The key to making a romantic comedy work is to have a strong emotional angle, with well crafted characters to pull it all off. It’s not an easy thing to balance, however, as there are certain things everyone expects from anything that flies in under the banner of rom com.
Say what you want about cliches, but the truth is, those things exist for a reason. People expect to see at least a few of them, and in the rom com genre, they expect to see a lot of them. When they don’t is when you end up having trouble.
This didn’t feel like a rom com to me, they’ll whine. Then turn around and bitch about another show having too many cliches. Cause most people are assholes, who just what to whine and bitch.
Point being, when you’re dealing with rom com’s, you have to pepper in a few cliches to make sure everyone gets that it’s a rom com, while not aching too many, all while building a strong character riven story, with solid characters, good humor, and that all important emotional narrative.
It’s little wonder there’s so few really good rom coms these days. That’s a lot of work. It can be done, though, and usually, when it is, it all looks effortless. Much like with last weeks Kimi ni Todoke, this week we take a look at a romantic comedy that gets it exactly right.
My Love Story, or Ore Monogatari!! as it’s more commonly known, is a perfect balancing act of everything a good romantic comedy needs to really work. It’s got a good gimmick, just the right amount of cliches, incredibly well crafted characters, a strong emotional arc, genuinely funny humor, and it manages to do a couple of things almost no romantic comedy animes ever do.
That’s all pretty impressive really, when you think about it.
Appearing in 2015, this 24 episode series from Madhouse, the fumbling god of anime studios, is based on the highly successful manga from Kazune Kawahara, who has known previous shojo success with titles like High School Debut and Azora Yell. My Love Story, however, would be her first anime adaptation, and her third work to get a live action film.
Oh, yeah, there’s a live action film of My Love Story. It’s pretty cute. Not as cute as the anime, but still, pretty damn cute.
The story follows Takeo Gouda, a mountain of a high school student, who just wants to meet a girl and fall in love. The only problem is that most girls are afraid of him, because he’s so huge and a bit socially awkward, making him seem intimidating, or even threatening. Beneath his bear like appearance, though, is a kind hearted and gentle person who wants only to be seen for who is, not what he looks like.
His best friend, Suna, has the opposite problem. Naturally good looking, Suna has a cool and smooth personality that makes all the girls need to carry several changes of underwear everywhere they go. Unlike Takeo, though, Suna isn’t interested in all that, and is content to just focus on his studies, leaving a heaving pile of panting desire in his wake. He finds it all pretty bothersome, really.
As far back as Takeo can remember, every girl he liked, liked Suna instead, but Suna always shot them down. So, one day, when Takeo and Suna see a girl getting groped on the train, prompting Takeo to step in, he expects the girl, Rinko Yamato, to fall in love with Suna. Much to his surprise, Rinko has eyes for no one but him, leaving poor Suna to get the two of them to stop beating around the bush and go on a date.
Yes, a romantic comedy where the couple gets together by the second episode. Leaving 22 more episodes to explore the whole actual dating thing that comes after. Sheer madness, this story.
That’s what makes it all, work, though. The story isn’t about Rinko and Takeo admitting them have feelings for each other. It’s about how they navigate that minefield of awkward known as adolescent dating.
One of the best things about My Love Story really is the characters. This is where you build an emotional investment, and this bunch makes you care for them with very little effort. While the whole giant Takeo and tiny Rinko thing is a bit of a gimmick, it does actually play to the emotional core of the story, as Takeo is constantly aware of his own size, and what people think of him.
Which is really sort of the neatest part about the whole thing. As aware as he is that he’s not average, Takeo remains a good hearted and kind person at every turn. Even when he’s hurt by someone, he tries to understand things from the other person’s point of view. Not in the “it’s just a misunderstanding way” of Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke, but rather, from the perspective of someone who is well aware of his own limitations, and short comings. Takeo looks at things to see if he hurt them without meaning to before assuming anything, sorts through matters in his own clumsy way, and when he isn’t sure, he talks to Suna to get a fresh perspective.
Basically, despite his appearance, and even attitude, as a big jock type, Takeo is an empathetic person, who cares deeply about making the people around him happy, even when he isn’t, and even if their happiness will cause him pain.
That is literally what the world needs more of, people. The world needs more Takeo Gouda.
With Rinko, Takeo is at his best, a silly, happy mess that wants nothing more than to see her smile. It goes the other way, too, as Rinko is at her best with Takeo. At first, she gives the impression of being a bit of a pushover. The kind of person who just kind of goes along with what’s happening, accustomed to being overlooked, talked over, and ignored beyond being pretty.
Say something bad about Takeo, however, and you’ll quickly find out that Rinko is no pushover. She’s definitely the strong one of the two, and frequently jumps to Takeo’s defense with sharp words, and a temper that outsizes her small frame by a good margin. Unlike most, she never saw Takeo as a giant bear of a man, but a strong, kind and capable person. She genuinely admires and respects him for who he is as a person, not what he can do.
She’s also the more aggressive of the two in the relationship. Takeo, always concerned about his size, wants to take everything slow, while Rinko wants to hurry and get to the fun parts of dating. Holding hands, cuddling, kissing, and give her a year or two, probably more. Nor is she afraid to go after it, her only concern being that she might make Takeo uncomfortable with her wild ways.
She even wants him to call her by her first name. That’s just the kind of hedonistic girl she is.
Watching all of this is Suna, the ever cool and aloof friend. And what a friend he is. We learn in short order that he’s turned down all those girls over the years because they were saying mean things about Takeo behind his back. Suna heard all of it, and refused them because anyone who couldn’t respect his best friend, wasn’t someone he could have an interest in. That’s friendship, gang. The truest definition of it. Suna never made a big show if it all, either. He did it because that’s who he is.
Because Takeo matters to him.
