Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Sub.DVD - Complete Series Anime Legends
Shinichiro Nakagami is interested in tears. More specifically, in the tears he believes Hiromi Yuasa, a close friend of his family, is hiding. Hiromi recently moved into the Nakagami family home after the death of her parents, and though she keeps up a cheerful front at school and quietly ignores Shinichiro at home, he's convinced that inside her heart is breaking. And oh! how he wants to wipe those tears away. It is in this miserable state that Noe Isurugi finds him. Noe is a deeply odd girl with a deeply odd attachment to the school's chickens Raigomaru and Jibeta. When Raigomaru is eaten, as chickens are wont to be, Noe is devastated and seizes, oddly enough, on Shinichiro as the deceased poultry's replacement. In the meantime Shinichiro's best friend Nobuse's relationship with his restaurateur girlfriend Ai is starting to come apart at the seams because Ai is very obviously carrying a torch for Shinichiro. What's a guy to do? Well, moping around would be good start.
A smattering of strong characters distinguishes this by-the-books romance, but their appeal, and the occasional success in mining a vein of genuine heartbreak, can't boost the series' quality long enough to fight the law of diminishing returns. We've seen this series before—young man in a gorgeous rural city gets entangled with a variety of sad girls—and frankly this latest stab at the formula has nothing new to add. Unless you count its twin obsessions with chickens and tears.
It's all here: the hero from Planet Bland, his craaazy best friend (he eats food off the floor! Craaazy!), and the trinity of girls defined by their quirks—the quirky loner who comes out of nowhere, the chilly perfect girl with the past, the chipper best-friend type. As you might expect, the first episode is a torturous hell of soapy clichés, including a simply awful “destined meeting” moment and an opening monologue that will send viewers' literary sensibilities running for cover. But as the series wears on it builds a scattershot appeal, mainly on the backs of Nobuse and Noe, displaying a periodic tear-jerking power that belies its dreadful beginning.
Though ostensibly about Shinichiro, Noe and Nobuse are its true heart. Two highly likeable and (to a certain extent) believable characters, when either of the two is the focus—particularly later when their disparate love lives begin to disintegrate—the series reaches melodramatic heights to match the best teen romance. Nobuse coming slowly to the realization that his girlfriend doesn't love him, Noe discovering that it was she, not Shinichiro who ultimately was unable to fly—these are powerful moments, potent emotional uppercuts that taken on their own stand with the best of their type. Those heights are ephemeral, however. After all, Noe and Nobuse may have all of the series' charm, but they don't have all of its running time.
Or even the majority of it. That honor goes to Shinichiro and Hiromi, neither of whom can sustain an emotional charge the way the nobly self-sacrificing Nobuse or perceptive yet innocent Noe can. Shinichiro is both personality-challenged and irritating (as only a bland, petulant and self-interested brat can be), and Hiromi is the rare female lead who can out-bore her male counterpart. Worse yet, they never click as a potential couple. Romances live or die by their chemistry, and Shinichiro has none, particularly not with dreary little Hiromi, but also not with Ai or even Noe, whose relationship with him carries weight only because of the desperate desire to see her escape from it unhurt.
And if failed characters and disastrous chemistry aren't enough to bring you down off those occasional peaks of pointed angst, then the dialogue, with its precious affectations and pretentious symbolism (tears, flying, chickens), will. Or perhaps the nondescript and painfully obvious score will. Or better yet, the dreamy, gloomy atmosphere that it copped from Kanon. At the very least, those brief jolts of heartbreak aren't enough to fully counteract its closet full of shortcomings, or to make you forget—except momentarily—that it is trudging through very familiar territory.
It is, however, a very pretty trudge through very familiar territory. Director Junji Nishimura is too grizzled a veteran to let poor characterization or uneven writing hobble his visual instincts. Nishimura salts the series liberally with memorable images: a silk-smooth CGI-enhanced basketball game for instance, or Noe delivering a monologue while holding a desperate Jibeta up to the setting sun. And copped from Kanon though it may be, the series' atmosphere, built of dusky light and quietly shifting seasons and hauntingly empty interiors, is undeniably beautiful. When Shinichiro or Hiromi is out and about, chewing up time that would be better spent on characters we actually care about, at the very least one can occupy themselves admiring the floating leaves, drifting snow or flurries of translucent cherry petals.
Everything about this release screams “dumped on the market”: the two disc/thirteen episode breakdown, the lack of an English dub, the dearth of extras, the rock-bottom pricing, even the subtitles, littered as they are with embarrassing typos (vial/vile? Please). Not that you can blame Bandai for it. This is a leftover from the Honneamise debacle, a niche title that was dumped in their lap by a failed marketing experiment. Anyone would be desperate to get it out the door and off their hands.
Forget that its sense of humor could fit in a thimble and still leave room for Andre the Giant's thumb. Forget that its obsession with women's tears is serial-killer-creepy. All you need to remember is that True Tears doesn't work as a romance. No romance can survive a cast with the chemistry of inert gasses, and definitely not one led by a dud like Shinichiro. Of course, any series that can have you reaching for the hankies—and it will make you reach—one minute and throwing them at the TV the next can't be all bad. But a few tears do not a good series make.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C
+ A pair of highly likeable characters whose romantic travails invoke real heartbreak.
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