Two years ago I was getting off a flight that just landed in Amsterdam to kick off my bachelor party. When my cell service returned, I was immediately made numb - Anthony Bourdain, my hero, had passed away. I couldn’t believe it; quite possibly my favorite voice of any medium was gone. It’s surreal discovering the news while traveling, doing the same thing he was known for. It was similarly surreal when I heard the news last week from our AniTAY Discord chat that Zac Bertschy had passed away. I’m proud to be a part of AniTAY, a community of talented and, more importantly, passionate writers. The same passion shared by Zac, and it goes to show how important he was to the community when I feel the same heaviness days later as I felt when the world lost Bourdain.
I’m in my mid 30s, I’ve been watching anime since before some of you were born (sorry for waving my old man cane), and as far back as I can remember, Zac Bertschy was a voice in the anime community. The man at Anime News Network, working for them for over twenty years, an exceptional writer and podcast host (the ANNCast Podcast that I looked forward to more than just about any other podcast), and someone whose passion was clearly evident. He loved art, loved artists, and consumed entertainment with an artist’s eye. That’s what I appreciated the most. When he raved about an anime, you not only felt his appreciation, you felt a need to watch it.
As I happened to watch the movie Clue (1985) over the weekend for the hundredth time (my wife has shockingly never seen it so I had to rectify that), I couldn’t help but think about Zac. Not that long ago, he and Lynzee Loveridge had a rewatch of the movie on the ANNCast Podcast. I loved hearing him passionately speak about a movie or a show I was also an avid fan of - something I’ll miss dearly. The two most recent anime he gushed about were Trigger’s Promare and Keep Your Hands Off Eizoken! - the former I’ve yet to see, whereas I’ve seen the first few episodes of Masaaki Yuasa’s Eizoken and loved it (Easy Breezy!), but I owe it to Zac to give them a full and proper viewing.
I’ll miss his expertise, his wit, and that infectious laugh. I’d never met Zac, and yet reading and hearing a guy for so many years, you can’t help but grow a one-sided bond that feels like you really know the person. All the more bittersweet when hearing nothing but positive stories from the people who he came across - and many people I respect who had their first writing opportunities come about from him. If you want a proper memorial to Zac, please read our own Dockev’s article:
I also think Kim Morrissy’s article was a great one:
I feel terrible for the people who knew and loved Zac Bertschy. I lost my favorite podcaster, and the anime community lost one of it’s greatest voices.
Now please allow me to awkwardly transition to the meat of this article.
“Everyone’s desperate to get good in the beginning. And then, once you get decent, it gets kind of boring.”
Rou wants to be an artist. His fellow art school student Takishita offers words of encouragement to his frustrated friend. Takishita, along with every other student in the class, are currently all more skilled than “peaked too soon Rou”. Through one of the better-looking flashbacks Sing Yesterday has displayed up to this point, we see a young Rou winning an art contest for a landscape painting. Rou’s backstory takes shape with great direction and paneling - and so too his desire to become an artist. “Drawing was the one thing I could do better than my brother,” he admits. The promising, yet sickly older brother Yuu was always the center of attention - and Rou is just looking for some acknowledgement. Art was his solace, a way to escape from under his late brother’s shadow. All the more frustrating when you might not be as good as you thought you were.
After a downtrodden day, Rou comes home to a pleasant surprise: Shinako cooking dinner for him. I hope this doesn’t get awkward. Please don’t get awkward… and it’s immediately awkward. Throw Rou into the love
triangle square Sing Yesterday is growing. Luckily we get this awkwardness out of the way early. Shinako, to no surprise, only sees Rou as a little brother figure. When he emotionally confronts her, asking if she has considered whether she’s confusing sympathy for love regarding her feelings for Yuu, we get one of the finest displays of character acting thus far. The camera slowly pans up Shinako’s still face, her eyes - flickering with emotion and transparency - the only motion on screen. Admittedly, the thought has indeed crossed her mind - and with her sad smile she simply says, “It’s not like you to talk like that.” Ending both the conversation and Rou’s hope for more than a familial relationship.
