Remember that feeling when you were young and taking in all that was reality, yet despite the freedoms that came with being young, you resented the restrictions that also came with it and wished you would grow up to an adult as soon as possible? Or that when adult life gets too harsh, you wonder what it would be like to be young again? Well, what if it actually happened? Are you sure it would be everything you thought it would be? Would you regret the consequences of your decision? Could you cope with the sudden change and the impact it would have on those closest to you?
In the October season of 2006, after the airings of the heavily hyped Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Fate/Stay Night, J.C. Staff produced a rather intriguing series called Asatte no Houkou (Living for the Day After Tomorrow on release by Sentai), based on a manga originally created by J-ta Yamada, which explored the scenario of age changing. The story revolves around two females who have never met before but are linked in more ways than they know. Karada is a middle schooler who is rather small for her age but very likeable, one heck of a cook and very positive in her approach to anything in life, but the fact her brother, Hiro, had to return from overseas four years ago to take custody of her when her parents died, is something she’s never been able to live with. The older female is Shouko, in her late 20s, somewhat cold and empty. But there’s a good reason for that. Shouko was once Hiro’s long-time girlfriend in America, then four years ago Hiro left Shouko behind without saying why. Present day, Shouko returns to Japan in search of a new start in life. Crossing paths with Hiro and the person responsible for making him leave her life is the last thing she wanted. Still, Shouko does make an effort to befriend Karada. As they cross paths again later that night near a revered small shrine, Karada’s secret wish to grow up so she’s no longer a burden on her brother comes true. Problem is, she wasn’t quite prepared for it – kid mentality in an adult body is a combo set for trouble. Throw in the fact Shouko is converted into a young girl and things get pretty complicated fast. What ensues is an inspiring struggle of the two adjusting to this shocking turn of events with Shouko having to be the adult figure despite her physical limitations (precocious girl and then some) and Karada having to learn the ropes of being an adult on physical and emotional levels. The entire series takes place over a full summer period, aka 3 months.
Now this may sound like a very serious title to you. In part, it is. But with a fairly light-hearted approach, pretty animation, a soothing coastal town setting (not too different from Kamichu!) and a very potent character cast with great depth, Living for the Day After Tomorrow is a feel-good series with some drama to give it an edge. Within the one-cour time format that J.C. Staff was given for this adaptation, director Katsushi Sakurabi gets the pacing just right, which is important for a series you expect to get resolution of the sole plot line by the end. In fact, the pacing is done so well there isn’t a wasted character or event in the show. Furthermore, each episode ends on a note that leaves something hanging in the air for next time – a good practice when you’rve got material that is more dramatic. Something important is always happening but the moods vary as required. In very recent times, the majority of series have left major plot lines unfinished or chose to completely ignore plot whatsoever. So to see this show achieve what was laid down from the first episode is quite refreshing.
The character designs by Ikoku Itou (Princess Tutu, Sailor Moon S) are reasonable but not great. This is J.C. Staff after all – their production quality standards have slipped, plus in a year the first Nodame Cantabile series came out, you get the feeling this got a fairly small budget to be made. The level of detail within the animation and the background art is the one major issue with this show. A decent budget would have made it look magic. Still, it’s not that far off the mark. The animation is generally pretty, the art is relaxing, light and water effects seem accurate. It’s merely an aesthetic imperfection, which really shouldn’t be the one thing to stop you from watching this show.
The soundtrack by Shinkichi Mitsumune (Revolutuionary Girl Utena, Rozen Maiden) is another of his usual orchestral efforts and is just sublime. Piano and keyboards play a very prominent role in the in-episode pieces as well as the opening and ending themes, which is appropriate since they’re very apt at instilling nostalgia and connecting with memories to enhance key moments. Thankfully piano is not always dominant – Mitsumune varies the pieces with use of the full orchestral repertoire which makes for very different pieces by merely changing timing or one instrument. It’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time. I’d listen to a good portion of the soundtrack to this show on a regular basis. The two main female seiyuus – Ayumi Fujimura (Eiko in Squid Girl, Cecily in Sacred Blacksmith) as Karada and Shizuka Itou (Hinagiku in Hayate no Gotoku, Haruka in Amagami SS) as Shouko face an interesting challenge to switch between the child and adult versions of their characters, but they do it with such ease. Ami Koshimizu (Kallen in Code Geass, Horo in Spice and Wolf) makes yet another stellar performance with her amazingly broad vocal range as the perky, upbeat Kotomi.
