I watched this because I'd enjoyed its spiritual successor, Seiren. (They're both set in the same fictional universe based on dating simulation computer games, both have an multiple-choice anthology structure and both are rather good romantic comedies. I'd recommend them, although don't expect too much from the links between them. There are a few shared characters, e.g. the Nagasaki family, but Seiren's set nine years after Aragami.)
Seiren's only had one season as yet, but the main difference so far is that Aragami twists the knife more. It'll make you cringe with embarrassment comedy, thanks to some mental girls (admittedly with more normal ones too) and a hero who's off his nut. He's a nice guy, but you'll want him in a padded cell to save your blood pressure. He'll cooperate with almost anything, no matter how deranged, and then make some pretty out-there suggestions of his own. At first glance, he seems normal. Standard identikit anime harem hero. Likeable enough, if you don't mind some schoolboy sleaze with his pornhound best friend, but nothing too memorable. By the end, though, they'll have pushed his characterisation so far that he'll be chatting up a near-yandere whose actions would have any sane person backing nervously for the door and avoiding eye contact. This would break any normal show. It would blow all your "I'd never do this" gauges. Here, though, you just accept it because Jun'ichi being insane is just redoubling his characterisation.
I admire this. It's great to have storytelling that pushes the boundaries of what you'd expect. I also really enjoy the anthology structure, which lets us follow all the girls' lives even when they're not the current heroine. There's more of a sense that they're independent people living their own lives, regardless of whether or not Jun'ichi happens to be involved. (Then, also, we have the extra wrinkles introduced by SS ep.25.)
The other odd thing about the show is its structure. There are six main girls (he says, being carefully vague) and the show doesn't choose between them. Instead of picking a winner and building the whole show around her, each one gets four episodes in Amagami SS (2010), a third of an SS OVA (2011), two episodes in SS+ (2012) and a three-minute SS+ OVA (2012). I thus broke my usual habit and watched in non-broadcast order. I'd watch each girl's story to the end before continuing with the next, interspersing the original 2010 episodes with the relevant later sequels. This worked reasonably well, but:
(a) SS+ will often be a mild reboot. Even if the SS four-parter took us to a steamy place, SS+ will invariably assume that Jun'ichi and the girls are at most chastely dating stage and haven't got hot and heavy. They might even reboot basic stuff like whether or not Jun'ichi's calling the girl by her surname. (The show never quite goes all the way with sex, admittedly. There's always some room for doubt of what happened, unless you count "ten years later" scenes where our heroes are married with children. However it's hard to see a relationship between two teenagers staying all that platonic when, say, we've seen them naked together in a romantic setting and moving in for a kiss.)
(b) SS ep.25 depends on you having watched everything so far, but then the 2011 OVAs have little cameos of whatshername (not her real name) watching Jun'ichi. That doesn't matter and it's just an Easter Egg in some fun throwaway OVAs, though.
1. HARUKA MORISHIMA
- Amagami SS (2010) 1-4
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 11-12
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 6
She's super-popular. She's beautiful, nice, cheerful... and a total freak. Admittedly her first two episodes just make her seem at most a bit eccentric. She's fun and funny. After that, though, we learn that she likes roleplay with people who'll try to top her challenges. Among other things, this gives us one of the weirdest kisses I've ever seen. I wouldn't even call it sexual, unless you count the astronomical fetish potential. It's just strange. In addition she has no filters, either for doing her thing in public, for the sexual implications of her words (and you'll never know whether or not she was doing it deliberately) or just for the ability of any reasonable human to guess what she wants them to do.
This is exhausting to watch. I'd be pausing the episode and dying. It's happy to think that she's found someone equally mental (Jun'ichi) to share her life, but I couldn't have done it. You'd expect a normal person to worry about, for instance, scaring off their boyfriend when it came to those roleplays about weddings, pregnancy, etc. They're still in high school! As for the school graduation ceremony... yeeesh.
It's brilliant in how far it's taking you. These episodes are funny and likeable, but they put me through the wringer.
2. KAORU TANAMACHI
- Amagami SS (2010) 5-8
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 7-8
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 4
Jun'ichi's got a few childhood friends in this show. Kaoru's the tomboy one... except that technically she's not. You'd swear they must have known each other since birth, but apparently they met for the first time in intermediate school. They're rude, over-familiar and jokey with each other in a sibling-like way. Kaoru will pin him to the classroom floor with wrestling moves. They're already such good friends and even sex could hardly make their relationship closer.
There's more gyaaaaaaaaah comedy, although it'll diminish after Kaoru. The bellybutton in the library, no, no, no, stop it.
This is fun and very likeable, although sexual attraction will get in the way a bit. Their relationship gets tense and even rocky, with the SS+ bus tour making them bitchy and finger-pointing for a while. Kaoru's a bit of an idiot, e.g. not realising when her knickers are on maximum display in SS ep.5 and making that timekeeping error in SS+ ep.7 (although Jun'ichi's at fault too). She's also childish about her mum. Having those feelings is understandable, but actually putting them into words makes you sound as if you're six years old.
I'm still fond of both Kaoru and this arc, though. She's so likeable. If I had to choose Jun'ichi's final partner, I'd choose her.
3. SAE NAKATA
- Amagami SS (2010) 9-12
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 9-10
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 5
Completely different to the first two arcs. Haruka and Kaoru are loud, funny and confident to the point of needing someone to hold them back, but Sae's a shrinking violet who at first is barely even capable of speech. She can talk to you if she knows you and you're using an ear trumpet. A nervous cat would be noisier. Talking to strangers is completely out of the question. It's progress in SS ep.10 when she says a few sentences to a vending machine.