Later, Shinako goes back home to Kanazawa with Rou’s father, and we are treated to a very touching moment with the two opening a box of Yuu’s belongings. The father plans to rent out the house next year, so this moment acts as closure both for the father and Shinako. She sees the eraser with “baka” (idiot) written on it and remembers Yuu throwing it at her when she needed one in their class.
It is such a shame the extra scene after the second episode (only available on AbemaTV) explains how she did not cry at Yuu’s funeral.. Always being close to death’s doorstep, Yuu carried himself with a relatively emotionless stoicism, so Shinako felt it fitting for her to display the same sentiment. Pretty damn important character insight we miss out on due to this bizarre licensing issue. I implore anyone watching this show to seek out these extra scenes.
“Safety-pin ear boy” is the least likeable member of the Sing Yesterday cast, but Rou still has his own recognizable angst and believable insecurities. He might even possess the most self-awareness, calling himself a brat in this episode. I’m not familiar with the source material, so I only know what I’ve seen, and there may well be a larger picture to paint. Maybe he is a catalyst for Shinako’s growth, or connects with Rikuo over their mutual artistic ambitions, but Rou, while realistically portrayed, feels somewhat unnecessary. If there is a satisfying outcome, then kudos to the manga and to Doga Kobo for creating an impatience with wanting something to come of this, but it just feels like overkill. It adds more malaise and unrequited love to the already-overflowing buckets of it.
Rikuo is now working part time at a photo gallery? Again, it’s a shame we don’t get the extra AbemaTV-exclusive scenes. The one after episode four adds some background to how Rikuo goes from strictly konbini clerk to now working at a gallery, thanks to “glasses friend” who we haven’t seen since the first episode. During this extra scene, I particularly liked them playing infamously difficult Ghouls n Ghosts and “glasses bro” immediately dies after the level music starts and the rest of the scene has the “GAME OVER” displayed on the TV. The music and humor of it were so good, and yes, this game will kick your ass. Why are we missing this kind of nostalgia, why??
At the gallery, we are treated to a clever shot of Rikuo walking past second-year college student and newly hired part-timer Minato. The slow motion effect conveys a sense of Rikuo looking at his past self. It’s a persona that has not changed much, so more like he’s looking into a mirror. Minato, another depressed introvert who happens to be an exceptional photographer, almost immediately becomes a rival and motivator for Rikuo both in his attempted courtship with Haru and his superiority as an artist. When asked what kind of camera he uses, Rikuo is dumbfounded by Minato’s question. The 90’s setting adds believability to the idea Rikuo, a photography lover, lacks a good camera and the knowledge of them - details that would make less sense in today’s ever-connected world. Minato not only pushes Rikuo to enter a photography contest, but emboldens Rikuo to buy a camera worth a damn.
This episode feels more like a standalone one, but it adds much-needed character development - which is why I’m thankful for the decision to go with the unconventional 18-episode run. Surprisingly, it’s one of my favorite episodes so far, checking all the Sing Yesterday boxes with plot progression, character development, plenty of Haru charm, and a dialed-back melodrama that almost feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the heaviness of episodes past. Minato not only motivates Rikuo, but allows Haru to confront what she really wants, helping them both with added assertiveness and determination. Haru’s rejection of Minato and her reasoning why are both elegiac and a confirmation of her goal: giving it her all so that she is left without regret. Minato reflects Haru’s philosophy through his confession, admitting he has had a crush on her since their third year of high school. You feel for Minato but also respect him, and now he can also move on without regret.
Minato’s artistic sensibilities are revealed to Rikuo and Haru over lunch in the beginning of the episode, “I don’t take portraits. Portraits push the photographer’s personal sentiments onto the viewer. I don’t like them,” he asserts. With that, the ending wraps up in perfectly poetic fashion - Minato wins the photography contest with a portrait of Haru, much to Rikuo’s frustration. Minato’s personal sentiment, or love for Haru, came through in the winning photo, a tasteful and symbolic conclusion to the one-and-done character.
“Sorry Uozumi. You never did understand me.”
Episode six introduces another fresh character from the past: Yuzuhara Chika, a high school classmate of Rikuo, and an ex-girlfriend at that. I never tire of Sing Yesterday’s flashbacks, and the one with Chika playing the piano is lovely. The light shining through the windows behind her illuminates the shot, clearly juxtaposing the flashback with the present where Chika and Rikuo first re-encounter one another.
