Looking too much like the creepy girl from The Ring movies, our heroine Sawako is timid and shy and naïve to say the least. But after starting a new semester of school a gregarious and kind popular boy befriends her and starts a ripple effect of positive changes in her life. Yes, it is another one of those typical shoujo stories again, but for all of its cliché bits (and there are many) it has a good heart behind it all.
I admit, I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for shoujo garbage. Sure, I’ve seen and enjoyed my fair share of other things too, but sometimes I just want to sit back and watch a cute couple fall in love. Is that so wrong? Will my testicles really fall off if I keep doing it?
And yet, every time, it’s more or less the same story and the same characters with slight differences. It’s not so bad that it’s like I’m watching the same movie over and over again but… it’s true that the genre is probably the most stable and unchanging of any other genre. Even outside of anime, think about all of the same-y romantic comedies you see Hollywood churn out every year.
But, perhaps that’s because in the end there isn’t a whole lot of differences to be found in the way we humans interact. Relationships are complicated but not complex.
Which brings me to Kimi ni Todoke (usually titled From Me to You), the little shoujo story that could. While having a somewhat limited budget, as is too often the case for laidback shoujo genre material like this, KnT still manages to do what it can. The opening and ending animations have a pleasant sort of colored pencil look, with easy going tunes and some simple but cute ideas. But while it does well to set the tone and all, and be kinda charming, it mostly isn't that impressive. The actual art and scenes tend to be a bit by-the-numbers and bland a lot, relying on cheaper-to-animate super-deformed moments and a lot of white background close-ups. The rest has a sort of water-color-ish cartoony effect that allows frequently fading details to white. While fitting the simple, soft feel of the show, it’s still making a virtue out of necessity. Which is unfortunate, too, because while it mostly has a tried-and-true generic shoujo look, it occasionally has flashes of attractiveness. I admit to being particularly partial to our poor trod-on protagonist Sawako's creepy-blank-stare-SD face. Still, rarely does the quality ever really exceed decent, with far too many off-model goofs. The girls are rarely ever that cute (well, okay, Sawako on New Year’s Eve was pretty awesome) and the boys are all stock shoujo boyfriend archetypes, by far most of all the lead boy-prince Kazehaya (I’ll come back to this). Expect tears, lots of blushing, and a ton of shimmering sparkles and colorful bubbles.
The story is
a little pretty damn slow and Sawako is frustratingly naïve. She is the source for a lot of the early drama and conflict mostly as a result of her misunderstanding or being incredibly dense. Granted, her "story" is that she is used to being alone, friendless, and even made fun of. It is also more than a bit irritating how incredibly oblivious she is about Kazehaya and his obvious more-than-friends attraction to her. But if you’re the type to like the “innocently pure” sort, well… boy are you in for a treat.
I know, I've sounded pretty negative so far. And while the show is a bit on the cheap side, feels too often cliché and unoriginal, and has some frustrating characters… I dunno. I still mostly liked it. For all of its glaring problems it still has its moments of worth-the-wait sweetness. The arc early on exploring friendship amidst destructive rumors is particularly sincere. And some of the later winter stuff is delightfully gooey sweet. And then there’s the last third of season two…
The second season picks up after the first and is noticeably better in animation quality. Unfortunately, where as the first season (which is twice the length of the second season, mind you) drags its feet a lot, the second season will have you pounding the couch arms yelling “OH FOR GOD SAKES GET ON WITH IT!” The frustration factor seems to go up with the budget increase. But, I have to say it was mostly worth it in the end, as you’re in for a much deserved cathartic treat when things finally resolve.
KnT isn’t bad, in fact it’s actually fairly good as far as shoujo shows go. There are a lot of funny little moments, sight gags, and sweetness and these all tend to mostly overshadow the problems. The whispery and nervous lead, Sawako, is, while dumber than a box of nails, a lot of fun to watch. It is particularly refreshing that, despite all of the shit that has been piled on to her at school over the years, she maintains an almost oblivious optimistic-to-a-fault attitude. She has many facets to her and her voice actress really brings her to life. It’s just too bad the side characters don’t get explored more since the show spends more time lollygagging with the two leads.
Which, I gotta say, highlights probably the main problem with KnT: the lead boy, Kazehaya. If the side characters are in need of more fleshing out then Kazehaya is a two-dimensional blank sheet of paper. Okay, okay, I know we do eventually get some development with Chizu and Ryu but Yano is left as the ever sensible but single one. Still, Kazehaya, boy wonder, is just so… bland. He’s such a stock shoujo boyfriend and it really hurts things. He has mild instances of having a personality but so often is just a typical all-smiles perfect guy. Popular with the girls but mostly shies away from them, good at sports, respected by the guys, and does well in everything. If only we got to follow him around for a bit and get in his head it might have improved his character immensely. Instead we stay almost entirely in the introverted Sawako’s head as far as narrative. Stories like His and Her Circumstances spend a lot of time swapping focuses on the leads and this really goes a long way to building more believable characters.
But, even so, Sawako is still a frustrating delight. Now, if they’d only do a third season… preferably with Kazehaya as the primary focus, maybe?
As of this writing, you can watch the first six episodes of Kimi ni Todoke for free on Crunchyroll (premium members get the full two seasons).