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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.

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.)

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.

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