Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 25th 2014
Say "I love you."
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Mei Tachibana has been burned by friends before, and so she has decided to live her school days under the radar. Keeping herself to herself seems to work pretty well for the anxious introvert until the day she lashes out at a guy making comments about her legs. Instead of hitting him, she kicks Yamato Kurosawa, the hottest and most popular boy at school. The next thing she knows, he's asking her out. Can Mei bring herself to trust someone enough to fall in love or to just give people another chance?
There's something sort of delightful about an old-fashioned shoujo romance – the kind of story where the misfit girl gets the hot guy and they overcome all sorts of high school problems together. Say “I love you.” is that kind of story. Following Mei Tachibana, an anxious, introverted girl whose only real desires are to help stray cats and to stay under the social radar, and her involvement with the most popular boy in school and his determined pursuit of her – and then the pursuant problems when they start dating – the show's thirteen episodes are easy to binge watch with their lovely animation and melodramatic (yet engaging) storyline. If you want something new in the shoujo vein, this is not going to deliver that, but for a straight high school romance, look no farther.
There really is very little about Say “I love you.” that is different from the genre norms established years ago. Mei and Yamato are in high school. He's popular, she's not. She stands up for herself one day and he becomes enchanted. Other students think they don't belong together and try to break them up. It's really very cookie cutter in that respect, and in fact suffers some from what feels like a rushed adaptation from Kanae Hazuki's manga. For example, we know that Mei's father is not in the picture, but we are never told what happened to him. We are given one hint (in the festival episode) that it was traumatic for her, but ultimately no more than that, which is a lost opportunity to develop her character. Likewise we learn briefly that Yamato has an older brother...and that's it. Conflicts with other students are also resolved far too quickly to have much of an impact on the story, with Aiko going from bully to friend in-between episodes and Kai never really getting to have much effect on Mei and Yamato's relationship. While Say “I love you.” is nicely compact at thirteen episodes, one can't help but wish it had doubled its length and really developed these plots and characters.
For all of this, however, the show does many things right. Mei's introversion and anxiety are very well portrayed, and if you were (or are) that girl in high school, you will be able to relate to her easily. Her body language shows her never being truly comfortable even in her own bedroom – the only place she seems at ease is when she thinks she is hidden from the rest of the school taking care of the stray cats. This rings particularly true for someone with her type of anxiety: If they don't know where I am, they can't hurt me. She even walks a few steps behind Yamato at all times, whether they are holding hands or not, another clear sign that she fears being noticed that is well done. Another plus in Mei's characterization is the way that she doesn't change herself at all despite beginning to come out of her shell. Her skirt remains longer than everyone else's, she won't do things that make her uncomfortable (like karaoke), and she doesn't really become any more social just because her boyfriend is. Again, this makes her ring true as a character and gives the series a solid core.
Yamato may be the least developed of all of the characters, although he does eventually realize what the viewer has seen almost from the start: he is way too nice to everyone. He's the boy who can't say no, and this more than anything has a negative impact on his relationship with Mei. All of the characters, however, have some sort of psychological flaw, which helps to make them relateable and real despite the sense that their stories are moving too quickly. Aiko and Megumi are perhaps the most interesting, as both have fears of abandonment if they aren't “good enough,” with Aiko's translating into some serious body dysmorphic disorder that one hopes gets longer treatment in the manga. As a result, she only sees herself as having worth as a sexual being, the exact opposite of Mei. Had this been given a little more screen time, it could have been an interesting dynamic to explore.
Sentai Filmworks chose to give Say “I love you.” an English dub, and it is fairly strong. Caitlyn French's Mei is stronger when she's angry, but both versions convey the characters' emotions well. The biggest tonal difference is between Tomoaki Maeno's and Andrew Love's Kai, with the dub giving him a much deeper voice. Both work, but they do give fairly different impressions of the character. The English version does leave the honorifics intact, however, and for some viewers that may be the deciding factor in which version to watch. Given some of the dialogue between Yamato and Mei this decision does make a certain amount of sense; on the other hand, it can sound kind of affected.
Say “I love you.” really is a shoujo romance in the classic style. It is compulsively watchable, melodramatic, and charming without being cloying. It goes too quickly in a lot of cases and then conversely doesn't really need episode thirteen (things end nicely at twelve), but with good attention to details in the animation, such as how cats move, pleasantly voiced characters in two languages, and a heroine who is sympathetic but not pathetic, it is a nice way to pass the time. It isn't earth-shattering, but if you're just looking for a nice romance, Say “I love you.” really fits the bill.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Very pleasant and easy to watch, mostly good dub. Mei's characterization feels very real, cats are surprisingly well animated and voiced. Aiko's pretty interesting.
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