May 13, 2013

True Tears

If I didn't know True Tears was produced by Bandai, I would have assumed it was a Kyoto Animation production, many scenes sharing the same "look and feel" as Kanon and Clannad, plus a similarly (de rigueur) eccentric character.

Though the anime owes little other than the title (and the same writing team) to the visual novel, the story follows the structure of a visual novel (or dating-sim) more closely than Kanon and Clannad, which also evolved from dating-sims.

In the case of the latter two, the story quickly focuses on a single boy-girl pairing and explores the developing relationship, which is far more interesting and dramatically rewarding.

The running question in True Tears concerns which of the girls in Shin'ichiro's orbit--Hiromi, Noe or Aiko--will end up as his girlfriend. Although this creates enough tension to maintain interest, ultimately the choice is too arbitrary, and the stakes too low, to hit home emotionally.

In the end, it's the kind of series that mostly inspires me to think of ways to improve it.

The more compelling conflict is Shin'ichiro's desire to become an illustrator, which means not joining the family business. Whisper of the Heart strikes the right balance, subordinating the teen romance (though it's still very much there) to the artistic challenge Shizuku faces.

I would make Hiromi and Aiko his younger and older sister, respectively, and focus on his relationship with Noe, who has appointed herself his muse.

Hiromi wants to get out of this hick town; Aiko is happy to stick around; Shin'ichiro wants to figure out how to not be his father without rejecting his father. These elements are all there but are swamped by the dating-sim aspects, which get rather tedious after a while.

Like any normal teenager, Shin'ichiro's basic criteria for paying attention to a girl starts with the girl paying attention to him. Even smart teenage boys aren't that deep when it comes to romance. In this respect, True Tears ends up being very--and rather dully--realistic.

In fact, perhaps the most interesting thing about True Tears is how "uninteresting" it dares to be. There are no surreal or fantastical elements, not even as metaphors. And aside from Noe, who is odd but not outrageously so, the characters are incredibly normal.

True Tears is what Ordinary People would be if the people in Ordinary People were actually ordinary, and not Hollywood "ordinary." Shin'ichiro's mother is a lot like Mary Tyler Moore's Beth Jarrett, except, as I said, for actually being ordinary.

Watching True Tears, I imagine adults looking wistfully back at high school, though with the clearheaded recollection that being a teenager sucks. Not in any earthshaking way, but simply because most teenagers haven't figured out what they want to do with their lives.

And even when they do, they don't have the tools or maturity to do anything about it right then.

This essential truth ends up making True Tears worth watching for the sum of its parts; the "whole" is disappointingly anticlimactic. And as far as that goes, "disappointingly anticlimactic" describes the typical life of the typical middle-class teenager too.

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Whisper of the Heart