For every ten gimmick driven romantic comedy out there, there’s one that’s actually got a story. Which isn’t to say gimmick rom-coms can’t have a story. Toradora and Lovely Complex are both great examples of gimmicky shows that have story elements that outshine them.
Still, the best rom-coms are those that place the focus on the characters, and their personal stories, and leave the gimmicks and cliches off the table as much as possible. I’d say entirely, but when it comes to the rom-com genre, there’s no real way to do that. The entire genre is a gimmick driven entirely by cliches, after all.
Yeah, yeah. Just because I’m a romantic at heart doesn’t mean I don’t see that. I’m also a realist by nature. Makes me kind of a complicated cat, ya know?
One of the best examples of a good romantic comedy that is light on gimmick and cliche, while being strong on character and story, is the 2009, 38 episode Kimi ni Todoke, from the makers of Psycho-Pass, Production I.G.
Now I’m wondering what a crossover of Kimi ni Todoke and Psycho Pass would be like. Crazy, yet touching.
The anime, by the way, is based on a manga of the same name, by Karuho Shiina, and has been running since 2006. So, eleven years, with Shiina only taking a break to have a baby. That’s a lot of story, and it’s still going, so if you’re looking for a manga to get into that you aren’t gonna catch up right away, this might be a good one to try.
The story follows Sawako Kuronuma, a shy high school girl who suffers from some extreme social anxiety issues. Because of this, and her appearance, most all her fellow students call her Sadako, after the well dwelling demon girl from The Ring. In general, it’s believed she can see and talk to ghosts, as well as curse people.
Except, Sawako is actually a really nice person, who’s just super shy, and tends to overthink everything. She’s sure the impression everyone has of her is just a misunderstanding, and is always looking for a way to clear it up. Most of her efforts, however, just end up making everyone more afraid of her, especially given that she mumbles a lot, and gets so nervous when trying to talk to new people, she starts grimacing at her own awkwardness. This comes across as a scowl, and away everyone backs.
The other problem Sawako has is that she accepts things far too easily. Nobody wants to be friends with her, so she often just lets the matter be. She’s lonely, depressed, and hurting, but accepts her fate far too easily rather than fight against it, because she doesn’t want to burden anyone with her self.
Everything changes on the first day of the new term, however, with the arrival of Shouta Kazehaya, who on the way to school, gets turned around and nonchalantly asks Sawako for directions. She helps him, and again, as if she was not her, he thanks her. The experience, of being treated like a normal human being, by a complete stranger, begins the change for Sawako, and inspires her to take the first steps towards opening up.
It also causes her to fall hopelessly in love with Shouta, though it turns out, he’s a very popular guy, with everyone. She knows she doesn’t stand a chance, so she contents herself to watching him from afar. Shouta, however, quickly notices the way Sawako is ostracized, and why. Annoyed by it, he makes an effort to reach out to her, and quickly discovers the amazing, kind, and intelligent young woman lurking under the shyness. Before he knows it, Shouta finds himself developing feelings for Sawako.
However, he also realizes that if he moves forward with his feelings too quickly, it could hurt her, so he holds back, waiting, as Sawako develops friendships, finds herself, learns who she is, and opens up to the world, gifting everyone she meets with her beautiful soul.
The list of things Kimi ni Todoke does right would take me a while to write, so I’m going to focus on the highlights here. That, and I really think you should watch this for yourself, and experience the amazing story it tells of how a simple act of kindness can change a life.
First off, the characters. Sawako is adorably awkward at first, and instantly makes you want to cuddle her, while fending off a cruel world with the biggest gun you can find. Since everything is told from her perspective, with her own thoughts acting as the narration to the story, she’s an easy character to connect with. It’s also easy to understand how hard it is for her to bridge that gap that exists between her and the rest of the world, since we not only see, but hear her talk about, the struggle.
Having once suffered from social anxiety and shyness myself, I fell in love with Sawako by the end of the first episode, and desperately wanted to tell her everything would be okay. To keep trying, and she’d see the day people saw her, and loved her, for who she was.
Shouta is also wonderfully realized. He’s smart, and not just in the does well in school way. He’s got common sense, empathy, and the ability to reason things out down cold. While at first, he just hates to see anyone be treated poorly, his growing affection for Sawako is tempered by his realization of her needs. He pushes down the urge to sweep her into his arms and kiss the pain of life away, by knowing that while it would be a band-aid on her difficulties, it isn’t a solution. That is something Sawako has to find for herself, and all he can do is support her, be a friend, and help guide her to what she needs.
That is incredibly important. Not only is it showing respect for her, but it’s also the only way anyone dealing with the kind of crippling shyness Sawako has ever really gets through it. By taking those steps themselves. Help is great, but nothing does more than doing it yourself.
