Secret Santa Project Review: Living for the Day After Tomorrow – Anime Freaky Friday

hisui_icon_4040 At this point I have to wonder if I will ever rope Kate into doing the Secret Santa with me again. I thought that maybe decent picks over the last few years would have changed her mind but I think Texhnolyze was truly the straw that broke the camel’s back. (It is actually mostly Kate’s lack of free time during the holidays but I will continue to blame the Scourge of God that is Hiroshi Hamasaki and Chiaki J. Konaka’s land mine in the shape of an anime.) In turn that means that I got another trio of decent choices. This year I got Asatte no HoukouThere She Is!!, and Tokyo Godfathers.

So begins my tradition of trying to decide which of my three choices to make my main article. I usually try to pick the most unusual title of the three. It seems to be most in keeping with the spirit of the Secret Santa Project. I am trying to broaden my horizons with the project so I try to go for the risky titles as opposed to the safe choices.

Tokyo Godfathers was the safest of safe choices.  If I did not like the Satoshi Kon movie it would be amazingly shocking. I actually mostly have not watched it so I could have a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” review around the holiday season. It is a nice quick review that Kate and I could do during a very busy time of the year.

Speaking of “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” I mostly did not pick There She Is!! because it was my last second replacement. If for some reason I could not finish Living for the Day After Tomorrow in time for Christmas I could easily watch There She Is!! and put out a review in a single day. It takes so much pressure off my mind when I know there is a safety net under me.

So I really only had one choice at that point. I knew that Asatte no Houkou existed as an anime but I did not know that much beyond that. In my mind it was this anime where two characters switch ages that came out in 2006. Since we were not blogging back in 2006 it was very easy for a show to slip past my radar. I can’t remember a good deal of discussion about the show that was overly positive or negative. It was mostly just a footnote in the annals of anime history. That can often be a sign that an anime is merely mediocre but it can also just mean that it unfortunately came out at a time where it was just unfairly overshadowed. It was against Black Lagoon: The Second BarrageCode Geass: Lelouch of the RebellionDeath NoteD.Gray-manKateikyoushi Hitman Reborn!, as well several other series so it is hardly inconceivable that it could be a good show that just fell through the cracks.

In many ways my main goal in watching this show will be to see if I feel that Living for the Day After Tomorrow was unfairly forgotten or if deserves it currently status as a show that has fallen in between the cracks.

When Shouko Nogami returns to Japan after studying in America she runs into her ex-boyfriend Hiro Iokawa and his little sister, Karada. After getting roped into an awkward trip to the beach Shouko and Karada meet in front of a local roadside shire where Karada is making a wish. Suddenly Karada’s prayers are granted. She is transformed from being a preteen into a young adult. In turn Shouko now has been returned to being an elementary student. Karada soon realizes that she should be careful what she wishes for as one can recognize either woman in their new bodies so now everyone assumes they are lost or worse. Shouko and Karada now have to struggle to connect to their friends and family and find a way to reverse the wish.

Despite the fact that I called this Anime Freaky Friday that is a bit of a misnomer. While Shouko and Karada transform this is not a body swap story. This is more like double Big. If Shouko and Karada had switched bodies it would make both of their lives complicated but nothing that some coordination could not mitigate. The people that everyone recognize as Shouko and Karada physically have not gone anywhere in that scenario. But since they swapped ages as far as anyone knows Shouko and Karada have gone missing and could be in serious danger. So not only do they have to adjust to their new forms they also have to do as much damage control involving their old lives as they can. It adds an extra level of complication (and drama) to the normal body swap story.

In the end these types of stories, be they body swap stories or age transformations, are all really character studies. By taking the character out of their normal life and normal body you oddly enough get to see who they really are as opposed to who they pretend to be. This means that this type of show can easily live or die on the strength of the characters. Since the transformation and quest to undo the wish is such a crucible for the characters involved it easily exposes any characters that are a bit weak or shallow. You can hide such characters a little easier in action shows and even romantic series but when the shows hangs on the characters like this all their strengths and weakness are on full display on the center stage.