This time, therefore, the comedy's different. Jun'ichi doesn't tease Sae. She'd shrivel up and die. It would be like flamethrowering a puppy. The dialogue's thus avoiding jokes and banter that Sae's not tough enough to handle, so instead we have a snarky narrator. He's fond of Sae and Jun'ichi, but he thinks they're pretty hopeless and doesn't think their combined intellects would suffice for one functioning brain. (Occasionally Jun'ichi breaks the fourth wall and asks the narrator to lay off a bit.) Unsurprisingly, Sae has the simplest and most straightforward relationship of anyone with Jun'ichi. He becomes her trainer, teaching her life skills like How To Buy Lunch From The School Cafeteria and How To Talk To Dinner Ladies.
She does improve, though. She becomes a functional human being, then eventually gets elected as Founder Festival Committee President.
All this is funny, but it's gentler comedy than earlier. There's also no need for an SS+ reboot, because Sae's too timid for any action worth rebooting. Unfortunately, though, SS+ is more into embarrassment comedy than Season 1 and that's hard to do with someone like Sae, so instead Jun'ichi becomes a twat who's insecure about stupid things, sets himself stupid challenges and acts on misunderstandings. I wanted Sae to dump this loser. (Fortunately he improves again.)
4. AI NANASAKI
- Amagami SS (2010) 13-16
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 5-6
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 3
The least interesting girl, alas. There's nothing wrong with her, but she's unmemorable. She's in the swimming club and a friend of Miya and Sae... and that's about it, really, beyond some mild unlikeability when she's first introduced. The most noteworthy character points in her arc belong to other girls.
Also, the SS+ episodes are a bit silly, with the crotch pillow and the student-abducting juku detectives. There's also a weird child ghost bit in ep.15. I still quite enjoyed these episodes, but this is the show's weakest arc.
5. RIHOKO SAKURAI
- Amagami SS (2010) 17-20
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 3-4
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 2
She's the most lovable girl in the show, but also a dozy, clumsy goofball who lives to eat. Does she have deeper thought processes at all? Yes, I suppose so, since she's been in love with Jun'ichi for years, but you'd need an electron microscope to detect this. Her feelings are almost tragic, in fact, because acting on them would require some intelligence and sustained effort. No hope there. This creates an unusual tension, since there's no guarantee that she'll win in the end. It takes a special kind of girl to fail to get the boy even when they're the main romantic couple in a story that's been built to bring them together, but that's our Rihoko.
She is endearing, though. She's like a big, happy dog. You couldn't find a kinder person. She's also continually going on diets that she'll start as soon as she's finished this cream pastry.
6. TSUKASA AYATSUJI
- Amagami SS (2010) 21-24
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 1-2
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 1
She's the most complex character of the six and I can see why they ended the season with her. She's intriguing. Complicated. Maintains multiple personas. Is she the perfect student and the ideal class representative who works hard on everyone's behalf? Is she manipulative, calculating and doing everything for a selfish reason? Might there even be a compassionate idealist underneath that cold-blooded layer? What if she generated yet another personality again?
She's great. Jun'ichi can hardly keep up with her. She's rich enough, in fact, that I didn't feel her episodes covered everything. We never learn the story with her sister, for instance. They don't like each other, obviously, but we never dig down into their relationship and learn why. (Presumably that's in the original Playstation 2 game, but this is an anime.) Similarly the SS+ two-parter is a fantastic vehicle for Tsukasa because it gives her an enemy to fight in the elections for student council president. Tsukasa's borderline villainous already, so it's effectively villain vs. villain! This is delicious... but too much of it gets left offscreen. I like this storyline, but it deserved more than two episodes.
Tsukasa's still cool, though, and one of my favourite characters in the show.
7. MULTI-HEROINE OVAS
- Amagami SS OVAs (2011)
- Amagami SS+ OVAs (2012) 7-8
Often a bit more risque or suggestive, e.g. Jun'ichi cutting Rihoko's toenails when she's wearing a short skirt, for instance. (Rihoko is slow.)
- Amagami SS (2010) 25
She's amazing. She's probably the most memorable girl, despite only getting one focus episode (and the odd guest spot in Miya's episodes). She introduces herself by saying she'll do anything for Jun'ichi, e.g. try to make her boobs bigger for him... but he mustn't tell anyone about her. They can only meet in disused storerooms or after dark when the streets are empty.
Jun'ichi is fine with all this and never asks about her reasons, no matter how weird things get. Jun'ichi is a freak.
Then, ten minutes later, things go scary-stalker-insane... and Jun'ichi is fine with that too. Is he secretly suicidal? I liked the "apologise to everyone" thing, admittedly, but whatshername wanting to apologise to everyone on her own might suggest that she's trying to get beaten up.
9. MIYA TACHIBANA
- Amagami SS (2010) 26
- Amagami SS+ (2012) 13
The little sister. Are you afraid yet? Well, you can relax. There's absolutely no incest, either subtextual or otherwise, and instead SS ep.26 is charming. SS+ ep.13 is fairly skippable, though, being a public bath episode with all the girls. It's not sleazy, but it is silly.
For what it's worth, Miya has been an ever-present and sometimes faintly grating presence throughout the show. She has an unnatural laugh and a favourite food that you'll soon want her to shut up about, but give her the spotlight and she's genuinely funny. She can cause trouble even when getting zero screen time. However she's a good friend to Sae and Ai, while sometimes being genuinely (and reasonably) worried about her big brother.
It's an interesting show. I enjoyed watching the character development that happens during other girls' story arcs, for instance. It's also sharper and more startling than I'd expected. This is a genre that's produced thousands of sausage machine anime for irredemable otaku, with dripping wet protagonists and girls who fall in love with this nonentity for no plausible reason. I've enjoyed a lot of them anyway, but this is a genuinely strong romantic comedy, with good-natured teeth.