Halfway through this episode, Nitori arrives at her sister’s classroom in order to drop off a lunchbox. Her sister’s classmates stare at Nitori, noting how she’s cute and “looks like a girl,” and Nitori actually blushes in happiness at this. But Nitori’s sister is not impressed – she pushes Nitori out and then stomps to her desk. “Don’t take it out on your lunch,” a male friend gently chides her, at which Nitori’s sister only scowls, and then slams her lunch repeatedly into the table.
It’s not her lunch’s fault that Nitori’s sister feels insecure about her relationship with her sibling. The issues there are deeper and more nebulous, born of both insecurity for her own sake and likely fear for the sake of her sister. But the lunch is what she has at hand, and so the lunch bears the brunt of her frustrations. We all experience psychic pain, and that pain will out however it can.
That’s largely the theme of this episode, an episode alternately referred to as “Hate, Hate, Despise” and as one of my favorite Beatles songs. It’s Chiba’s hate that takes center stage here, and thus her monologue that opens the episode. “It was a lot of fun at first,” she admits, thinking back on her time with Nitori and… Takatsuki. That’s how she says it herself, with the little pause before the second name. As if even the name might summon the boy she hates.
Chiba has real reasons for her resentment, as we eventually learn. In a flashback later in the episode, we see that Chiba learned of Nitori’s feelings for Takatsuki only when she herself confessed to Nitori. “You two and your apologies,” she said, as Takatsuki tried to stammer out a response. Chiba seems to want a directness of emotional connection that her friends are unwilling to share; she likes and hates with forthright aggression, but the expressions and consequences of her feelings are more ambiguous. “This isn’t the first time you’ve made me out to be the bad guy,” Takatsuki responds. And so their mutual resentment carries on into their middle school days.
Chiba’s hate expresses itself like Nitori’s sister slamming her lunchbox. Her anger is towards Takatsuki, but she isn’t picky about where it ultimately lands. When she sees her two former friends again, they stand separated by a window’s bars, and she sums up the both of them as “filth.” She acts rudely towards upperclassmen, an act that will haunt her all through the episode. And she starts fires in the classroom, referring to Chi as weird likely because Chi’s actions remind her of Takatsuki, but at least partially also because Chi is just another target to hit.
As Chiba stews in her own resentment, other characters express their shifting feelings in quieter ways. There’s a great moment early on when Takatsuki is watching Chi take over their seating group, and smiles – and then Nitori notices Takatsuki’s smile, feels more positively towards Chi as a result, and is noticed by Takatsuki in turn. And the second scene between Nitori’s sister and her male friend impresses through framing, as their initially distant faces are drawn together by what amounts to an offhand confession. Wandering Son’s framing is not ostentatious, but its reliance on clean fundamentals gives it a robust visual vocabulary all the same. Characters are separated by time and space and emotion, and only brought together by the softening effect of distance.
Sasa is the one most hurt by Chiba’s grudge – not only are her friends now not speaking, but she doesn’t even know why. It hurts to be disliked by a friend, but it can hurt even more to be disregarded; though Chiba and Takatsuki are fighting, at least that fight means they share a certain honesty and emotional bond. And so, after an episode of trying to heal their wounds, Sasa has had enough – she says she’s not speaking to either of them, and though she’s not particularly good at holding a grudge, her feelings prompt her friends to action.
It’s Takatsuki who takes the first step, urged by his own friends to make up with Chiba. He offers to walk home with his former friend, and it turns into a group outing, the initially disparate characters now united in the corner of the frame. There are enough rumors and hardships to suffer through without finding reasons to hate your friends – Ariga refers to Chiba’s situation as “a life that’s hard to live,” but Chiba is far from alone in that. And as the group share ice cream after school, Chiba abruptly admits that she actually was rude to her upperclassmen, for no real reason at all. But we’re all human; we all slam that lunchbox down, we all find our way to the wrong outlets for our pain. We’re all a mess, frankly – but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve friends who like us for the messes we are
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