Saturday, August 31, 2013

Say "I Love You" (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Say “I Love You” is a romance anime series based on a Japanese manga series by Kanae Hazuki. It's 13 episodes long. This post contains things that probably count as slight spoilers, so read at your own risk.

I've had a love-hate relationship with Crunchyroll for months now. The “hate” part was eclipsing everything, so this is the first show I've watched via Crunchyroll in maybe 6 months. While I'm glad they appear to have finally fixed whatever it was that was causing 23-minute episodes to take 1+ hours to watch, I'm still mad that it took them somewhere between 2 and 8 months to do anything.

Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Mei has no friends and has never had a boyfriend. When she was a child, a group of her supposed friends blamed her when their class's pet rabbit died, and ever since then she's been convinced that people will betray you if you get close to them. Therefore, she doesn't get close to anybody.

Her standoffish behavior intrigues Yamato, one of the most popular boys in Mei's high school. No matter how much Mei ignores Yamato or pushes him away, he keeps trying to be her friend. She is confused and flustered when he chases off a stalker of hers by pretending to be her boyfriend and kissing her. She finds herself becoming attracted to someone for the first time, but she dislikes how fake and easily given Yamato's affections seem to be.

The two of them begin dating, and Mei makes her first friends, but there are a lot of bumps she and Yamato have to deal with along the way.

Review:

This is a tough review to write. I know I'm going to be writing a lot of negative stuff, and yet it's not that I hated this show. I marathoned it all in a day, which I'm usually unable to do with shows that bore me to death or fill me with anger. The problem is that, while I can easily articulate what I disliked about this show, it's harder for me to say what I liked about it.

I suppose I'll start with the things I liked. One of the things that initially attracted me to this series was its very unique character designs and attractive artwork. I couldn't decide whether I liked or disliked Yamato and Mei's choppy, uneven hairstyles, but they were certainly very different, especially for a romance series. Then there was Kai, Yamato's friend, who had what I think was a fauxhawk.

This series was also less chaste (if that's the right word for it) than a lot of high school romance anime I've seen. There was no on-screen sex, but it was clear that several characters were currently sexually active or had been in the past. Yamato, for instance, had had sex before. This initially bothered Mei, but the interesting thing was that she seemed less bothered by the fact that he'd had sex than by the possibility that he might continue to kiss and have sex with other girls after declaring that they were a couple.

I have a feeling I would have liked this show more if I hadn't already seen so many high school romance anime before. Say “I Love You” had a lot of the usual stuff: characters who needed to learn to trust other people, be themselves, and make real friends; characters ruled by upsetting events in their pasts; jealousy. Unfortunately, I'd seen most of these things handled better in other series.

It seemed like everyone's problems were solved way too quickly and easily. When Mei went to Yamato's house for the first time, Yamato's younger sister made it clear that she didn't like her. By the end of the episode, they were talking like close friends. When Aiko was introduced, she was yet another girl jealous of Mei's relationship with Yamato, doing her best to push them apart. A few kind words from Mei later on, and for the rest of the series Aiko was one of Mei's best friends. Her jealousy evaporated into thin air. Near the end of the series, Megumi, a model with a crush on Yamato, had a breakdown that was almost comically overdone. A few words and a hug fixed that, too.

The female friendships were also disappointing. Asami was sweet, and Aiko was refreshingly frank, but I can't really think of any scenes involving the two of them and Mei that didn't involve boyfriends – either talking about them or being with them. Considering that Mei had very little friendship or dating experience at the start of the series, some “just us girls” moments would have been nice. By the end of the series, I knew more about Megumi than I did about Asami and Aiko, and I couldn't shake the feeling that their relationship with Mei wasn't very solid.

I was iffy about Mei as a heroine. On the one hand, she had several great moments. She was awesome when she snapped and roundhouse kicked Yamato, and when she left slimy Kakeru in her dust after he suggested she cheat on Yamato with him. I liked that she didn't immediately crumble before Yamato's hotness and instead let him know that the things she'd heard about his past behaviors upset and worried her.

However, outside of those moments of awesomeness, Mei was often kind of...blah. She was naturally quiet and reserved. She didn't always know how to best communicate her feelings, and, many times, instead of trying, she kept her mouth shut and retreated. Someone then had to notice something was wrong and convince her to talk about it. She couldn't bring herself to tell Yamato that his modeling career was upsetting her. She wasn't able to ask him about the rumors that he'd been spotted leaving Megumi's apartment late at night – this seemed a little odd to me, since, earlier in the series, she'd had no trouble asking him if he'd had sex with Aiko. Mei's passivity was, at times, very frustrating.

All in all, it was an okay show, but I won't be adding it to my “to buy” list. I do plan on trying the manga once it's available in English, though.

Additional Comments:
  • One episode showed Yamato and Megumi talking while eating dinner at her house. Not long after that, Kai met Mei at the bakery, her workplace, for the first time. I remember thinking that Yamato and Megumi and Kai and Mei seemed like better, more natural couples than Yamato and Mei. Awkward.
  • My favorite line: Yamato telling Mei, “I fell in love with your roundhouse kick.”
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Stylistically, this series is very different from Say "I Love You." Also, the heroines of the two series are very different - Yukino is no quiet wallflower. However, those who'd like another school romance anime featuring main characters who are learning how to open up to others and be themselves might want to give this a try.
  • Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (manga) by Karuho Shiina; Kimi ni Todoke - From Me to You (anime TV series) - Another school romance series starring a painfully shy, socially stunted heroine. The most popular boy at her school starts to fall for her, and she doesn't even have a clue. This series includes several of the same elements as Say "I Love You," but, in my opinion, it handles them better. I've written about the first three volumes of the manga and both seasons of the anime.
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (manga) by Yuki Midorikawa; Natsume's Book of Friends (anime TV series) - This one is for those willing to try something a little different. It's a slice-of-life series with no romance, as far as I know, and it includes supernatural elements. Those who'd like another series starring a character who's been alone for much of his life and must learn to trust his friends and family might want to give this a try. I've written about all four seasons of the anime.

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