Well, this is it – the last episode of Beginners! (ビギナーズ! ). Doesn’t seem like it should be, does it? I mean, they haven’t developed the promising storyline of Shimura’s father’s disgrace at all. Shimura (Fujigaya Taisuke) could have spent two or three episodes getting to the bottom of what happened all those years ago, doing some investigative work and using his S-class team to bust those really responsible. Don’t tell me they’re going to pack that all into one episode?!

At the end of the last episode, the academy chief (Kaga Takeshi) found a way to sideline Shimura – making him part of the Police Athletic League instead of an active-duty police officer. If Shimura wins a marathon, he’ll be in the league.

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Shimura lamely accepted this fate in an extremely uncharacteristic turn for him. Again, I wonder what happened to the fiery fellow we met at the beginning of the series, and can’t really call it character development, since he’s definitely gone downhill. Yes, he’s more serious, but in a bad way.

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The rest of the class is distraught at his choice, as are Sakuraba (Sugimoto Tetta) and Ryuzaki (Ishida Hikari).

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Tachibana (Kitayama Hiromitsu) recalls a promise Shimura made to his friend in the first episode . . .

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. . . and I was nodding my head as he said Shimura had changed, becoming “strangely obedient.”

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Tachibana reminds Shimura about the promise, but Shimura says that he hadn’t forgotten.

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Meanwhile, training continues:

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For some reason, the academy chief doesn’t look satisfied while watching Shimura run:

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Time for the usual Shimura-Hiro (Gouriki Ayame) talk on the roof, but nothing much comes out of it.

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The day for the marathon arrives:

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And the class remains unsettled.

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They decide to listen to the race on the radio:

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We see that Shimura’s father is also listening in . . .

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. . . as is Ryuzaki.

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Sakuraba is actually on-site with the academy chief and the head of the athletic league.

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Shimura’s family and closest friend, Onda (Mori Ren), are also by the roadside waiting for him to pass. Onda doesn’t look too happy about this, though.

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When Onda notices braces on Shimura’s leg, he has another reason to worry.

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Back in the classroom, Ishioka (Ishii Tomoya) doesn’t want to hear anymore, and neither do the others . . .

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. . . but Hiro wants to cheer him on.

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At this point, the words “sad” and “pathetic” come to mind. First of all, there’s Shimura himself, who is not reacting properly to finding out that his father wasn’t responsible for the tragedy all those years ago. Then there’s the rest of S-class, who aren’t following the lead Shimura set by trying everything they can to bring him back. They did follow that example when dealing with Sugiyama (Koyanagi Yu) even though Shimura didn’t want to be involved in that, yet they don’t do the same for Shimura.

So, does Shimura win the marathon? Well, if you know anything about stories, you know that a writer doesn’t suddenly put a brace on the main character’s leg without intending for that leg to have a problem – it’s a principle of plot known as “Chekhov’s gun.” Deliberately defying it creates a “red herring,” which would be out-of-place in a story like this.

In Shimura’s moment of distress, Onda is there, but I can’t say there was any point to him being there.

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The problem I have with all this is simple: do we really want him to win, or not? As far as I can tell, we’re about as ambivalent as the rest of S-class. Actually, the fact that he’s running at all – instead of confronting the problems he has with his superiors in the police force – feels like a failure on his part. The whole marathon seems like a waste of time, because it simply keeps him from doing what needs to be done.

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During his final attempt to recover after his stumble, scenes from the rest of the series flash through his mind, but since his run now seems like an abrogation of the principles he stood for in all those events and an abandonment of his friends, it all seems incongruous. Why didn’t he remember all those moments earlier, during all the time before the marathon when he should have resolutely rejected the athletic league offer, and opposed the academy chief?

Well, all those flashbacks do eventually snap Shimura back to his senses, and he regains some of his positive energy back. It’s almost as if he had been taken over by an evil spirit for some episodes, and now managed to exorcise it. Or, maybe he’s just a manic-depressive.

I don’t get this episode at all, and it certainly doesn’t serve as an adequate finale. We’ve seen Shimura running against the odds before – even in the first episode. How is this worth another half episode? The marathon leaves only seventeen minutes for the rest of the episode, and Shimura is suddenly back to being the character from the beginning of the series. I . . . couldn’t deal with that. Explanations relying on a diagnosis of bipolar disorder aren’t really good enough.

The rest of the episode is pure drudgery, by the way. All the remaining issues were tied up in a rush – Shimura and Hiro, Shimura and his father, and the academy chief.

All the potential available in the overarching plot about Shimura’s father was left to waste, preventing this series from taking things to the next level. Did the writers have an idea about what to do with it in the first place? It doesn’t look like they intended to have it be anything more than a side issue.

In the end, this was a series about the friendship and mutual support of the S-class members. The problem was that they never faced convincing pressure from the outside. The greatest menace against them was Ryuzaki in episode one, but since she softened, much of the trouble they faced were personal/family related. Many of the plots made no real use of the setting and premise – they could have been any group of people becoming friends in any challenging setting. The most promising plot lines introduced during the course of the series were abandoned, in favor of repetitive stories about S-class members thinking about resigning and then reconsidering, and plenty of stock athletic scenes.

The actors generally did an okay job with their parts, but Fujigaya-kun’s portrayal of Shimura in this episode in particular was too disjointed for me to give him an overall thumbs-up. Gouriki-san was fairly consistent and charming throughout, though there was nothing spectacular about her character, which was actually a purely supporting role to Shimura rather than a main character. Kitayama-kun was also consistent, but was similarly a background influence on the story. The rest of the supporting cast had its ups and downs.

Thanks to Jounetsu_8 at livejournal for the subtitles.