True Tears Review – The Sum of All Tears (85%)

His true tears

A few missteps and lurches into soap opera territory cannot spoil what was the most delicately balanced–and affecting–ending this season, capping off a show that quietly joined the ranks of the Great Game Adaptations.

True Tears is one of those seemingly unique-to-anime coming-of-age stories which shows how a passive male protagonist realizes his passivity and the damage it causes; with that in mind, he manages to make a heartfelt choice by the end. Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien was one, albeit brutal and emotionally taxing. ef was another, in the manga artist’s arc. School Days is an example of what happens when the protagonist never makes that realization. Here, it is stated explicitly in the penultimate episode, in which Shinichiro faces the truth that all the relationships and tasks in his life were thrust upon him rather than being freely chosen. So by the end, he must make his choice, and so he does. It helps to see the whole story along these lines, and it works well within an otherwise traditional love-triangle setup where only one partner can be chosen, not both. Indeed, early on, I expressed the hope–which not all agreed with–that the show would focus on the love triangle aspects and not waver far beyond it. I was not disappointed, in the end.

This must be the place I waited years to leaveHer faceHis face

What impressed me even more than the choice Shinichiro made–it was the emotionally honest and clear thing to do–was how he expressed it. In a triumph of believability and emotional nuance, especially for romance anime, Shinichiro managed to demonstrate to Noe how his mind can be made up and can still be in such pain at their parting, to the point where he speaks what is perhaps the best line in the whole show: “But when I look at you, my heart wavers.” (In retrospect, his father’s words earlier to that effect may have been too much foreshadowing; they were uncommonly insightful.) That he is still able to move forward with his choice is a mark of his new maturity. It was beautiful to see how he realized that she can both be an inspiration and important part of his life and still not be his lover. He perfectly expressed this by singing Noe’s song, between sobs, as an ode to his true love Hiromi. If anything, it reminds me of the recent film Once, which also showed how the product of deep love need not be hugs, kisses, and dates; it can also be a song, which lasts even after the man and woman leave each other. Or it can be a picture book about a chicken who wants to fly.

One can’t help but be struck with the startling parallels that this show had with ef-a tale of memories. The analogy of artistic creation–and destruction–is there. So is the type of coming-of-age story, though the kind of girl chosen is quite different in the end. But this is a quiet show, deceptively modest though boasting a first-class soundtrack and first-class animation quality. It never tries to be artsy or strange; in fact, its greatness weaknesses appeared when it bowed too much to soap opera convention. (Incest of multiple kinds? Questionable parentage? Family secrets? Come now.) Several plot turns were clearly contrived to achieve character reactions and emotional moments, and arguably the entire presence of Aiko was superfluous. Some plotlines, like Hiromi and Jun’s, were dragged out too far. And the suggestions of incest stuck out like a sore thumb in a show that tried so hard, and often succeeded, at emotional believability. ef often did similar things, in reality, but the direction and uniqueness of its vision overcame them. Here, it is the delicacy of the direction and the feeling of rightness of the ending, an ending that feels genuinely from who these characters are and leaves all of them with dignity intact. The writers clearly had some command of who Shinichiro, Noe, and Hiromi were as people and gave us the ending they would have created themselves. (Having watched this after Kimikiss‘s conclusion, I can’t help but contrast this with the ultimately limp, unjustified ending of the Kouichi x Mao pairing.)

Even the stones cry outLooking for something

I must also mention my appreciation of the very final scene of the show, where Noe looks at the symbols of her life: the broken chicken coop, the grave of Raigomaru, a still living Jibeta, and the broken remains of Shinichiro’s “confession on the rocks.” The show earned its title at that point, and earned it well. Not as much as the scene where Honey and Clover revealed its full meaning, but in that vein. In those elements are both sweetness and sadness, life and death, incomplete but still good things, remains and loose ends still to be written, like the last page of the picture book. And the tears that Noe, at long last, cries are not the tears of pure despair; they are shed by someone who has achieved a measure of happiness and confidence, as the earlier scenes demonstrated, and is–as she gazes into sky–ready to move on. It’s not a bad metaphor for life, really.

And it’s also not a bad metaphor for what this show accomplished and left a little undone. We can wish for a less melodramatic plot, but still be deeply satisfied for all that it had done for this most tricky and oft-mishandled of genres, anime romance. It joins that trilogy of Kimikiss and ef in simply telling a decent story from its game roots. I suspected in an earlier dialogue with Owen that it would probably be one of the last of its kind, too, but who knows. In the imagination, even chickens might be able to fly.

