Nobuhiko OkamotoAi KakumaKensho OnoNaomi Ozora
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2016: M
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Writer/director: Yoshimasa Hiraike
Original creator: Kurose
Actor: Ai Kakuma, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Kensho Ono, Naomi Ozora, Reina Takeshita, Rena Maeda, Sayaka Nakaya, Takuma Nagatsuka, Yasuaki Takumi, Yoshitaka Yamaya
Keywords: anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 26 half-episodes
Website category: Anime 2016
Review date: 30 October 2017
momo kuri
I think it's underrated. On the surface, it's a lightweight, fluffy anime about a boyfriend and girlfriend. Nothing happens. They hang out with their friends, make the audience laugh and turn so red as to almost evaporate at any suggestion of anything racy. They're years away from anything like that. To the casual observer, Momotsuki's biggest progress bar would be his embarrassment at the challenge of not calling Kurihara by her surname. They hold hands once or twice, although neither of them is comfortable with it.
It's relaxing and happy. It's full of nice people. It's the kind of show you watch as a relaxing break from other things.
That said, though, I think there's actually some dramatic meat under the surface. The characters aren't just amusing pools of comedy traits. The main triangle (Kurihara, Momotsuki and Sakaki) all have enough problems that I was genuinely uncertain at times where the show was going with this. Momotsuki in particular has some weird and slightly irritating hang-ups he really needs to resolve. I think the characters' journey is meaningful and I don't think the show is as disposable as a casual viewing would probably suggest.
1. KURIHARA YUKI, who's Momotsuki's stalker. She's taken hundreds of photos of him, without his knowledge. She collects his discarded rubbish and makes a shrine out of them. You might reasonably be wondering why she hasn't been arrested... but in ep.1 she does something unusual for a stalker and becomes his girlfriend. She asked him out and he said yes. That was unexpected. Her behaviour doesn't really change after that, but even so them being a couple makes it seem less scary. It's normal to want to know more about your boyfriend. Her friends think she's a pervert (which is fair), but it's also true that she really does love Momotsuki and that she's working hard at making their relationship work. She tries to be a good girlfriend for him. She just has a few kinks, that's all. (Mind you, every chapter of the original manga ends by warning its readers not to copy Kurihara's behaviour in real life.)
2. MOMOTSUKI SHINYA, the target. He's kind and well-meaning, but even so there were times when I'd think he was the weird one, not Kurihara. (She'd immediately prove me wrong, mind you.) You see, Momotsuki's small, cute and feminine. He's bad at being assertive. He's insecure about Kurihara's feelings towards him and he wants her to see him more as a man, which leads us to what for me were his mildly distasteful notions of gender roles. He gets jealous, but what's more he gets angry with Kurihara when she's not jealous in return. He thinks he's not manly, but his idea of manly traits all seemed negative from where I was sitting. Conversely, his idea of femininity is something of a bugbear of mine. Technically the Japanese word "kawaii" means "cute", but it's a very broad term that might also be used in all kinds of situations where an English-speaker might say "gorgeous", "attractive", "desirable", etc. Sometimes this shades into "weak", "scared", etc. Let's say you have someone who's strong and speaks her mind. If this person is suddenly and unexpectedly shown to be scared of something, then you might say that you've discovered her "kawaii side".
Momotsuki says exactly this of Sakaki (who I'll be discussing in a moment). Admittedly I'm basically just bashing a quirk of the Japanese language, but I think it's related to attitudes like, for instance, men who don't like their wives earning more than them. Discussing this with Tomoko recently, I wondered if this might not be reflecting old-fashioned preconceptions about power imbalances in married relationships. If a wife earns more than her husband, maybe he thinks this is a problem because it makes it harder for him to demand that she do everything around the house?
What's relevant about all that is the show's gender-flipped. Kurihara's stalking and lusting over Momotsuki is more characteristic of male behaviour, which makes it interesting to see a female protagonist behaving like that. She has open desires and she's not embarrassed by them, although she won't be jumping his bones any time soon. She's more intelligent than him. She openly admires his cuteness and she has the confidence never to get jealous.
Momotsuki, conversely, has hang-ups about his feminine traits. He's small in stature. He's cute. He's insecure. If you hear him complain that he doesn't feel Kurihara sees him as a man, this is likely to be a precursor to a story beat where he needs looking after. He's over-emotional and hard work, frankly, to a point that sometimes makes him a pain in the arse.
And then there's...
3. SAKAKI RIO, the tall, handsome "girl". She's female, but she's also cool and manly. She has lots of female admirers. If she cross-dressed, you might not realise her true gender. In some ways she's the more natural partner for Momotsuki and the show was capable of making me wonder which way things were going to go. She likes him a lot and is interested even though Kurihara's very much around, but there are subtleties in her relationships with both parties. Her mental image of Momotsuki isn't always the most romantic, for instance. "Honestly, I think of Momotsuki as a small animal I have to protect." Conversely she ends up getting quite close to Kurihara, even if that's based partly on a misunderstanding on Kurihara's part, and there's a moment in ep.18 where Sakaki questions which of the two she's jealous of. The show's taking Sakaki's feelings seriously and giving her so much screen time that I wasn't always sure if Momotsuki might not end up dumping Kurihara and go out with Sakaki instead.
Personally I see a lot there. There are meaningful personal journeys for all three of those characters, which makes the story feel meaningful... and that's without touching on characters like Shouta and Yuzuki, who I see would have complications of their own if I read the original manga.
That said, though, it is undeniably light, funny and apparently floating along on good nature. It might not necessarily occur to you to take it seriously, even if you really liked it. The "true art must be serious" crowd wouldn't give it a second thought. It has the air of yet another charming but empty school-age light romantic comedy. If you judged it by its genre, you might even start getting indignant about its light-hearted attitude towards stalker behaviour. (Personally I'd call that a misreading of what it's doing, but I can understand how some viewers might feel that way.)
It's funny. It's very likeable. However at the same time it's doing a lot underneath that too. It deserves more attention, I think.