The lead characters, as well as the secondary, all have issues of some sort and a claim to the overall scenario. Karada is secretly unhappy with the fact Hiro only lives for her and that he doesn’t have any drive for anything else in life. Shouko is still in love and is angry Hiro seems ignorant of the fact, not to mention he hasn’t told Karada about what happened between the two of them. Hiro is a real shell of a person – the guy has good intentions but his actions let him down consistently. Testumasa (nicknamed ‘Crispy Amino), one of Karada’s friends from school, is infatuated with her and quickly becomes obsessed with finding her after the age switch. Touko, Tetsumasa’s older sister, has her hands full coping with his antics and Hiro’s brooding. Then we have Kotomi, who is somewhat a drifter and very spontaneous in her actions.
But what is truly the best part of Living for the Day After Tomorrow is the story and the character chemistry dynamic that comes from all those issues. Karada and Shouko make for a great duo – they fill the missing parts the other had before they met. Karada’s optimism and drive gets Shouko out of the dumps while Shouko provides the advice and maturity Karada wishes she had. Karada’s actions later in the series may confuse some people, but ultimately she knows that Hiro must be able to live for something more than just her and seeks to find a way to make it happen. Shouko’s light venting at Hiro is just hilarious – an ex-lover in a kid’s body trying to pound the guy who left her yet can’t – priceless. Overall, Shouko is probably the biggest victim of this all, yet she is the one who always keeps a cool head, acts rationally and is able to resolve problems. Her resiliency and compassion are drawn out from her bitter surface by Karada and it is simply uplifting to see Shouko’s soul get the long overdue healing it really needed. Yet it is insanely funny seeing Shouko do it in a young body and the limitations it comes with. Kotomi acts as a great foil for Tetsumasa’s desperate longing, who realises he still has some major growing up to do. Touko is a no-nonsense woman who provides the stability and shoulder to lean on the guys need. Kotomi in general is the catalyst that draws everything together for the reality checks everyone needs to have. In the latter episodes, Kotomi’s mentor is one intriguing guy with a very unique yet refreshing approach to life and adds the finishing touches to drive home the lessons the lead characters need to learn. The leadup from the startling beginning to the heart-warming finale flows seamlessly and the plot is resolved in full. It’s rare to see a one-season series wrap everything up well – it’s very refreshing to see.
Ultimately, what really gives Living for the Day After Tomorrow an edge for me is the respect it has for its characters and the maturity it approaches a very delicate scenario with. There is a light amount of fanservice but nothing inappropriate. People that need to grow up are not let off lightly, unlike certain male protagonists in recent years. Most of all, Karada’s journey could easily have been a trainwreck. For a fair while, I was worried Karada would take a path similar to Nagisa did in the latter part of the original Clannad series. But Karada’s determination to become stronger as a person and to be able to say to Hiro ‘I’m not going to be little and dependent forever, so don’t put your life on hold for me forever’ is very admirable indeed. Shouko’s gradual softening of the heart, but not of her tenacity and will, is a testament to what a strong, capable woman she is despite the hardships life has dealt her. With all the issues and the flaws this character mix have, it could have turned into an angst-filled mess in no time. But instead the story maintains an upbeat view on things and eventually, after a lot of heart-wrenching bends and some hard lessons, things are resolved in a plausible, fairly realistic way. And that is the other thing I enjoy so much about this series. The characters feel like real people and not like overused moe archetypes or invincible people that overcome any extremity with ease. The level of escapism within this show is relaxing but not a bubble blocking out what comes with life.
In short, Living for the Day After Tomorrow is a rare example of a great story fulfilling everything it promised to from the start, conveying it with a very compelling cast of characters and executing it brilliantly. While the visuals may not be stellar, they don’t drag the series down. If you are in need of a feel-good story with some real bite but portrayed with maturity and goodwill, this is one series you can’t afford to miss. If you are one of the lucky few to have seen this, do let other people have the chance to see it for themselves. I only found out about this show due to a friend who lent me his DVDs. Not sporting the overused archetypes and styles of recent times is not a reason to look this show over. Give Living for the Day After Tomorrow an honest go. You may be surprised.
Overall Score: 9.25/10
General Score: 8-9/10
Essential viewing for: Those who love great story-telling and realistic, likeable characters
Don’t watch if: Aesthetics and moe are all you care about anymore
Living for the Day After Tomorrow is currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks.
To conclude the ‘Precocious Girls’ series, comes another great series that is – sad to say – unlicensed in most of the world outside of Japan, only to be found in France or China. A tale with a very dynamic duo where both learn more from each other than anyone else could ever teach them – Kurenai.