Home > Kimi ni Todoke, Series Reviews > Kimi ni Todoke – A Pure Joy

Kimi ni Todoke – A Pure Joy

There’s something of a presumption in fiction that good and pure equals boring. Truly interesting characters are those with shades of gray (and truly “good” people are pompous blowhards anyway). Great plots are ones where the right choice isn’t immediately obvious (and simple moral situations are just sermons in disguise). It’s possible that, in some of my recent reviews, I might have given off the impression that I agree with those sentiments, and perhaps in some limited sense I do.

I can’t endorse the concept completely, however, and Kimi ni Todoke is one of the reasons why. This show gives as a protagonist the sweetest, purest, most selfless and loving character in recent anime history. Sawako Kuronuma is the sort of girl who is, in a moral sense, practically perfect, one meant for a similarly perfect world where everyone would understand and appreciate how basically good she is.

Of course, she does not live in a perfect world; a perfect world wouldn’t have high schools, or more precisely high schoolers—with their insular cliques, catty gossip, and impeccable abilities to locate and ostracize the weakest and most vulnerable members of their community. And the weakest are always those who are alone.

Sawako is picked on for her looks and shyness, and eventually for her “stealing” the most popular boy of the school. Frankly, the main reason she is bullied is simply because she has no idea how to stand up for herself; it’s only others she can defend

Sawako, despite her innate goodness, is criminally shy, and very hesitant and fumbling in all of her attempts to communicate. Combine that with an appearance eerily close to the similarly named Sadako of the Japanese horror classic The Ring, and her peers have ready ammunition to use against her. (Her last name, meaning black swamp, probably doesn’t help matters.)

The show thus has a very careful balancing act: Sawako is perfect in all the ways that should matter and flawed in all the ways that actually do matter, at least for teenagers. It is to the extraordinary credit of the original author that the script succeeds in making Sawako seem real. She is upset by the misunderstandings she faces, but not bitter; trying to be friendly, but coming off as creepy instead. The very innocence and care for others that makes her want to reach out leads her to constantly act in ways that only drive others further away.

I will admit, if this is how Sawako looks when trying to be helpful, it’s no wonder half the school thinks she’s a witch

Of course, this show is a romance, and not a coming of age story, so there has to be a guy in all this. Again, Kimi ni Todoke risks treading into stereotypes: Shouta Kazehaya, whom Sawako loves, is the classic shoujo romantic lead. He’s athletic, smart, popular, and well liked; he lacks only boatloads of cash and a certain arrogance to complete the cliche. Although he and Sawako should live in different worlds, Kazehaya notices Sawako immediately, and falls for her almost as fast. It’s one of those too good-to-be-true scenarios that should set off my suspension of disbelief alarm immediately.

What saves him is that he too, inwardly, is awkward and unsure of himself, particularly in love. He loves Sawako for her goodness, but interprets any affection she offers him as just her innate sweetness in action. Sawako, of course, makes the exact same mistake, so throughout the first season the two of them dance around each other, with only occasional suggestions of a deeper relationship poking through.

Kazehaya’s main divergence from your typical shoujo male lead is his lack of over-the-top self-confidence. Despite all his gifts, he doesn’t seem particularly full of himself, making him something of a parallel to Sawako. He naturally looks for the good of others (and the good in others) rather than of himself

That, in essence, captures the unique appeal of the show. Much of anime seeks to present an idealized (or action-packed) high school life, appealing to a fantastical youth otaku, of all people, never really had. While many of the protagonists of Kimi ni Todoke are idealized, high school itself is not; the easy exclusion, group think, and messed-up romantic feelings are all on display.

Even the protagonists are not immune. Kazehaya, outwardly perfect, fumbles whenever he tries to express his feelings to Sawako. Ryu Sanada, Kazehaya’s closest friend and the strong silent type, has an unrequited crush on Chizuru Yoshida, who is oblivious to his intentions because she’s too busy having an unrequited crush on Ryu’s older brother. Ayane Yano, Chizuru’s friend and the most worldly of the crew, seems unable to utilize her considerable knowledge of relationships in her own life.

Ayane deciphers the romantic tension between Kazehaya and Sawako rather quickly. She splits her time between helping Sawako out and finding ways to subtly tease Kazehaya about it

The plot likewise avoids the zaniness of even a School President is a Maid, firmly grounding itself in real world issues. As her relationship with Kazehaya develops, Sawako faces increasing ostracism as Kazehaya’s many admirers grow jealous, and then malicious. No absurdly rich antagonists (or protagonists) grace the stage, nor are there life threatening injuries or diseases on the loose. There’s just plain old teenage viciousness, and that’s quite enough.

