Cigarettes and self-loathing, oh to be in my early 20s again.
Yesterday wo Utatte, or Sing “Yesterday” For Me, is an older (hey, like me) manga centered on the
emo melancholic Rikuo Uozumi, who graduated college six months ago. His outlook on life - shared by so many young people embarking on adulthood - feels indicative of the late-nineties where the manga originated (insert Nirvana song here). Drifting listlessly through life with a part-time job he’s perfectly complacent with and living in his messy apartment - a dwelling his friend Fukuda notes as, “this place never changes, does it?”. A self-described loafer, the only thing organized with care is Rikuo’s wall board of photography. It appears Rikuo has only two interests in his young post-collegiate life: photography and his unrequited love for Morinome Shinako, his college-mate who moved away to be a teacher after graduation.
The first time we see Shinako is during a flashback where she’s saying her goodbye to our protagonist. “We won’t get anywhere working part-time forever,” Shinako says, but Rikuo didn’t get the memo. What is interesting about these flashbacks is their use of brightness and pastel hues, clearly juxtaposing themselves from the moodier atmosphere in the present. These flashbacks use a lot of panels, manga-style, to offer a glimpse into the minds of the characters’ memories to great effect. It is that same beautiful albeit melancholy atmosphere that got me excited about this show to begin with. Rarely does a new anime premiere hook me into thinking it is must-watch. Flip Flappers and Kaguya-Sama: Love is War are two more recent examples that gave me this type of anticipation - and both were winners. So far, my anticipation for this Spring show has been justified.
Sing “Yesterday” is beautiful, and Doga Kobo has done an amazing job capturing the mood to match the protagonist’s state of mind. That perfectly quiet, downcast air you can feel, almost palpable, matching the main character’s (and maybe all three characters) mental states. I’m a sucker for atmosphere and use of color (I’m an aesthetic guy). It is why Wes Anderson is my favorite director - not always a popular opinion I know. This show uses its aesthetic almost as a character in itself. Yet it is not just the backgrounds - even Rikuo’s mannerisms reflect his burdened attitude towards life, heavy with a pinch of anxiety. From the way he turns his alarm clock off (an actual alarm clock, no iPhones in ‘97), to his anxious face rubbing, to his smoking cigarettes while his head is laid moping on his coffee table - Doga Kobo and director Yoshiyuki Fujiwara work magic with these subtle details to express emotion without hitting you over the head with it. The show is so gorgeous I rewatched a scene where Rikuo simply pours himself a glass of tap water. It’s so pretty!
Rikuo is not the only flawed character, however. Haru, a young, bubbly, eccentric girl with a pet crow (unsure if this goes anywhere), meets Rikuo within the first scene of the show. The happy go-lucky, manic pixie girl bringing a sullen boy out of his shell is a tired trope, but the show doesn’t feel confined to the gimmick. In part, because Haru is just as flawed as Rikuo. She’s quite smitten with him, getting slightly upset that he does not remember her “that snowy day five years ago”. It seems Rikuo was running for something while crossing paths with a much younger and nerdier version of Haru, only to have Haru pick up a ticket he dropped to return to him.
Rikuo did not recall this chance encounter until Haru mentioned it, in part due to how much she’s matured, but Haru has not forgotten. The first episode has Haru on an almost stalker-like level, showing up to greet Rikuo on many occasions. One such notable appearance is while Rikuo was walking with Shinako, and it is here where we learn Shinako used to be Haru’s teacher before Haru dropped out of high school - something Haru keeps telling Shinako that it’s not her fault. This show has strong vibes of Domestic Girlfriend, except without the shame associated with liking it (or ya know, ecchi).
The first time we see Rikuo finally appear in his element was when he’s asked to take a photo for his co-worker’s album cover. What’s telling is how he settled on taking a photo of Haru for the shot. Moreover, what I loved is, when asked to do this, Rikuo’s co-worker gives him his band’s mixtape in… cassette form!!
I also appreciate the early confession of love, preventing the series from dragging its premise all throughout. Shinako’s rejection was believable, authentic, and heart-wrenching. Rikuo built up his courage and went for it. Now go lay in garbage.
