Voice Acting: 80%
Hatsukoi Limited is a best-of-breed shounen fanservice comedy, with enough emotional sincerity and empathy to make it better than the average show of its type. This is no surprise, of course, from the staff that gave us the fine track record of Honey and Clover, Kimikiss Pure Rouge, and Nodame Cantabile. They seem to have a handle on making even mundane and archetypal characters seem heartfelt and sincere.
It took a semi-forced viewing at anime club to get me into this show. Since I don’t gravitate toward shows with heavy amounts of fan-service, and the premise of the show screamed “dating sim adaptation” to me (despite the fact that it isn’t), I stayed away at the beginning of the season. What a pleasant surprise to find the characters not only likable, but hilarious, especially in the first few episodes. I also developed a character crush on Misaki, the “cool type” girl the likes we haven’t seen a lot in anime as of late compared to the number of lolis.
Beyond the surface pleasures of comedy and the various beautiful poses and faces and everything else, though, was a relatively tight focus on feelings and even the internal lives of these characters. It helps that the show’s focus is clear from the title, “First Love Limited”: we know this is going to be a show about discovering what it means to be in that giddy, heavy state and having to deal with the emotions that follow. Those emotions–the confusion, the denial, the delirium–were identifiably real, even if the situations were outlandish at times and the slapstick (and the fanservice) over-the-top. In anime, this is usually ok; recall that some of the plot situations even in Honey and Clover were unbelievable, but the true-to-life emotions trumped all. Here the strokes are much broader, and fit standard anime archetypes more comfortably, so while it doesn’t belong in the same level (not even close), there’s an essential sincerity and truthfulness that makes it appealing.
Episode 9, about Chikura’s love for an artist, is perhaps the best example of this dynamic at work. It follows a time-worn pattern of romance stories: a somewhat aloof older man comes into a girl’s life, and then must leave, but not before leaving a bittersweet memory behind. But examine the pacing of the scenes: there was time to see the feelings drawn on their faces, to linger over the more contemplative moments. Like the best John Hughes movies, it took those teenage feelings seriously, and thus gave them a kind of nobility. The episode was heightened by using the creation of art as a metaphor for the situation, something this show did not do as much of as others. But the approach was one that generally governed the way the show depicted all of its characters: seriously, though not too seriously, as the copious humor attests. This was seen in the way Meguru’s insecurities were handled as well, and in all the small instances when characters come to some realization about themselves: the treatment felt respectful and considered. It helps that all the characters are given strong motivations for their actions, even if those motives are kind of dumb and superficial. Often the characters themselves know it, and it can be believably chalked up sometimes to their youth and inexperience.
That the show doesn’t probe deeper than this more a limitation than a fault. There is a glimpse of something deeper in the final few episodes, which at times seems like a dumbed-down pastiche of similar scenes from Takemoto’s experience in H&C, where self-discovery and making romantic choices come in the same breath. (With not nearly the same degree of nuance, truthfulness, and depth, mind you. Just listen to the words spoken in the parallel scenes and it’s no contest.) But in the rush to conclude with at least notional, though not quite full, pairings, the show concludes just when a lot of the relationships are about to begin, an irksome trait of a lot of anime romance. The best developed couple, Enomoto and Kusuda, are such because so many of the other presumptive couples barely interact with each other by comparison. And theirs is really, if anything, an archetypal tsundere relationshp, except that they are both tsunderes. All this is to say that the show isn’t exactly deep, which is OK since this is about the very beginning of love. But its limitations proved frustrating at times. Perhaps this is why it’s called First Love Limited? :)
Still, at the end of the day, Hatsukoi Limited is a success. It was never less than enjoyable to watch all these young people, silly ones at that most of the time, go through an innocent and sanitized experience of crushes and the halting, uncertain steps toward figuring out life that it represents. For an escapist, wish-fulfilling show where it’s the girls who have to chase after the guys in the end, where even relatively serious moments are punctuated with pantsu shots, it actually manages to accomplish just a little more without serious stumbles. So long as one accepts it for what it is, its limited nature need not preclude at least some measure of love.
Anime Diet Daily Recommended Allowances
Animation:85%. It’s all about the character designs, folks. Mizuki Kawashita, the author of the original manga and other works like Strawberry 100%, knows how to draw them purty girls. Combined with the now-definitive pastel background of JC Staff’s romance shows, the animation effectively conveyed the cheerful, idealized world that the characters exist within, one full of light and beauty and Misaki’s lips and panties–
oh wait. Um. Yeah. It was well-drawn. Next!
Sound/Music: 75%. Like many of these shows, it’s a piano-driven soundtrack, with no particularly memorable tunes. Episode 9, an unusually fine episode, perhaps had the best use of music out of the whole series, where the delicate music fit the delicate emotions on display. The OP isn’t terrible and is somewhat catchy, but at the end of the day it’s a fairly run of the mill anime OP, with the visuals properly focusing on the girls in various poses.
Voice Acting: 80%. Most of the time, the acting didn’t call for much nuance since the characters are broadly drawn. Rie Tanaka does have a few moments as Misaki, who is perhaps the most mysterious and also popular character in the show’s universe–yet she falls by the wayside in the show’s final quarter. The best developed characters, Enomoto and Kusuda, tend to express their emotions in argument and while distinctive, aren’t terribly notable either. Solid work but few standouts.
Story: 79%. If there were more episodes like 9, the rating would probably be higher, but what it does (show an anime-fied beginning romance), it does well enough. The situations and the premise are not very original. The broad comedy sometimes leads to a reliance on cliche and plot devices like quasi-incest in order to generate laughter or plot movement, and given the number of characters, there were some missed opportunities for further development. Still, the show was never less than engaging and fun to watch, even if some of that fun was talking at the screen in frustration at the stupidity of the characters!
Overall: 78%. Not great, not a masterpiece, but a solid piece of entertainment that manages to squeeze in some room for extra emotion. Recommended for fans of the genre.