Also a blessing is that the plots are just developed enough so as to avoid recourse to the idiot ball. When Ayane and Chizuru learn about rumors that Sawako is supposedly spreading to slander them, they laugh it off as ridiculous, which of course it is. Only after an episode’s worth of mounting evidence (and Sawako’s own ineptness in expressing herself) does the pair come to suspect it may be true.

Kurumi, who has been pining for Kazehaya since at least middle school, is one of the main antagonists for the first season, organizing slanderous attacks by proxy and eventually pretending to befriend Sawako to betray her later. Perpetually dishonest, she gets continually confused when her deceptions fly right over Sawako’s head

It’s perhaps a sign of how moribund anime cliches have become that realistic responses are the ones most likely to take the audience by surprise. There were multiple points in the narrative, where an episode set up a situation that I knew would lead to x, regardless of how stupid it would be, because that’s what always happens. Imagine my joy when Sawako (or another cast member) chooses y instead.

That typifies the sense of realism that pervades the show, making the actions of the characters lack the “cartoony” response that the show’s frequent recourse to super-deformity might indicate. Sawako is not a relational genius; that is established from the outset of the show. But she is sweet, and kind, and above all honest—and that honesty, however poorly expressed, is what lets her ultimately triumph.

The show’s favored form of super deformity is depicting the characters with rounded heads. This can happen even in non-comic situations, but the little doll faces are surprisingly cute regardless

And the show is funny, too, although it doesn’t really try to be. In fact, it is funny because it doesn’t “try” to be, by manufacturing bizarre scenarios and oddball characters. Rather, it comes from little things, like the frantic enthusiasm of Sawako’s parents when they realize their little girl has made real friends, to simple joy in seeing Sawako’s helpful nature finally being allowed to express itself. It comes from appreciating the human element in things.

The respect for the human element is what helps Kimi ni Todoke sell not just its protagonists, but the ideas of virtue in general. I challenge anyone to watch this show and not adore Sawako, and adore her precisely for the traits that supposedly make characters Pollyanna-ish and trite. Kimi ni Todoke doesn’t disguise the fact that high school life can really suck. But the show, with fascinating skill, manages to still present another way forward, arguing that nice girls don’t have to finish last—either in the real world, or in fiction.

“Pin,” a goofball sports coach who eventually becomes the homeroom teacher for the class, is an exception to the “no over-the-top characters” rule. His comedic errors nearly always play out in the protagonists’ favor, though

Kimi ni Todoke does for shoujo high school romance shows what Toradora does for seinen ones: it shows how to take the cliche plot structures and character tropes and accomplish something original and unique. But it also does something Toradora does not do, providing, in Sawako, an example of purity and goodness receiving the due it deserves.

The original season of Kimi ni Todoke has not been licensed in the US, although Viz Media has acquired the manga rights, and good sales in that medium might convince them to pick up the show. The second season of Kimi ni Todoke begins airing next week; bear will (once he finishes with Oreimo and a few year review posts) start blogging it. For both of us, it’s one of the most anticipated series of the winter season.

Edit: The anime has been licensed by NIS America, is available for purchase, and is now up for streaming on Crunchyroll. You can find both seasons here.

Further edit: It’s also now on Hulu here.

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  1. pokeyoakey
    December 17, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    I was really surprised how much I enjoyed Kimi Ni Todoke. I found it by accident and was sucked in almost immediately. By the fourth or fifth episode I was sobbing away like Chizu. My wife thinks I’m nuts, but it’s all good. One of the finest Anime series ever made and with such a good heart and aybe just a bit of impure intentions.

    • threeheadedmonkeys
      December 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm

      One thing to like about really good media (whether anime or film or anything) is that how even works which ostensibly are aimed at a particular audience (e.g. high school girls) can really have a universal appeal if the themes of the work are also universal. Kimi ni Todoke, as I’ve said in other places, is nerdy girl wish fulfillment. But that shouldn’t keep anyone from liking it.

  2. Viltord
    January 25, 2013 at 3:44 am

    I really like this anime too. In the manga it’s contuning.

  1. January 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm
  2. January 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm
  3. April 3, 2011 at 10:20 pm

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