Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Comedy, romance, slice of life
Year of release: 2021
Horimiya is a mess. It starts out as an above-competent rom-com – no, really, about episode 4 or so I was even poised to call it ‘pretty good’, but it later becomes a slice-of-life around an extremely bland cast and it’s not even clear who the mains are, with the former main characters making what can only be considered cameos. The series loses all hooks, and it’s a shambles that doesn’t even know how to get the audience’s attention. Regularly you will find yourself asking ‘what am I watching Horimiya for?’ – despite the, uh, name of this very specific tin making you think it wouldn’t be too hard to get off the topic of Hori and Miya‘s romance, but alas…
It goes without saying that hooks are important. This series’ hook is a ‘will they; won’t they’ around a couple of high school kids who aren’t what they appear to be in the public eye and couldn’t be more different. It’s an okay grabber, with a more level-headed perspective than its contemporaries. We quickly learn that they’re very different people; Hori-san is an energetic and popular girl who has to do a lot of house work and is a caregiver to her brother while her mother works long hours, while Miyamura isn’t the quiet, depressing weirdo everybody thinks he is and is actually just covering up his tattoos and piercings. This hook is somewhat compelling as the two have that lead-up phase to romance, where Miyamura is worried about being around Hori-san and ruining her reputation, and how Miyamura gradually makes friends, and all while keeping Hori as a balanced main character. In a way, that itself is a hook – it’s not a teenage fantasy since both sides are given a pretty equal point of view.
Comedy faces, supporting jokes not funny enough to deserve them, sometimes ruin the down-to-earth atmosphere.
Not long after they begin dating, though, he cuts his hair and suddenly everybody thinks he’s super attractive. Yawn. They couldn’t even keep the ‘popular girl dating the most unlikely partner’ thing for long. Hook lost.
But it actually went downhill before then, and keen fans of romance will probably be interested to hear that the series goes on after the point the leads start dating. It’s that part where the series loses focus.
Lots of romance fans clamour for a series that goes beyond the dating stage, but there’s a very good reason few actually do – that’s the point the hook is gone. I’ve talked before about conditions that have to be fulfilled for a story to end, and the pair getting together is almost always it. It should have been the case for Horimiya, but what happens from dating onwards is a dragging-out event, giving us a series of disconnected skits linked to side character romances with no hook pulling you in. It’s not good.
Miyamura and Hori’s relationship can take generic high school rom-com scenarios and make them actually really quite tender. The team at Cloverworks really succeeded in making the show gentle, and for the times Hori and Miyamura developed their romance, it worked out in strong scenes like this one.
We spend more than half of the series getting scenes of Hori and Miyamura having cutesy cameos – except they’re not cute, the best we get is… Hori discovering her masochistic fetish and asking Miyamura to be rough with her, and he hates every moment of it, and we’re sold it as comedy. It falls between uncomfortable, uncaring and unfunny, despite all the visual cues saying otherwise. Not good, and it’s a worse look when it’s giving a thumbs-up to questionable kink play but makes ‘jokes’ bordering on homophobia when Miyamura makes close male friends. There’s a sex scene along the line somewhere, and it’s the climax to an episode that has barely any substance, with the pair being separated while Miyamura goes to a funeral and his phone dies (cliche at best….) and… we don’t really get any context for that, and then they’re back together, moment ensues. It’s extremely disconnected, all of it. It’s the stuff that makes up ‘bonus specials’, except with glue stuck in between to drag them out to full length episodes when there just isn’t the ability to keep it entertaining for that long.
Because that glue, that sticking substance attempting to hook you in for longer than a minute gag segment… is the side characters. Side characters in romance are used for juxtaposition onto the leads, and to guide them, and that’s how the crew begins life. But then the series starts dwelling into their love stories, and it doesn’t have beginning points, it doesn’t have pre-defined ending points, and there’s no grabber whatsoever – it’s boring people that couldn’t lead a series given the spotlight, and it’s duller than you’d expect.
Here we have a character who is apparently in the main friend group, but was only properly introduced after the halfway point, and then an episode focuses on his relationship with his sister.
Who even are these people? Why do they deserve focal screen time? Why am I even still watching?
Horimiya’s mixed messaging carries on, though, with Miyamura’s arc of not having a fun middle school trying to reach its conclusion somewhere near the end of the series for that cathartic third-quarter upturn. But it just doesn’t land because the work wasn’t put into it – we barely know the feelings he went with because the series got wildly sidetracked on characters that don’t matter, cutesy moments that aren’t cute, comedy that can barely register a chuckle, and writing that long lost the ability to create scenarios that can entertain while digging deep into character personas. Soppy sentimentality, of Miyamura going into a dreamlike world to talk to his old self and promise it’ll get better, sounds great on paper, and there’s a great artistry to the scene makeup, but it just doesn’t gel.
For those opening few episodes, and this is really important to stress, Horimiya was a pretty good romance. The comedy was adequate, the pair have pretty good chemistry, and the way the two interact almost entirely at Hori’s house is a fun twist for the high school genre. Miyamura’s past is occasionally given some weight, but Hori’s ‘dual life’ thing was ditched pretty fast, and as I mentioned earlier, Miyamura being the gloomy goth kid with long hair barely survives until the second half. It’s down-to-earth (other than that bit where Miyamura headbutts somebody bullying Hori, and gets away with it, and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to funny but it wasn’t dwelled upon…), and Cloverworks really framed the series with a gorgeous nostalgic touch, but everything after episode 4 or 5 falls flat, and anything good there was gradually degraded into a relationship that becomes harder and harder to buy into.
There’s a really good reason why romance anime end as the dating phase begins – because anything thereafter, as Horimiya sadly proves, is almost always worthless.