Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Like any healthy young couple, Honoka and Akitsuki are having relationship issues. And like any healthy young couple, they solve them by breaking up. The break-up is hard on both of them. Both end up blaming their own shortcomings for it. Both question the way they live their lives and end up clarifying their feelings as a result. Akitsuki has a devil of a time repairing the damage that the break-up dealt to his sort-of friendship with Suzuka, but the process—for the first time ever—forces him to take his role on the track team seriously.
If the sheer determination to be good could save any show, then Suzuka would be it. It is so determined to be an introspective shounen reply to modern shoujo romances that it often succeeds, almost in spite of itself.
Akitsuki's confused affections, on full display this volume, nail the muddle-headed romantic thought processes of adolescent males dead on (when asked why he went out with her, he tells Honoka, in all honesty: "Because I thought you were cute."). Characters try to understand each other by doing such unheard-of things as talking to each other and explaining themselves. The healing process this volume focuses on is scattered with little seeds of truth (the ease, for instance, with which people slip back into old patterns). Of the characters, Honoka continues to make for a superb romantic foil in that she often seems a better match (and catch) than Suzuka—amusingly she and Akitsuki make exactly the same personal resolutions upon sorting out their feelings—and Yasunobu and Hashiba prove themselves capable of more than just taking up space by providing crucial support during Akitsuki's little personal crisis. When dealing with the mindsets of teenagers and focusing purely on emotions and relationships, the creators' obvious love of romance wins over their limited writing skills, and viewers reap the benefits in the form of a no-frills teen romance.
Seeing the series as the equivalent of a high-school athlete whose enthusiasm for the sport outstrips their skill makes the series' shortcomings much easier to forgive, but it doesn't make them go away. Just as you would be an idiot to pit that high-schooler against a real athlete, you wouldn't want to pit Suzuka against a real romance powerhouse. Suzuka is still a catalyst rather than an active participant in the story, and Akitsuki's thoughtless self-absorption has him flirting with complete unlikeability—whatever growth the series' creators want us to see in him has done little to improve his personality. There's a turning point centered around one of those serendipitous meetings that only happen in fictional romances, a dishearteningly simplistic return to the pre-Honoka status quo, and touches of honesty that detract from rather than add to viewers' sympathy for the characters (if you really want to see a guy act like an insensitive jerk to his girlfriend and vice-versa, hang out at trailer parks; you can see it live—and free). Put it all together and you have a series that stumbles too often to keep up with its more intelligently written brethren.
Any enthusiasm the writers feel for romance most definitely does not extend to sports. Akitsuki's occasional forays into competitive running make Suzuka a sports show in the same way that Ippo's occasional awkward flirtations make Fighting Spirit a romance. The dearth of sports action, of course, has nothing to do with a budget that apparently can't even cover convincingly animated facial expressions. Nothing whatsoever. When even the undemanding animation requirements of a romance are beyond a show (that expressions are either there or gone, with no intermediary shifts, is particularly detrimental), exhilarating sprinting action is out of the question. One of the volume's races does feature a marginal increase in production values, though without once doing anything that might be considered exciting. The other isn't even shown.
Night-time scenery is the closest the series gets to an artistic merit, blending moonlit skies and drifting cloud-forms with lonely piano solos to fine melancholy effect. The daytime art is like dirt: without it the world would be in trouble, but that doesn't mean its pretty to look at or that anyone (outside of farmers) even notices it. While not always as, well...nice as the moonlight music, other uses of the series' generally understated score are thoughtful and quite effective. Director Hiroshi Fukutomi is adept at cueing emotional responses with music that he is unable (or unwilling) to elicit with animation or editing. The opening and ending themes remain unchanged.
Solid yet unimpressive, if given a chance (a generous chance) the English version does eventually grow on you. It's competently cast and competently acted (wisely it avoids flashy acting and expansive theatrics). Included are the usual changes made as concessions to rhythm and flow, but the biggest change made is of a subtler nature. Softer acting and minor changes in wording are used to tone down the acrimony of Honoka and Akitsuki's break-up bickering allowing both—particularly Akitsuki—to escape the dip in likeability that their Japanese counterparts suffered. Songs are still dubbed.
Suzuka's mixed bag of internal insights, juvenile plotting and awkward characterization is what one might expect were a writer to base the lead's psychology on real life experience (not hard, all one needs is to have at one time been a boy) and everything else on reading far too many fanciful romances. True? Perhaps not, but it is—like the enthusiasm-outstripping-skill view—a far more cheerful prospect than the alternative: plain old laziness.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B
+ One of the few relatively honest accounts of the male side of romance.
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