Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii – 12 (End) and Series Review

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Great endings truly are a beautiful thing.

One of my oft-stated core beliefs is “good endings are hard”, but episodes like this one make it awfully hard to make the case.  The thing about great endings is that they usually look incredibly easy – they have the effect of making you say “It’s so simple!  Why does everyone else keep screwing it up?”  The truth of course (and this is another one of my core beliefs about art) is that making it look easy is one of the hardest things a writer and/or director can do.  As a general rule, keep it simple – focus on what’s really important and what’s really good about your story – and you can’t really go wrong.

My sleeper picks for Spring ended up being a mixed bag, but I think I nailed Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii.  There were some hiccups in the middle where the sheer weight of the volume of material the show was adapting in 12 episodes derailed things a bit (and I’d guess that wasn’t the best of the source material either) but when the series focused in on what counts, it ranked among the best of the season.

Studio Pierrot has had a mixed track record in recent years, and I’ve certainly been hard on them when I feel they’ve deserved it.  There have been too many cases where the production values on their series are simply inferior, but I said early on in Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii’s run that this seemed like a case of “horses for courses” – this sort of European-styled fairy tail is perfectly in their sweet spot.  Pierrot has had a number of really good series recently, but in terms of production this is the best – it looks the part, it’s skilfully directed and features a terrific cast.  Choosing Shimazaki Nobunaga as Livi was interesting – in most cases I suspect a woman would have been cast – and it works at capturing the dichotomy between Livi’s appearance and his stature because Shimazaki manages to make him vulnerable without putting on a silly attempt to sound like a child.  And Maeda Rena is a straight-out hit as Nike – she’s full of energy and wit and strength, and I hope this leads to more lead roles for her.

If good endings are hard (and trust me, they are) then good endings for ongoing source material are even harder.  This is where a really good and experienced director can make a huge difference, and in Kamegaki Hajime (Fushigi Yugi, Lupin III) Soredemo Sekai has one that’s both.  The last arc especially had the air of confidence and surety that you generally only get with such directors.  As much as I’d love a second season (which I know has zero chance of happening) the episode worked perfectly as a capper to the series – the anime feels complete, satisfying and internally consistent.  Keep it simple – focus on what’s really important and what’s really good about your story – and you can’t really go wrong.

One of the reasons that Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii won’t see a second season is of course that it’s a shoujo, and shoujo simply don’t sell on disc.  That’s why we rarely see shoujo manga adapted at all anymore, and when we do they’re almost always one-cour abridgements of long manga.  Shoujo anime in 2014 exist as commercials for their manga, plain and simple – and that generally gets you one cour (since Volume 8 isn’t released yet, we don’t know the full impact of the anime).  But while Soredemo has its share of shoujo tropes, to me it tonally resides in a sort of genre-free zone – when we see something really classic like Livi riding in on his white steed in the finale, it feels tongue-in-cheek.  This series isn’t a “typical” shoujo fantasy, or romance – the genre here is simply “really good”.

In point of fact, Soredemo Sekai is if anything a mix of shoujo, Studio Ghibli and Western fairy tale.  The emotional color of the story is very un-Japanese – it’s full of declarations of feeling, emotional displays and surprising frankness when it comes to desire.  And this was never more proudly on display than in the finale, which wore its heart on its sleeve in a way few anime – even shoujo – do.  The “farewell rain” song from Tohara was a grand and theatrically emotional song, especially when coupled with Nike’s tearful reaction.  But it fit, because this series is much more than its nominal demographic tags would have it boxed in as.

A key element of the success of Soredemo Sekai is that neither of the main characters fit the mold of traditional shoujo – or any other anime demographic – leads.  It’s recognizably shoujo in that Nike is definitely the POV character and Livi is definitely the “giant robot”, but get past that and you see two characters that deal with each other on remarkably equal terms.  It goes beyond simply Nike being “spunky” – they’re complex, strong-willed and smart people who don’t want to be taken for granted.  Because of the premise – Livi being 12 years old, yet a preternaturally smart and gifted Head of State – you have the basis of the romance being two characters who each want more than to be protected by the other.  As I said early on, that’s a slyly wonderful basis for a romance story where the principals operate on equal terms, and that’s exactly how it played out.

If you’re one of the people hung up on the age difference – and I still see you out there – get over it.  Mori Kaoru is only the latest to prove that this can be overcome if the writing is tasteful and sensitive, and I give full credit to mangaka Shiina Dai – as with Otoyomegatari that’s the case here.  Setting aside the fact that in historical context this sort of relationship is perfectly normal, what makes it work is that the writing presents us with Livi and Nike as people, not numbers, and all a viewer has to do is look at them the same way.  If you can’t, the problem is you – not the writing.

