Oh, Mao. You were my favorite girl in this show. How could you have become so dislikable?
Before I go into that, though, I would just like to say that it’s been a long time since I saw such a satisfying confession scene as I saw in episode 20–Kazuki confessing to the (arguably undeserving) Eriko. It was simultaneously reminiscent of the famous “In Your Eyes” scene in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything—something Hinano has also pointed out–and the marvelous one delivered by Robin Williams near the end of The Fisher King: genuinely sincere, imperfect, and emotionally earned by everything that came before it. Whether Eriko is worthy of it is actually less important than the fact that it was handled so well by Kazuki, for whom this is an important step forward as a person. That it comes at this point and not at the very end is also important; because we know that such things come at a cost to someone, namely Sakino, and that declarations of love are never the end of the story in life. Most anime romances end there because it is the most glorious and least messy part of the relationship, offering us the fantasy that such moments can linger and go on and on forever. We have hints that Kimikiss, being helmed by the Honey and Clover staff after all, is not going to choose this easy route. Good for them.
Eriko is a fascinating character because she was portrayed as difficult and flawed from the start–and not in the usual “tsundere” way either. In some ways she has followed the opposite development pattern from Mao, who started out being very likable and engaging but whose flaws grew more and more evident as time went on. Both are in forms of emotional denial, but are in different places relationally; one is struggling to even believe in love and the other is trying to have it all while denying anything is going on. I think it’s not too hard to see why Mao has few sympathizers in the blogosphere now by comparison (though I’ve seen plenty of Eriko hate too). If you’re an antisocial otaku, especially if you’ve been burned by relationships, it’s much easier to identify with and sympathize with someone who is working toward love than with someone who is fortunate enough to have two very upstanding guys be there for her and yet damages them both because of her dishonesty. I find Eriko sympathetic precisely because, despite her twisted “scientific” view of love, she is slowly but surely moving out of it and still remaining herself.
I can also now see why Kazuki is largely considered a more interesting character than Kouichi. Kouichi is still largely a blank slate, who mostly just reacts to the situation. Yes, he is a devoted boyfriend to Yuumi, which puts him ahead of most anime romance leads. His problem isn’t indecision, either. I’m fairly certain he doesn’t have any romantic feelings for Mao at all; his startled reaction to her advances are perfectly normal given how, for him (not for us!), they came out of the blue. He’s still too passive, though, in that he had so many chances to call Mao out on her lying and hiding but never did. All it would take is simply saying: “No, everything is NOT fine, Mao-neechan. Please tell me what the hell is wrong!” He’s probably a lot like me in that he hates confrontation and unpleasant feelings that come with it. It makes him appear more indecisive than he actually is, though, and in a way he should be glad that Mao has decided to move out, because somebody had to snap at that point–her or him.
A word about Kai. Though I deeply admire him, I think he’s terribly unrealistic in a way. His maturity level is so astronomically beyond any of the other characters that it’s easy to forget that he is Mao’s age and in high school. He does not act anything like a teenage male, even a relatively mature one. He radiates Goodness and Patience and Maturity to a degree that really seems like shoujo fantasy, especially when paired with the wholly flighty and undeserving Mao. (His patience with her is either saintliness or foolishness.) Even when he admits his own hurts and struggles, he does it in a way without being whiny or self-absorbed. Has there been any recent anime that’s done that? Given that this was taken from a male otaku-oriented dating sim, did the H&C team decide to slip in this element to reach out beyond its expected audience? Were the characters not all in high school, I could easily see this fitting in the Noitamina block that their previous two productions fell in.
I love how earnest this show is. Actually, I was about to also say “sincere,” but in reality most of the show’s conflicts stem from the characters being unwilling to be sincere–but even still, there is an innocence about the insincerity, if that makes any sense. Long ago, when I was still defending Mao, I noted how this is probably the first time these kids have been through any of this, and they are going to make lots of mistakes regardless. (Which is why Kai’s making relatively few of them struck me as rather unbelievable.) Maybe that’s it–there is such a “first-timeness” quality to this show, partly due to its total lack of sex (which is actually rather unrealistic given these characters’ ages) and partly due to the sunniness and watercolor-style art. It’s why it’s a clean soap opera, not devoid of emo drama but hardly suffused with the dark oppressiveness of a show like KimiNozo or School Days. For the most part these characters are likable, relatively normal, and want to do the right thing–even if they fail miserably at it. Even Mao, who seems to be waking up to what she’s been doing and seems to be taking steps to do the right thing by moving away. As much as I really don’t like what she’s been doing as of late, I still want her to be redeemed. Nobody’s done anything irreversible quite yet.
A final thought: I like writing about romance shows because it’s fun to analyze character motivations and where things might be headed. But while this is an engaging story, I like it even more when it’s more than just romance. This is what put the Honey and Clover anime over the top for me; it was just as much about growing up and finding one’s place and vocation as anything else. (The current Honey and Clover live action drama proves my point–the plot has been significantly changed in order to fit the schedule and to focus almost exclusively on the romantic portions, and the result is a show that feels like a shadow: same characters, but not nearly as lovable.) At this point, my standard for high school real-life drama is not Kimikiss but Karekano, which at its best was one of the most penetratingly realistic looks at the teenage psyche I’d seen in anime. It, too, was just as much about daily family life as much as romance. Kimikiss is not quite there for me yet, but a lot will ride on how they end this one. The ending of the H&C anime was actually not totally perfect, being rushed, but those who saw it will know what I mean when I say that it also contained a truly sublime moment that justified everything that had come beforehand and cemented it as a classic. That’s what I hope for from this show.
I suppose we are at the point that one can no longer say safely that a game adaptation necessarily means bad or derivative work. Perhaps this, ef, and True Tears represents something of a coming of age for the genre. Which means it won’t be too long till another fad comes along to sweep the anime world…