Adachi and Shimamura

Sakura Adachi and Hougetsu Shimamura are both in their freshman year at senior high school. Adachi doesn’t get on with her mother, who is often absent from home because of work commitments; and though she longs for human company and connections, her inability to trust and fear of being let down cause her to become isolated and anti-social. Although possessed of a bright and happy personality, Shimamura is instinctively aware of the superficial and transient nature of most relationships, and has grown weary of the attention which her popularity with others engenders; she is determined not to follow the conventional courses adopted by her contemporaries. Adachi and Shimamura meet accidentally when they both choose the same hiding place while cutting class; they begin to play table-tennis, then walk home together, then begin spending time with one another outside school hours. The bourgeoning friendship motivates them both to return to class and make a greater effort with their academic studies; but for the lonely and emotionally fragile Adachi, her feelings toward Shimamura eventually evolve into something other than friendship. Shimamura, meanwhile, remains entirely oblivious to Adachi’s growing attraction to her; and although she is determined not to get tied down by any one person’s emotional needs, she is honest enough with herself to admit that there is something compelling about her relationship with Adachi that makes it different from the forgettable friendships she has had with others of her peers. Adachi and Shimamura’s friendship unfolds over time through a series of mishaps, miscommunications, and embarrassing faux pas; but as they graduate into their sophomore year, they begin to realise for the first time that their lives as students is decidedly finite – the adult world of university and work is already beckoning. And it is at this point that a ghost from Shimamura’s past unexpectedly emerges to make an already difficult situation that much more complex…

Based on a series of illustrated novels by Hitoma Ituma and Nozomi Ōsaka (aka Non) and produced by anime studio Tezuka Productions, “Adachi and Shimamura” originally aired on Japanese television between October and December 2020. Animated in a manga-esque/”soft lens” style made famous by studios such as the beloved Kyoto Animation, “Adachi and Shimamura” could easily have become an occasion for tacky prurience and cynical queer-baiting; to its eternal credit, however, it avoids these pitfalls by focusing less on romantic dynamics and more on the inner world of the main protagonists’ thoughts and feelings. Thus, we get to learn about Adachi and Shimamura as human beings rather than as the objects of cheap fantasy; and in the process, we experience their efforts and missteps in negotiating the tricky business of going beyond their comfort zones and getting to know someone else.   The whole process is aided by a richly sardonic humour that runs throughout the narrative, leavening the moments of tension and articulating a genuine empathy with the confusions and anxieties that come with emerging emotions and identities. The ambiguity of the ending also makes no happily-ever-after promises, holding in necessary tension the contentment of the present with the uncertainties and openness of the future.  Carefully and sensitively handled, “Adachi and Shimamura” explores the themes of connection and identity, the fine line between friendship and romance, the intrusions of our past, and the hope that can nonetheless exist in the face of tomorrow’s unknowns.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.