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Amagami SS Episode 1 – Rejection’s Chill

This blog has covered dating sim adaptions in detail, so when I say that Amagami is a dating sim adaption, there are some things I need to clarify in advance. No, this was never a porn game; no, it doesn’t have absurdly moe characters who look like twelve-year-olds; no, it doesn’t have all of the girls spontaneously fall for an utterly bland guy for no discernible reason (at least, not yet). At the moment, it looks to be primarily a romance series, with a decidedly subdued tone.

That being said, the large female-to-male ratio of characters and the sudden appearance of a “girlfriend” candidate (not to mention the opening sequence with a clear emphasis on the six girls from the game) make it clear where the show’s roots lie. It has all the makings of a harem romance plotline, no matter how normal the circumstances surrounding it will turn out to be. The important question is whether a solid romance story can grow out from it.

In case you weren't aware of who the romantic options were, the opening kindly informs you. Real life would benefit from this feature

Under ordinary circumstances, protagonists in dating sims, and harem shows in general, are properly classified as “lucky bastards”—but that might not be the case here. In addition to being burdened with an annoyingly stereotypical little sister, Jun’ichi Tachibana ended his junior high career on a sour note. On a cold Christmas Eve his senior year (9th grade, in the Japanese system), he was stood up on what may have been his first date ever, and he hasn’t quite been the same since.

While, two years after the incident, he looks and acts like a normal junior in high school, he hasn’t let himself fall in love since then, and spends most of his nights sleeping in his closet to escape “the cold” when it’s obviously something else he’s trying to escape. It is Jun’ichi’s further misfortune to be brought out of his resolved isolation by the worst woman possible to “cure” him. Senior Haruka Morishima is the school idol and resident heartbreaker, having turned down multiple men during her high school career. It quickly becomes clear there’s a reason guys keep trying.

Morishima's expression here should be registered as a deadly weapon. Jun'ichi hasn't a prayer

After catching sight of Jun’ichi helping a freshman during a lunch break (thus confirming a trend shown in many other shows: that bread stations in high school cafeterias are Serious Business), she takes a sudden, almost impulsive interest in him and introduces herself. That, and a quick stint as her personal servant later that afternoon, are the only interactions they have for days, so Jun’ichi just gets to the point where thinking her attention was a fluke when she jumps into his life yet again.

Suddenly, and for no discernible reason, she’s chatting like an old friend, offering him compliments, and expressing some interest—in both subtle and overt ways—in knowing him better. Overwhelmed by the sudden attention (and while Jun’ichi has friends who are girls, it’s clear he’s very inexperienced in the whole romance thing), Jun’ichi begins to wonder if now is the right time to open his heart again.

Does she view him as a work horse, a pet, or an actual friend? It's impossible to say at this point, but boyfriend is not one of the options

The answer is no, but he doesn’t realize that, poor fool, particularly while under the entrancing spell of Morishima. So one crisp winter day, after she jokingly questions if he actually likes her, he works up the courage and admits that he does. Morishima acts flattered and appreciative, and turns him down flat, saying she doesn’t date guys younger than her. The episode ends with a stunned Jun’ichi crawling back into his closet, trying again to escape the cold.

Suffice to say, it’s not how one of these stories typically goes. Normally the central problem for a harem protagonist is the violent jealousy with which the various romantic interests take toward their competitors; here, there’s still no competition or hints of an overt harem. If I didn’t know this was based on a dating sim—well, I’d figure it out anyway, because of the attention the episode gives to all the girls. But this isn’t how you’d expect a fantasy (and dating sims are ultimately catering to fantasy) plays out.

Jun'ichi painted up his closet like a planetarium. When someone makes his place of warmth look like the frigid abyss of space, it's a bad sign

What Morishima thinks she is doing is unclear. Despite never verbally expressing interest in Jun’ichi, it’s easy to understand why he views her behavior as inviting and flirtatious. She favors him with smiles and attention, constantly comments on how nice he is, and occasionally brings up subjects (like wanting to get to know his sister better), which constantly imply that she’s interested in deepening their relationship. Her joking question about whether he likes her no doubted sounded to him (it certainly sounded to me) like a passive-aggressive way of trying to coax a confession out of him.

It’s possible that she doesn’t actually understand the effect she has on guys—she’s surprised that Jun’ichi knows her name when they first meet, when it’s obvious that every guy in the school has it committed to memory—and perhaps even the multiple rejections she’s given out haven’t clued her in on the fact that she’s the most popular girl in school and that guys would crawl over broken glass for her attention. It’s also possible that she knows exactly what she is doing, and just likes toying with guys so long as it amuses her. Either way, Jun’ichi picked the wrong woman to focus his hopes on.

Maybe I'm reading too much symbolism here, but Jun'ichi gives away a handwarmer (his only source of heat) right before his failed confession

This particular plot line isn’t over; both this episode and the next one have Morishima’s name in the title, so her character arc is still in progress. It thus looks like the adaption will be dealing with each girl in turn, rather than taking the White Album/School Days of throwing them all together at once, although the show makes it a point to show scenes of the other girls at transition points, and we already know that Jun’ichi is on good terms with two or three of them.

To a certain extent, this sort of structure requires a failed relationship in each arc to clear space open for the new girl; Key adaptions like Air and Clannad only avoid the problem by having each arc be about helping the girl of the moment with her existential crisis, rather than dating her. Here, it looks like the drama will be from the explicit romantic relationships, abortive or otherwise, that come from the cast. Given the number of girls involved, I’m guessing the former will be the rule and not the exception.

She hasn't been introduced by name, but the girl Jun'ichi helps at the breadline is also a romantic lead (and friends with his sister, going off an early scene). So maybe something good will come from that

I don’t have the slightest idea how Jun’ichi will keep interacting with Morishima next time around; it’s also possible that my reading of Morishima is wrong, and that the writers are just making things up rather than having a real personality behind her decisions. In fact, it’s far too early to tell where this adaption is going to wind up at all, particularly since I have no knowledge of the background material. But I am intrigued. Expect a second episode review.

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  1. December 13, 2010 at 9:27 pm

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