Another day, another sad parting.
Finale weeks are always a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, especially when they include a show that’s been the anchor of my anime life for the last three years. Fortunately I got a spiritual B-12 shot from the surprise reprieve for Baby Steps to help me get through that experience, but it’s still a bit melancholy to say goodbye to a series you really like. Especially one that’s as irresistible and charming as Majimoji Rurumo.
It’s definitely nice when shows you expect to be great live up to their potential, but the satisfaction of seeing a show that was under-the-radar surpass expectations to become a standout is a unique feeling. Majimoji Rurumo really shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, given the author, but somehow the anime was altogether more compelling for me than the manga – though the fact that I only read the first several chapters matters, as even the anime got quite a bit better from about the third episode onward.
There are actually two manga sequels to Majimoji Rurumo already, not a scrap of which have been translated into English (which is also true of much of the original series) so I have no idea where the story goes from here, and on the off-off changce there’s an anime sequel or a scanlation I don’t want to. But it’s safe to say this is a much bigger story than was ever going to fit into a 12-episode anime, which meant that J.C. Staff and the anime team were likely going to have to craft an original ending. I assume that’s what this is, though I can’t say for sure – in any event, it packed the pathos one would expect from a final episode, but kept things light-hearted enough to avoid becoming maudlin.
Fittingly, the story here is Oshougatsu – the Japanese New Year, and the most important holiday on the nation’s calendar. This is of course Rurumo’s first New Year in the human world, and she’s fascinated by every strange ritual (of which there are seemingly hundreds) but most of all by the kimono she sees in a shop window (she even blurts out “Could I wear one?”). Of course it’s traditional for girls in Japan to wear kimono to ceremonial occasions, and Hatsumode – the first Shrine or Temple visit of the year, often taken at Midnight on New Year’s Eve – is one of the biggest. And of course Kouta being the soft-hearted and chivalrous guy he is decides to secretly work to earn the money to rent one for Rurumo to wear for the occasion (I wondered why he didn’t just borrow the money from yandere-Mom, especially since Rurumo is supposed to be his sister, and that’s what he ended up doing anyway when he came up short).
What Majimoji Rurumo delivers is no longer surprising but sasuga, since the last ten episodes have pretty much all been stellar. The chemistry between Kouta and Rurumo is incredibly winning and their relationship is one of the sweetest I’ve ever seen in anime that managed to avoid becoming saccharine (because it’s so genuine and unpretentious). They’re both such nice kids, and when stuff like the accidental leg-contact under the kotatsu (best kotatsu scene since Minami-ke) happens – and Rurumo reacts – the charm factor breaks the needle right off.
But of course this is the last episode, so there’s going to be a wrinkle. And that reveals itself when Kouta wakes up on the 31st and everyone has forgotten Rurumo, including him – though she remains a puzzling tickle at the back of his memory (and her name still being on her bedroom door doesn’t hurt). The Shrine visit goes off as planned (this moment is quietly one of the funniest in anime this year), but without Rurumo, and it seems everyone senses something isn’t right. All the traces of her existence remain – her presence in snapshots, her message in Sakurai’s inbox (looks like he’s in love with her too) – but it isn’t until she bumps into Kouta (literally) at Midnight that the truth becomes clear.
It’s all part of the test – her annual exam to see how her training (which can’t be completed as long as Kouta doesn’t use all his tickets) is going. When the memories do come back, Ruruomo and Kouta are closer than ever, and an accidental hand-clasp eventually turns into a willing act of affection. This is a great couple, truly, and a pretty heartwarming way to end the series – but of course, the truth about those tickets hangs in the air between them all the time. And when the hand of the clock strikes four – “Shi” – just as Kouta promises he’ll be with Rurumo forever, that’s an ominous clue that there are hard and painful times ahead (four is an unlucky number in Asia in a way Americans can’t even begin to grasp, far more than thirteen is there, because it sounds like the word for death).
Well, we’ll almost surely never see that thread developed in anime form, as the name of Watanabe Wataru wasn’t enough to drive Majimoji Rurumo to decent disc sales and the manga has never been a huge seller (I suspect the ideal target audience for this series is too different from that for Yowamushi Pedal). But I’m incredibly happy that Yowapeda‘s success got Majimoji a cour at least, because it’s been one of the genuine wonders of a so-so Summer season – not just a sleeper, but legitimately one of the two or three best new series of the season.
It’s pretty rare for me to have a show that I feel so uniformly positive towards. It’s not a masterpiece in the historical sense, don’t get me wrong, but everything is positive for me – I just feel tremendous affection for Majimoji Rurumo. This isn’t exactly the most ambitious show you’ll ever see, but it attacks familiar themes with such honestly and lack of mannered self-awareness that it’s like a cleansing wind blowing through a stale room. It’s genuinely funny – a lot – and genuinely heartwarming. It has a wonderful main couple who are unrelentingly kind towards each other with no games or tricks, and a terrific supporting cast who each have a distinct personality. It’s adorable. Seriously – what’s not to like?
So why aren’t there more shows like this one? Here’s my takeaway in the end – the only way a series like this can work is if the writer is really, really good. They have to be able to present the familiar in a way that feels fresh and engaging, and they have to have the magic touch with characters and relationships. There’s no safety net here, no hooks or gimmicks as a buffer in-between the premise and the cold, hard ground of the generic and tired. Watanabe is that good, and he does have that touch. And long-time animator but first-time director Sakurai Chika shows a real flair for visual style and timing – the production isn’t flashy here, but it’s sneaky good all around. Everything about Majimoji Rurumo is a win, except that there isn’t going to be more of it – it’s one of the best shows of the season and a feel-good series in the best sense of the word.