In short order, Rinko does as well. Not just because she makes Takeo happy, either, but because she is as good a person at heart as Takeo. When Suna’s father has to have surgery, Rinko ends up learning of it, and calls off her date with Takeo so the two can go be by Suna’s side, supporting him the way he’s supported them.
Putting the needs of others ahead of your own wants is what friends do. It doesn’t matter what’s going on your life, or theirs. When they need you, you are there. End of story.
This holy trinity, as it were, is what makes the whole show work. The friendship between Takeo and Suna, the relationship between Takeo and Rinko, and the respect Rinko and Suna have for each other. Everything that happens is driven by these things, to tell a story not about growing up, but growing to understand others.
This is even carried forward by the supporting cast. Suna’s sister, Ai, is revealed to have had a crush on Takeo for years, and at first, doesn’t want to like or trust Rinko. She quickly learns that Rinko is everything she appears to be, and despite her own heart break, supports them as well.
Mariya Saijo, a classmate of Takeo and Suna, ends up developing feelings for Takeo, causing Rinko to deal with some jealousy, but gives up when she realizes that Takeo wants to be with Rinko, understanding that what he wants is more important.
This gets reversed later when Ichinose, a co-worker of Rinko’s, develops a crush on her, causing Takeo to be jealous, and question if he is the right person for Rinko. When Ichinose confesses, however, Rinko shoots him down faster than an anti-aircraft gun aimed a sky full of planes, prompting Ichinose to realize he was putting what he wanted before what Rinko wanted, something Takeo never did.
At every turn, My Love Story is about having empathy and respect for others, listening to them, and accepting that what they want out of life is something you can’t change to suit your own selfish desires.
That’s a pretty bold lesson from a romantic comedy that gifed their own previews each week.
In terms of animation, this is the most shojo thing you’re likely to see, ever, anywhere. Bubbles and hearts litter the screen like boobies and beads at Mardi Gras. I don’t envy the clean up crew who had to sweep that shit up after a scene was filmed. It’s just like having a balloon full of glitter explode in your face constantly.
Which isn’t actually a complaint. It works for this show. It’s also a nice change of pace for Madhouse, who got hung up on Death Note and High School of the Dead style animation for a while there. The soft pastels, the water color like scenery, and the gentle lines of the animation suit the show perfectly, and give it a very non-Madhouse feel.
The character designs are especially lovely, with Takeo being the best of the lot. Just a wonderful character design. Suna stands out from every pretty boy in anime, while still managing to channel them, and Rinko is just so adorable it hurts.
My favorite character designs go to Takeo’s parents, though. Yuriko, his mother, is the mother we all wished we had. Not a traditional beauty, she is beautiful in the ways that matter, and the show captures this with her character design perfectly. Yutaka, Takeo’s dad, is the dashing and handsome type, but so fully committed and devoted, he makes you realize what a man is suppose to be. They are truly wonderful characters, and the love and care put into their designs makes them all the more amazing.
The series was directed by Morio Asaka, the guy who directed Gunslinger Girl. You know, that show about exploring how comfortable we all are with watching cute girls get the shit beat out of them? The one that made us all really uncomfortable with the fact we were comfortable with it? Yeah, that show. Then he did this show.
What the fuck, man? That’s like, light years apart. Seriously. What the fuck, man?
Asaka also directed Cardcaptur Sakura, Galaxy Angel, Chobits, Nana, and Chihayafuru, by the way, so my what the fuck, man just kinda keeps growing here. What can this cat not direct? Cause, from here, it looks like anything. Then you add in that he did storyboards for shows like Monster, and Claymore, and it just kinda makes your head explode a little.
Dude is damn good at whatever he puts his hand to. My Love Story is just another feather in his absurdly crowded hat at this point. It’s one of the few times I can say, with absolute conviction, that the direction was simply perfect. This show shines, because Asaka made damn sure it would.
The writing was handled by Natsuko Takahashi, a writer and animator who’s work list goes back to fucking Akira. Fucking! Akira! I mean, Christ, what the hell am I gonna say about this lady? She even worked on Tiny Toon Adventures at one point, for shit’s sake!
She’s been the head scriptwriter for Bleach, and did series composition for Blue Drop, Divine Gate, Poco’s Udon World, and Tokyo Magnitude 8. She’s written for Romeo x Juliet, Tokyo Mew Mew, Yona of the Dawn, Vandread, Peach Girl, Hell Girl, and FullMetal Alchmist. None of which, by the way, touches on her equally lengthy list of key animation work, which include Ghost In The Shell S.A.C.
Yeah. She had this. Not much more I can say. She had all of this, and then some. She knows how to write a scene for anime, because she’s an animator. What the hell more is there to say?
Oh, yeah. I kinda love her a little bit. (Call me.)
The soundtrack was arranged by epic supergroup S.N.E.S, that new age instrumental band that’s been around since flipping 1988. You know, the group who did the music for Kimi ni todoke and xxxHolic? Yeah, those guys. So, yeah, the music is fucking awesome.
Hey, here’s a thought Madhouse. Why don’t you guys start putting this level of effort into everything you produce. I don’t mean just in terms of animation, but in staff hires as well. Cause this shit, this is a god damn dream team of talent you pulled together.
Do that, all the time, so we don’t get another High School of the Dead, okay? Thanks.
My Love Story stands head and shoulders above most other romantic comedies, much like it’s protagonist, because it knows what the real story it wants to tell, behind the cliches, and the jokes, is all about. It’s about respect, and that’s why this show earned mine.
Here’s what you should do. Marathon Kimi ni Todoke and My Love Story, to see how romantic comedies should be done, then hold every other show to that standard. Not many will measure up, and I’ve already covered the two that come the closest, with Toradora and Lovely Complex. Next week, one that tries hard, and manages well.