Title: Kimi ni Todoke
Length: 24 x 24 minute episodes (Season 1) & 12 x 24 minute episodes (Season 2)
Genre: Comedy, romance, slice of life
Year of release: 2009 (Season 1) & 2011 (Season 2)
I straight up admitted at the beginning of the year that I don’t like anime rom-coms very much, and that hasn’t changed, despite the odd run of rom-coms I’ve been reviewing since. Despite the gimmicks some used to differentiate themselves (Sports/Drama in Ginban Kaleidoscope’s case; satire in Oregairu; ‘not who they seem in public’ in Horimiya) and despite the differing target demographics, there’s running themes and tropes and cliches throughout anime rom-coms that are hard to deny. And here we have Kimi ni Todoke which watches like the most basic of all – the fewest gimmicks attached to ‘unpopular lead gains the attraction of popular romantic interest.’ It plays the formulaic formula as straight as it can.
The way it differs itself, though, is by attempting to give a little bit more depth at each angle to each of the tropes it regurgitates.
Kuronuma! You’ve met girls like her in other anime – almost certainly. She’s… basically the same as other female demographic romance leads in that she’s: 1. shy, 2. low on friends, 3. relatively academic, 4. nice. Kuronuma is the best example of Kimi ni Todoke giving a little bit more depth to all of its tropes because at each instance, Kuronuma’s ‘basic protagonist qualities’ are explored… though we are Red Herring’d with her low popularity being due to looking like the girl from The Ring (the show’s comedy errs on the whacky side at times). No, Kuronuma’s struggled to fit in for a long time, and we see a lot of aspects of her childhood leading to her struggling to make friends, but we also see how she never loses hope in others. It makes her ‘niceness’ feel very, very genuine, and the way she derives enjoyment from helping others is really sweet.
I’m so used to accepting characters are ‘nice’ for the bare minimum that Kuronuma feels so refreshing, but unfortunately, the thoughtfulness of her characterisation leads to the introduction of another trope – misunderstandings. From early on in the series, where she isn’t trying to romance a boy but just make friends, she struggles with misunderstandings, where her almost creepy demeanour leads people to misunderstanding what she means. And her weak socialisation but optimistic outlook means she is quick to misunderstand others. This becomes a recurring theme and…
Oh brother. It’s that trope. We’re in that kind of a rom-com. Misunderstanding bullshit. Ah fuck. We were so close.
But before we get to the series’ weaknesses, there are still strengths I want to admire. The core cast! I’ve spoke about ‘spiteful’ characterisation affecting the ‘popular’ school cliques when the target demographic is similarly lonely as its protagonist, but Kimi ni Todoke maintains hopefulness and gives best friends Yano – a stylish and oft slut-shamed gyaru of sorts – and Yoshida – a tomboyish sports nut – a lot of niceties over the series. These aren’t the most popular girls, no, but it’s a great instance of Kuronuma going well out of her comfort zone and finding friends beyond likeminded individuals, or even visibly nice ones. While both have immense faith in Kuronuma, and Yoshida can be a moron at times, both girls are well-rounded and are willing to get their hands dirty to defend Kuronuma from bullying. From… popular girls? Okay scrap that, but hey, the popular girls aren’t even given names so just roll with how it feels nice, even during bullying arcs. The main person they defend her from is Kurumi, the ‘villain’ and competing love interest for Kuronuma’s boy.
Both Kurumi and Kuronuma are vying for the attention of Kazehaya. Kazehaya is one of the most popular boys at school, but no girl goes after him because he has gained the moniker ‘Everybody’s Kazehaya’ – rather than causing infighting between girls, it’s easier to just leave him unobtainable. This is another instance of Kimi ni Todoke putting depth in, because even this has a backstory! But I digress, because Kazehaya is generally a nice boy, who fell for Kuronuma when he realised how genuinely she found happiness (d’aw). Unfortunately, this niceness does get muddied across the series, when you realise that, rather than ‘nice’, he is best described as ‘charismatic’ – and around Kuronuma, he turns into a bit of a blushy mess and can be ‘tsundere’ish rude. I think it’s just something to do with power dynamics, how male tsunderes usually just come across as rude to me, so take this take with a pinch of salt, but he can be snappy and cutoffish when he gets embarrassed; it’s less cute, more off-putting.
