The ending of this fine romance is either unsurprising or a cop-out. Is this show still worthwhile, though? Yes, mostly.
There’s one thing that the staff of Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile proved with this show that makes it worthwhile: it is possible to do a compelling high school romance without moe, without a harem, and for the most part, without incredible histrionics. That I need those qualifications is, in a way, a testament to the extent that current anime has become mired in otaku-pandering cliche. We have had such shows before, after all: Kare Kano standing out the most, and at the end of the day, still the winner. Kimikiss, judged by the standards of ordinary storytelling and television outside of anime, would be merely above average. It’s ultimately not terribly challenging or surprising when seen as a whole, with the couples we largely expected to get together getting together–with no little injustice, in my opinion. Still, judged by the standards of anime romance, it towers head and shoulders above the run of the mill. It may have been frustrating, but it made you care.
Those who have watched it of course probably know what I’m referring to when I talk about the cop-out part of the ending–I mean the Kouichi x Mao x Yuumi resolution. What the ending does is ask us to almost completely change our perception of the characters–Kouichi especially–and in the space of a single line (“I’ve always been lying”) ask us to throw out more than a dozen episodes’ worth of character building and development. The same goes for Mao, who up to this point seemed at last to be putting her past behind her and moving forward productively, even up to the halfway point of the final episode. Of course, I was one of the many mistaken reviewers who insisted till very late that Kouichi’s shifting feelings were a natural byproduct of the shock from Mao’s confession and not a true sign of a change of heart; what happened to all the certainty and promises and steady growth he had been making? Does it get swept away in the last three minutes, just like that? And I don’t even count all the bits where he grieves over her moving out; it was too easy to find other explanations for it.
I hear the objection already: they’re teenagers. I made such an argument once myself. It happens in real life, people changing lovers on a dime. So it does; my problem isn’t actually that the outcome was implausible per se. The thing is: Kimikiss is not real life, nor did it ever really pretend to be. It was much too pastel, chaste, and earnestly idealistic for that. Any teenage show that features a man like Kai (and I mean “man” deliberately, in contrast to everyone else) must be. In storytelling, sudden changes in character motivation and actions have to be justified and played out further if the audience is to buy that change. If such a change had happened, say, 3 episodes earlier, I would have bought it much more easily. Especially if they wanted to trace out the consequences on all concerned.
Oddly enough, it would have fit the overall tenor of the show much better had the creators gone for a much braver ending with Kouichi, in which he discovers that yes, he really does love Mao, and when he says as much, a Mao who has already largely gotten over him gently but decisively rejects him too–leaving him alone on both sides. He would have learned a lesson about emotional honesty and time that he really needed. It also would have served as a useful foil to the relatively well-adjusted trio of Eriko, Sakino, and Kazuki who got precisely the endings they deserved, where everything was in order and in place. That would have respected where the characters had gone as people up to that point. It probably would have also made Hinano very, very happy :)
At the close, we get the old fashioned ending: they say “I love you” and they kiss. Looking back, especially in my penultimate post about this show, I think I may have been trusting too much in them being brave and being able to somehow transcend what is ultimately a genre romance show. Not that there is anything wrong with that, especially if it is as well-executed on the whole as it is here, with the emotional ups and downs believable enough to make the characters at least empathetic if not always likable. Nobody here, not even Mao, is truly a bad person. Still, the ending felt largely predictable, with only the brief, personal suspense of waiting to see if they in fact would be brave in the final scenes. There weren’t any significant loose ends, which puts it above a lot of anime endings. But it was ho-hum, for the most part, when it wasn’t bewildering. And endings always set the tone for how a show is remembered as a whole…
…which is a shame, really. Because this show had so much going for it. I suppose the lingering expectation that somehow we would get the Honey and Clover of the high school set was perhaps an inflated hope, especially because it had gotten so much right. One wonders whether time had a lot to do with the ending, with it only slated for 24 episodes. I find this to be the case with many shows, which undergo huge pacing problems as it draws to an end of its run–see Clannad for another example. (Review forthcoming this week.) Still, whatever the reason, the misstep taken here is, artistically speaking, a retreat into safety and into familiar formula: the first girl wins, the couples kiss. The “opponent” bows out much more gracefully than one would expect. Etc. etc.
That I’ve written so much about this show is testament to my general opinion of it, from my first nonplussed reaction, to love, and finally to a measured admiration. It’s almost like the cycle of a relationship, betstowed on a show that carried some of my hopes that the game adaptation genre had at last started growing up. It made many strides toward that goal, for which it is to be honored, though ultimately it could have made more.
And that’s all right, I suppose.
Anime Diet Recommended Daily Allowances
Animation: 85%. The pastel watercolors, the attractive non-moe characters, and the brightness of much of the tableaus made this a “very easy on the eyes” sort of show. The pedigree that this takes after is clear, and that’s no bad thing at all. Many of the facial expressions, like in True Tears were at once telling and subtle.
Music: 75%. Occasionally evocative, but not terribly memorable. Good EDs for both seasons, though, especially the second one–which proved to be a strong foreshadowing of the outcome of the story, much like in H&C. The piano-baseed soundtrack was effective in setting quiet, reflective moments. It might have actually benefited occasionally from some insert songs a la Honey and Clover–wait, I take that back. Actually, the restraint this show has is one of its strengths.
Voice Acting: 80%. Kazuki, Mao, and Sakino were able to project a range of emotions in the voices, especially when they were being emotionally repressed. The rest ranged from average to expected for their roles.
Story: 73%. Judge this story just as a story, and it’s not really unique or striking. The characters did have personality and enough development to make an audience empathize, and the roller coaster or spin cycle (pick your metaphor) was engaging enough to keep me going through some slow patches in the middle. Nevertheless, the ending throws into question some of the aspects I once considered virtues for the characters, unjustifiably in my opinion.
Overall: 75%. A worthwhile, very competently made show that really needed more courage at the end. As such, it is a good, not great, high school romance, easy to recommend to those outside of the shounen romance audience. That such shows are so rare is a shame. We need more of them, though I suspect we won’t get too many of them.