Anime Diet Daily Recommended Allowances

Animation: 90%. Splendid work on facial expressions, fluid motion, attractive character designs (especially on the female cast) add up to a fine animation job, at least until the final few episodes when clear money-saving devices like sketched still shots got used. The team should go back and fill those in on the DVD releases. This was a beautiful show to look at.

Voice Acting: 85%. We got some real emotional nuance out of many of the characters, notably HIromi. Noe’s voice came close to annoying me at times, but at least it was not the standard “moe” voice either (e.g., Fuko in Clannad or Mikuru). Much of the voice acting was relatively subdued in this show, mostly free of screaming and the usual histrionics, which is a huge plus in its favor. It was only one or two notches from the incredible realism of the voice acting in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or even Byousoku 5 cm.

Music: 92%. The piano and string driven soundtrack set the restrained mood of the show perfectly. They complemented the emotional scenes very well, particularly near the end, and stayed out when appropriate. At times, it was reminiscent of similar themes in Honey and Clover‘s wistful and thoughtful moments. As for the OP and ED, they were clearly above average–I never skipped them. The airy tone of the OP was deeply appropriate to this serious-yet-light show.

Story: 81%. Not the most original, and not always executed the best, either. Characterization overcomes a lot of flaws, though, and it was enough to save it from being too laughable. Any story that can get me to actually believe in chickens and picture books about them must have done something right. So many of the things that threatened to derail it–Noe herself, the incest, etc.–didn’t, all because of the satisfying ending. It began well, and finished well; and that covers a multitude of storytelling sins in the middle.

Overall: 85%. Yes, I gave it a significantly higher grade than Kimikiss. Arguably, Kimikiss was more believable for a longer period of time and filled with enjoyable moments. But the individual elements that held True Tears together, especially the animation and the music and acting, were of such strength, and the ending so right, that my memory of the show is one notch more positive. This is definitely one of the few genuinely good shows of this lackluster season, and I’m glad I picked it up despite my initial wariness.

13 thoughts on “True Tears Review – The Sum of All Tears (85%)”

  1. lol@Tom Clancy reference!

    I loved this right up to the final moments – I actually think it was a good ending, although some will inevitably think it’s a bit open. I agree there were a few missteps but it was still my favourite of the season (I can even say this while I’ve yet to see the endings to Kaiji and Ghost Hound).

    It’s funny you mentioned ef too – there are quite a few similarities actually. I’m having to download and rewatch ef for that reason. Admittedly the methods of storytelling are different art-wise but they’re thematically very similar; and both excellent. Hopefully the licencing of TT will mean an imminent DVD release, because I can’t wait to rewatch it too.

  2. @blissmo: admittedly, I AM picky. But I’ve overlooked annoying voices when the story and show worked well. (See Chihiro in ef, who holds an all-time record for whiniest voice ever.)

    @Martin: I didn’t think it was really all that open-ended, not emotionally at least. Shin has made his choice; the three have accepted this, leaving Noe to move on as a stronger person. That’s where I’d stop the story, at least. And I too, look forward to the DVD release, and hopefully at a lower price than Bandai Visual were proposing to release it at (I assume that’s one of the reasons for the delay).

  3. On recommendation of friends, I watched this series this past week, and was mostly impressed. I particularly liked the way, during the end credits, they kept teasing us with tears? no tears? tears? glimpses at Noe’s cheeks and face. Finally, what we see are not tears rolling down her cheeks, but the glitter of tears taking flight on the breeze — in a way, combining the show’s two metaphors of tears and flight into one image.

    However, I’m a bit disappointed by the turn-around in episode nine, where, suddenly, “You’re not the illegitimate child of my husband’s affair with your mother” just disappears. Yes, events were dramatic, and might have caused some off-screen discussions among the adults, but it still felt like authorial cheating to me, given all the long-term signs of animosity (things like the mutilated album, for example, make the story about more than just Hiromi and Mrs. Nakagami). And I can see a story developing without that jarring change. We see hints of what might have been in the way Hiromi is suddenly free and relaxed once she moves out of the Nakagami household. She was shedding old constraints, old habits — her childhood crush on Shinichiro could also be one of those things she leaves behind. The meaning of those summer-festival flashbacks could change to: “I’ve learned that I can be alone. I’ve learned that I can make my own way….” However, that would have been Hiromi’s story, and not the story of how Shinichiro learned to not be just a passive recipient of what life throws at him.

