“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.” –Guy Finley
Hana recalls how she got sick on the eve of entrance exams, forcing her to miss them while she recovered. In the aftermath, Hana was devastated and fell into a depression. Her mother suggests that she move in with her cousin, Shion, and she spent the year studying to ensure a place in her new high school, as well as to pass the time. Back in the present, Hana struggles through her physical examinations, tiring quickly and suffering from acute muscle soreness as a result of having not partaken in any physical exercise for a year. Her friends show her an ice cream machine on school grounds to take her mind off things. When Golden Week arrives, Eiko and Karumi vote on spending their break studying. Hana goes for a run with Shion to bolster her stamina and prepares for her parents’ arrival. When they arrive, they are relieved to learn that she is doing well; pleased that she’s made friends, they help her make some crafts to liven up her decidedly spartan living quarters. Later, Hana’s friends visit her and throw her a proper birthday party with cake. Hana becomes aware of her age difference with Karumi, Eiko and Tamate and breaks into tears during the party, but pulls herself together. It turns out that it’s also close to Tamate’s birthday, so the girls have a joint celebration. As the day draws to a close, Hana finds a birthday gift from her parents.
For the newcomers, the three episode mark is where I decide whether or not to continue with a particular show, and Slow Start has done a fantastic job of maintaining my interest after three episodes. At this point in time, the largest conflict within Slow Start is Hana’s reluctance to let her newfound friends know of her situation: she worries that the revelation will alter the dynamics she shares with Eiko, Karumi and Tamate, especially with regard to creating an awkward senpai–kouhai dynamic that is not so easily reconciled. While not of a concern in the Western world, the hierarchy formed by this system is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, where the juniors are expected to express proper respect towards their seniors and not cause them to lose face, while seniors are expected to instruct their juniors and pass on knowledge. In short, it’s a non-trivial matter, and Hana’s constantly struggling with being truthful in the light of changing their current friendship, which has a flat hierarchy on account of everyone (ostensibly) being of the same age: having missed out on a year, Hana longs for nothing more than being able to spend time with her peers and experience high school as per her expectations. Having found friends now, Hana is thus unwilling to risk this, but at the same time, finds herself unable to fully open up to her friends, leaving moments that feel unnatural. As such, one of the challenges that Slow Start faces moving forwards will be how to create a heartwarming story of acceptance without discarding the Japanese values within its thematic elements: as a Western viewer, it might be easy to disregard the senpai–kouhai dynamic, but considering its weight in Japanese culture, it should be clear that Slow Start cannot remove this factor from its story.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The hikikomori phenomenon in Japan refers to shut-ins who become withdrawn from society after suffering from significant setbacks in life as a consequence of extreme social pressures in Japan. When a despondent Hana declares that this is the only way left to her after she recovers from the mumps, her mother manages to convince her to seek another path. Hikikomori are a non-trivial matter in Japan; there are an estimated five hundred thousand individuals in Japan who fit the definition, and the topic is quite difficult to discuss in reality, but anime such as Slow Start present Hana’s situation as adorable rather than troubling – my heart melts when I see characters such as her in situations like these.
- Hana is spared the fate of becoming a hikikomori, pulls herself together and manages to set out on her path again, even if she occasionally doubts how things will turn out. Her serendipitous meeting with Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate helps her regain confidence, and as we continue into Slow Start, I’m slowly beginning to feel that Tamate is Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari Akiyama rolled into one with Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki: excitable and energetic, but also a good cook and highly fond of visual novels, Tamate is voiced by Ayasa Itō, a newcomer whose other roles remain quite unknown to me.
- It seems as though there are few discussions on Slow Start out there, and even less talk on what themes Slow Start is dealing with from the big-picture perspective. As such, I am stepping up to the plate to add tinder to kindle the discussions out there – I will be writing about Slow Start in the same manner as I am for Yuru Camp△, but there is one minor difference. As enjoyable as Slow Start is, there is an upper limit to how much I can write about it, and so, Slow Start talks will feature twenty screenshots rather than thirty.
- Composed and capable, Shion is a college graduate voiced by Mao Ichimichi (And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?’s Kyou Goshoin). When she prepares Hana’s lunch, the care put into it leads Tamate to wonder if Hana’s cousin, hitherto unknown to Tamate and the others, have feelings for her. Hana voices this concern to Shion, who decides that the solution is to dispel the myth by crafting another lunch that indicates that nothing interesting is going on between the two. This particular plot device might be used for comedy or drama in other series, but it doesn’t belong in something like Slow Start.