The second episode was very much centered on Shinako. We meet a new student who seems to have some sort of relationship with her. He says “he misses her home cooking when they were in Kanazawa”. He also mutters “since when does she wear makeup”. That line, along with Shinako cutting her hair (breakup/closure haircut?), implies that she is trying to evolve, grow, move on. Clearly, she wants to become a new person, or maybe the person Rikuo believes her to be. The exact evolution of maturity Rikuo has yet to attempt, however, as he takes comfort in embodying failure. The coward’s approach to avoid expectations or disappointment, in line with grungy ‘90s loser motifs, again matching the manga’s original publication time.
It turns out the younger student was Shinako’s neighbor growing up in Kanazawa - Rou Hayakawa. Rou sees Rikuo walking with Shinako and later confronts Rikuo, and reveals that Shinako was and is in love with Rou Hayakawa’s older brother, who died 6 years ago. He was sickly, and Shinako would regularly come over to cook and care for him. He died during cherry blossom season. The night of his death, she stayed up staring at cherry blossoms from his bedroom.
She hates cherry blossoms for this reason, and yet the show continues to juxtapose her alongside them. Despite only being the second episode, there is already marked character development. Rikuo bumps into Shinako sitting at a park, staring out in thought (again with cherry blossoms in the backdrop), the same way she looked during Hayakawa’s death. This is where she reveals her own insecurities for the first time: she claims she’s not as forward-thinking as Rikuo believes her to be. Here, the show asserts that all three main characters have their own flaws they are coping with, and the remaining episodes will explore how they take account of those flaws. There exists a sort of push and pull with their past selves, their current selves, and what they want to end up being. Shinako wants to move on, Haru wants so badly to be seen as a full grown adult, and Rikuo - well Rikuo TBD. “Yesterday” is an apt and fitting title to the show. The episode ends with Rikuo speaking to Shinako, where he now understands her past, understands how she feels. Ending on an interesting line, Rikuo leaves Shinako saying “I’ll wait”, which leaves the door open for hope, unlike the way the first episode ended. This emerging love triangle will most likely continue, especially since Haru declared a competition against Shinako in this episode.
Episode three (or scene 03 the way the show states it) ,titled “What is Love?”, of course opens with a cherry blossom shot - a beautiful one at that. Finally, and expectedly, we are treated to an episode centered on Haru. “Rikuo, what is love?” Haru and Rikuo’s conversation at the start of this episode had all my attention. Walking home in the rain, Rikuo, speaking to Haru, echoes Shinako, “I’m not the person you think I am.” Haru comes clean about her feelings for Rikuo. Her reveal she’s competing with Shinako for his affection takes Rikuo aback. She states she is perfectly fine with doing what they have been doing. She has no demands from him, and Rikuo feels checkmated. It’s the exact same feeling he has for Shinako. I found myself rooting for Haru and her happiness the most out of all three of these characters, even while empathizing most for Shinako.
I love Haru’s design. Her funny faces and reactions are what I look forward to the most. During her conversation with Rikuo however, her youthful energy is restrained with a hopeful yet more mature tone. It is here, again, where the character acting is top-notch. The way she walks with her arms held up over her head, it’s so subtle but you feel the angst, the anxiety, but also the nonchalant confidence at war with her past insecurities.
She’s the youngest character and yet the most assertive of the three. While this conversation was not heavy with sorrow, my heart felt for Haru - I’m rooting for the kid. I’ve also realized that these two and their relationship is the main attraction. I would be remiss not to mention how much I love Yume Miyamoto’s performance as Haru. She brings the character to life, adding the perfect balance of youthful energy and maturity Haru is adamant on showing.
Haru, having received Rikuo’s phone number from his coworker, attempts to call him. Once again the show excels at portraying believable and affective body language. Her fingers hesitant to dial, her still face - stoic - the glitter of her pupils the only indicator of her anxiety. She resigns from calling him, mainly because she didn’t earn his number . It’s so well executed, I continue to be awestruck at the production level of this show. Even the way Haru’s face lights up when she sees Rikuo back at work makes my own stupid face light up.
“No. That last name suits you well.”
We learn Haru’s last name - Nonaka - while she is visiting her mother. She asks her mother if it bothers her that she uses it. We have one of the few flashbacks in this episode - one where young Haru shows her father she drew her full name, to his joy. We are not told what happened to him, but underlying issues appear present with Haru, particularly since her relationship with her mother is not strong.
