Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 15th 2014
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Teenaged Eita lives a pretty uneventful life. He likes it that way. Both of his parents caught a bad case of the love bugs and left him to be with their new paramours. Consequently he wants nothing to do with romance or its attendant bothers. He wants to study, get into medical school, and become a doctor. His childhood friend—petite, energetic Chiwa—also likes it that way. That means there are no lady vultures circling the man she secretly loves. Until the mother of all buzzards comes a-calling. Masuzu is the most popular girl in school. Beautiful, mysterious, and refined, Masuzu has just returned from a childhood abroad. And she wants to get all of the hormonal idiots who fall for her off of her back. For that, she needs a fake boyfriend. And who better to fake it than a fellow romance-hater? If she needs a little light blackmail to get him in line and has to demoralize a certain childhood friend in the meantime... well, that could be quite entertaining in its own right.
Oreshura's thirteen episodes fall into four arcs. The first is the only, really, where the premise sketched out in the show's long-winded original title plays out. Roughly translated, the title means "my girlfriend and my childhood friend fight too much." And that's pretty much what happens in the first four episodes. Masuzu attaches herself to Eita like some girl-shaped, sociopathic romance parasite, and Chiwa lashes out—in her own odd way—as her and Eita's comfortable stasis crumbles. Somehow this leads Chiwa to take on a series of popularity-building challenges devised by Masuzu as part of her "Maiden Self-Reinvention Club." The challenges are actually tortures designed for Masuzu's private enjoyment, but Chiwa is game and Eita apparently doesn't care enough for her to put a stop to them, so the farce plays out to its bitter(sweet) conclusion.
As hellishly contrived as this all sounds, this is Oreshura's best arc. Yes, it manipulates its characters like a bad puppeteer, with the strings in plain sight and the puppets as stiff and unnatural as the shoddy human simulacra that they are. (In order for the plot to work, Eita has to be moronically oblivious to Chiwa's feelings, Masuzu has to develop an attachment to Eita that makes no sense given her personality, and Chiwa can't just sit Eita down and explain her feelings like any minimally functioning human girl would.) And yes, Masuzu is as awful a romantic interest as the genre has puked out in a while, and yes, nothing in the arc comes with spitting distance of anything remotely honest or real.
But the arc is also the most Chiwa-intensive, and Chiwa is the only way the show can reach its phony fingers in and pluck out a decent tune on the ol' heartstrings. She's a great girl—sweet and open and fun; strong-willed, resilient, and cuter than all of the other characters stacked together—and you really feel it when the show lowers the boom on her. Which it does. Several times. And quite effectively too. You can't help rooting for the little fighter, despite how heavily the weight of convention is against her. (She's doubly doomed, being both the "normal" girl, who never gets the guy, as well as the childhood friend, who is generally a romantic victim). So invested do we get that by the end of the arc the show's fate hangs on the answer to one question: Is this, ultimately, a show about Eita and Masuzu, or is it a show about Eita and Chiwa?
This, it turns out, is a hopelessly naive question to ask. Of course it's a show about Eita and Masuzu. And of course it's a show about Eita and Chiwa. It's also a show about Eita and the shy girl who falls helplessly for his delusional alter-ego, as well as a show about Eita and the disciplinary committee member who he promised to marry back in kindergarten. Somehow, the worst thing we could think of during Chiwa's arc was that the show would commit to Masuzu instead. What an utter failure of imagination that was. The show quickly schools us in how badly a romance can go, retaining all of the first arc's shortcomings while descending precipitously into full-on harem rot, hitting every branch in the harem tree on its way down before splattering the remnants of its charm on its own finale (a feint at romantic resolution which ends in an excruciating rollback of its own consequences).
Director Kanta Kamei works valiantly to keep the descent from destroying the show. His mechanics are impeccable. He builds through humorous hijinks and incrementally established feelings to impeccably-staged emotional climaxes. He doesn't force revelations, allowing backstories and character insights to float effortlessly to the surface. He doesn't push buttons too hard or too crudely, stopping the gags before they cross the line to antic, reining in feelings before they get maudlin, tempering drama with enough humor to stave off the "melo-" prefix, and delivering fan-service that is titillating while feeling somehow accidental.
He knows how to drop a smile from Chiwa's happy face for that extra little zing of empathy. He can play shy Hime's pokerfaced cuteness for fun, for sweetness, or for surprising affect. He uses A-1 Pictures' animation subtly, bringing distinctive life to the way Masuzu schemes or Chiwa looks at Eita (when he's not paying attention) or Ai (the disciplinary committee girl) struggles to maintain her tsundere street cred. He can twist the knife with a few bars of the score, or undersell a joke with subdued musical capering. He maintains a lovely, cuteness-heavy look that clearly says "romantic comedy" while also being wholly the show's own.
He works hard, and it pays dividends. It can be difficult sometimes, as the show ferries you effortlessly along and Eita's winningly-animated harem woos sweetly and sometimes poignantly, to notice just how manipulative, illogical, and utterly artificial the whole enterprise is. When Ai's "tsun" drowns amusingly in her "dere," we lose her essential fakeness in the unexpected depths of her goofy charm. When her arc peaks, once in a theater and again at a fireworks display, we feel it, forgetting for a time that the show is essentially leading her, and us, on. We laugh at Eita's hilarious thrashing whenever Masuzu reads from his old journal, and forget how thin an excuse the journal is for Eita's sometimes cruelly unfeeling (but narratively convenient) behavior.
As you may have guessed, ultimately Kamei's efforts are in vain. For all its loveliness, and no matter how cuddly the cast or how Kamei sugarcoats everything for easy swallowing, deep down Oreshura is a stinker. It is as false as Eita and Masuzu's relationship, and in many ways just as cynical. If you want a show about damaged teens struggling with romance, watch My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU instead; it may not have the polish, but it plays with convention instead of messily embracing it, and has about a hundred times more (blackened) heart to boot.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Lovely to look at; Chiwa spearheads a couple of sharp emotional attacks; the rest of the cast is pretty easy to like.
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