- Since the topic of fitness forms the basis for a part of the second episode in Slow Start, my mind wanders to physical activity, and I open with the remark that for all of my propensities towards sitting down at a desk or in a comfortable chair with a computer or good book in hand, I do make an effort to keep in reasonable shape: I lift, hike and do martial arts, and it suddenly strikes me that I spend about the same time working out or being active in some way every week as I do my other hobbies. This is why posts don’t come out more often or faster here.
- Characters with exceptionally low physicality are usually portrayed in a manner as to evoke a few laughs from viewers, and Hana, having not done anything for a year, is so weak that warming up blows her away. I certainly found it amusing in the context of anime like Slow Start, but as with Hikikomori, it’s less amusing in reality. I’ve heard that anime fans generally aren’t big on fitness, and while the metrics for determining what counts as fit has a long, scientific and probably uninteresting process, I posit that being of average shape means being able to do thirty pushups (on your knuckles), five pull-ups and touch your toes. So, if you’re reading this and you’ve got some interest in fitness, drop a comment down below and show me what you’ve got.
- I’ve just recently gotten into doing squats, and now that I’m not so sore as to find myself unable to walk the next day, the time has come to raise the weights. It stands to reason that, while I’m not the epitome of fitness, I’m at least in better shape than Hana, who’s completely blown away with her physical exam. Her friends suggest bananas to help her out, and there’s truth in this – the potassium in bananas are electrolytes that aid in muscle function and recovery. I have a banana every weekday for lunch, and while I disliked them back in my days as a primary school student, my current laziness in preparing other fruits, coupled with the benefits that potassium brings, means that I’m totally good with them now. Hana has no access to bananas, but Tamate find an ice-cream machine on campus and the girls share a moment enjoying the ice-cream.
- After Hana learns that there is not a second half to the physical exam, she enters a state of zen lasting for several hours in relief that the day’s not going to be any longer than it is. I’m not sure if her subsequent reaction is in response to the thought of Tamate sans clothing or not, but the flowers indicate she’s zoned out considerably. It’s not until dinner with Shion that she recovers from this.
- The girls begin discussing their plans for Golden Week, which spans from April 29 to the first week of May. It’s so-called for the fact that many Japanese holidays converge here, leading institutions and businesses to close. The closest equivalent for Western students would be Spring Break, but for folks who work, there’s not any similar break except at the end of the year with the Winter holidays. Back in my days as a student, I spent all of my spring breaks, and later, reading week, studying or catching up on things: I’ve certainly not travelled or done anything too outrageous, but in retrospect, this was time well spent. I study while others vacation, and vacation when everyone else…isn’t.
- Hana grows discouraged after a run with Shion leaves her exhausted; at Hana’s mother’s request, Shion is helping her out. I’ve long found that the morning is by far the best time of day to exercise for me: back during the summer, I attempted to lift weights at night after dinner, but felt weighted down and unnecessarily tired. The gym is also more crowded by night. By comparison, I feel fired up and ready to roll in the morning: I tire less easily and lift with more intensity. There’s no best time to lift: this is strictly a matter of personal preference, and on my end, my inclination towards mornings is because I’m a morning person.
- Just for amusement’s sake, I’ll feature an unnecessary close-up of Shion and her uncommonly large assets for no reason beyond the fact that I can. She’s visually appealing, and if there are any episodes to be set at a beach or hot springs, I might just make that discussion a larger one, with the full thirty screenshots, purely for moments such as this if Shion should accompany Hana and her friends.
- Eiko hangs out with a friend, and her actions seem to put her friend in a rough spot. Matters of yuri are serious business out there, and for some folks well-versed in the matter, can form the basis for lengthy discussion. The extent of what I can offer such conversation is that, if yuri were to be as prevalent in real life as it were in anime, our species would stop propagating and it’d be the end of human civilisation as we know it.
- Kamuri’s day is spent enjoying a scrumptious breakfast that she takes several hours to finish. It is shown here that Kamuri comes from a wealthier background: her residence is quite large. Going purely from her interactions with the others at school, one could never guess that she’s of money, so episodes depicting characters outside of school often yield insight into aspects of characters that add dimensionality to their personalities.
