Title: Kimi ni Todoke (From me to you)
Episode count: season 1 – 26 eps ; season 2 – 12 eps
Studio: Production I.G
Original Language: Japanese (Subtitled, English)
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Shoujo, School
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Tales of romance never fail to tug at our heartstrings and entrance our species with a commanding power. Witnessing the innocuous meeting of two unsuspecting individuals struck by an incomprehensible tempest, who find themselves in a whirlwind of chaos and emotion, just piques our imaginative fancies. Thus, Love and all its related counterparts feel universal and evident in stories unfazed by time or land. It’s the one subject that transcends language barriers into a collective realm of human dreams. Why? It’s simply the unequivocal remedy to longing, to despair, to emptiness; a cure for an incurable illness. It fills voids that can’t be explained. As fantastical and idealistic as this outlined notion of love is there has to be some hint of truth in it, as what else can explain this obsession with love and its inherent reflection in almost every facet of Art and story-telling (which echoes the deepest, most visceral part of human creation).
One form of this universally-binding phenomenon is brought forth in the series Kimi ni Todoke, adapted from the manga by Karuho Shiina. Within the medium, there are only a few other titles that can create a truly pure romance as the one portrayed in Kimi ni Todoke. Yes, it falls within the shoujo* realm, which would imply a certain degree of fantasy (if not entirely) romances, naivety, and even immaturity. Kimi ni Todoke has all of this and probably to an uncomfortable degree for some viewers, but as with any tale of romance, it requires a willingness to believe; the rest is up to the work – whether to protect that faith or smash it, and Kimi ni Todoke falls gracefully within the former camp.
The 25 episode series follows a misunderstood, isolated high school girl Kuronama Sawako who due to her somewhat gloomy appearance and aloof nature has been branded as “Sadako” – the creepy ghost girl from the Japanese horror film Ringu – and her transformative journey through finding love, friendship, and herself. Along with Sawako’s love interest Kazehaya Shota and an entirely beguiling cast, Kimi ni Todoke excels in almost every single element of its ambitions and of its genre.
The story is simple and relishes in its simplicity. There are no contrived melodramatic shticks , or unnecessary drama to test one’s patience, or any other kind of forced devices creators use to plod the plot along. This series has a focus and sticks to it. This doesn’t mean that it’s not slow however. The pacing is relaxed; giving time to the characters to fully explore the situations, themselves, and each other. Many have complained about the gradual nature of its progression, but it’s undoubtedly one of its strength.
For one, there are many kinds of implicit love envisioned in this series – love of friends, romantic love, and love of self. The process that one goes through – from recognizing the existence of these feelings to actually feeling them to acknowledging them and finally acting on them – isn’t a quantifiable ordeal; but it can probably be inferred that such a definitive undertaking is gradual. This is why Kimi ni Todoke truly shines: its able to understand that process whether it’s in relation to loving somebody or loving themselves and realizing, that it takes time, especially first loves – a completely foreign territory for all. A worthy love story will try and present its notion of love as complete as possible, and the show definitely develops that with great care. This is evident through how much the of the content is focused on reveling in each and every step/phase that the characters go through. This not only refines the holistic love story, but also the characters; transforming them into vivid, dynamic personalities with purpose and charisma.
The characters are the strongest point of the series. The coupling of awkward girl with popular boy is overtly clichéd at this point, but it all becomes irrelevant in Kimi ni Todoke, because of how carefully it manages to add dimension to each trait; keeping the characters genuine to their core and albeit archetypical of the genre, giving them the ability to step beyond the clichés attached to them. The main characters – Sawako and Kazehaya – deliver this wonderfully.
Sawako is breath of fresh air amongst the littered trash of static shoujo protagonists. Having been alone most of her life, she is completely unaware of what social activities are and oblivious to the meaning of friends or boyfriends. Yet, the work doesn’t go for the angst-y, edgy teen-in-purgatory approach demanding pity and remorse. Rather, the series takes a much more light-hearted tone and creates one of the best shoujo heroines I’ve encountered. Sawako’s demure nature, unfiltered innocence and naivety, and fundamental goodness just radiates throughout, despite her initial appearance and reception. Best of all, she isn’t depicted as an idiotic, weak individual who can’t stand up for herself or what she wants. She is perfectly balanced which keeps her grounded, but also extremely lovable. Of course, some of her traits are exaggerated, but it does not detract from her character at all. I also have to applaud at how nuanced her development is even though the show narrates her every thought explicitly. It’s like reading a diary, and then finding yourself at the end of it, unknowingly standing with the same person.
Kazehaya is sublime. Following suit of the popular, cute, nice boy but stepping away from the trope to be something more. Kazehaya’s character is examined as deeply as Sawako, even though it’s often through Sawako. There is a definite reliability in her narration since a complete picture of Kazehaya is formed as a product. Like Sawako, Kazehaya is genuinely a good person. His kindness is infectious and it is through that kindness that he brings Sawako out of her isolation. Yet, he isn’t perfect and he isn’t detached from the narrative, existing only to be a fantasy achievement for the girl; instead he exists in her world, with her, with all of his feelings, vulnerabilities, and flaws laid right out in plain sight. Essentially, he feels as real as Sawako.
Both characters find themselves at the same crossroad trying to comprehend and deliver their feelings. It’s a pleasure to see how these characters overcome their internal turbulences, and grow. I cannot stress how happy I was to NOT see any trite misunderstandings or random trust issues. The show definitely has its share of drama, but it’s well-conceived and integrated smoothly into the progression without being imposing which is partly why development of these characters seems so effective. As much as this is a tale of love, it’s equally focused on growth and the latter is illuminated at every turn.
The rest of the characters are also well done. Everyone has their own distinctive traits, issues, weaknesses and the show does a great job managing them while giving them some room to be people beyond “the friends” or devices for the main characters. I came to love Ayano, Chizu, and Ryu as much as Sawako and Kazehaya, because of how finely the work asserted their importance – as individuals. Having a dynamic cast means more possibilities. One possibility is being able to keep the consistency throughout the series without compromising quality. Often times, romantic comedies feel like two separate things, rather than a cohesive narrating intertwining both. The comedy in the show is fantastic and befitting. It’s not added to act as filler or to make up for awkward static characters who exist solely to be comedic reliefs.
And to bring this sweet tale together is the art, tone, and music. The tone is always light, yet manages to convey the more serious situations with equal impact. This is mostly attributed to the art style and color scheme. A pure pastel palette is used; softened colors that keep the atmosphere consistently warm and inviting. The frames are often inked with white, garnered with flower stamps and filled with dreamy bubbles, allowing the fantastical spirit of romance to blossom endlessly. The sugary, wistful art and animation perfectly accompanies the tone and nature of the series. Yet it wouldn’t be complete without melody and song. The music in this series is also quite pleasant. Comprised of upbeat vocals, soft piano, gentle choruses, and simple music-box-ish tunes, the entire soundtrack supplements the show very well. Overall, all of these elements tie seamlessly together to elevate the series into the spotlight it so rightfully deserves.
Kimi ni Todoke is and should be the quintessential love story within the medium. It is the idyllic feel-good work that proudly shows why tales of romance will never fail to tug at our heartstrings. Storytellers will continue to tell age-old stories written with some cosmic force that involuntarily rev our own hearts. It’s through these variations of love, can we vicariously experience it too (or at least dream). To feel the stars fall down from the skies in to our eyes and color the world with a rosy tint, oh what a feeling it must be! And that is indeed the type of unadulterated love you will see, feel, and experience with Sawako and Kazehaya as they walk under the star-crusted skies in Kimi ni Todoke.