It seems like every time I review a genuine romance anime (as opposed to one of the many fluff pieces) I’m constantly making comparisons to Toradora! and revisiting my opinion of it. True enough, I keep coming away with the same general conclusion: I was probably too dismissive of its merits in hindsight. Perhaps having seen so many inferior series since then has given me renewed appreciation but I still don’t think it excuses Toradora!’s many faults. And, really, is it that much of a compliment when I’m effectively just saying “Wow, you’re not so ugly compared to these other girls!”
Golden Time is an adaptation from the same lady who brought us Toradora! so the comparison this time, I feel, is both warranted and unsurprising (in a very similar vein to Working!! and Servant x Service). I can’t easily get away from comparing them because they are so clearly related. The author definitely knows her strengths and is sticking to them and Golden Time exudes Toradora!’s influence throughout. Yet again we have a dark-haired guy and a blonde-ish female protagonist in a clearly-destined-from-the-start romantic drama. Yet again we have the main female get off to a violent and bad start. Yet again we have a cast of supporting characters with their own relationship drama thrown in for good measure. Yet again we have a satisfying build to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of mild humor sprinkled throughout as well as the occasional tear.
But this time, it’s different: they’re college-aged!
I know I probably sounded sarcastic just now but, honestly, this is actually one of the biggest strengths of Golden Time. It’s stupid how refreshing it is not to have Yet Another High School Romance, and, true, it’s not like there’s not a whole lotta drama in store for you but it’s helpfully not the same young-people-being-stupid fare. Instead, it’s a mix of mostly convincing relationship stumbles with a not-so-well executed hook, but more on that in a bit. Golden Time manages to be clever, grown-up, and mature with its relationship building to a level that is, sadly, largely absent in most romance anime. Watching the two leads develop and grow closer is easily the best part of the series and was always enjoyable. Best of all, they often act like real people, get caught up in the moment, make mistakes, but then own up to them and apologize and move on. There’s a lot less of the juvenile hand-wringing you normally see and a lot more adult “no fuck that let’s hash this out” resolutions. I wish I didn’t have to point out how significant that is, in light of the competition, but so it is.
Have I mentioned yet how fantastic Horie Yui is? I’m sure I have before. She is amazing as Kaga Koko. It’s probably her best and most fitting role since Narusegawa Naru (hell there are even a lot of visual similarities). Koko is obsessive, more than a little dominating, and just a tad crazy, all rolled up into a rich, stunningly gorgeous 10/10 “perfect girl”. And while this is more than a little contrived, the script doesn’t ignore that fact either; Koko is intimidating, both in personality and appearance, and thus drives nearly everyone away. She is avoided and lonely a lot and it just makes her crazier and more emotionally distraught inside. She can be… annoying at times. I hesitate to use the word “bitchy” but yeah… it’s true. Then again, I really do feel it’s justified by the story, that they do enough to explain her controlling, manipulative, yet passionate and caring sides. She’s so well rounded as a character and it really, really makes the eventual romance that much more compelling.
I just… wish I could say the same for the other lead, Tada Banri. Ugh. Where to start… he is, very sadly, your typical mild, uncontroversial, glimmer-of-a-personality male protagonist. Worse, he’s the focal point for what was clearly meant to be the primary “personality driver” for him and the plot: his amnesia. You all should know by now how I feel about amnesia plots; they are overwhelmingly a sign of lazy writing and/or a lack of creativity. Rarely do they even resemble actual real-life amnesia. It’s just annoying and largely disappointing so I was really not pleased to see it used here. That said, I will say it wasn’t done lazily in Golden Time. For better or worse, the amnesia element is a battering ram used to burst through any plot gates. It comes up again and again as the primary story motivator and is used to generate most of the drama. It comes off as artificial and silly a lot. It’s more overbearing than Koko, even.
You see, Banri is just starting college in Tokyo where he doesn’t know anybody and is having a hard time. He runs into another dude, Mitsuo, just as bumbling as him (though a lot better looking) and they become fast friends in their mutual time of need. He gets caught up immediately, though, in his new friend’s personal life when Koko shows up brandishing a bouquet of flowers that she proceeds to slap Mitsuo silly with. This makes an immediate impression on Banri as he finds her both incredibly attractive and yet intimidating as hell, but also curious as to what the hell is up with the two. Koko proceeds to be the Super Stalker to Mitsuo, as they are childhood friends and she has long considered them destined to marry. Mitsuo wants nothing more to do with her romantically though, having even tried to attend a different college without her knowing but her stalking skills were too sharp to be fooled.
It’s complicated more because, secretly, Banri is struggling with starting his new life over post high school and his accident, having forgotten everyone he used to know. He then runs into a girl who goes by the name Linda who is quickly revealed to be his long-time one-sided (or is it?!?!) crush up until his accident. It isn’t quite a love triangle so much as he starts to wrestle with his past versus present, a sort of “do I go back to pursuing Linda” or “do I pursue my new interest in the frightening but loveable Koko”. You already know the answer, as the viewer, so sorry in advance Team Linda, you’re going to be as disappointed as us Team Nanami folks were with Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo.
None of this is so bad, actually, as far as story goes: or it wouldn’t be if Banri wasn’t such a whiny, upset, push-over mess so much about it. Seriously, his obnoxious hissy-fits are the main source of “drama” and they get so tiresome. It’s enough to make you wonder what the hell Koko even sees in him and that’s an extremely dangerous problem to have for a romance anime so invested in its two leads. It’s not a problem that is subtle, either, but even so it isn’t ever enough to ruin the series. Fortunately, there’s plenty of good things to outweigh the bad but they are definitely there.
Toradora! had a really slow build up, with a lot of distracting side tangents with the often weak supporting cast that usually ended up being bland or downright dumb. It redeems itself, though, by having one hell of a rollercoaster last few episodes. This time around, they’ve managed to smooth things out a lot. Golden Time has a consistent and steady amount of romance and drama. It ends satisfyingly but it isn’t the killer explosive kind like Toradora! had but that’s mostly because it does well enough delivering the goods throughout rather than loading them all up on the tail end. I find this to be much more satisfying overall. Whereas you’re over a dozen episodes in before Ryuuji or Taiga start to even sort of be flirty, since they spend most of the series length trying to set each other up with their best friends, Koko and Banri quickly find themselves attracted and working on a relationship by episode four or five. While it dispenses with a lot of the typical will-they-won’t-they angst by just having them start dating, it turns that around as a strength by having them actually work on getting to know each other better and build memories and a bond over time. I did mention already how maturely this series, for the most part, treats the romance, didn’t I?
Despite a lot of clear problems, I genuinely believe this is even better than Toradora! was and they are clearly getting better. It’s charming, the couple is seriously cute, Koko is an absolute delight, the secondary cast is actually useful and not annoying, and the story is well written, well executed, and has a satisfying end. Horie Yui is great, the music is actually pretty decent, the OP/EDs (well the first two at least) are excellent, again thanks mostly to Horie Yui’s singing. Oh, and that animation… it’s actually pretty damn good. Detailed, lots of movement, color, and well-done scene compositions. It’s a thoroughly high-quality show that is definitely worth your time if you like good wholesome romances. It’s also refreshingly different from more standard shoujo fare like the also excellent Kimi ni Todoke. I had a great time with Golden Time.
As of this writing, you can watch Golden Time for free on Crunchyroll.