Shouko, Karada, and Hiro are the heart and soul of the series. You have to get a strong idea of who Shouko and Karada are (or at least present themselves to be) before their transformation otherwise the change is pretty much meaningless. In many ways Shouko and Karada starts as polar opposites. Karada is young, naive, kind, gregarious, optimistic, and domestic. Shouko is mature, world-weary, cold, misanthropic, pessimistic, and very business like. After the transformation it is clear that some of that is just a facade. Karada clearly has a good deal of adult worries some of which are a bit out of her maturity level to deal with. Shouko clearly wants to be a bit more open and positive but her experiences have clearly made her throw up a wall between her and the rest of the world.

Hiro on the other hand comes off a bit whipsy and almost insubstantial at first but as the series goes on it becomes very clear that this is deliberate. He was a strong and dynamic character at one point but circumstances have reduced him to his current state. He is neither a complete waste of space or destructively depressed but it is clear that he is also not living up to his anything close to his potential. This defines his relationship to Shouko and Karada. Karada clearly feels that Hiro would not be in this state if he did not have to look after her. She feels like he is was freed from having to look after her he could get back to properly living his life as he was meant to. Shouko on the other hand is just perplexed to why Hiro seemingly jumped off of his path to success and partially wonders if it had anything to do with her. In a way his bright formerly communicative self would never be in this position. He needs to be broken enough to be stuck where he is but still valuable enough to understand why these women can’t give up on him despite of that.

Tetsumasa Amino is generally part of the plot to give the perspective of someone who keeps trying to find Karada since he cares for her and has not been let in on the secret of the switch. He allows the audience to see how people in general are worrying about Shouko and Karada without having to draw in someone like their parents. His whole deal with looking like a high schooler but actually being in elementary school is sort of odd. I know that shows Recorder and Randsell are evidence that Japan loves that trope but it adds an unnecessary level of awkwardness to the relationship between Amino and Karada.

Kotomi Shionzaki would otherwise be a footnote but she I have to bring up for several reasons. The first is by the end of the series she is crucially important for what otherwise seems like a very minor character. Also like I said before when a character is less developed a show like this make it very obvious. So Kotomi stands out as a bit thinner especially when she gets more screen time. She is not a bad character. In fact she is generally charming. You can just tell that she has a little less depth than the rest of the cast. A little bit of research will show that she is an anime original character. With that revelation it becomes far more obvious that she is more of a band-aid than a full character. She is more placed in the story to move the show towards an anime original ending than be a full-fledged character. That is a shame because she has the potential to be more but she is never called to step up to that level.

The announcement of an anime is increasingly be seen as a sign that a manga is wrapping up. This is often done so that the anime can have the same ending as the manga letting with the hope that their simultaneous conclusion will be a rising tide that will raise both ships. It also helps prevent the age-old conundrum of what to do about the conclusion of the anime linked to an ongoing series. You can end it with a GO READ THE MANGA ending. While those can act as an excellent commercial for the manga they often leave the part of the fandom who only watch anime with a bit of a sour taste in their mouth. People complaining about the otherwise critically claimed Princess Jellyfish still easily comes to mind in the regard.

But even that is often preferential to the other dreaded scenario: The anime original ending. There are some anime endings that are as good or in even rarer cases better than what happens in the manga. The thing is those are few and far between. For every Fullmetal Alchemist and Bunny Drop there are dozens of counterexamples. It is so epidemic that the mediocre original anime ending has become the expectation whenever it is announced.

Obviously I am bringing all of this up for a reason. The manga for Living for the Day After Tomorrow started March 3, 2005 and ended on June 15, 2007. The anime on the other hand ran from October 5, 2006 to December 21, 2006. It was very clear that the anime has the setup for the series but any sort of conclusion was going to have to be invented on the fly. In a way I feel like that fact permeates the whole series. 

Certain series are specifically designs so they can pretty much end at any moment. Technically One Piece could wrap itself up in a few months if it were forced to. They go to the end of the Grand Line, discover the secret of Gold Roger’s Treasure, have a big final battle, throw on a bit of falling action, and you have an ending. There would definitely be hanging plot threads with a series that long but it could be done in a manner that was not wholly jarring. Other series on the other hand really feel like someone hit the emergency brakes as they suddenly come to an abrupt stop.  To a certain degree the ending of the anime feels very much like the story hit the end of the tracks before it got to where it was supposed to be going and then it was forced to make the best of where it found itself when it hit the wall.