And as people, Nike and Livi make up one of the most charming anime romances I’ve seen in a very long time.  The arc of their affection is completely believable, and because they work so well as individual characters there’s a rock-solid basis on which to build a relationship.  The age difference isn’t ignored – it’s the elephant in the room, right up until the finale which sees Bardo and the Elder trio fretting over the fact that Nike and Livi haven’t consummated their relationship.  What we see and they don’t is that the issue isn’t that Livi isn’t yet interested or capable, but that it’s because these two have come to love and respect each other that they want to be sure the moment they choose is the right one.  Livi’s age is relevant – for all his maturity he’s still a child (we see his emotional childishness fairly often) and paradoxically, he’s mature enough to understand he’s still immature (and so is Nike, in fact).  He and Niki have grown to love each other with patience – now they’re both exercising the same as they grow into lovers.

It’s in that context that the finale works so splendidly as an exclamation point for Soredemo Sekai.  We get our emotional closure with Grandma, and when the story returns to the Sun Kingdom we’re reminded of the practicalities of Livi and Nike’s situation.  He’s still the Boy King, incredibly put-upon and addicted to the work which makes him feel grown-up.  He and Nike have matured to the point now where they can be apart and not fret over the strength of their bond, yet the time they’ve spent together on their journey has made the pain of that separation all the more acute.  And while the entire episode is a bit of a tease – stringing out the moment of romance service we know is coming – it’s a parallel to the situation the two of them are experiencing on-screen.

“The rain, the wind, the sun…   You bring them all with you, every time our eyes meet.  You bring the world to me.”  What a wonderful expression of love that is to end on – especially coupled with the first truly mutual kiss Livi and Nike share, not sneaked or stolen to the other’s surprise or CPR or anything except a shared expression of affection.  I’m hard-pressed to imagine any other way one might want to see the series have ended, so fitting was the way it actually did – proof, again, that Soredemo Sekai understands what’s important and understands what makes it work as a story.

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ED Sequence:

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  1. r

    Crap. I wrote out a great comment (I thought) and then lost it because I hit the wrong button—thanks for nothing Lazarus…

    Speaking only on the final episode…what a wonderful way to end the show. It was gentle, quiet and lovely—understated, even, after the departure from Nike's homeland—and choosing such an internal and real theme on which to conclude, the pain of being separated from the one you love, was a perfect choice to encapsulate the show's romance and highlight how much both Livi and Nike have changed. And, best of all, it put what the show is and always has been best at (Nike and Livi's relationship) squarely in the spotlight.

    Also, the kiss count in this anime is astounding when I think that SoreSeka alone probably outnumbers the quantity of kisses I've seen in all other simulcasted anime in the last two season. This show's downright racy.

  2. r

    I was really surprised by this episode- the last half of this episode adapted one of the chapters that in manga form felt like "filler" between two arcs but here served as a reminder that in the end the series always leads back to these two. Wonderful.
    Fun fact: that last kiss was completely anime-original. In the manga, the just stare at each other. But seeing how this was the finale and all, it was fitting to end it that way.

  3. R

    This. Was. Beautiful.

  4. .

    What other adventures can we expect for Nike, Livius, and others in the manga?

  5. t

    very good question.
    actually the anime quite enhanced the current events into somewhat closed ending (yeah, events happened kinda the same in the manga, it's just that in the manga it doesn't feel like we are about to farewell).

    for your question..TBH, I don't really know for sure. so far only 20 chapters were subbed. the anime has adapted 19. but at ep 20 which is the final chapter of volume 4 (out of 7 so far but still on going) it seems like there is still what to tell and something new will happen. I can't say for sure because it's only 1 chapter after the current closing events, so it's not entirely decisive. but I think Livi and Nike story and adventure hasn't been completed yet, that's also the impression I got when I read that part in the manga.
    sure, they have learned a lot and became attached to each other mutually, but there is more to get into things. for example I wanna know more about Livi's history and his mother too, same for his rule over the countires, his relationship with Nike are only after the first step of love, they still got a lot to work on together and each of them alone too. Also, that's my suggestion, but there was Nike's mother story/legend about how dangerous they can be if not in control inside the kingdom, maybe the next volumes revolves around this somehow.
    so..I believe there is more into it in the manga.