We learn that every band she joined ended up falling apart over relationship drama. The anime Stevie Nicks is in a bind with no place to stay, so now she has infiltrated Rikuo’s life and apartment. He wonders why Chika wouldn’t assume he has a girlfriend, and her reply is hilarious and wonderful: “You don’t. I can tell from the way your room looks.”
Chika injects some much-needed energy into Sing Yesterday. Outside of Haru, the rest of the cast are relatively foreign to zeal and vivacity.- Her levity is one of the main reasons I love Chika - she’s a breath of fresh air from the sullen boys and girl. While she has been through her fair share of band members, this episode also establishes that Shinako has never been in a romantic relationship - as discovered during her scene drinking with co-workers. Her pissed-off face, the first of its kind we’ve seen from her, is fantastic.
Yes her and Yuu had a connection, but it never moved towards fulfilling a tangible relationship. This scene clearly adds momentum to Shinako’s eventual reciprocation of Rikuo’s feelings. Chika and Shinako, two polar opposites juxtaposed by their distinctive personas. You feel the differences during their interactions, and it’s those interactions that are the strongest aspects of Sing Yesterday’s sixth episode.
The 90’s nostalgia is strong here again, and I love it! From Rikuo connecting Shinako’s VCR to a CRT TV (the original 3D TV), to the constant smoking indoors, even though Japan was notoriously late in an attempt to curb this. I also love the art in this episode. Chika pulling a cigarette out of the box, with slightly rough linework and use of shadows reminding me of Liz and the Blue Bird, looked gorgeous in its simplicity and understatedness.
There was also great humor throughout, with Haru and Shinako as they discover Chika living with Rikuo with shocked faces, a definite highlight. Haru furiously storming into the konbini while Rikuo attempts to crawl out through the back only to be caught, and even Rikuo’s defeated embarrassment learning the girls came by to find Chika in his apartment when he was suffering from his fever (strong flu-season going around 90’s Tokyo) serve as a much-needed break from the melodrama. There were also beautiful contemplative moments, like Chika smoking out the window, feeling a sense of duty to leave Rikuo alone and do the right thing. She stares out the window with her hair and cigarette smoke blowing in the wind as beautiful and effective music plays - music both melancholy and hopeful, like turning over a new leaf, matching Chika’s resolution. Funny enough, when Rikuo reads Chika’s letter stating she is leaving, he laughs and calls her selfish, not realizing she is actually doing the selfless act for a change.
Rikuo never shows an attraction to Chika. The closest we get is when he succumbs to the aforementioned fever and collapses onto her, Chika mistaking it for something else as she says “she might not mind”. It reiterates both that Rikuo is just a good guy at heart and that Sing Yesterday will only allow two options for him when it comes to love. We learn Chika dumped Rikuo after only four months of dating, her reasoning left Rikuo dwelling on it ever since. “Sorry Uozumi. You never did understand me”; she laughs about it when he mentions to her that she was right and that he never did understand her, and admits to him it was just an excuse to get with a new guy. Truth is he was fed a lie, and she just wanted the asshole guitarist over the nice guy (not all guitarists are assholes, and not all assholes play guitar. Sometimes they play drums). It’s so relatable, especially during adolescent dating. We’ve all been the nice guy given some half-hearted excuse for being left for the asshole.
There were no extra scenes after episodes five or six according to Sing Yesterday’s official Twitter account, which is rather disappointing, given these episodes had some great new characters. I would particularly love more Chika if possible. There is something to be said about two of the stronger episodes of Sing Yesterday having these one-shot characters from the past. The way these personalities are handled, and the way the main cast matures because of them is a strong indicator of a good show - even if they do not get added to the supporting cast, Sing Yesterday has proven it can effectively capture unique identities with realistic dispositions and the capacity to handle a larger roster.
On a final note, I particularly liked the ED of episode six; the last bit has a shot of Rikuo’s photography board with six photos acting as video clips of scenes from the show, all of them the single photos from each of the previous episode EDs now all up together. With an 18-episode run, it feels appropriate - a third-of-the-way marker, like the end of an arch.
To read my thoughts on the first three episodes, see below.