis. I found it a joy to watch, and every episode left me with a kind of pit in my stomach — but a good pit, if that makes sense, and it is in fact my favorite (non-sequel) anime of the Winter 2018 season.