Haru invites Rikuo to see a movie and predictably we have our first misunderstanding. Rikuo - after taking care of a sick Shinako - falls asleep and misses his date with Haru (you bastard). Even though this type of cliche misconception is obligatory and nothing new, it’s still well executed - and we get the first real emotion from Haru out of this. We also see a first glimpse of Rikuo feeling something for someone other than Shinako.
From the backgrounds, to the character acting, to the slightly rough line work, this show looks as gorgeous as it can look. Production levels continue to run high - scenes where Haru is riding around on her scooter look stunning. When Rikuo finally runs into Haru at a red light, her hands show her indecisiveness. Should she drive off the moment the light turns green and escape him? No, eventually she lets her hand go (hands have been utilized perfectly as strong dramatic devices), allowing Rikuo to catch up to her. Simple but effective. The end of this episode has such a satisfying organic climax where Haru sheds her protective shield to yell at Rikuo her full name, age, weight, and the name of her job - intimate details she has not allowed herself to share with anyone.
As a husband and father, I am over a decade plus removed from the moment Yesterday explores. Most of us have been there, though. College or post-college drifting, unsure of where to navigate our lives. Heartbroken, yearning for love. Unable to find a job, aimless, displaced, taking jobs we hate (I’m talking to you USA Today call center job), and feeling the pressure build on top of itself. It’s okay; I didn’t “find my calling”. That’s fine, really. I’m saying this as the future Rikuo. Especially if you are currently dealing with this in our current climate. I feel for you. Maybe this isn’t the show for you at the moment, maybe it’s bad timing - or maybe the rest of the show will give you that glimmer of hope you need right now. It’s too early to tell only 3 episodes in. I was in my 3-episode mark of my life once just like Rikuo. We have 18 episodes to see how this concludes.
Speaking of 18 episodes, Doga Kobo’s production team clearly has a plan. Instead of the usual 12-13 episode season, the fact that this series is 18-episodes in length gives me hope that the series will develop towards an earned conclusion (without a delay I hope). The series is adapted by Jin Tanaka (Laid-Back Camp; quite possibly my favorite “cute girls doing cute things” show), so I have faith in the adaptation of the source material. This has me that much more excited to continue, except for the tiny detail that the last 6 episodes are only airing on AbemaTV. No word on whether Crunchyroll will have these episodes - a third of the season no less - available to stream (just like when I finished Bakemonogatari only to have to search for episodes 13-15 on my own). Another disappointment is the fact that there are extra scenes at the end of each episode, that is again only being shown on AbemaTV. I’ve found a couple of these scenes fan subbed, so definitely try to look for those.
Sing “Yesterday” For Me makes me want to dive into more of Doga Kobo’s catalog, especially since I’m prone to enjoying slice of life. (I even own Natsuyuki Rendezvous when I bought it dirt cheap during a Sentai films sale years ago collecting dust) New Game!, Tada Never Falls in Love, and Asteroid in Love have now climbed up in my never ending backlog. If this is what Doga Kobo can accomplish focusing on a more adult-focused character drama as opposed to their usual “cute girls doing cute things,” then it shows that the future is bright with them. If nothing else, I am absolutely hooked on this show and never tired of rewinding scenes for this article. I love every conversation, every expertly directed shot. After three episodes, the proper pacing of the show is apparent and satisfying. I can’t get enough of Sing “Yesterday” For Me, and I implore anyone to watch it, especially if your favorite isekai or shonen is delayed.
Just like Rikuo.
Title: Yesterday wo Utatte / Sing “Yesterday” For Me
Based on: Finished manga started in 1997 by mangaka Kei Toume
Produced by: Doga Kobo (Yuruyuru, New game!, Tada Never Falls in Love, Asteroid in Love)
Director, Series Composer: Yoshiyuki Fujiwara (New Game!, Tada Never Falls in Love)
Assistant Director: Ryouta Itou
Character Designer, Chief Animation Director: Junichirou Taniguchi
Chief Animation Director: Maho Yoshikawa
Art Director: Tetsuya Usami
Photography Director: Takafumi Kuwano
Streaming on: Crunchyroll (US) (at least two thirds of it anyway)
Episodes watched: 3
This article is part of a series where my fellow AniTAY authors and I offer our thoughts on various shows from the Spring 2020 season. For the previous entry, click here: