Yuuko is a shy middle school girl who has feelings for her childhood friend, the boy next door. When she finds out that her best friend also likes him, she is unsure what to do. The story explores the relationships between these three characters as they confront everyday junior high problems.
This is Yabuuchi Yuu’s “Mizuiro Jidai”. This is her story, her journey, of coming to understand the world – ever so gently. As this chronicles the pivotal events in Yuuko’s three years in middle school, Yabuuchi tells her story as she would tell to her younger self, with guidance and reassurance.
If you might not have noticed, Yuuko kawai sounds very similar to kawaii Yuu ko, which is literally cute Yuu child (same kanji for Yuu, the author’s name). This is Yabuuchi’s fond memory. We view along with Yuuko her issues of life, of love, of friendship, of fate, and of the feelings that she
can’t discern. Then with Yabuuchi’s conveyed respect and acceptance of Yuuko’s worries, find reconciliation through the help of others.
I don’t think I can introduce Mizuiro Jidai better than what has introduced each episode throughout the whole series, the op “Mizuiro Jidai” by Jun Yoneya. The op begins with the gentle breeze and the passage of time conveying something, something important. This is much of how Yuuko has to understand the world, as no one will tell her what she wants to know. The messages that Yuuko needs, is one that she has to work out herself. “Somehow, there are days when words come off wrong” is how she comes to recognize that there is something wrong with what she understands. Everyone is alone in this way, in their perceptions of reality. Still, Yuuko wants to “chase after the scattered clouds”. She wants fight the “loneliness” of the misunderstandings and regret. And so it goes, “Mizuiro Jidai”. This is the color of her time right now, clear and undefined.
Its middle school environment is misleading of the sharpness of Yabuuchi’s direction, of the way to lead life. All the problems that result are entirely natural, and by no one’s ill will. Every single person wants to get along with everyone else. Misunderstandings occur, but communication is all they need. Thus we come to Yuuko. Yuuko doesn’t understand at first why everyone acts the way they do, nor why Hiroshi likes her. She’s a lost soul and all she can do is run, run as fast as she can. Upon realization of her friends’ feelings, what she can do is hear what everyone has to say. Then in silence come to term with why the things are the way they are. It is only with this understanding that she feels compelled to put herself out there. It is in Yabuuchi’s gentle treatment, that Yuuko finds the security and resolve to do what she believes she has to do, what her ideal reality looks like. Then with a smile each episode closes. What Yuuko comes to understand never becomes explicitly said, or rather Yabuuchi doesn’t see that as important compared to the feeling she wants to convey - of affirmation of what we are, the greatest guiding principle of all.
Mizuiro Jidai’s main focus is on love, but its way to illustrate love’s nature is in feelings of acknowledgement. Hiroshi is there to accept everything Yuuko has to say, feel and worry about. What Yuuko tries to do, Hiroshi constantly encourages. Hiroshi has the right words to say because he believes in what Yuuko tries to do. This connection is one that is forged through time, a childhood friendship. However, things seem to change when Hiroshi declares her love for Yuuko. Love is not just a promise towards being a partner in life. To be connected through ups and downs means that there is something special in the constant of each other. Yuuko and Hiroshi can’t quite put into words what they represent to each other, but they are constantly comforted by it. So, they move forward in life facing all their struggles together in the hopes of discovering what that love is. This idea of love follows for Takako, Rumiko, Kugayama, Kitano, and Yuuko’s parents. Seeing how others come to love each other, Yuuko becomes prepared for the challenges she has to face in her love with Hiroshi. To the very end, when the love that became the source of strength for Yuuko wanes with distance and time, she goes forth accepting what comes her way and does what she can believing in the love that they had. This is Yabuuchi’s romance, one that is tied to trust. This is a romance in the trust to something eternal and to something real - each other.
Love’s counterpart, friendship, is core to what drives the cast to be together, what drives Yuuko. What Yuuko constantly comes back to friendship for is companionship. Yuuko seeks people who are going through the same things she is. Other than what Hiroshi was, her best friend, Takako, is there with her every step of the way. Even if there are disagreements, Yuuko finds peace talking with Takako because they have the understanding of each other to be able to empathize. Communication to Yabuuchi is the ultimate clarifying source. Sharing the privacy of their worlds, Yuuko shares a diary with Takako. What each share to each other is their poetry, their thoughts, their feelings. Then in the silence of each other’s company, puts into words their moments of time. Of course, as with all things, communication can break down. Not because they did anything wrong to each other, but by the absence of what keeps them connected - reassurance. They would never dare to intentionally hurt each others feeling and yet, they do. Either by withholding words or by being incapable of expressing their view: "Everyone seems so far away..." Perhaps this is where all friendships lead, an inevitable disconnection. With each passing day and with each passing year, Yuuko has to question what all her relationships mean to her. Then, come to the conclusion that the only answer she can say about her yearning for friendship is that she wants it. Yuuko accepts the transient nature of friendship and finds that she wants it because she needs it - for the time. In moments of doubt and apprehension, the lens that Yuuko finds the security of everything she understands is through friendship.
Just as core as interpersonal relationships is recognition of what education is to oneself. Yuuko couldn’t learn in school, nor could she learn with the help of Hiroshi. There is one episode where Yuuko even stalks her friend Tomoko because she was disturbed by how enthusiastic Tomoko was about education. Viewing Tomoko as if she’s an alien, she did not understand where it was all coming from. Feeling ever so disconnected with what education meant to others, she eventually decided to go to cram school. There she met Kitano, a representation of a student who is working hard for her future. Yuuko wanted the kind of conviction Kitano had and felt compelled to see her as a real person. It’s in the smallest of conversations with Kitano that Yuuko was able to find peace in her worries about what education is to her. In the next episode, Yuuko started to actually learn about soccer! Exciting. It’s the small things!
This is Yuuko’s story first and foremost. We hear her hesitations, her frustrations, and her agony. She makes mistakes trying to grasp her line of reasoning. She can’t comprehend what everyone is expecting from her, let alone what she should think about what to do. Thus, when Takako asks her “What are you thinking”, she can’t answer. Takako and Hiroshi will call Yuuko “wagamama” (selfish) sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a frown, all in reference to Yuuko’s flustering to understand. Yuuko has to puzzle out for herself what she feels like she has to do. Certainly, there are moments where she still has the inability to express her problems and cries in the security of Hiroshi’s or Takako’s arms. She is dependent and not particularly good at anything. There is nothing wrong with that. The strength of a person is in the will to try. Little by little, with encouragement of her supportive environment, she in turn tries to reciprocate what has been given to her - the tender care that she felt. This motivation leads her most notably to discussions of love. Yuuko becomes the pillar of support when Takako reunites with her distant love, when Kitano’s admiration becomes torment, when she herself loses in touch with Hiroshi. The amount of growth Yuuko had perhaps can be best seen by a simple note she hands to Kugayama, her rival in love, after graduation:
“Let’s talk about love sometime, okay?”
It would be a mistake to talk about love and not mention about what sexual interactions are to Mizuiro Jidai. Ingrained into what a relationship of love is, it is essential to how a couple becomes attracted to one another. However, Yabuuchi draws the line with sex. Yuuko and Hiroshi do kiss to show their affection, but finds trepidation that sex may lead them to lose the meaning of what their love is. They have a fear that just like how their instinctual actions sometimes lead to hurting each other’s feeling, succumbing to their desires would be how they stop connecting with each other. Yabuuchi finds that love in Mizuiro Jidai has enough “weight” because it is as important as it matters to them. At first, Yuuko did see value in love as a way to express her feelings to Hiroshi. Later on though, Yuuko finds the value in love as a promise towards the future amidst the march of time. Mizuiro Jidai is a story focused on the perspective of love, and although an expansion on what sex is to them may have been warranted, it is okay. The primary concern to Yuuko and the cast is in what the meaning of their life is. Of course, they are middle schoolers, so it would be hard to take whatever they learn seriously.
Mizuiro Jidai’s characters and by extension, Yabuuchi, understands how insignificant their realizations are in scope of the world. Anything they feel or start to comprehend can be easily diminished by the words, “common sense”. Kitano points out the meaninglessness of her love because it is just the first time a boy has been nice to her, as “ah that’s all there is to it”. In the same manner, Yuuko’s father nonchalantly mentions “ah romance can be useful, huh” concerning Yuuko’s vigor to studying more because of Hiroshi. However, Yuuko denies this thought of common sense from the very beginning. From the first episode when Takako wants to quit band in the same way she feels she has to abandon her crush on Hiroshi, Yuuko responds confidently to her dismay with “It’s important to you still!” Yuuko believes that her feelings, her struggles, and her thoughts are relevant because it is what she is going through. Yuuko does not want to give up as just an observer of her own life. Yuuko wants to take action for what she feels like she has to do and acknowledge her own feelings. For this reason, Yuuko could not bear Takako’s giving up. This message is what persuades Takako to move forward and what would eventually move all the cast to work for a greater cause, a treasured memory.
The story of Mizuiro Jidai begins with reflection and ends with nostalgia - it is a memory in transition. What this story shares to us is the casts’ contemplations in life, moment to moment. However, being a memory, we can’t forget how Yabuuchi affects the lens upon which we view her story. She is guiding us towards what she believes. That being said, just as important as how the problems are shown, is how the answers from friends, family and teachers are being portrayed. In one episode Yuuko was worried about her love with Hiroshi because she did not understand how the passage of time was affecting their relationship and how the future would affect it. What became Yuuko’s biggest ray of hope is when Yuuko’s mother shared how she married Yuuko’s father. No one else could answer how time affects love better than someone who has gone through it. Yuuko’s mother was always there with a smile, ready and doing whatever she can to help Yuuko with her worries. Yet, Yuuko could not ask of her mother for anything. Thus, in the silence and the faded background Yuuko’s mother waits. Indirectly and by guessing, she can only do what she can to help. It was only until this point that Yuuko was willing to open up her mother and become able to tell her any advice. This way of communication is much of how everyone has to tip toe around Yuuko. Whether by being strict like her father and her teachers, or by teasing like her sister did, it’s their way of starting communication. It’s only when Yuuko is ready to ask for their help that they can tell her what she needs. As Yuuko becomes more confident in what she believes, she comes to recognize all the little ways people tried to help her along the way. It’s in this that she becomes able to thank people. During graduation, the entire class even throws a surprise party for their strict teacher thanking him for the time spent together. It wouldn’t be so far as to say that Mizuiro Jidai, as a whole, is a celebration for the people that have helped kids like Yuuko.
