There’s so much that I find refreshing about R-15, a series about romance and the quest to be seen for what you really are rather than what the world thinks you are, that it would take pages for me to list it all. But I’m certainly glad that as it wraps up it’s showing its best side and remaining true to what it really is.
It sounds simple, but one thing that really works for me about this show is that it revolves around extremely likeable, kind people who aren’t idiots. Taketo, Fukune and Utae are some of the most engaging characters I’ve see in a high-school romance in many a season. It’s funny how the tagline for the preview was “Cute or sexy – which do you like?” because this is a really hard triangle from a viewer standpoint. Frankly, I don’t want to root against either girl because they’re both tremendously appealing in different ways – and I really like Taketo, as well. He’s a romantic and an incredibly considerate kid who’s spent his adolescence hiding from his own talent. It’s an absurd talent, but a very real dilemma. When you see the way he was ostracized in middle school, how can you blame him for wanting to keep his talent a secret from Fukune?
I also love the fact that characters who looked at first as if they would turn out to be stock villains, torturers of the male lead, turned out to be balanced and sympathetic characters in their own right. The Chief is trying to push Taketo in the right direction, Ran has come to accept Taketo as a good person and a worthy rival – she has a funny sort of honor about her – and Raika has completely done a 180 degree turn for me. She was the worst of the worst in the beginning, but she’s become almost a tragic figure now. I’ve come to like her a lot for her brute but well-intentioned honesty (though she could do a better job applying it to herself) and the fact that though she obviously has feelings for Taketo, she doesn’t push the issue because she can see that’s not what he wants.
As for the main drama, there was just something so sweet about Fukune fleeing to Taketo’s room to retreat from her troubles and not saying a word to him about it all night, and he sitting quietly by, smiling at her. I could see frustration among some viewers at their inability to communicate openly, but I think they have reached a kind of understanding – they’ve recognized whatever it is in the other that makes them a good soul, and a good match. Their shyness and awkwardness feels as natural as any I’ve seen in a teenaged couple in anime lately. As for Fukune’s dilemma, it appears that her concert was a disaster, and her father came down on her like a ton of bricks and told her to quit school. The “to thine own self be true” theme being such a big part of things here, I can’t imagine Taketo letting her get away with claiming she hates music and the clarinet now when it’s obviously not true, though whether that will be enough to keep her in school is another matter.
As for poor Utae, I can’t help but feel for her. She wants to be a good friend to both Taketo and Fukune, but it’s eating her up inside. Her plaintive “If it were me I could be with you forever, Taketo” was a real heartbreaking moment. I haven’t seen someone so apparently destined to be “the other girl” get such a thorough and sympathetic treatment in anime for ages – she gotten every bit the development Fukune has (more, probably) and has never been made to look petty or stupid. But it’s truly hard to imagine her winning – so much of what the series has been all about is inexorably building towards the Fukune end that I just can’t see it going the other way. Someone is going to be very sad when this ends, and I think it’s Utae.
Things are beautifully set up for the finale. Taketo is determined to write “proud, strong and erect” porn lyrics for Class 1-3’s chorus, apparently overcoming his doubts after Raika shamed him into being himself. Utae may confess to Taketo, he may confess to Fukune – the episode title is “I Love You” after all – and Fukune still has the issue of her father and leaving school to deal with. I’m genuinely bought into the character drama here and quite curious to see how all this is resolved. I think we’re going to see an ending that does justice to all three major characters, based on the way the writing has respected them all along. R-15 may be the biggest surprise among the Summer series, but in that respect I think it will give us exactly what I expect next week.