To Love-Ru: Darkness – 01
Poor Rito. Crayola just doesn’t make a color blue enough.
You pretty much know what to expect here. There’s a new girl in town, Kurosaki Mea (Iguchi Yuka), who I’m sure will be sitting on Rito’s face soon enough, but apart from that nothing too much has changed in the world of To Love-Ru. Rito still pines over Haruna and gets cock-teased constantly, and his huge harem continues to grow. Is that the sun I see rising in the East?
I will say this – it probably makes little sense to watch this edition of TLR before the uncensored version is released, because the ecchi is cranked pretty high and the censor beams are just ludicrous. Apart from that, though, what strikes me is that TLR just isn’t as insulting and stupid as it should be – somehow, there’s a charm to the series that never totally escapes me even in the low ebbs (though the second half of “Motto” tested that). Maybe it’s Rito’s persistent decency, or Haruna’s innate kindness and beauty (I find her smile comforting too, Rito-kun) or perhaps the complete lack of pretense about just what kind of series TLR tries to be. But for what it is, it works.
As for Darkness, as usual we have a skeleton of a story. The focus so far is largely on Momo who, as Rito says, has a much more calculating and deceitful quality to her than her sisters. She intends to make Rito see the wisdom in a literal harem, as he tries to figure out how to unravel the Lala/Haruna conundrum. Mea will play a role, too, and given that Yami’s name is in the title her tsundere relationship with Rito is sure to be a focus. Also of note is the hilariously peppy ED, which sounds like it fell out of a lavish Broadway musical.
Sukitte Ii na yo – 01
Interesting that the two most discussed shoujo series of the Fall both led with the story of the death of an elementary school class’s rabbit.
There are themes emerging this season – rabbit deaths, white cats, the same seiyuu showing up over and over – and first episodes that are solidly good. This is another one, an episode I liked as much as the opener of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – which surprised me a little bit, given the buzz I’d heard for both shows.
I think it would be fair to say that Sukitte Ii na yo is a more traditional shoujo romance than Tonari, based on the premiere. The male lead is a sensitive hunk, and the overall tone has less of a dangerous edge – though there are some dark moments. It’s an interesting trend that shounen leads tend to be somewhat generic audience avatars while shoujo heroines (I use the term intentionally) are allowed to be more fully developed characters, with issues all their own. I don’t think we need to get into the psychology of that, but Tachibana Mai (Kayano Ai – again) is definitely a girl with some emotional scars. She’s a social pariah of the first order, someone who hasn’t fit in for so long that she’s convinced herself it’s intentional.
Into the mix steps Kurosawa Yamato (Sakurai Takahiro, who I like but really is getting overexposed – the roles are starting to blend together) and his best friend Nakanishi Kenji (Shimazaki Nobunaga, who by contrast is relatively new and making a very good impression). Both seem to fit the classic mold – Yamato is the school idol but somewhat blasé and dim to the effect he has on girls, and Nakanishi is a goofball skirt-chaser with a major crush on buxom mutual friend Aikawa Asami (Taneda Risa), who has her own unrequited crush on Yamato.
If you’re read any shoujo you know what’s going to happen – Yamato and Mai’s paths will cross by accident, he’ll see her inner beauty and try to draw her out of her shell. But I like the way it’s brought off here, through the creepy stalker who frequents the bakery where Mai works. You really get a sense of how hard it is for her to allow herself to trust anyone (and apparently with good reason, though details are still scarce) and of Yamato’s innate decency. I hope he’s given some flaws as the show progresses though, or that perfection will start to wear pretty thin.
While nothing in this premiere was as startling as some of the stuff in Tonari and the animation from ZEXCS can’t touch the lovely art of Brains Base, it still worked for me because of authenticity and emotional depth. Those are two good qualities to build a show around, and the latter was especially surprising. Good first episodes don’t always bear fruit, but they’re sure a better sign than mediocre or awful ones.