First Impressions – Ore Monogatari!!

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No suspense here – I loved it.

OP: “Miraikei Answer” (未来形Answer; Future-Tense Answer) by TRUSTRICK

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There are more premieres to come this season, including a couple of shows that seem to have outside sleeper possibilities, but this was the last big one for me.  Like Arslan Senki, Ore Monogatari!! was a show that had to join Baby Steps 2 (which was a slam dunk) in the ranks of the power elite if Spring ’15 was going to have a chance to end up going down as a strong season.  As such, a big part of what I’m feeling now is relief – though there’s an awful lot of straight-up positivity too.  This was one terrific first episode.

I love manga that trample established demographic and genre rules when it comes to gender.  Gangan Joker/Online is the main source (the likes of Inu X Boku SS (on a sad note, Inu x Boku SS mangaka Fujiwara Cocoa passed away this week at just 31 years old), Gugure! Kokkuri-san, Watamote and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun are published there) but My Love Story!! definitely falls into the group (thought it’s published in Bessatsu Margaret, a bastion of traditional shoujo).  Why?  For the same reason as Nozaki-kun in a gender-flipped sense – it’s a shoujo manga with a male main character.  And not just a shoujo but a shoujo romance (and no matter what haters will tell you, they’re not synonymous).

And what a main character he is.  Gouda Takeo (Eguchi Takuya – yes, this is the same guy who played little Kujou in Gosick) is a child in a man’s body.  When we first meet him he’s graduating middle school and already dwarfing his classmates, but it’s clear from the tears he sheds at graduation and the adoration his kouhai have for him that there’s more to Takeo than meets the eye.  His best friend (Takeo sells it as a matter of happenstance more than choice, but it’s obviously both) is Sunakawa Makoto (an excellent Shimazaki Nobunaga), who’s always the center of the girls’ attention – including every girl Takeo has ever had a crush on.  But “Suna” is a cold fish when it comes to females – he’s never expressed interest in any of them, and isn’t exactly a master of the gentle rejection.

Into their lives comes Yamato Rinko (Han Megumi), courtesy of the unwanted attention of a groper on the train (I love the way Morio Asaka shows us this scene from Takeo’s elevated perspective, though it’s Suna who spots the problem).  Takeo being a gallant fellow intervenes on her behalf, and even punches the scumbag out when he tries to pull the “she was asking for it” defense (unfortunately Takeo does this in front of a cop, which gets him suspended from school).  In gratitude Yamato shows up the next day with a cheesecake, and forgets her phone (hmmm) in Takeo’s room.  When he meets her in the park to return it, he makes sure he brings Suna with him because he’s sure that’s who Yamato really wants to see, and Yamato this time brings macaroons.  But as much as he enjoys the sweets, Takeo sees things starting to follow a very familiar pattern…

In a vacuum, we’ve certainly seen the elements of Ore Monogatari!! before.  The love triangle, the misunderstood gentle giant, the standoffish hunk with hidden fire inside him.  We’ve even got shoujo sparkles all over the place.  But collectively, they’re magic – and it’s all in the execution. Each of these characters is already winning and relatable, most especially Takeo.  Frankly I find him a pretty heartbreaking guy to watch, especially the way he’s come to expect others to miss the real person in the face of the scary exterior.  He fully expects Yamato to fall for Suna, but Takeo is such a bro that he determines he’ll do everything he can to make it work for the two of them.  Only 15, and he’s already accepted a fate as the eternal wingman.

The funny thing is, though, that it’s not clear just what Yamato is thinking about all this.  She never gives off any incontrovertible signals that she’s interested in Suna or disinterested in Takeo (though she does seem disappointed when Suna announces he’s leaving after their first meeting in Takeo’s room). She never asks Takeo to bring Suna to their next meeting, and she never asks for Suna’s email – only Takeo’s.  But Takeo is so beaten down that he sees what he expects to see – and in the process, seems to have nudged Suna into developing feelings for Yamato (naturally).

The formula here is so simple – it’s just three interesting, likeable young people entering into friendship and emotional entanglement – but it’s already a joy to watch them interact.  All three leads are strong, including Han (who some were worried about after the first PVs).  In Morio-sensei and Animation Director/Character Designer Hamada Kunihiko we have the Madhouse team behind Chihayafuru, and it shows – these are gifted, experienced hands immensely confident and comfortable with character drama and romantic comedy.  It also shows in the fact that Suna looks an awful lot like Taichi, at least to me, which makes me very glad Morio didn’t get Miyano Mamoro to play the role…

This is a hard show not to like (I’ve never seen a first episode draw a 98.3% approval on Niconco before), but I’ve no doubt there are those who won’t.  It’s another of those series that acts as an antidote to the cynicism and irony that drive most anime thematically these days – Ore Monogatari!! is undeniably sweet, but it isn’t saccharine.  It’s a natural thing, driven by the believability and decency of the characters and the pathos of the situation.  What kept running through my mind in watching the premiere was the genuine warmth of the show, but it never felt cloying or overbearing, never seemed to be trying too hard.  One can’t say that this series was the deadlock cinch that Baby Steps was, but it was as close as a non-sequel could be – with a terrific manga as source material, one of the best studios in the business producing it and a top-caliber staff, it would have been a major surprise if Ore Monogatari!! wasn’t one of the best premieres of the year.  In this case, I’m elated not to be surprised.

