Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii – 09

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Moments like we saw this week are why shows like Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii are such a welcome part of the anime scene.  I only wish we got more shows like it.

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.

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  1. l

    What? No screenshot of the rain Kingdom's palace at night at the end when you can see the lit windows form the shape of a heart? It's a bit cheesy but its' a cute touch as well.

  2. i

    I just love the dynamics between these two. Can anyone recommend similar shoujo anime/manga? It's been so long since I've seen one with a strong female lead and a couple that is on equal footing relationship-wise.

  3. Honestly, relationships like this are pretty rare, shoujo or otherwise. I really like Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, and there's a lot of give and take in the main pairing, but it's certainly a very different animal than this. Nishi no Yoki Majo is another fantasy shoujo with a very unusual male lead, but the romance is less an overall focus than it is with Soredemo.

  4. r

    You've probably already seen it, but I would maintain that Toradora!'s lead couple (Taiga and Ryuuji) have a relationship that is similarly balanced. That, for me, is a huge part of the charm of Toradora! and why I hold it in such high esteem. As we're seeing here, having a couple that stands on equal footing makes for a much better romance than any sort of unbalanced relationship.

  5. I don't find that relationship anywhere near as winning, to be honest, although there is some give and take to it. icecream did ask for shoujo, too, though the search for good couples in anime is an any port in a storm situation…

  6. R

    She's a lot less outspoke than Nike (though arguably even more stubborn) but I love Akagami no Shirayuki for the same reason. Strong and determined female leads and male love interest. Although the dynamic is a lot different between the two series.

  7. R

    Also Akatsuki no You a, after the character development of the first…what4 chapters? It doesn't take long. They're both fantasy series, with pretty good stories too

  8. R

    Youna* dammit autocorrect

  9. s

    One of the best anime couples in the last decade has to be HoloXlawrence from spice and wolf. I havent seen such natural flirting and genuine care from an anime couple as realistic and endearing as there's in a long time. When i think of best anime couples, they instantly come to mind as one of the best

  10. r

    I'd recommend ( more the manga than the anime but the anime is still good) Kareshi no Kanojo no Jijou, or Kare Kano, as it's better known. The two main leads are strong willed and interesting on their own ground, and they make a great couple.

  11. Yeah, I certainly can't argue that one. The anime is actually fantastic, but it completely disintegrated in the last couple of episodes and just sort of stops.

  12. H

    Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water brings relationship to the forefront and quite successfully during the south island arc. Jean is quite a mature fellow and not at all lecherous like modern day leads.

  13. Z

    Have to agree with Sonicsenryaku here. Romance isn't my strong suit but Holo and Lawrence gave each other as good as they got. Although it was more the fantasy world economics that drew me in.

  14. e

    keeping the suggestion within shoujo sources:
    Lovely Complex (although the anime basically skips most of the #6-#16volumes after its first half unfortunately. Pick the manga if you can , the reast of the cast is much more developed there too ^^) the main couple starts as best enemies at first, then best buddies and it goes forward from there.
    I second Kare Kano but similarly to LoveCom the anime cover only about 30% of the manga story ( and guess what some of the deepest parts are manga-only).
    Andre+Oscar in Rose of Versailles (hooray for osananajimi), provided you survive the sparkles, old school shoujo art and a certain soapy flavour in the first half – hey it's late XVIII century France after all – 8).

  15. R

    Totally forgot about Rose of Versailles

    Definitely an old school one, which may throw some people for a loop, but it's actually a really good series, character and storywise.

    But a word to the wise, if you know anything about French history, you should probably realize that it doesn't end happily.

  16. M

    Besides the fact that this was one of the best episodes yet,that Otoyomegatari manga you mentioned sound's pretty good and that art style is really impressive.

  17. Those are two seriously high-quality understatements right there.

  18. e

    Ohoh 8p.

  19. R

    I would literally fight someone to the death over Mori-sensei's art.

    Just saying.

  20. R

    Also, is no one going to comment on the fact that karaoke apparently exists in medieval fantasy Europe?

    I laughed harder than I should at Neil there.

  21. e

    Well so do photographs – medieval flavour indeed :p – . I loved how Nike snuck dem snapshots of Livi in her pockets btw.

  22. I thought one of the sisters drew those really fast…

  23. e

    Oh you punny creature you. No matter how skilled a drafts(wo)man you can't churn out instaportraits in the same identical format, same perfectly rectangular white framing and in full colour and encompassing one close rapid movements sequence like that… I'm calling shutter magic at best – Joseph Joestar would be proud? – .
    Anyway that animal print they picked for the boy. Rawr. Ahah.

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