Questions of Transparency and Self-Worth in Golden Time

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Golden Time is a story that’s ostensibly about appearances and how you present yourself to other people, and the more I read into it the more I am struck by how much more natural it feels than other romances I’ve seen in my day. The main pair of this story is Tada Banri and Kaga Kouko, two individuals who struggle with two very different aspects of a particular human behavior: personas. They exist, and people have them. I enjoy the fact that the characters in Golden Time are not what meets the eye; in fact, there is only one person I can think of that is completely transparent as a character. Everyone else is shown, whether by plot reveal or with subtle execution, to be hiding something about themselves.

Allow me to meander into a personal account. I find that the most important aspect of me spending my time up in a summer camp is the opportunity to meet many kinds of people. To put it more precisely, I am made to work with these people and am subject to many more aspects of their lives than a person like me normally experiences. Let’s be more specific.

Aside from obvious antics regarding cohabitation regarding shared rooms, shower houses, and a laundry room, I got to see two distinct sides to each person who worked in this camp: how they behave as counselors around the kids who come here, and how they behave as teenagers or young adults around their peers. As employees we are expected to uphold a strict set of guidelines in concerns with personal behavior a.k.a. living by the Scout Oath and Law, as we like to say around these parts. However, as coworkers we are allowed to bond and mingle with each other as deeply as we want (obviously not that far, you hentai). Obviously, they don’t behave profesionally all the time. I do not behave professionally all the time. So, too, do people not behave loosely like we do during offtimes. Yet, compared to how they behave around their parents, their peers back in school, or even their online friends, I am left wondering if the people I see at camp are not also merely aspects of something much more complex. None of these people will ever behave in real life how they do here, and this goes for both of the personas I described.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that people, and to a large extent this includes myself, go to admirable lengths to transform into a “different” person, depending on what kinds of people they’re in front of. An obvious question to this particular phenomena is: why can’t everyone be open about their feelings? What’s wrong with being transparent? Maybe that’s not quite the most graceful way to put it.

Here’s a better question: what do we risk by being transparent?

To put it in a single word… everything. That’s what it will feel like, at least.

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Maintaining relationships with other human beings does not require a lot of transparency, especially when it comes to friendships and even more so when it comes to keeping in contact with people over long distances. However, when it comes to those deeper connections, like romance and family, you have to be honest. Trustworthy, to be more precise. And you can’t be trustworthy to another person if you’re not transparent about your intentions and your feelings. One of the key points in a lot of love stories is that the pair in question needs to be honest about their mutual feelings, or in other cases learn to stop “being pussies” and take the initiative to confess whether in a proper manner or not. Yet, one of the larger reasons why I like Golden Time so much right now is because I’m interested and invested in why one particular character isn’t open about her feelings.

The female lead in this story, Kaga Kouko, presents herself as a haughty, arrogant, and deceitful person who openly declares Mitsuo as hers, and going so far as to objectify him as well. It’s an unpleasant personality to be around, even more so for Mitsuo, and the major reason she doesn’t get much flak for it from her peers (and mainly Banri) is because she has the looks to get away with a lot of things. What’s curious to me about this whole setup is that Kouko is only willing to show this side of her to Mitsuo, even if he in return sees her as this evil and uncaring person who’s going to make his life hell the moment he lets his guard down. What’s more, Kouko is fully aware of what she’s doing to Mitsuo but has no intention of stopping. How does this story explain this particular conflict of interest? Well, it’s because Kouko in reality is so plagued by feelings of inadequacy that she see no other course than to behave how she does. Yes indeed, she feels shyness! Embarrassment! Fear! Doubt, even! The problem is that Kouko’s so terrified of Mitsuo seeing this side to her that she resolves to crush those emotions in order to uphold the “Kaga Kouko” that he knows oh-so-well.

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Love has such potential in Golden Time, enough for Kouko to categorize and truncate her behavior to fit this… stereotype, to put it in a word. Kouko is smug. Kouko is whip-smart. Kouko is unrivaled in confidence and love. Kouko is so perfect in her disguise that you can’t help but point out the missing details. She does not speak to the object of her affections as a complete person. It’s funny in a bad sense because of how convinced she is about her act winning Mitsuo’s affection. To someone who knows her actual personality, that person being the male lead Banri (and to an extent the audience of this story as well), this is quite painful to watch. He, and to that extent ourselves as well, come to believe that Kouko a much better character when she’s open about her insecurities. When she worries, fidgets, and introspects about her achievements (and lack thereof), she appears to be a lot more relatable. Well, “emotionally unstable” is a better way to put it but it gives us a point of reference to call her flawed. We like characters with flaws, right? Because now they can be classified as realistic? Wouldn’t everything be better that way? Don’t you think Mitsuo would like Kouko a lot more if she behaved normally?