- Tamate is evidently a major fan of dating sims and doujin: if her constant mention of dating sims in everyday conversation were not sufficient to indicate her hobbies, she’s shown visiting Comiket and leaves with a good haul of swag. Her propensity for related jargon often leaves her friends in confusion, and I’ve heard unverified claims that this Tamate and the Tama of Bottle Fairy are one and the same on account of both Slow Start and Bottle Fairy having art from Yukio Tokumi. Officially, Tokumi has stated that the characters are meant to be similar in mannerisms and designs, but otherwise reside in different universes.
- Hana’s parents swing by for a visit and are pleasantly surprised to find that Hana is doing quite well. They thank Shion for having looked after her for the past year, and when they learn that Hana’s to host some friends, they express an interest in meeting Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate. Feeling that Hana’s quarters are a bit spartan, they help in crafting some hand-made decorations. Hana’s parents remark that Hana’s a great deal happier, and Hana herself notes that she usually becomes lonely when her parents leave after their visits, but with her friends, things don’t seem so bad.
- While the manga leaves the location of the town that Hana moves to undisclosed, Slow Start‘s anime adaptation is set in Karuizawa of the Nagano Prefecture. The town is a small one, with a population of close to twenty thousand: with its temperate climate, the town is a popular vacation destination for visitors. Among the area attractions include hot springs, outdoor sports facilities and Ginza Street, a famous historic shopping street. Hana visits Ginza Street in the first episode with her friends, and here, she meets Tamete at Karuizawa Station.
- With three episodes in the books, I’ve found all of the characters in Slow Start to be likeable in their own way: Hana reminds me a great deal of Miho, and Tamate is similar to Yukari. Kamuri and Chino are likewise reminiscent of one another, and Eiko’s quite interesting. Here, Hana bursts into tears after being reminded of her age gap, but her friends assume she’s simply moved and don’t think anything of it. It remains to be seen when and how Hana will break the news to everyone – given the nature of things, I imagine that this will likely for the basis for the anime’s overarching plot for this season.
- While the girls partake in some cake, Eiko leaves briefly to use the bathroom, and exploiting the moment, Tamate decides to tease Kamuri; in Eiko’s absence, Kamuri becomes completely shy and silent. I wonder how often this will be exploited for comedy, although it is also likely that Kamuri will mature as the series wears on, to the point where it is no longer possible to pull this off.
- After cake is enjoyed, the girls settle into their studies and are impressed that Hana’s so familiar with the materials. It turns out that Hana had exclusively spent the previous years knee-deep in the books: this shows that she’s a very determined individual and will make the most of things in her own manner. While initially a dreary existence (as I can attest, having spent a summer with my face in books in preparation for the MCAT some years back), Hana’s efforts have some positive consequences, as well, allowing her to keep ahead of the course materials. With this in mind, audiences needn’t worry about how Hana’s performing, allowing the story to focus purely on her social developments.
- Hana’s friends bought her and Tamate a pair of stuffed bears to signify their togetherness; Tamate decides to leave her bear with Hana’s to reinforce that they’re friends. The snow globe is from Hana’s parents, who’ve not forgotten Hana’s birthday. As the sun sets, casting the room in a warm light that glitters in the snow globe, Hana smiles. This brings my Slow Start discussion to a close, and while the post was a bit unexpected, this means that I will be continuing with Slow Start. In the meantime, it’s time to quickly catch up on the fourth episode before the fifth releases, and I also note that Battlefield 1‘s North Seas update has released, which brings Heligoland Bight’s naval combat and the new TTK patch into the game. My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, and I’ll be writing about that in the very near future.
With the challenge of balancing a meaningful message without disregarding Japanese values, Slow Start has more to offer audiences than merely antics surrounding high school girls in their everyday lives: it provides a (albeit highly watered-down) bit of insight into the way Japanese society is structured and the implications this has on the well-being of people who find themselves stepping away from the rigidly-choreographed path in life they’re typically expected to follow. By comparison, things in the West seem to be much more lax, and individuals who miss a year can still recover should they put in the requisite effort – consider that I took a year off to do open studies between my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. That particular detour was the consequence of my aim to decide once and for all whether I wished to write software or become a medical doctor, and during this time, I blended into classes without standing out, even if I did feel a little out of place amongst the students. Returning to Slow Start, while the series is not expected to undergo any major shifts in mood and should continue on presenting Hana and her friends’ time as high school students in an adorable manner, I am curious to see just what sort of path awaits Hana as Slow Start progresses. The clean, simple artwork and smooth animation make the anime a visual treat to watch: nowhere nearly as detailed as Violet Evergarden or distinct in design as A Place Further Than the Universe, Slow Start nonetheless comes across as having a solid execution that makes the episodes something that I look forward to each week.