Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
ItaKiss: Complete Anime Series Collection
Kotoko Aihara has been in love with Naoki Irie since their freshman orientation at high school. Now they're both seniors, but he's an elite from Class A while she's at the bottom of the barrel in Class F at their prestigious high school. That doesn't stop Kotoko from trying to confess her love, but Naoki rejects her. She vows to try and give him up, which would have been fine if her family home hadn't been demolished in a small earthquake. Her father tells her that they're going to move in with an old friend of his...Mr. Irie! How is Kotoko supposed to forget her love for Naoki when she's living with him? Follow Kotoko and Naoki as they navigate high school, college, and beyond in this unusual shoujo romance.
Based on the late Kaoru Tada's 1990-1999 shoujo manga, Itazura na Kiss is both unusual and important in a couple of ways. The most striking is that, unlike many other shoujo romances, ItaKiss does not end with the main couple getting together, or even graduating from high school. In fact, it follows Kotoko and Naoki through college and years beyond that graduation, showing that there's more to “happily ever after” than a wedding. The anime adaptation itself is significant because Tada died in an accident before she was able to complete the series. Her widower has gone on record as saying that the anime would follow Tada's plans for the ending she never got to write, thus bringing the story to a completion that she was unable to give us.
Like many series which would follow after it, Itazura na Kiss stars a heroine with more determination than brainpower, although later on we can see that she's perhaps less unintelligent and more learning disabled, as she really can be quite competent. When we first meet Kotoko, she's a high school third year in her school's class F. Given that the school ranks classes within each grade from A to F, this marks her as one of the school's losers. She's madly in love with the top student from class A, Naoki Irie, a handsome, cold boy whose good looks belie the unpleasantness of his personality. When he publicly rejects her love letter, Kotoko swears she's done with him, but circumstances (and shoujo conventions) conspire to have she and her single dad move in with his good buddy Iri-chan, who of course is Naoki's dad. As you can no doubt guess, this plays havoc with Kotoko's decision to forget Naoki, but also begins to crack his icy shell as he comes to know Kotoko as a person.
That the two have a romance is pretty much a foregone conclusion, although it certainly is a rocky one. In many ways, this is a story about Naoki's evolution as a character rather than Kotoko's. We see him go from an emotionally stunted jerk to someone who becomes capable not only of feeling and expressing those feelings, but also is aware of when he is unable to tell when he is in the wrong, something that he wasn't really capable in the story's first two arcs, high school and college. By the time the third act comes around, we can see Naoki developing an emotional intelligence that Kotoko has had all along; by the fourth and final act, he's as fully human as she is. We do see him start to fall for her by episode 4 (of 25), and by episode 9 there's a clear sense of the fact that he's really in love with her. However, it isn't until the character of Keita comes in that he truly begins to understand that he needs to change, which is interesting because he has had a rival all along in Kotoko's high school friend Kin-chan, a character who it is easy to write off as the Goofy Dumb Guy. Later in the series Naoki comments that Kotoko doesn't know 90% of what he does, but that her 10% more than makes up for it – and that is something that we see throughout the series and part of what makes it worth watching.
Fans of the manga will notice that the story has been condensed quite a bit, with some characters' roles being a fraction of what they are in the original and some of Tada's dated character designs being toned down. Generally this isn't an issue, although it is a shame that Jinko and Satomi, Kotoko's high school friends, don't get their extended storylines, and on the whole cuts out a lot of the more difficult aspects of the original, such as how amazing annoying Naoki's mother can be. We still get a good dose of it – the woman is the Mrs. Bennet of anime and puts the “mother” in “smother” - but it isn't overdone to the point where you want to walk away and never come back. We also get a better sense of how Kotoko is able to play Naoki from the anime, in part because her voice actor, Nana Mizuki, does such a good job.
Being a series animated in 2008 based on a manga from 1990, there are some things that don't hold up as well by today's standards. The animation, for example, takes a nose dive in the second half of the series, but more importantly there are some attitudes that don't hold up. The third arc of the story introduces the character of Motoki, who today we would call transgender – despite being born physically male (and remaining physically male throughout the story), she identifies as female. To say that this isn't treated as thoughtfully as we might like is a bit of an understatement, although there is a wonderful scene where Kotoko and some of the other girls stand up for Motoki during a gendered ceremony. Likewise there are some less than progressive attitudes about marriage and gender roles put forth that are even dated when compared to contemporary shoujo romances; luckily the story is compelling enough for us to be able to overlook most of it.
Itazura na Kiss holds up surprisingly well as a story, and the 2008 anime's condensed version serves it well. It has an innocence that we don't see in many romances anymore (and wins for the most tasteful sex scenes in recent memory) and its decision to follow the characters beyond high school or even marriage makes it unique in its genre as well. While the characters, particularly Kotoko, gain a sort of Ribon magazine quality to their designs that may not work for manga fans, anyone who is interested in a romance that does things a little differently and offers a wonderful feeling of story completion should check out Discotek's release of this series. It isn't particularly innovative beyond how far it goes or bold in how it portrays romance, but it is addictive and heartwarming, which all a good love story really needs to be.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Addictive and compelling, goes beyond where most shoujo romances stop. Good adaptation and condensing of the original manga, contains mangaka's planned ending.
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