Title: Adachi to Shimamura / Shimamura and Adachi
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Year of release: 2020
While anime fans are used to romances petering out, dramatic yuri fans are by far more used to it. In fact, outside of a couple of movies escaping the pattern (such as Fragtime), there’s literally only one conclusive lesbian romance in the anime realm: the melodramatically middling Strawberry Panic. The best of the best all end the same way – with monumental character development, but being far, far off of major romantic developments. Aoi Hana, that held the title for best yuri anime for a solid 10 years alongside Sasameki Koto, both went the same way – only for the next genre topdog, Yagate Kimi ni Naru, to follow in… more or less the same footsteps, just with more intimate scenes than you can shake a stick at.
I say this in the best possible way: Adachi to Shimamura is up there with the best of them them. Warts n’ all.
In fact, the way Adachi to Shimamura escapes from tropes might put it, in some regards, as the new leader. Or, at least, there’s certainly an argument to be had. All of the best lesbian romances are very derivative with a line of satire, criticising the social standards that mean queer teenage girls can push the boundaries of sexuality as an ‘ephemeral’, time-limited fling. The only understanding of sexuality comes from Adachi internalising whether she’s gay, and you can certainly read her gay panic as systemically internalised homophobia, but it’s not the topic of the show. There’s none of that in Adachi to Shimamura. It’s not even set in an all-girl’s school, and it doesn’t feature honour students feuding with their parents over expectations! Shocker!
No, both of the titular characters are delinquents. Adachi and Shimamura meet in the first episode while skiving class. They spend the whole of their school year hanging out, eventually becoming… friends, but the series illuminates how both have serious, serious social issues. In fact, neither have ‘friends’, even if Shimamura might appear to. While Shimamura keeps company, fully expecting for everybody to leave her and to be ultimately fine with that, Adachi has nobody.
Adachi making her first friend – and, realising from as early as the first episode that she’s attracted to Shimamura – makes the most of the first half of the series. She suffers from serious gay panic, and it ranges from deep personal questions to crippling inaction. In fact, Adachi struggles to admit her feelings for Shimamura are even romantic and are completely ordinary totally yes very definitely. The monologues, that dominate episodes, are equal parts intimate and hilarious; Adachi’s mental gymnastics, gradually getting to the heart of the problem with gleeful dissonance – though, near the middle of the series, it just becomes ‘Shimamura Shimamura Shimamura’. Adachi is extremely possessive of her one friend, which ultimately becomes what breaks Shimamura’s shell, and be willing to change.
Shimamura has far, far, far more intriguing personality issues. Almost a manic pixie girl at times, yet given more relatable depth than any before her, existing in her own right as a true, human person. She distances herself from everybody, forming shallow relationships with classmates that she can instantly cut-off. There’s no suggestion that this is a weakness or a problem, her solitude isn’t a disease that needs curing. One of my favourite moments, she says that she wouldn’t mind if Adachi didn’t text her back – the way she grows closer to Adachi is full of double-speak, where you read her changing personality in the opposites of what she says. She’s an enigma, but that doesn’t mean her actions are in any way lonerish or awkward: she’s funny, social and her little oddities and Miku Itou’s standout vocal performance make the funniest, most amusing parts of the series.
Shimamura’s monologues can be smart, funny and frequently utilise creative visuals. Even when she’s honest to herself, as she is here, there’s such intricate meaning, and Itou’s shifting vocal performance – playful, introspective, blink and you miss it – carries so much depth. They’re the treat of the series, even moreso than Adachi hating herself for wanting lap pillows!
Through a handful of romcom-like scenarios – going on a ‘Totally Not A Date’, dealing with Valentine’s Day, changing classes, showing one character’s perspective on the shenanigans in the first half and switching it and repeating in the second – the pair gradually get closer together, in their unique ways. The ‘what’ doesn’t matter in such a psychological series, but rather, the brilliant, subtle and masterfully written changes in character are what leads it. The series doesn’t end with the pair kissing or confessing or dating, but rather, Adachi accepting her feelings for Shimamura and being willing to trust that she won’t run away, whereas Shimamura accepts that she wants to carry on being friends with Adachi and doesn’t want to leave her, not even after this school year. Far more development than the typical romcom can manage.
But then… Adachi to Shimamura isn’t infallible. I’ve already mentioned Adachi’s monologues veering into the repetitive, but there’s a more malignant issue: the catalysts. Most of the shared scenes between Adachi to Shimamura are perfectly reasonable, but there’s a background character called Yashiro who is… an alien.
Okay so the series dances around whether she’s an alien or not. Gag like scene changes will show none of the main characters seeing her do alien things. But she is undeniably weird and invades scenes with a childlike goofiness that does not suit the down-to-earth series at all. A scene in the middle of the series features her coming on Adachi’s and Shimamura’s ‘Totally Not A Date’ as a third wheel and her alien-antics are just frustrating. There’s no need for her sci-fi additions, and it ruins the atmosphere.
Thankfully, it’s not too often. What we’re left with is the monologues that dominate the show with charismatic wonder, and are demonstrated in often metaphoric cinematic scenes, such as Adachi cycling her bike into the sky, or the pair appearing naked in a space-like background. Yes, on that last note, the sharp cinematography can leer a little, with a good handful of leg shots, and Shimamura’s friend even suffers a couple of ‘boob’ bounces. But on the whole, it’s a fine tradeoff for such a consistently artistic eye.
In the end, I just can’t put my hand on my heart and say Adachi to Shimamura is dethroning Aoi Hana or Yagate Kimi ni Naru as the quintessential serious yuri drama. It’s a fantastic romcom, and has far more novel character and spunk than either, but the bizarre missteps with Yashiro, and the male-gazey storyboarding make it a less universal cryout of girls’ love’s mastery. But, make no mistake – it’s strong enough to make a compelling argument for the title if you can look past those facets, and that’s nothing to sneer at.