Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 23rd 2012
Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You
Sub.Blu-Ray + DVD - Box Set 1 Premium Edition
Sawako Kuronuma is the terror of her classmates. Her poor social skills, dark aura and long hair have earned her the nickname Sadako (after the ghost in The Ring) as well as a reputation for supernatural powers. In truth Sawako is a kind, open girl, but she's more or less come to terms with her isolation. She does what she can to be friendly and helpful and just dreams her little dreams of normal school life. Shota Kazehaya is everything Sawako wants to be: bright, outgoing, well-liked. He's the only person in their class to treat her well, and Sawako adores him for it. What she doesn't know is that Kazehaya treats her well, not because he's a nice guy (although he is), but because he's very much in love with her.
They say nice guys finish last. Not so in Kimi ni Todoke. One of the series' many pleasures is simply watching two very nice people getting exactly what they deserve: each other.
Being very nice people, Sawako and Kazehaya aren't going to leap right into bed together. Their courtship is a halting one, held back by both Kazehaya's inherent decency and Sawako's extreme self-effacing nature. Sawako's experiences have left her with such low regard for herself that it never occurs to her that Kazehaya might be interested in her, and with so few emotional tools that she's incapable even of recognizing her own feelings. Couple that with Kazehaya's own shyness—it's obvious that this is his first serious crush—and unwillingness to force his feelings on her, and you get a relationship that moves like a sloth on a skating rink. That could easily be infuriating if it wasn't for the lyrical gentleness and emotional clarity that the series brings to their relationship. Sawako and Kazehaya's feelings are as bright and clear as the spring day that they first meet, the romantic path they follow pure and sweetly old-fashioned rather than draggy or dull.
It also helps that their romance isn't the only thing going on. At this point the series is as much about Sawako's blossoming social life as it is about her love life. Its first extended arc is all about Sawako's fledgling friendship with fellow outsiders Chizu and Ayane, and even when Kurumi (the obligatory romantic rival) pushes things in a more romantic direction, the show continues to keep tabs on the class's changing regard for Sawako. The deep, protective affection that Chizu and Ayane develop for her is probably the set's highlight, serving as the basis of its only real stab at big drama and also a slew of sweetly satisfying scenes of evolving friendship. The show quickly becomes unthinkable without Chizu's goofy big-heartedness or Ayane's humorously sadistic perceptiveness. Far from being the first-friend placeholders that they first seem to be, they are complicated, autonomous characters in their own right—just as capable of surprising with a burst of insightful intensity or hidden intelligence as any protagonist. Parts of their arc, particularly its bathroom climax, betray a worrying tendency to push emotions just a little too hard, but the two anchor things so well that one hardly minds.
They aren't the only ones to pull off that trick. Kurumi soon proves herself the rare villain that is complex and interesting enough that you don't mind that the series has stooped to introducing a villain. Behind her nearly perfect mask of sweetness and light lurks a congenitally dishonest little manipulator with a deep, festering well of insecurity. The clash between her and congenitally honest Sawako is a thing of seriocomic beauty, a dance of deadly serious intentions and very funny consequences. Never have two characters been so fundamentally incapable of understanding each other. The ways that Kurumi's incomprehension of Sawako monkeywrench her devious plans are both unpredictable and frequently hilarious. And also humanizing. Her arc isn't finished by the set's end, but already she's less a villain than a cute, troubled girl. To be honest, her advancement is far more interesting than that of Sawako's romance, which largely consists of Sawako finally realizing that she's involved in a romance.
That's part of what makes Kimi ni Todoke such a lovely series. No one in it is as simple as they first seem—not even the gossiping harpies of the first arc. Everyone has goodness in them, and Sawako inevitably finds it. There is no problem that can't be solved with honesty and kindness, and no evil, period: just plenty of misunderstandings and people who need to get to know each other better. Director Hiro Kaburaki and his team at Production I.G. put a lot of effort into fabricating a world in which that doesn't seem so totally, idiotically impossible. Sawako's world is a bright place, dominated by flowing lines and soft, textured colors. Nature—blossoming cherry trees, gardens of flowers, a moonlit meadow, beautifully rendered weather—is important, as are people, who have the gangly good looks and gently curving smiles of the shojo characters that they are. White space, reams of SD humor, and setting-obscuring sparkles impart a strong shojo manga flavor while allowing important scenes, such as Sawako's rare and luminous smiles, to stand out all the more. The effect is pure magic.
New age instrumentalists S.E.N.S. supply a score that is simple, easy on the ears, and fairly low on overt emotional manipulation. In short, a nearly perfect complement to Kaburagi's visual world. Its themes get repeated pretty frequently, but blend in so well that you're unlikely to notice. Given the less than active nature of the series, animation isn't terribly important or spectacular, but it is generally solid and gets the details—the movement of hair, the drift of cherry petals, shifts in expression—just right.
As with all of their limited edition box sets, NIS America give this set the VIP treatment, with a great, big, beautiful box and a gorgeous hardcover booklet. The booklet hasn't much in the way of information—only some character profiles—but spotlights so much of the series' lovely background art that it doesn't really matter. The inclusion of a Blu-Ray version eliminates any worries about video quality (the series looks nothing short of stunning in HD). The lack of a dub will be an issue for some, but it isn't exactly unexpected.
Such a dub would have its work cut out for it anyway. The series is heavily character-driven. Without guileless, kindhearted and ego-deficient Sawako or breezy but oft-misunderstood Kazehaya, the series would be just another school romance. Ditto for the superb supporting cast and even the bit players like class goofball Jo. And to a man they owe their power, over us and the series, to their actors. The show is worth it just to see Mamiko Noto and Daisuke Namikawa dig into rare romantic roles, or to see Aya Hirano put that slightly forced quality of hers to work as the wholly artificial Kurumi.
Good actors in good roles—what could be simpler? Or more effective? That's the show in a nutshell. It doesn't do anything new or complicated. To be sure, it has its nuances—it isn't as naive as it first seems, nor are its characters—but in the end its formula is simplicity itself: good characters, an interesting story, and beautiful execution. The result is like the characters themselves: sweet, modest, and charming as all hell.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : B
+ Pure, innocent romance featuring perhaps the world's nicest couple; beautifully executed and smarter than its simplicity might lead you to believe; great supporting cast.
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