by Theron Martin,

I've Always Liked You

- Confess Your Love Comittee -

I've Always Liked You
Yu and Natsuki are childhood friends who have lived next door to each other for years. Now in high school, Natsuki confesses to Yu out of the blue one afternoon – but then, in her embarrassment, insists that it's only for practice. She's not the only one nervous about her feelings either. Natsuki's friend Miou has an oddly romantic relationship with Natsuki's friend Haruki, though neither has ever really confirmed that they're dating. Meanwhile, timid Sota Mochizuki has his heart set on Natsuki's other friend Akari, who's not even sure if she likes anyone, and Sota's friend Koyuki has remade his image with the ambition of confessing to Natsuki. Natsuki's brother Kotaro also has eyes only for Yu's sister Hina, while she is interested in Koyuki. As the days pass, hormones rage and the potential for relationships reaches its boiling point.

This 63 minute movie, which debuted in Japanese theaters in April and is now streaming on Crunchyroll, has a somewhat unusual pedigree. It's based on a song and light novel project by the artistic group HoneyWorks (aka Haniwa), which specializes in vocaloid creations, though not the slightest hint of association with vocaloids actually appears anywhere in the movie (although two characters go to see a HoneyWorks concert at one point.) While not a musical in the sense that Western viewers would normally classify it, the movie's volume of insert songs would rival that of an idol series, whose lyrics define or frame the feelings of the focal point characters at any given time and even help one character accept her true feelings and what she should do about them.

That's not to say that this is some radically different or stylistically innovative production, however. On the contrary, this is about as typical as anime romance gets. The only difference is the breadth of characters and their feelings, which the movie touches on over the brief hour. While Natsuki and (to a lesser extent) Yu are technically the leads, the movie spends the bulk of its time bouncing around between the viewpoints of four girls and guys who are all related in some way by either blood or long-time friendship (although Hina gets decidedly less attention than the others). Though the relationship triangles don't approach a Rumiko Takahashi level of complexity, drawing out a relationship chart while watching the movie is nonetheless highly recommended.

Out of all of these potential romantic pairings, some come to fruition by the end of the movie and some don't, whether because they are cut off by other relationships or simply don't get enough attention to develop that far. (One potential relationship actually gets detailed quite more in various still shots shown in the credits, which seem to progress things to a point of tearful reunion beyond the group's high school years.) The scenes which build these relationships are nothing unusual by anime romance standards: full of rampant emotions and occasional mild comedy, with lots of blushing on every side. As annoying as this could have been, it all plays out with a remarkable level of care and skill, especially considering that director Tetsuya Yanagisawa is much better-known for directing trashy fanservice fare like High School DxD and Daimidaler.

The movie is animated by Qualia Animation, a newer studio about which I could find no detailed information in English. Whoever they are, they've apparently hired some highly-talented people for this project, since the production quality is unusually high. All of the character designs are attractive and highly distinctive, especially the slightly untraditional (for anime) beauty of the lanky, sweatpants-sporting Natsuki. The animation is also more robust that you might normally expect for an anime with little to no action component, with particular emphasis paid to subtleties of facial expression and background movement.

The musical score is mostly a light but effective selection of gentle or jazzy piano numbers. All of the various opening/closing themes and insert songs are done by HoneyWorks in association with a rotating collection of singers. The talented Japanese vocal cast includes the likes of Haruka Tomatsu (Asuna in Sword Art Online), Yuuki Kaji (Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan), and Hiroshi Kamiya (Izaya Durarara!!, Levi in Attack on Titan) who all do fine jobs – though admittedly, none of the characters in this movie present terribly challenging roles.

What's ultimately most important in a romance production is whether or not the romantic resolutions are satisfying, and on that front the movie should not disappoint. It does its job well enough to make the viewer happy to see certain characters finally getting together. For those disappointed that Hina did not get enough attention, a second movie coming in December 2016, presumably based on one of the other two light novels in the originating project, will apparently focus more on her. For now though, this is the kind of clean, enjoyable movie that can leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling in the end. Just be sure to watch it all the way through past the credits.

Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B

+ Good technical merits, effective and well-timed development of key romances
Runs out of time to delve fully into all potential relationships

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Production Info:
Director: Tetsuya Yanagisawa
Script: Yoshimi Narita
Taku Inoue
Narumi Kakinouchi
Tetsuya Yanagisawa
Unit Director:
Hotaka Kuramoto
Hideki Okamoto
Tetsuya Yanagisawa
Music: HoneyWorks
Original creator: HoneyWorks
Character Design: Maki Fujii
Art Director: Yuki Umino
Chief Animation Director: Maki Fujii
Animation Director:
Junji Gotō
Jin Ishidō
Takeshi Kanda
Tetsuya Yanagisawa
Sound Director: Yukio Nagasaki
Director of Photography: Yoshihiro Sekiya
Executive producer:
Yōsuke Imai
Kozue Kananiwa
Yōko Matsuzaki
Hiroyuki Shimizu
Kazumitsu Shimizu
Hiroto Shinohara
Akihito Watanabe
Producer: Shunsuke Saito

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