To that end, Sawako does make two friends, almost entirely without Shouta’s help. Ayane and Chizuru, two girls with bad reputations of their own, quickly discover during a school event, that Sawako is actually a super kind and sweet girl, that’s just painfully shy. Once they see the real her, the two quickly become attached, and extremely protective, of Sawako.
Ayane is the more mature of the two, and rumors say she’s basically a slut. The truth is, she has a boyfriend who is collage, and despite her outgoing personality, holds a lot of herself in reserve, rarely willing to commit her full heart to anyone. She’s also a total bad-ass, incredibly clever, insightful, and dangerously devious.
Chizuru, on the other hand, is a total tomboy who loves wrestling. Rumors say she’s in a gang, and may have even killed people, though really, she’s not smart enough to have done anything like that. She isn’t stupid by any means, she just doesn’t always think before she acts, and tends to get hurt very easily by others because of her tendency to take everyone at face value. When angered, however, she’s a force to be reckoned with, and absolutely will fuck a bitch up for hurting her friends.
One last friend wanders into the group soon after, Ryu, the often silent, but incredibly supportive childhood friend of Chizuru. Where Sawako has difficulty talking, Ryu just doesn’t bother. The two quickly bond over their shared ability to be silent, and develop a strong friendship, with Ryu willing to get in a persons face over their treatment of her. Unlike Shouta, though, Ryu as feelings for Chizuru, who is oblivious to this.
This small group of friendships that Sawako develops become the basis of the entire story, as they help her open up and become more able to deal with other people. Thought she still frequently thinks rumors are just misunderstandings, and doesn’t really get that people are often cruel just because they are assholes, she does learn, and grow, and with the support of those who come to cherish her, is finally ready to both tell Shouta how she feels about him, and hear how he feels about her.
None of this even begins to scratch the surface of how well crafted the characters, and their interactions, are in Kimi ni Todoke. The entire plot of the story is driven on those interactions, and everything that happens, does so as result of the characters choices. It is a wholly character driven story, and that those characters are so well realized, so fully fleshed out and believable, gives everything that happens an honesty, earnestness, and sweetness that keeps you wanting to rush to the next episode to see what happens.
Then, there’s Pin. We’ll not talk about Pin. He’s a character in the show. He’s a pinhead. That’s all there is to say about Pin.
In terms of animation, Kimi ni Todoke is everything you could want from a shojo manga inspired anime. Glitter is everywhere. Roses drift in and out. Everything is washed in beautiful pastel colors. It’s just wonderful, and makes you feel better about life to look at. The character designs are lovely, everything moves well, and the whole show just has this warm feeling to it that’s great. I really loved just looking at this show.
Hiro Kaburagi served as the director, and damn, did he do an amazing job. Even more amazing is that he doesn’t have a lot of work to his name, but he still just straight up nailed the ever loving shit out of this show. His only other director credits are from My Little Monster, and Hozoki no Reitetsu. He’s got a some other work as a storyboard artist, and episode director, some with shows like Speed Grapher, and Guilty Crown. Why this guy isn’t directing more, I’ll never know. He infuses every scene with Sawako’s inner light, brings every characters essence to the surface with amazing ease, and does exactly what this show needs him to. He takes it slow and steady. He lets the story unfold the way it must in order to be what it is.
Somebody get this man a show to direct, dammit!
Scriptwork was handled by Tomoko Konparu, who takes every cue from the manga, and delivers it all with a sense of warmth, gentleness, and kindness. The focus is always kept on Sawako, where it needs to be, with the other characters getting their asides at appropriate times. It’s a lovely adaptation of a beautiful work, and Konparu remains ever faithful to what the story is. Which isn’t surprising coming from the person who did the series composition and scripts for NANA, worked on scripts for Seiyu’s Life, and did the series composition for Sunday Without God. All good stuff you should watch.
The music was done by S.N.E.S, the new age instrumental group that’s been steadily producing work since freaking 1988. You’ve heard their work in xxxHolic, and My Love Story, though they’ve also scored a crap load of live action shows, movies, commercials, and documentaries. It’s no surprise then that the music for Kimi ni Todoke isn’t just good, it’s amazing. Soft, beautiful, gentle, every score drives at the heart of the characters, and what they feel. It’s amazing, and really worth listening to.
In the world of romantic comedies, some shows really do stand head and shoulders above the others. When I first decided to do a month of rom-coms, it took me a bit to settle on what shows I’d be covering. There are many I like, some I enjoy, but only two I genuinely love. Kimi ni Todoke is one of those, with the other coming next week. What that means is that I had to find three other shows that could at least hold their own with this, and while Toradora and Lovely Complex are great shows I really enjoyed, they are not Kimi ni Todoke.
Then again, what is?