Everything is not perfect in Mizuiro Jidai nor does it want the viewer to see its messages as definitive. The responses that Yuuko gets from the people around her often avoid the question or can be insensitive. The world around her is as clouded in meaning as she is. There is no “right” answer. The intentional removal of what the “message” is can even lead the viewer confused about the whole point of the ordeal Yuuko has to go through. Hiroshi has an answer to what to do. Hiroshi, in memory of all the bad things that happened in their first year, passionately responds that he would never do the same things the second years did. Hiroshi doesn’t believe in this tradition, in this cycle of life. He can be better than that. Hiroshi sees the "tradition" for what it is, and wants something more real, more fulfilling. Admittedly, Hiroshi will still point out how cheesy it. Not because he doesn't believe it, but because it always seems out of place. The desire for acknowledgment comes into question as their memories, their dreams , and their visions often doesn't reflect reality. The search seems futile when one can just take the world in for what it is. They look to be reaching our for nothing. Thus, on unsteady ground, they move on trying to understand what the ground even is. Yabuuchi wants the viewer to take that lesson just as Yuuko would, and work out the foundations that makes us people. Then, make the best of it. Perhaps that is all I can say about Mizuiro Jidai.
Much of this review is in admiration of what Mizuiro Jidai has accomplished, but it is just as much what I have come to understand of the world around me. What Yabuuchi has to say reaches the same conclusions I had about the world. It's not life changing nor particularly powerful. It's normal. Mizuiro Jidai is simply a tale of what everyone has to go through. Being normal isn't particularly... special, but this has all the aspects I have ever wanted from a narrative. The subjects of love and friendship is all too delicate that I am amazed at how Mizuiro Jidai goes the step further to exploring what they mean. Then in the transit of time, explain how we have to deal with the intermingling of concepts. Maybe what surprised me the most was the gentle presentation of it all. Mizuiro Jidai views through Yuuko her process of understanding of the world while maintaining the dignity of everything involved. All the while, maintaining the breadth and acceptation of what makes us people... It makes me nostalgic, too. Sure, I can remember my own anguish growing up. It wasn't fun. I sometimes cringe when I look at my own past, my own stupidity at that time. Then, I come back to Yuuko and smile. Its a strange thing to say as a guy, but I connect with Yuuko. Just as Yuuko did and just as Yabuuchi tried to show in her story, I should try to value my own journey, too. My memories, my experiences, my feelings it was all worthwhile. Seeing a message communicated so humanly is perhaps what we all need for the elusive goal of assuring ourselves. How important these messages are up to interpretation, but it must be lauded how deftly Yabuuchi intertwines these themes into a coherent story that is nothing short of real.
Real to me - to my life. To what I need now.
Some things to think about:
Please consider hearing the next episode previews at the end of each episode! It is written like what their diary entries are like.
Thinking about the names is nice though I must confess I am still learning Japanese, so take this with a grain of salt. If anything, a character does tease Yuuko for being kawaii just like her name suggests.
The opening to Mizuiro Jidai has an English translation that is misleading, and is why I wrote about the opening in this review. Currently there is only one English translation around for this show, so this is kind of important.
“I’m conveying something important” should be “It’s conveying something important." Its referring to the things mentioned before.
“Somehow, there are words for days that pass each other by” should be something like “Somehow, there are days when words come off wrong”. Surechigau! Surechigau!
Everything in the sub is okay. The translation group probably took the same opening that the previous one did and left those blatant mistakes.
I don't find it as important to talk about the animation or the sound considering this is 2 decades old. It works and shows everything that it needs with the feelings of the characters. The transitions are well paced and flows gently because of the clear foundation Yabuuchi set in her manga. It won't try anything tricky.
At episode 38 we lead to the end of Mizuiro Jidai. Yuuko’s reuniting with Hiroshi is extremely drawn out. It was actually just two shots Hiroshi and Yuuko together in the manga. Well I forgive it because it was well deserved, but yeah.
Ep 39 is a summary
Episodes 40 to 47 are from Shin Mizuiro Jidai, which I think Yabuuchi kind of did in a bit of a rush… Yeah it isn’t so good. Mizuiro Jidai was a popular manga and when the anime series released she probably did it out of obligation. You can see that the release of Shin Mizuiro Jidai coincides with the anime runtime. The tight narrative isn’t quite there.
Today's topic is the area inside Shibuya that made it big in the 90's with Gwen Stefani's hit song "Harajuku Girls". Harajuku has gained a reputation for being the center of alternative fashion such as decorer, gothic lolita, and punk. But in reality, it's much less strange than you'd think!