“If I seem different, that’s because I’m my true self when with Mitsuo. That is the real me. I do not exist when Mitsuo is not around. Each and every day begins with Mitsuo. […] I can’t help but chase after him. That’s what I’ve always been doing… for countless years.

“…Like an idiot, don’t you think?”

~Kaga Kouko, Golden Time

What Golden Time says about Kouko’s character is that there is no such thing as a normal “self”: all that exists is what you can recall of them and what you will accept about them. Banri may be privy to more aspects of her behavior than Mitsuo is, but it is by Kouko’s choice that this side of her is nowhere to be seen when it counts. It’s the same for the people I worked with, and it’s the same for myself as well. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that hiding parts of yourself, for the sake of promoting a certain image of yourself, is perfectly normal behavior. The risk I talked about earlier exists if she ever decides to open up. I may end up accepting Kouko as a realistic character because I know her flaws, but is that an excuse to pity her if she were a real person, or even like her?

I’d personally be in the same boat as Mitsuo.

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Let me connect back to my camp shenanigans. My coworkers and I promote an ideal when we work with the kids at camp because we hold the potential to be role models for them, images of success that stick in their mind long into the future. Yet, this is the exact reason why we can’t be open about our complete personality with them. Such undesirable behaviors are hidden not only because they might get us fired but also because the kids shouldn’t see them in order to uphold the grand image of an ideal staff worthy of being role models. The whole affair of us “not being ourselves” becomes moot as long as they don’t know about our true, less-than-ideal characters.

In Golden Time we’re aware of the discrepancy between Kouko’s “true” self and how she behaves around Mitsuo, so we are to be sympathetic to her intentions. “We’ve all been there before,” the story seems to say. “Don’t pretend otherwise.” You may come to believe that Kouko goes to unreasonable lengths to promote such an antagonistic image of herself, but that’s only because we end up knowing what she’s like when she isn’t around Mitsuo. And if she promotes her haughty and bitchy self as opposed to her emotional and frightened self, what value do we assign her as a human being if that’s what she prefers from the bottom of her heart? Is it even in our right to place a value upon that?

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Of course, her reasons with not being completely honest about herself in front of Mitsuo are idiotic and self-destructive, but I can at least understand the sentiment behind it. She loves Mitsuo to the point of stripping her own self-worth and adopting a persona to present herself instead. It is an act without trust, without honesty. However, it is with such fierce earnestness that I am hesitant to deny that Kaga Kouko is a wholly bad person by adopting that awful persona. All of this is bundled up into one character and you are left wondering whether you should even be part of her drama. Without a doubt, that’s the reason why she chooses to keep Mitsuo in the dark about her entire personality. Maybe it’s better for him to just think of her as this two-dimensional character who will never graduate to be anything other than an annoyance.

I’m waiting and wondering whether she’s able to let go of her insecurities and become the mask she wears so constantly around Mitsuo, or if her little scheme ends up crumbling apart into oblivion once she’s shut down once and for all. For the sake of drama, I’m betting on the latter.

Addendum

  1. So if you haven’t noticed by now I’m totally hyped for the Golden Time anime coming out this Fall.
  2. And I haven’t even gotten started with the issues Banri has.
  3. I stopped reading the manga (chapter 7 to be exact) out of the fear that reading any more would ruin my enjoyment with the anime.
  4. Rest assured, I AM watching stuff for this current season, just haven’t found inspiration for a post about that stuff yet.
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7 comments

  1. I try not to get overly hyped about shows that haven’t aired yet but DAMN, you have made Golden Time sound deliciously good. Fingers crossed for great adaptation to do this justice.

    1. Now to watch the anime collapse under the weight of our combined HYPE.

  2. I can only second froggykun. The story does remind me a little of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, but the heroine consciously has two personalities in this case, while in the other it was a much more decisive personality split.

    1. Fascinating. I stopped watching Dusk Maiden at around episode 2 or 3, so I wouldn’t know exactly what you’re talking about, but it does seem different than what’s happening in Golden Time.

      Not to mention that the characters in Golden Time are adults and therefore legal.

      1. Oh, the series becomes brilliant around episode 7. It actually makes the comedic and nonsensical antics of the first six episodes make sense. The story turns a lot darker at that point. You’ll love it if you watch it further.

        There’s a great review of it on Ashita no Anime. I would direct you to my blog or Pirates of the Burley Griffin, but we both have spoilers.

  3. Been wanting a Golden Time anime since I first heard of it. I also read a chapter or two from the manga and it was great. Really interesting post in that aspect, since it really makes me want to get back into reading it!

    I really want the anime to be good, I really do. But the trailer that’s been released is just… bland :(

  4. […] preview, since I try not to get hyped about anime in case crushing disappointment ensues. However, hype for Golden Time was unavoidable, with no thanks to appropriant and his talent for writing SODEEP posts about seemingly shallow […]

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