Caught between a girl who’s rich and can’t stop being a bitch, and the man she has decided will spend the rest of his life with her (irrespective of little things like his abject abhorrence and efforts to abandon “their” life plans), the future of one boy from the country may well imminently be coming up roses.
College is a place many people go to in order to find, or reinvent, themselves. One of the first steps in such a process is ‘Deciding Where You Want To Be.’ The next is often ‘Getting There’ and it with this that we find our protagonist, Banri Tada, having problems. Lost in Tokyo attempting to make it to Fukurai University, a prestigious law school he’s due to start attending, Banri meets a fellow student in the exact same situation and immediately hits it off. As he and Mitsuo Yanagisawa, as the new friend’s name happens to be, make their way to orientation, they find a beautiful girl waiting at the entrance gate with a large bouquet of roses... who walks over, subjects them both to flowery abuse, congratulates Mitsuo on his acceptance to Fukurai and proceeds to tell him, with flowery language, that he was silly to think he could get away from her. As it turns out, yon girl is Mitsuo’s childhood friend and whom he came to Fukurai to get away from; one Kouko Kaga, a wealthy heiress and Mitsuo’s self-declared fiancée/owner. Who, as it turns out, has also decided to enroll.
The college setting is apt - this series, whilst lighthearted, does have a depth of maturity underlying it (even if the characters sometimes don’t). People looking for humour will find it weighed down by this, whereas people looking for a more solid story will find the jokes keep the pace from getting bogged down.
Golden Time is surprisingly accessible given its premise. Given one of the central characters is portrayed as being fundamentally unlikable, that she isn’t from very early on is an achievement. Even when Kouko is entirely failing to see why she is her own worst enemy there’s an aspect of sympathy about her, given how much of her self-worth she has placed on a person that actively hates her, mainly due to her own actions. Fundamentally, she’s a lonely, unhappy person who is trying to hide from it in ways which she cannot see are counter-productive, and that unhappiness is a recurring theme in all the main characters introduced so far. Kouko is unhappy due to her isolation, and seeks Mitsuo to not be alone. She’s so dedicated to this goal, and so convinced it’s the correct state of affairs for the world to be in, that she never second-guesses herself. She never pays much attention to anything tangential to her drive forwards and only ever has those traits reinforced when, on the rare occasions she does stop and take a look around, the rest of the world seems intent on having nothing to do with her. So she retreats back into her structured perfect plan and embeds herself ever deeper.
Meanwhile, Mitsuo is unhappy due to having no say in the life he is forced into by Kouko, to the extent that he is completely dismissive of even the idea she might be having problems of some sort. Though it is obvious that she makes his life hell, his attitude towards her in return is aggressively callous and insulting. Neither party being one-dimensional helps keep either of them from being reduced to a plot element and maintains their agency within the ongoing story. Now, that Kouko is going to be a romance interest for Banri seems obvious, but with both Kouko and Mitsuo being so biased regarding each other, this particular love triangle is likely going to have sharp points.
And Banri himself is also generally unhappy, though he hides it well. As it turns out, he really has come to college to try and reinvent himself, as an incident that cost him a year in rehabilitation also cost him all the years before that too. Banri has lost all memories of his life before the accident, the ‘nurture’ aspect of his Self, and as such feels like the person everyone who knows him ‘knows’ is not him. His time in university is his effort to literally make a new life for himself, though developing an immediate crush on someone obsessed with his first friend is not the best development anyone could wish for...
A main character with amnesia is not a new trope, but then nor are most of them. The worth comes in the application, and Volume 1 applies it well. The story plays off the traditionally aggressive Japanese Club Recruitment practises to have several of the cast effectively abducted by a cult, and Banri’s effort to allow everyone to leave at the expense of him staying with the Special Snowflake Worshippers involves him coming up with a story seemingly as crazy as the lines being spouted by the cultists. Crazy enough to work however, until Kouko’s pride leads her to remain behind as well in a truly facepalm-worthy development. The two then escape out a window and leg it, only to get stuck on your standard Japanese mountain.
The requisite bonding moment occurs, where Kouko confirms that she had been attempting to manipulate Banri due to his connection with Mitsuo (he was aware), and considers the person she is when she is ‘with’ Mitsuo to be the perfect version of herself, the Kouko she’d rather be. A statement which is surprisingly sad, not just because both Banri and probably the audience are thinking the exact opposite, but because one of the fundamentals about being in love is being with someone who makes you be a version of yourself you want to be, and plenty of us run into problems and confusion until we learn that. Kouko inherently understands that lesson, but doesn’t understand her answer to it and is thus destroying what she’s wanting to have.
And in turn, she is told that Banri’s story about his amnesia was all true. (Minus the part about wanting to seek guidance from Crystal Jesus). Through her proxy we are told about the accident, his feelings regarding his former personality and the prospect of it returning, and we see (though she doesn’t) his crush on Kouko grow even larger. His desire to tell Kouko about his amnesia is particularly notable given his reluctance to do so earlier with Mitsuo.
Glimpses of light through the trees then prompt the two to start yelling for rescue, and through the bushes comes another girl from a brief appearance earlier in the book. I think it’s a safe assumption that she’ll have more of a presence in Volume 2.
So, so far, there has been quite a lot of material that would typically be quite a slog to get through. Fortunately, there is also quite lot of silliness which helps offset the darker aspects of the setting and keeps you turning pages without getting drained. Exaggerated facial expressions, exaggerated imagined effects, characters really overacting their roles in interactions with each other... Without the humour I feel the volume would have been a much harder read, but as it was I moved through it very easily. I wouldn’t consider it something that needs specific time or effort set aside for, it’s much more accessible than that. There are minor resolution issues with the review copy provided that will hopefully be rectified for production, but overall the art is clean and rarely approaches feeling too cluttered on the page. All in all, Golden Time is not something that I would have chosen to pick up, I think, but I’m glad I was provided a reason to do so. I may well continue the series in my own time.
EDIT: Seven Seas contacted Taykobon to clarify that the commercial copies are of higher resolution and quality, as would be expected. Apologies for any confusion.
I think it obvious that Banri attempting to win Kouko over is going to be a primary plot thread for the entire series, though what degree of success he’s going to have remains to be seen. I also feel that it’s unlikely to be so simple as a love triangle, and the weight of the dramatic elements introduced so far could easily become unbalanced... But that doesn’t happen in Volume 1. If it continues to get the balance right, I think this story could have some recommendable highs and lows to it. That said, Golden Time is not reinventing the Romantic Comedy, so don’t expect anything novel from this novel. (Yes, I know it’s not technically a “novel”. Give me the joke).
Golden Time Vol. 1 will be published by Seven Seas Manga in English on October 27th, 2015. The manga is currently ongoing in ASCII Media Works’ Denki Daioh imprint and is based off the light novel series of the same name written by Yuyuko Takemiya. An anime adaptation produced by J.C. Staff ran from the Fall of 2013 to the Winter of 2014.
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*Copy provided for Taykobon by publisher.
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