This certainly seems to be the season for the return of shoujo romance and other female-oriented anime (i.e., BL in Junjou Romantica and vampires), after a good long run of shounen romances for the past two seasons. How are two of the most prominent ones stacking up so far?
Itazara na Kiss
This really brought back memories of Marmalade Boy, which–a fact which may confirm many of your stereotypes about me–was actually one of the first animes I had ever seen. (It was before I was a fan; I was watching a fansubbed VHS tape that belonged to my cousin, who was part of his college anime club. The other tapes he happened to have included Urusei Yatsura 2 and Escaflowne, the last which was destined to be one of my all-time favorites.) To dig my masculinity into an ever deeper hole, years later after I did become a fan, I watched Marmalade Boy again. All of it. All 70+ episodes. In my defense, I will say this: it was Ray’s copy I watched!
Itazara na Kiss and Marmalade share many similarities. They came out in manga form at around the same time, the early 1990s–in fact Itazara predates MB by one year. They are both about rather ditzy, not terribly attractive teenage girls who end up living with their higher-class male dreamboat love interests in the same house through unlikely circumstances. The heroine is surrounded by a passel of loyal friends, including one male one who has long been in love with the heroine but will never stand a chance compared to the handsome stranger in the house. Both, incidentally, have been made into Taiwanese live-action dramas (the Taiwanese version of Itazara called It Started With a Kiss). Itazara has a J-drama as well.
Itazara is deliberately retro, down to the character design (big chin on the guy, incredibly wide-eyed Kotoko), the opening sequence showing different kinds of outfits, the kind of humor (slapstick), and the somewhat contrived plotting. What this show though and others like it do well is, first off, cliffhangers–that was one reason I couldn’t stop watching Marmalade Boy–and secondly, in creating instantly likable characters. No one so far is truly unlikable or unsympathetic, not even main male lead Irie who tries his best to do so. Of course, we are looking at him through the filter of the romantic teenage heroine, and stories of this sort from Pride and Prejudice on down always assure us that some point of sympathy, some crack, will show. Soon enough he will be humbled, falling on his knees and proposing to her. The title “male tsundere” is right and the appeal is for much the same reason as for the female tsundere–the gruffness is a mere veneer for the soft gooey tenderness inside. All the lady has to do is find it.
It looks like Itazara is the revival of a classic formula which hasn’t seen much representation in anime as of late, male otaku oriented as it’s been recently. I’m not sure I’m prepared to spend 40-50+ episodes on this sort of thing again, as I think I know the game a bit too much now, but then again–I do love the OP song a lot. I had to look up to see if it was by Suneohair, the guy who wrote the fine EDs for Honey and Clover. (It’s not, but it sure sounds like it.) I can’t get it out of my head. We’ll see if this means I can’t get the show out of my head either.
Now here’s something a little bit less typical. Some have compared this to Ouran High School Host Club, the winner of 2006’s “Laugh Till You Die Award,” and while there are a few superficial similarities, this show has its own brand of humor and charm. It almost feels like a bizarre love child of Karekano and Bamboo Blade or some other sports show where competition takes center stage.
Compared to Itazara, this show isn’t as obvious or in-your-face about its intended audience. The character designs are more “normal,” for instance. A little further in, of course, and you’ll see the signs: the incredibly rich private high school, the Benibara-like fangirls, the characters drinking from dainty teacups, the long lingering looks shared by the main couple-in-denial. The emphasis on athletic competition–pro wrestling, of all things–gives it the feeling of a sports anime at times, but almost all attention is on Mr. #1 and Ms. #2, who reacts a lot like Edward Elric to being called short.
I find this show consistently funny and relaxed, for a change; the rather forced moments of chivalry offered by Takishima to Hikari during their fight in episode 2 were slightly out of character but resolved itself well. That they will become a couple is a given, but this anime doesn’t seem like it’s in a huge hurry to get to that point yet. I hope they take their time. Some of the other characters in the Special A class, like the apparently mute sister who holds up signs like in Shion no Ouand Akira, seem interesting.
I’d also like to note how in both shows the way classes and social hierarchy seem to play a big part. In both shows, classes are ranked from A-F, with A being at the top (and the kids in the Special A class being even more at the top). While the social location of the main heroines in both shows are different, they are almost always trying to “marry up” to a guy who is considered out of their league, even if just so. The fantasy version of school is also incredibly wealthy, as in Ouran. These seem to be consistent features of a lot of these stories and someone should write a long, long blog post for a class-based analysis on the matter.* Which would not be me, since as much as I might sound like I know what I’m talking about….I don’t actually watch too much shoujo.
Both these shows are good light watches that will definitely brighten anyone’s day. With more thought-provoking but still untranslated shows like Kaiba and Himitsu: The Revelation coming up, it might be a good break down the road from all the heaviness that I’ll probably end up blogging this season. I’m still not sure if I’ll be following either of these regularly, though; these are shows that are fun to watch but hard to write about in general. We shall see.