One of the big problems with romantic comedies is that they tend to lean too heavily on cliches and gimmicks. Most of the time, to the point that the story itself is little more than a collection of these things, with no depth, no character, and nothing to say beyond “gimme some money”.
On very rare occasions, however, those cliches and gimmicks produce a really good show. By either some twist of ironic fate, the law of averages, or a deal with some dark netherworld being, a perfect storm of cliches and gimmicks can churn out a really enjoyable show.
Case in point, the 2007, 24 episode series Toei Animation (Everything Dragonball. Like, everything.), Lovely Complex. Based on an award winning manga by Aya Nakahara, Lovely Complex uses every gimmick and cliche it can find, and actually manages to use them all to good effect to tell a genuinely fun story.
Fairly certain Nakahara traded somebody’s soul for that, but who am I to judge?
Lovely Complex tell the story of Risa Koizumi, a much taller than average Japanese high school student, and Atsushi Otani, a much shorter than average student in her class, as they clash, become friends, fall in love, and put the comedy into rom-com.
There’s not really a lot else to say about the plot. That’s pretty much it. Like I said, cliches and gimmicks abound.
What makes Lovely Complex work, however, is to not be original. Risa and Otani are frequently referred to as All Hanshin Kyojin, which is based on a real life comedy duo, that was very popular in Japan back in the 60’s. I can’t find much about them now, but what I did learn was that they were well known for comedic bickering, something the two protagonists of Lovely Complex do a lot.
Which is where the series really shines. The comedy is freaking great, and the the two leads play off each other so naturally, that their bickering really is funny. In the beginning, they can barely stand each other, and go to great pains to annoy the other, much to the amusement of everyone around them.
Their friends, however, figure out that the two have feelings for each other pretty much right away, and suffer through a lot of annoyance with trying to get them to see it. This is also used to pretty solid comedic effect, especially since the group of friends the two have are well crafted and believable characters.
Which isn’t to say Risa and Otani aren’t. They are. This is one of the spots that Lovely Complex, amidst all the cliches, gimmicks, and gags really gets right. The characters are all incredibly well put together, adorable, and believable. They act in ways that are reasonable, for them, and behave like real people would.
Risa, for example, is embarrassed by being so much taller than everyone around her, and frequently downplays her own looks so as not to attract more attention. She’s self conscious, and manifests her own internal issues by being outwardly tomboyish, keeping her own femininity at bay more often than not. Much of her character arc is learning how to just be okay with herself, as she is.
Otani, on the other hand, was dumped by his last girlfriend, who immediately took up with a tall guy. Already sensitive about his height, he developed a full on complex over it, and thinks he can only be attractive to women who are even shorter than him. A skilled basketball player, with dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher and basketball coach, he’s also short tempered, arrogant, rude, and crass. All to cover up his own insecurities and fears.
Most of the series revolves around Rsa and Oani learning to get past their own issues, and accept themselves for who they are, and each other as they are. While Lovely Complex is a comedy, and a really funny one, that’s a pretty heavy plot line to follow. Which the series does, by treating it as seriously as it deserves, while still being funny.
That’s a tricky balancing act, no matter how you look at it.
Another thing the show really gets right is to not keep the focus solely on Risa and Otani. The lives of their friends is also important, with their own romantic difficulties, and life crisis. Nakao and Nobuko, a couple the two leads are friend with, face a very real problem when one of them is suddenly faced with the prospect of having to move far away. While the two are very much in love, they can’t promise that their relationship would survive a long distance, over a long period of time.
How they deal with that is handled in as realistic a way as possible, since these are still teenagers we’re talking about. Despite their growing maturity, they face things they aren’t emotionally prepared for, and somehow have to muddle their way through.
The last thing Lovely Complex does right, and does better than any romantic comedy anime out there, is to not stop at high school. Senior year comes and goes, and the story continues, as Otani tries to get his teaching certificate, and Risa tries to figure out what to do with her life. Everything isn’t magically solved by the end of their final year in high school, and staying together when you are no longer on a strict school schedule creates new problems for high school sweethearts to deal with. That the story goes that extra mile sets it apart in some very meaningful ways.
One of the biggest is Risa suddenly discovering that other young men find her attractive, and Otani not dealing with that well. That last big step towards maturity in a relationship, learning to trust each other as adults, is as important as anything that happens in the halls of education, after all. Lovely Complex is one of the only shows I’ve ever seen continue to deal with the problems a young couple faces after school, and how hard it is to really be mature in your relationship.
All the cliches, gimmicks, and gags aside, that’s something worthy of admiration.
In terms of animation, Lovely Complex is good. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the animation quality is consistent, and remains so through out the run of the show. The character designs are solid and well done, with each being unique, and easy to remember. While it may not be the most amazing thing you’ve ever laid eyes on, it is all well made, something I can’t say about every would be romantic comedy. (cough*DearS*cough)
Konosuke Uda served as the series director, and if you aren’t familiar with him, he’s the series director for One Piece. He’s also directed several of the One Piece films. Basically, he’s the One Piece guy, since that show doesn’t leave him a lot of time to do much of anything else. Which is great for One Piece fans, but kinda sad for the rest of us, since Uda is a damn fine director, and knows just what a scene needs, and how to get it.
Script work was handled by Takashi Yamada, who has an extensive list of credits, almost none of which I’ve ever heard of. She did a lot of script work for InuYasha over the series run, but wasn’t the head writer for the show. Still, he seems to be a pretty successful script writer, and what little I’ve seen of his work backs that up. Lovely Complex is a well written show, with surprising depth, good comedy, and well handled characters. Yamada definitely took the manga and did well with it.
The music was arranged by Hironosuke Sato. This is the only anime Sato has ever worked on. So, can’t really say if this is typical of his work or not. The music is decent, but like the animation, doesn’t break any new ground, or do anything amazing. It’s just good, and fits whatever is happening on screen.
Which is another thing about this show that kind of left me surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Nothing about it should work. Everything is just okay, with a few exceptions. Yet, somehow, it not only works, but really is enjoyable.
Deals with Elder Gods really work, kids. Remember that.
One last thing of interest. Everyone on the show speaks in the Kansai-ben accent, the dialect spoken in Osaka, which any anime fan knows is frequently compared to the southern twang of the States. The show employed almost entirely Osakan voice actors, as well, in order to make sure the accent was correct, since the show itself is set in Osaka.
That’s going the extra step. That’s worth noting, and is admirable.
Lovely Complex is a really weird show, guys. Nothing about it should work, yet it all does, and produces a really fun, engaging, and enjoyable romantic comedy experience.
It’s kinda like how Danny Strong, the actor who played Johnathon on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, ended up being an Emmy winning writer. Feeding your soul to the Hellmouth does come with rewards, and I think Lovely Complex is further proof of that.
Go evil, guys. It pays better.