  6. S

    I’m disappointed by this show after a strong start. While it employs great characters with Livius and Nike, both having an interesting personality, background and together they have a good chemistry, the uninspiring story surrounding them is filled with clichés and melodramatic speeches. Having a lovely, sappy romance isn’t enough to be qualitatively good shoujo series.

    Overall I think it’s a mediocre, forgettable show which suffered from poor story writing and lack of creativity.

  7. Z

    >Having a lovely, sappy romance isn’t enough to be qualitatively good shoujo series

    Hear hear!

  8. D

    Ha, and I thought I was the only one, seeing all the praise. This show was the dissapointment of the season for me.

    Because while I liked certain strong characters (especially Nike), I just couldn't stand how poor the story was. It had such an interesting setup, but they ended up working it out in the least interesting way possible. All the show did was keep heaping up cliché after cliché, some of which wrecked entire episodes (like the one with that freakishly annoying loli). Not once did I feel they did something truly interesting with the building blocks that they had. And because of such annoyances, the romance fell flat for me as well.

    No, this one will be mentally shelved and forgotten pretty soon. I've seen way better shoujo, in any case.

  9. t

    it was truly beautiful.
    indeed, Pierrot did an amazing job with the finale. it's not obvious to bring such a precise and beautiful ending to an on-going series. although the manga adapted the anime quite precisely in this episode (and the series in general except for the 1st episode which was filler), they really enhanced the atmosphere of these events and make it into a fantastic end.
    with an ending like that, you think back for the entire series and it really made (at least to me) think how great and lovely this series was from beginning to end. it is a unique series not only just because it's a rare shoujo we aren't used to see nowdays, but also with the way everything works – such melody and comedy with these wonderful combination of characters and all.

  10. S

    I absolutely LOVED this last episode! It's true that Soredemo flirted and in some cases embraced shoujo character and story telling tropes, but the core relationship between our two leads really did feel authentic. It was great just watching a character quietly missing her loved one without all the stereotypical tantrums and miss-understandings. It brought tears to my eyes!

  11. M

    Wow! Such a great ending and an equally great couple(main candidates for couple of the year pls). I'm a total novice when it comes to shoujo anime but man…if more of them were like this,I'd watch them in a heartbeat.

    I'm also once again reminded of the impact a great ending can have on the series overall. Your memories of it will mostly be pleasant ones and some might even get over some of it's flaws(even if they won't deny their existence).

  12. G

    I enjoyed this series. Its almost as good as Kimi Ni Todoke. It stopped at a good place and the finale was excellent.

  13. w

    I very nearly dropped this after episode 8. To think I would have missed out on the best string of episodes in the series. The move to the rain principality really was a very welcome change of pace, and definitely the best arc overall. Even the BGM was better over there. Plus that was an absolutely fantastic ending. Very glad I stuck it out.

    That makes it pretty hard to rank though, the only episodes I'd consider really good were the first three and last four. And those were very good episodes, but 7/13 isn't a very winning grade. If it had maintained the quality of those episodes the whole way, it would have been one of the best series this year.

    One thing I always ask myself with romantic couples is "What would each be like if the other wasn't around?" The idea being that they should both still feel like strong and developed characters with goals not based around their romantic partner. Naturally both Nike and Livi passed with flying colours. Livi wouldn't resolve his mother issues and continue his global conquest, while Nike would travel from town to town, helping the downtrodden, kicking ass, and being thrown in jail cells. As a couple, we can see how they influence and nuture each other's positive traits, while not fundamentally altering their character. Because we have that, they work much better as a couple, because we can see how and why they are attracted to each other, and the pay-off is much sweeter.

    Addendum: Farewell Rain > Engrish Rain.

  14. j

    did he really just say livius is 12 years old??? WTF!!! he's f**king 15 even if he doesn't look it and by the way nike is 17 !!!

  15. N

    In the manga, ch40 or ch41 (can't remember on the top of my head) it says he is 12.

  16. N

    I first heard about Soredemo on Crunchyroll, I was browsing through animes and I read the summary and got attracted to the story. After a few episodes I fell in love with it and it's currently my favorite manga. I'm currently on Ch.41 out of 46.

    After reading the manga I realized that there were a couple of things I didn't like about the anime. Number 1 being the pop song "Tender Rain" I felt it would have better if her songs were like "farewell rain" like her grandma. Number 2, I felt the art in the manga was better than the one in the anime.

  17. R

    Does anyone know where the anime ends in the manga?

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