The romantic scenes are really well done, though. Production I.G.’s use of high-contrast lighting, drawn-out facial shots and high attention to small movement really home in on the badump-badump heart-pounding feeling. It’s almost blinding, but care was taken in the earthly tones to draw it back in and come across very genuinely. Kuronuma and Kazehaya’s dialogue veers on the uninteresting, but the sweetness and moment-to-moment pacing is handled so well.
But we have a villain, and they have to bring that production across to scheming. Ugh. Kurumi is a natural pick for Kazehaya, so Kuronuma thinks, because she’s a very popular girl and seems very nice, however, she’s actually a schemer, trying to ruin the budding relationship between Kazehaya and Kuronuma. And for a series that’s generally so nice, that’s such a kick in the teeth. Kurumi goes through a great character arc and becomes a very different person near the end – dropping the facade, but thinking things through, and gaining respect for Kuronuma – and she even has well-thought-out plans, but… it’s annoying to see moustache twirling.
And what those plans tend to do is fuel those misunderstandings, when the couple aren’t forming them themselves because they can’t communicate properly.
Misunderstandings. Ah shit. We were nearly friends, Kimi ni Todoke, but you did me like this! Misunderstanding drama is easily the bane of the entire rom-com genre, and moreso in melodramatic high school types like these that anime almost always giveth. Nobody wants to see the dumbest shit preventing a boy and a girl admitting they like each other, because, what is there to lose? Fucking straight people problems. I digress – Kimi ni Todoke makes its whole raison d’etre putting a bit more depth into every aspect of the banal anime rom-com genre tropes and, ahem, ‘fucking straight people problems’ gets put under the spotlight too, but it actually succeeds for a while when Kuronuma is unsure of the difference between her respect for Kazehaya (who she also looks up to, due to his charisma) and her feelings for him. And I also get that a significantly less popular person having feelings for a significantly more popular person leads to a lot of self-doubt. I get that, and I’m okay with Kuronuma worrying about confessing. But Kazehaya dude… what’s your problem? I get it in Adachi to Shimamura’s case, for example, where there’s heteronormativity in place, but Kazehaya man, have some balls. You’re literally the hot boy of your school, and you actually know it too, so what have you got to lose by confessing your feelings to a girl with two friends that you’ve spent the better part of a year help make those friends?! After the sports festival arc (Season 1’s midpoint), any reason for him withholding his feelings is shameless padding, and the series grinds to a halt around mediocre melodrama. He is constantly given excuses to say his feelings, and there was one point near the end of Season 1 where I would have accepted a ‘good’ ending, but they dragged this nonsense out for another 12 episodes.
And the worst part is that the series falters in its padding. We got an arc of Yoshino and it develops her crush on not her classmate, but his older brother, and much like I said a couple weeks back with Horimiya – side character romance lacks hooks, so it drains time with the appeal being ‘but how does this relate to Kuronuma?’ Yoshino could maybe fare as a protagonist in another series, but here she just doesn’t have the drive. The arc throughout the second season features Kento stirring the pot and the characters trying to get Kuronuma to accept she could be a love interest of Kazehaya, but the dearth of major events rubs in just how much weak misunderstanding drama is being stretched.
And, underlying it all, is the shoujo demographic humour. It’s the loud type, which means chibi faces turn up multiple times an episode and it fits somewhere between ‘cute’ (but not) and ‘dumb’ (but too much). Some of the jokes go a bit haywire, like those The Ring Girl jokes or when their teacher, Pin, gets drunk and sees little people running around and wants Kuronuma to exorcise them. The jokes felt like padding too, even when they got creative, and the anime was generally not very funny.
But, argh, I’ve gotta get back to the top – Kuronuma grows a lot throughout the series, and this is a misunderstanding romance with a lot of exploration. I like that. It’s not doing anything to change itself up from its peers, just be better – but some walls are just too tall to climb, and it’s saddled with many of the same problems of its peers in that its misunderstandings are costly to pacing. So bad is it derailed that the main couple don’t even kiss by the final episode (what?!).