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ED: “Shiawase no Ari ka” (未来形Answer; Future-Tense Answer) by TRUSTRICK

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  1. F

    Agreed! Agreed 100%! This was a really good premier, and I was grinning and chuckling for much of the episode. Kudos to Takeo's VA too – I thought he did an excellent job – man, what a completely different side of the spectrum from Kujo in Gosick, eh?

  2. S

    Personally, I liked the episode. The only thing that stirred my fears about the show is the thought that if the miscommunication-based love triangle thing goes on too long it's the kind of plot that easily winds on itself and becomes a self-parody. These things are at their best if the author knows when to end them gracefully and move on to different themes and situations.

  3. N

    So THIS is how you offer your seat in Japan. I kept going at it like Takeo, and likewise, was mostly ignored.

    The only complaint I have here is that Yamato's voice is so high-pitched it's grating. My first impression of the character was 'looks like Chihaya, sounds like Sumire', but I double checked and Sumire doesn't get anywhere near these heights. I get that Yamato is supposed to be super flastered, and that her pitch is made to reflect that, but all in all I have to say that so far this is my least favorite vocal performance by Megumi.

  4. g

    When Suna opened his mouth and Miyano Mamoro's voice didnt come out I was like "Huh?".
    I guess it really is for the best. Since the physical likeness is already this obvious, having them both with the same voice would have sent the wrong vibes. Hes not Taichi (not at all!!), after all.

  5. Comment re-posted with manga spoiler removed:

    Ah, it was so good. A great adaptation too. I felt so good after episode ended. My love for the world raised too It was warm, sweet, genuine and funny. I like we had mostly fun with Takeo, not at expense of him. Like, yeah, we will have many funny situations, because him but it's a very good-natured laugh, not the cruel one. Just like in Gekkan, where an author parodies many shoujo romance tropes but still with visible love for the demographic, the same I've felt, while reading Ore Monogatari.

    We all should aspire to be like Takeo, if not in the body then in the spirit. And we should wish … (deleted)

    And BTW about shoujo haters. You won't believe how many attempts to change reality I saw yesterday on different forums. I learnt it's not shoujo (of course here shoujo was treated incorrect as a genre), because all shoujo are crappy, about bishounen and built on women's delusions about the romance and this anime isn't like that, therefore a logical conclusion is it can't be shoujo. Indeed, flawless logic here. You can't argue.

  6. D

    "In a vacuum, we've certainly seen the elements of Ore Monogatari!! before. The love triangle, the misunderstood gentle giant, the standoffish hunk with hidden fire inside him."

    True, but I don't remember ever seeing a big, strong, oafish, not-metrosexual male lead in a shoujo romance before. What a great change of pace. The fact that he's tough on the outside and sensitive on the inside is even better – already emerging as a complex character.

  7. g

    Ughh! I did again, was excited now I have people talk with about it and make it spoiler-ish. Sorry very much!

  8. S

    I was actually really hoping Mamoru Miyano would voice Sunakawa. He does look like very similar to Taichi, but he seemed more like a shoujo version of Light Yagami to me. However Nobunaga Shimazaki is doing a great job voicing him. It's also nice to see Shimazaki voice a new main character in a Madhouse series right after Parasyte ended last month.

    I'm glad this series will run for 24 episodes. I was planning to marathon it after it finished airing, but that first episode was very enjoyable and fun to watch. I look forward to watching upcoming episodes of the lives of Gouda, Sunakawa, and Yamato on a weekly basis.

  9. R

    I've literally been oversaturated with tradition shoujo romances recently that I basically jumped aboard this series solely because it broke the mold with its main character.

    I'm so glad I did. The only time I'm going to be glad I judged a book by its cover XD I haven't read the manga, so I'm going in blind which so far is working great. A shoujo with a male lead is already pretty damn rare, so this was going to be interesting regardless, but now it's shown that it's going to GREAT too so I'm really happy.

  10. J

    It's funny that Takeo Gouda's VA is 187 cm in height. They were both giants.

  11. The funny part to me is that 187 cm makes you a giant in Japan, but it sort of does…

  12. R

    This one has the same bives as the first part of Slam Dunk and much of School Rumble (both of which I loved) with the whole "kind delinquent falling for pretty girl" story. And I am definitely liking what I am seeing here.

    But, I can't brush off that inkling that Sunakawa might actually be gay and has feelings for Takeo (note, I haven't read the manga yet).

  13. I fear even discussing it is going to prove too tempting for the spoiler goblins out there. But yes, I have seen that theory postulated and I do think there's enough that's ambiguous in the premire to suggest it's at least possible. It would certainly be a brave an unconventional turn for this sort of series.

  14. D

    This was everything I expected it to be and more. Fantastic episode and so far my favourite of the season. Every single bit was so fun to watch, and the familiar Chihayafuru aesthetic makes the whole thing even better.

  15. R

    My only gripe is that they seem to try to make Yamamoto to be somewhat "moe"-ish. Must be the way Han voiced the character. Other than that, excellent premiere. Felt like only 5 minutes to me.

  16. Y

    Do you like Gosick, Enzo?

  17. I like it, though it's got some major flaws.

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