Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 24th 2012
kimi ni todoke -From Me to You- Volume 2 Premium Edition
Sub.Blu-Ray + DVD
The Kurumi issue comes to a head as the truth about Sawako's new “friend” comes to light and Kurumi's latest scheme ends in heartbreak—for her. Can two girls who love the same boy be friends? Sawako wants to be, but it isn't in Kurumi's plans. Later Chizu opens up to Sawako about her love life, just days before she gets some very bad news about her objet d'amour. Sawako wants to be a support, but doesn't know how. Still later the holidays are upon them all, and Ayane and Chizu are determined to make it the most romantic time of Sawako's life. And strangely enough, they just might succeed.
As a romantic rival, Kurumi's job is to push Sawako and Kazehaya's relationship forward. Sadly for Kurumi, that's what romantic rivals do. And again sadly for her, she does her job well. The conclusion of her arc brings Sawako and Kazehaya closer than ever. As ever they are irresistible together: clumsy, cute, almost unbearably sweet. Curiously though, that isn't the purpose of the arc—more a nice perk. Trust Kimi ni Todoke to take what should have been a standard romantic development and turn it on its ear so that it's a study of the heroine's relationship with the romantic villain.
As is the series' wont, the relationship it sketches is at once simple—Kurumi sums it up in one word by calling Sawako her rival—and teeming with shades of complexity. Both Kurumi and Sawako are products of rejection and isolation, but they've dealt with their experiences in profoundly different ways. When hurt, Sawako blamed her own clumsiness; Kurumi blamed the people who hurt her. Sawako just tried harder to be kind and make friends; Kurumi retreated into preemptive exploitation of her peers. Through similar experiences they've become completely opposite people: Sawako an avatar of honesty and kindness, Kurumi a little demon of deception and heartless manipulation. It's a beautifully written bit of parallel characterization.
Of course, not everyone will want to dig that far in. And it's simple enough to enjoy the arc without parsing personalities or dissecting personal histories. It continues to be very funny in the ways that Kurumi's elaborate schemes backfire on her (combine Pin's idiocy and Kurumi's sparkly-on-the-outside deceptiveness with world-class bad timing and, presto!, instant high-school catastrophe). It's also deeply affecting as it completes the job of transforming Kurumi from hissable villain to cute but troubled young woman…and then runs her straight through the grinder. It takes a hard man not to feel for her as her plans for love implode, making it cruelly clear that it was never to be in the first place. The arc's climax, during which Sawako slays poor wounded Kurumi with a double thrust of compassion and understanding, is a master class in what it means to be bittersweet.
And that's just the set's first third. Which is a problem in its own right—something we'll get into later. The second third abandons the main romance and turns the spotlight on Chizu, the tall goofy half of Sawako's complement of BFFs. It's her first chance to carry the show on her own, and she does, quite handily. She's strong and funny yet deeply wounded as the heart of an achingly realistic little romantic drama of her own. As with Kurumi's arc before it, it's simple in conception—an unrequited love that proves eternally unobtainable—and yet rich in emotion and character detail. It's not just Chizu whose emotional palette gets broadened; Ayane reveals a few details of her own deeply screwed-up romantic life, and Ryu's taciturn shell cracks enough to spill out some of his inner workings. And like everyone else in the show, he's got great inner workings: firmly grounded and almost brutally blunt, yet always thoughtful. His later scenes with Chizu are just devastating.
The last leg of the series is more loosely structured, basically following the main cast as they celebrate the holidays. The stories range from pure sugar (Chizu and Ayane visiting Sawako over winter break) to sweet and sour (Sawako choosing between her family and her friends on Christmas) to downright lyrical (Sawako's long New Year's date with Kazehaya). The Christmas episode is pretty much pure Sawako + Kazehaya gravy, designed to leave you with a lump in your throat and smile on your face. Chizu and Ayane meeting Sawako's worrywart dad is uproarious, as is a video-store encounter between Pin and Sawako, and the whole winter break episode in general. All of it leads to the three New Year's episodes, simultaneously the most explicitly romantic and the most ravishingly beautiful that the series has to offer.
Describing just how beautiful isn't easy. Their beauty is a function of clean, handsome character art; stunning yet unpretentious background artistry; restrained framing; subtle animation; flawless sound design; and gorgeous snow effects. The result has a hushed beauty that is uncanny. You're right there, at a busy shrine as snow falls from midnight skies and crunches underfoot. Not all of the show is on that level. It has more than its share of vanishing backgrounds, long SD interludes, and big intrusive sparkles and flowery effects—all of which establish a strong shojo style while also saving the animators oodles of time and money. Because of that, it can be easy to overlook just what a technical marvel the series is. The artwork is simply fantastic, its lines delectable and its colors beautifully textured—even when they're purposefully muted, as they are in the New Year's episodes. The attention to detail is impeccable. What exactly the animators do to Sawako when Ayane and Chizu make her up is so subtle as to defy explanation. All you can say is that she looks like she's been expertly yet unobtrusively made up, and is thus several orders of magnitude prettier.
Elsewhere that attention to detail shows itself in seemingly unimportant things like the ruffling of a fur collar in the wind, the impressions shoes make in snow, or the way Sawako's face moves as she breathes in her sleep. Together any one of them is insignificant. All together they somehow create a world that is realer than most animated worlds: deeper, more tactile, more alive.
NIS America's releases have been around long enough and are consistent enough that most know what they offer: big, well-made boxes that defy the confines of normal DVD shelves; a hardcover booklet with lots of color art inside (but sadly in this case, no additional information—it's a pure art-book this time around); and no dub. Also no on-disc extras this time.
Of all the negative things you could say about this chunk of Kimi ni Todoke, most are holdovers from before. The continuing habit of S.E.N.S.'s score to repeat certain themes too often, for instance. The only difference is that it's more noticeable this time out, though that's in part because Hiro Kaburaki's use of sound, music, and particularly silence is so good that a blemish like that (and like the rather grating ending theme) really stands out. There're also more instances than ever where you can really sense that if the writing was a little less perceptive, the execution a little less elegant, or the characters a little bit flatter, the series would be sappy as all hell. But the series is perceptive, elegant, and rounded, so that's kind of a moot point.
More problematic, and specific to this stretch of the series, is the awkward way the second half is structured. Kurumi's arc ties up the main thrust of the series and leaves Sawako's love story at a logical cutoff point, and yet the season goes on for nine episodes after that. They're great episodes no doubt, but they aren't building to any discernible point and they end the series in a thoroughly arbitrary place. The show's a joy from its first minute to its last, but it leaves you thinking “wait, that's it?” That isn't it, of course. There's season two yet. But it's still no way to end a season.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A+
Music : B
+ Sawako and Kazehaya get romantic; satisfyingly emotional; fantastic Kurumi, Chizu and Ryo material; nearly perfect in its execution.
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