    Your explanation goes a long way to helping me understand Shinichiro’s song to Noe at the end. It seemed a puzzling way to say goodbye to me (the earlier scene in the bus shelter, on the beach, and in the hospital, in contrast, was handled extremely well).

    I also hope the DVD release comes out at a more reasonable price. I’ll get this series, but I’ll be willing to wait until I can find it used if it is released at the prices BV was originally proposing.

  4. @dm: What you’re talking about in episode 9 is what I was referring to when I complained about the occasional deference to soap opera convention–one of which is the ease in which plot twists are forgotten about! It does make that “revelation”feel quite cheap and perhaps was there to drag out the drama a bit longer. And yes, I’m hoping the DVD release will indeed be cheaper, which is why I suspect it’s been delayed in the first place. We are living in bad economic times, and no one is going to buy $40 DVDs for 2 episodes now, let alone when times were better.

  5. Yes, The last seen with the confession on the rocks was really something. I felt like i wanted to cry but also like i couldn’t breath cause of the sadness or something. But, anyways a very good anime.

  6. Wow, this in one late comment, but it’s not often that I come across a review that makes me want to watch a show as much as yours did.

    Having finished watching ef a little while ago, I was looking for another romance-themed anime, and this post quickly put an end to that search. Thanks.

  7. I just got myself into this show and I must say that it’s one of the best romance anime’s I’ve seen .It showed how to make  a good  romance anime with out going too far -example -fanserivce ..

    I agree with almost everything you said but I disagree with you on Aiko being superfluous..

    I don’t think that she was a main character though.She was pretty much a deep side character to me though less than Hiromi and Noe and I agree she was not developed as much as them and you know why -because Ai was used as a symbolic placement in this show though many ppl failed to understand her purpose ,her less screen time play was also intentional ,Ai had so many internal conflicts/guilt’s as well .she was the most realistic person in that show because if you focus on her very small side story ,you would noticed that she made the most mistakes and she was not just there to make this show a harem show and increase the fan base like what ppl gave her credit for .Ai was there to lose and face harsh reality and pay the price for her sins ..lol ,I don’t see why ppl count her out ,the end is Hiromi ,Noe is the girl with the tears she lost and Ai was the one with the ill-fate. Her theme was ‘moving on from you first love because it’s unhealthy ‘ It’s true that Hiromi and Noe were deep character’s with tragic background stories but Ai’s love for Shin was very destructive(full of self-loathing) and based on her fantasies .True Tears is not a harem show and it was never like that .The reason why most of you count her out is cuz she never stood a chance which made her easily neglected by the fans of this show but the whole losing was necessary for her story ,for her to move on and find true love and I think that that the writers did an amazing job on portraying her as a character .She was just a side character after all and for them to give her more development maybe asking a bit too much in my opinion simply because of how the story was written .In other words Ai was used to give this show a sense of realism and without her ,we wouldn’t have a realistically portrayed female in this Show .The whole story is about Shin’s heart wavering between Noe and Hiromi and Ai was simply not part of it but the writer’s used the destiny card with her ..We could see this as her struggle to be like Hiromi and Noe in terms of complexity and character which itself is something deep ,I’ve read an interview with the writer and he said that he wrote Ai as this dark girl who wanted to try it more and so she became stronger and stronger(more selfish) because she wanted to fit in with the other girls but she was also fighting many obstacles and conflicts with her feelings like what her voice actress said .I’m not saying that the other characters are not realistic but Ai’s situation was something you could defiantly see in the real world because she never stood a chance .I myself didn’t think she was deep at first like you but after I re-watched this then I knew these facts. There’s actually so much to her than just a third harem girl with no purpose and that ‘s why I believe the writing for true tears was superb for both main characters and side characters..but then again this is just my opinion based on what I saw and they are so many ppl like yourself who thinks she was pointless which is a pity really ..Ai was ambiguous/dark character because she was not deeply delve into like Hiromi or Noe and instead left for the fans to analyze..She got shafted a ton in this anime in terms of character screen time and fate but it was intentional by the writer –he wanted to screw Ai’s character and destroy her chances-so he can focus on the two main girls instead which is if you ask me a harsh way to present and treat a character ..I think it was the easiest way to make their third heroine special –she was more of a symbolic heroine rather than a normal/hermetic candidate..10/10 for the writer’s.. I find it strange that I can write this much on Ai even though she wasn’t giving much screen time play but it proves that she is a deep character in her own way ..

    Yah I know ,It’s 2009 T T

Leave a Reply