I won’t make the argument that this series has been absolutely consistent, but there have been constants even with the down episodes (apart from the quite sub-par Episode 7). I’ve said pretty much from the beginning that this is my favorite couple of the season, and it may just be my favorite couple of the year. Simply put, Soredemo Sekai can’t lose as long as it focuses on Nike and Livi. Sure, show us their ups and downs and give them obstacles to overcome – but we don’t need oversized plot detours like the selection test arc and the first half of the Bardwin arc. If the show were two cours and could give those the time they need to play out, things might be different, but shoujo simply doesn’t get two cours these days – that’s not how anime rolls.
I totally get why this pairing makes some people uncomfortable, though given what some of those viewers (not all) lavish praise on when the genders are reversed, the hypocrisy is certainly dazzling. But I really think – as with Otoyomegatari (and no, again, I’m not saying this series is as good as that one) one needs to look past the numbers and look to the situation. Historically and socially this relationship makes perfect sense, and even more importantly, the people in question are unusual. This is a budding romance where neither side is subservient, where one of the driving forces is that each wants to be more than someone that’s taken care of by the other. They’re both smart, capable people who can be quite immature and have their share of flaws. But they can grow up as people as they grow to see each other as lovers. Yes, there’s an age difference but as portrayed here the feelings between them seem very real, and far more important than the calendar.
The scenario depicted in the current arc is just about perfect for the purposes of showing off both the main couple and the series at their best. There’s a major conference going on in the Sun Kingdom, but Nike is distracted by a letter she’s received from home. No one notices during her rain summoning that something is amiss – except for Livi, who’s come to know Nike so well that he senses that her emotions are out of whack (because they’re not aligned with his). The note tells Nike that her grandmother has fallen ill and is requesting to see her before she dies, and upon hearing this Livi decrees that the calendar be cleared so that not only can Nike visit her home, but that he can go with her. It’s a classic Livi move – bold, decisive and just a bit childishly impetuous.
There’s more going on here, of course – not only is Grandma basically faking it but the whole thing seems to have been a premise to lure Nike home so that a Rain Principality bishounen named
Kitora can steal Nike back from Livi and the Sun Kingdom. The difference here is that this story doesn’t feel as if it’s being rushed through, and all through it the central focus is squarely on Livi and Nike. Seeing him interact with her family is a lot of fun – most of her big sisters mistake Neil for the King at first, then immediately glom onto Livi as a cosplay subject victim, though next-youngest sister Kara seems to be the most sensible, and sensitive to Nike’s feelings. Everyone from the Sun Kingdom struggles with the lower barometric pressure in the Rain Principality, to the point where they exhibit feelings something like motion sickness – so Livi sends all the unnecessary personnel out to sea where they can recover, while he and Neil (plus whoever else can’t be spared) stay behind to sleep it off. Fortunately Nike’s sisters perform a “cloud scattering”, giving Livi not only a little relief but the chance to see the stars.
All this is basically preamble to the glorious last five minutes of the episode, which are every charm this series has to offer on full display. The awkward fumbling of this unusual couple towards romantic love was portrayed here with absolute charm and sincerity. This actually starts on the voyage over, where Livi deconstructs how he knew Nike was faking it during her rain summoning earlier. “Why are you looking at me so intently?” she asks. “Isn’t it obvious?” he replies. “Because you’re the only thing I can see clearly.” Later, after he’s dragged himself out of bed and eaten the rice porridge she’s cooked for him, he explains that whether he likes her home country or not, it doesn’t matter – it’s the place where she became the person she is now (who is, of course, the person he loves) and as such, it’s important to him.
That this should be the moment where Nike impulsively kisses Livi (twice) is entirely right and proper. They’d kissed once or twice before, but those were just naughty little pecks Livi sneaked – this was the first true kiss between them and clearly, the moment when Nike began to see Livi as more than just a person, but as a man. Despite his occasional fits of peevishness Livi possesses a capacity for emotional understanding that’s entirely in contrast with his age – a product of his background and precocious level of experience, but also of who he is. This is how I like to see the bloom of romance depicted – as a direct result of the people in question thinking of their partner before themselves and the impact that selflessness has on the other partner. Soredemo Sekai is a fairy tale, yes, but this is a very grounded and believable relationship. It’s the sort of romance that shoujo at its best (which it rarely is, admittedly) can do extremely well, and it’s why I wish it wasn’t a demographic that’s become something of a dinosaur in the world of anime.