My first days of college were hardly a reflection of what the rest of my college career would be. Forced into orientation groups named after colors – if memory serves – energetic and intoxicated upperclassmen herded us around in groups, until we learned to herd ourselves. Those weeks, we traveled in packs, first grouped by floor, then grouped by interest or field of study, and finally, grouped with those whom we truly could call friends. As it so happened, one of my orientation group-mates ended up in my group of friends. It was a friendship born of similar interest, namely the sport of rugby, and although we grew to be mere acquaintances by the end of our respective college lifetimes, I always enjoyed spending time with him.
Attending a small college – for reference, my graduating class consisted of about 300 students, mirroring my high school graduating class size – is a uniquely insular experience. I received an excellent education; however, the social alliances, friendships, and relationships that were formed were instantly broadcast throughout the school. If something happened, everyone knew a version of the event within 24 hours of its occurrence. These events were not divisive, but my class was certainly split into specific groups of people. This changed during our senior week.
Senior week is a tradition where, having finished exams and eagerly awaiting the graduation ceremony days later, the college allows for seniors to hold a week-long party with various events, often involving alcohol. Ours was not the best week to have senior week, as it rained nearly every day, but strangely enough, this brought my class together. I found myself spending more time with people I hadn’t spoken much too since freshman year, including my former orientation group-mate. We all re-bonded over a rousing game of beer pong, and completed the night by penguin-sliding in the mud that had accumulated in the fields outside.
The next day, miraculously, it was bright. The rain had subsided long enough for my class to attend a cruise around the lake. We eagerly chattered, heels clicking dully against the still-damp wood on the docks. After what seemed like an eternity, we were allowed onto the boat. Everyone quickly went about emptying their wallets into bartender’s pockets and waited for the boat to leave the dock. After a half hour, we waited, remaining at the shore, but going about dancing and carrying on. And after an hour, we were still waiting. Slowly, people started to disappear, or sit down in groups, with troubled looks on their faces. A few began to cry. Murmurs traveled through the crowd, achingly slower than any rumor my class had spread during its tenure.
As episode 25 of Touch begins, a well-read audience will instantly know. The cicadas are too loud, the pillow shots linger too long, the sun is too bright. This is not an episode but the episode. Touch was a wildly popular manga with all age groups – the anime followed suit and remains one of the highest-rated anime television series in Japanese history – and it is safe to say that the majority of anime viewers in 1985 knew what was to come. With the viewers previously educated, the series goes about attending to the in-universe characters. Tatsuya Uesugi passes by a street full of people whispering to each other. While crossing the train tracks, he is nearly hit by a truck. His twin brother, Kazuya Uesugi, having bade their parents and Tatsuya goodbye hours earlier, has yet to arrive at this most important baseball game. The team waits, trusting in the fact that Kazuya would be present if he could. They continue to wait and finally, can wait no longer. Takeshi Kuroki is given the start over Kazuya, to the confusion of their opponents and fans. More confused are the baseball team members themselves, who cannot fathom what would keep Kazuya from missing such a crucial game.
Fittingly, Tatsuya is the first to know. As the doctor tells him, the series goes silent. Kazuya’s good-luck charm drops from Tatsuya’s hand. Throughout this, and the majority of the next, episode, we never hear Tatsuya tell anyone that Kazuya is dead. The first person to hear those words from Tatsuya is their childhood friend, Minami Asakura, and they come later in episode 26.
We knew that something was wrong the night of the senior cruise, but did not know what. The news reached a friend of mine first, and was then passed to me. My former group-mate, one of the first people I had met while at college, was dead. He had died in a accident. In spite of being a fairly experienced outdoorsman, his canoe had capsized in the flooded river. It had rained all week, after all. Three of his friends made it out, but he did not. The cruise had sat at the dock, with the school staff presumably worried sick over how to tell a somewhat intoxicated and confused group of college seniors that their classmate had passed away.
This is not my first time viewing Touch, but it marks the first time that I’ve allowed myself to let go and think on what happened to my college friend upon watching the series’ presentation of Tatsuya’s reaction. Everything seems too bright, and too slow. The sounds of the baseball game are punctuated by the obnoxious buzzing of cicadas, car brakes, and the deafening silence of Tatsuya dropping his brother’s charm in the hospital. Upon gathering his parents, Tatsuya tells his friend Harada to pass along the word to Minami after the game is over. Harada grabs his hand forcefully, asking him if he really meant after the game. A stricken Tatsuya grunts in affirmation. There’s no reason for Minami to hurry, there is nothing that she can do.
There was nothing that we could do but hear the news. Left to our own devices after our arrival back on campus, half of my suite attended a chapel service while my friend Katie and I watched an inane television rebroadcast of America’s Next Top Model in silence, both staring off into space, glad that the other was simply present and not talking about it. My memory remembers stupid details like this. Or that he had poked fun at my release of the ping-pong ball in beer pong – calling it a Peyton Manning pump-fake – that previous night. These were not things that I allowed to enter my mind upon my first viewing of the series, but somehow, re-watching it has allowed those memories, dumb as they are, to reappear with a precise clarity. He is not someone that I want to forget any time soon.