No suspense here – I loved it.
OP: “Miraikei Answer” (未来形Answer; Future-Tense Answer) by TRUSTRICK
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.
ED: “Shiawase no Ari ka” (未来形Answer; Future-Tense Answer) by TRUSTRICK