There is a clearly defined resolution to the story. The goal is by hook or by crook Shouko and Karada finally find a way return to their proper ages. Since both wishes are based on fundamental misunderstanding of the desires of the person making the wish a more revelatory movement with the conviction to follow through on that epiphany should be the catalyst for the transformation. That is the path to a proper ending that gives you cathartic ending in which  Shouko and Karada come out of this supernatural event as better people. The thing is both of those things happen. The problem is the are almost completely divorced from each other. It is as if after the emotional conclusion is reached a flag is raised that allows a side character to give them a solution. It is a little more complex than that but overall that is not the worst way to look at the ending.

From what I have seen of the manga it is clear that there was much more build up to the ending. There is an actual quest to find a new wishing stone, some major revelations about Karada and Hiro come to the forefront, and Amino is involved in the main story much more for better and for worse. The manga definitely goes some much darker places and with some more adult material than the anime. This has its ups and downs. The ending seems much more constructed. At the same time the anime seems much more approachable. A lot of the manga material is far more risky and disturbing. It never gets into the realm of pornography but the story gets much darker. There is also some incest and sexual assault that is never even hinted at in the anime. Also Amino becomes simultaneously far less sympathetic and innocent at the same time. If you needed a strong ending the manga has it but it comes at the price of general audiences feeling.

When push comes to shove the real question is should I watch the anime, read the manga, do both, or just skip this title all together. Overall the main problem is that Living for the Day After Tomorrow seems penned in by when it was released. I don’t envy the position that Katsushi Sakurabi was placed in. He had to finish a story when there was enough of a story to theoretically but an end on end but not enough time to give something with a full narrative ending. That means lots of the hooks that would end the story properly either have to be gloss over or can start to come out but won’t have enough time to resolve. So they sort of cobble together an ending that gets things done but feels very slapdash.

On the other hand the story does take a very dark set of turns so perhaps there is something to be said for the more even thematic tone. While the series can get dramatic and even melodramatic as it deals with loss, depression, abandonment, and isolation it mainly stays on a very even keel. I wonder how many people would be thrown off by the downward turn near where the anime and the manga begin to diverge.

In the end I can’t really recommend Living for the Day After Tomorrow as its sudden end in technically fine but feels a bit too thrown together at the last second. On the other hand I can’t say I would dissuade anyone from watching it. It has an interesting premise, some good drama, and no major flaws. It just happens to be a prime example of why more anime have been waiting for their source material to be wrapping up before they go into production. If anything your best bet is just to read the manga. Sadly there was a reason Living for the Day After Tomorrow got the non-reputation it got. It neither ended well enough to be an overlooked classic nor failed spectacularly enough to go down in infamy. It merely became another example of the book being better than the adaptation.

– Alain



3 thoughts on “Secret Santa Project Review: Living for the Day After Tomorrow – Anime Freaky Friday

  1. Stig H. says:

    That was an interesting read. Particularly when it comes to the manga it was based on. When I started watching this show, I didn’t really know it was based on a manga… yet.

    It’s interesting, because the original story was apparently a lot darker — as you said, but I had some discussions about the subject with one of my fellow reviewers back then — and… well, your point about what to do when you don’t have an ending yet, or even if it’s “right” to make a more positive ending — or a show overall — out of something when you know it’s going to be less pleasant than you’d like in the original work. I enjoyed this show when I first watched it — otherwise I wouldn’t have recommended it — but I’m not going to argue your comment about the ending feeling a bit like it was pulled out of a magician’s hat, because it was. Still, I hadn’t even HEARD about the manga — or I might have, but I assumed it was more or less like the anime — at the time, so I just assumed the ending was what it was because that’s what they came up with. (Well, that’s how it goes, but I hope you know what I mean. ^^;; )

    Anyway, thanks for indulging my request. It was an informative and fair read.

    Stig H.

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