The establishing shot of KareKano’s eighth episode features an abandoned bouquet of cherry blossoms, petals solemnly strewn amidst a black background. The same piano piece that highlighted clandestine moments of emotional intensity during the first episode rise alongside “it was before I met you”, alluding to the wistful sentimentality of the past. The material of such a remarkably directed half-episode is concerned with depicting Arima’s first few weeks at school; affection blooming amidst the shadowy annals of his psyche while subconsciously striving to transcend blossoms blocking the path to self-acceptance. Otherwise ubiquitous imagery adorning many a graduation scene, the beautiful flowers signify fresh starts and new beginnings, blooming in tandem with the beginning and end of the Japanese school year.
Despite the undeniably heartening connotations, cherry blossoms simultaneously possess conflictive allusions beyond freshly pressed uniforms and diplomas clutched tight. Due to their week-long blooming period, an inherent ephemerality arises in tandem with the mono no aware ethos (物の哀れ) – referring to the pathos of things, a profound melancholy due to the blossom’s brevity which likewise imbues their existence with an ineffable significance. Death proves to be a reoccurring image, petals doomed to fall evocative of aesthetic pursuits likewise reflected in period literature. Even beyond political ideologies and collectivist nods however, cherry blossoms also serve as symbols pertaining to the frailties of human relationships and identities in flux. Amidst an effervescent grove and swathed in cherry blossoms, it quickly becomes clear where Arima stands. A single petal falling on his face serves as a tacit reminder of the pressures simmering under the surface, threatening to overflow. As he rushes towards class, petals scattering in his wake, cherry blossoms suggestively inundate every frame with trees lining a glittering river – the very picture of youthful exuberance. And yet, a touch of stagnancy. Claustrophobic sentiments. Despite April being a period of beginnings, Arima notes that he is very much alone.
Unsurprisingly Arima’s peers aren’t aware of the grove’s existence, hinting at buoyant collective conceits contrasted with Arima’s isolated ruminations. While immersed in conversation, Arima turns his gaze towards Yukino suggestively illuminated by a blinding Dezaki-esque window – not a petal in sight, she’s seemingly beyond superficial artifices expected of the season’s grandeur. The school laboratory proceeds to highlight paired apparatus (ranging from beakers, test tubes, to faucets later framing the pair) with scales precariously balanced alluding to equilibrium sustained… Yet all it takes is a stray petal to change things, where perhaps desolate endings may become beautiful beginnings. Serving as a companion piece to Yukino’s contemptuous revenge-driven segue, Arima’s haunting recollection is arguably one of the series’ more powerful, framed entirely from his perspective. Away from the omnipresent cherry blossoms he is evidently charmed, highlighting her maturity and capability. Taking a similar approach to the first episode’s application of Charles Horton Cooley’s ‘looking-glass self’ theory, peers coded as representations of the student body in its entirety list off a number of his more personable traits. It is clear that Arima is held in high esteem, likewise considered a beloved figure. Which makes his behaviour all the more curious.
“A beautiful world” sends platitudes drifting away with the backing track, plunging a realm thriving on vivid idealism into monochrome, threatening reminders of the past once again fluttering through Arima’s psyche. While the student body’s colours are irregularly depicted, as the sequence slides into a profoundly dissociative fugue their white tones become all the more glaring, further isolating Arima as he states “I’m always alone”. Charismatic reels of classmates and teachers quite literally fray at the edges, physically scrunched up with psychological aberrations facilitating a more otherworldly involvement on the production team’s behalf. During the episode’s most unremittingly solemn moment, mixed media draw attention to the realm’s perceived artifices with animation cels appearing on a clipboard, sentiments ambiguous as a real hand changes them. Emotional detachment resonates across its boundary-blurring expanse. As a testament to Hideaki Anno’s direction and Tadashi Hiramatsu’s emotionally propulsive storyboarding capabilities, Arima’s emotional alienation becomes increasingly reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Ikari Shinji putting himself through the emotional wringer, hinting at the expressive turbulence which later arises as Arima grapples with the past threatening to disrupt his future.
Although Arima claims to find his daily life pleasant, a foreboding tree deliberately meant to evoke his nightmarish past looms, roots coiling ‘round his heart; grey and helpless in the face of its gaudy pinks. The monochrome palette persists through cyclical stagnancy, languor clawing at the back of a small shadow walking in the same spot as a swarm of grey trees beckon. The ennui likewise seeps into a detached reel of isolation as a litany of girls profess their feelings, “I love you”s audible but cinematography eschewing faces with practiced avoidance. Black dye oozes menacingly into a white frame for the first, fences caging him in for the second, eventually shifting focus over to machinery as the girls blend into a collective, cold one. A sign says ‘separate your trash’ as the cherry blossom frame lulls into static. Emphasising the artificiality with everyone distanced, keeping everyone at arm’s length. Alone in the cold dehumanizing expanse of mechanical imagery and tangled, imposing wires. He doesn’t feel a thing, nothing reaches his heart as a seemingly infinite supply of petals drain from his hand. In comparison to Yukino’s jovial machinations, Arima’s level of dissociation concerning.
Once the uncomfortable sequence reaches its grisly end, Yukino is again elevated beyond the persisting noise, bathed in the most intense of tones. Stricken by her agency and clearly defined sense of individuality at odds with his internal void, Arima wants to get to know her better – earlier frames involving shoes sadly abandoned and a love letter received now in colour as he strives to better himself. Encroaching upon the prophetic grove he witnesses Yukino lying against a tree, grass significantly fighting to be seen amidst a ground drowning in those accursed petals. The wheel of fate begins to turn as graceful sketches reflect a moment shared beyond narrow seasonal strictures; ‘how happy I am!’ emblazoned in vivid, vivid red against white. Following their meeting it seems as if the petals once again threaten to engulf Arima, yet a jovial piece orchestrates his realization, how he has never wanted something so clearly before – more patches of grass become visible, cementing the season’s end. Spurred on by a sense of inner peace, the petals are at last swept away into the blue sky as he falls in love for the first time. For now at least, all is well.