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This Week in Anime
Kimagure Old Town Road
by Nicholas Dupree & Jean-Karlo Lemus,
A veritable classic in the anime romcom scene, Kimagure Orange Road brought us the first Madoka and anime fans couldn't get enough of her. The breakout work of the lateIzumi Matsumoto, KOR laid the foundation that romantic comedy anime continue to build on to this day. Let's take a walk in the footsteps of one of the originals!
Nick Jean-Karlo, I don't know if your Twitter feed's as cursed as mine, but I've been inundated with snippets of Ready Player Two all week and that terrible prose has me nostalgic for some real 80's culture. Back when romantic comedies only needed 2 love interests, everyone secretly had psychic powers, and you could get away with letting middle schoolers smoke on screen.
Jean-Karlo Don't forget the public service announcements! It's not the 80s without public service announcements.
Anyway, this week we are pleased to introduce our readers to Kimagure Orange Road, a veritable classic of the romantic comedy genre. This is a pillar of the industry, and longtime fans no doubt have fond memories of trying to track down fansubbed VHS tapes of this series way back in the day.
I know basically nothing about it myself, other than a few friends who swear by it. But I'm a sucker for romantic comedy anime, and if nothing else it's always fun to check out old series and get a peak at what was big at the time. Like apparently in 1987 this was just the peak of scintillating fanservice.
I mostly know of this because my taste-makers in anime all skewed older (thanks Grumpy Jii-San, rest in peace), but I likewise know very little about Orange Road other than the fact that between the leotards, ESPers and Akemi Takada artwork it's basically "1980s: The Anime". Lots of newer fans seem to think 1990s anime all looked like the batch of episodes Ikuko Itoh worked on in Sailor Moon when in reality anime in the 1990s looked like Saber Marionette J or Lost Universe or Fatal Fury. But Kimagure Orange Road? No, man. That was 1980s anime design 101. Just look at that fashion!
The 80's: When literally everyone looked dumb as hell.
The story goes that our protagonist Kyosuke Kasuga moves into a new town with his two sisters, father, and big chungus-sized cat. They're a family of ESPers (psychics) and they constantly have to move around because nobody in the family can keep from using their powers in public and causing a commotion. So one day, Kyosuke has a meet-cute with a mysterious girl who lets him keep her hat...
And then learns her deadly secret, that she's really Carmen Sandiego!
Aw crap, where's Lynne Thigpen when you need her...
Or, y'know, he falls in love with her because he's a doofy teenage boy and she was nice to him for 30 seconds. Kyosuke himself is...well the nice way to say it is he's a flawed teenager growing into himself. The accurate way to say it is he's a scrub.
Watching this show made me feel uncomfortably like I was watching Doug on Nickelodeon. I know a lot of romantic comedies from the '00s made their bread and butter by competing to have the most irredeemably-unwatchable male lead, but Kyosuke is just pathetic. Just a bundle of learned helplessness and noncommittal attitudes. Every time he gets dunked on, it feels massively deserved. Every time he gets an olive branch, it feels way too generous.
Eh, I'm not that harsh on him. It's clear that the story is meant to be him coming of age and learning to not be a dipstick. But in the meantime he absolutely trips over his own dick every episode or two.
Anyway, this girl's name is Madoka, alias "Madoka The Pick". She's got a reputation for being the baddest delinquent at school, plays a mean alto saxophone, and earned her name by being able to use a guitar pick as a deadly weapon against hooligans five times her size.
And she gets a lot of chances to demonstrate that skill because this town is absolutely lousy with roving gangs of 80's Movie Bullies for her to beat up.
You'd think her reputation would start to spread in such a small town and everyone would just avoid girls with long black hair on principle...
Legit half the episodes we watched feature some rando dudes showing up to hit on her out of nowhere. If this is really what the 80's were like it's a miracle anyone survived that decade. I mean, to be fair, I'd also be interested in chatting up a hot girl who could kick my ass. I just wouldn't do it in the middle of a movie or when she's having a jam session in the park. And I would also get absolutely obliterated by her for it.
This is a good moment to point out Madoka's friend Hikaru, standing right next to her. She's the other part to this show's formula. See, Hikaru is Madoka's friend and somehow gets it into her head that Kyosuke is trying to date her. Kyosuke doesn't tell her he's not trying to date her, but he did set his eyes on Madoka from the get-go. The following is a comedy of errors where Hikaru drags Kyosuke on a leash while he tries to appeal to Madoka.
Note that Hikaru falls for him because she sees him (psychically) nail a full-court basket while sitting down. Which I guess makes her Vince Carter-sexual. Also they (maybe?) accidentally kiss when they crash into each other in the hallway and that gets her engine running at Full Lum, "Darling" and all.
Gotta be honest, it frustrates me that the crux of this show is that Kyosuke doesn't have the heart to tell Hikaru he's into her friend and not her. Even as a kid, I'd look at Tenchi Muyo! and think, "I don't get it, all he has to say is he doesn't wanna marry anyone, how do you get a whole show out of this?".
Eh, it's part and parcel with the genre. Plus teenagers being too timid to properly express themselves isn't much of a stretch. Really what bothers me is that Kyosuke's so hung up on Madoka it doesn't even cross his mind to give dating Hikaru a real shot. Like, c'mon dude, she seems pretty fun and nice, at least give it a trial run.
Hikaru's worst sin is being kinda loud and not very bright, it makes Kyosuke look a lot worse for not being on the up-and-up with her.
To be fair she could stand to come on a little less strong. By episode 4 the whole school thinks they're fucking and she just roles with it.
Kyosuke at least tries to do right by her, like going on a date with her when she invites him or helping her study for exams. But his efforts ultimately get sabotaged by him getting distracted by Madoka. In the first example, he spends the afternoon with her and forgot all about his date with Hikaru. In the latter, he resorts to repeating what he learned from tutoring with Madoka to Hikaru. Also, his little sisters keep messing everything up.
That's what little sisters in anime are for! Or at least it was before some wires got terribly, terribly crossed. Also Kyosuke's requisite horndog friends are constantly trying to makeout with them which is just bad form guys. You're violating the Bro Code.
If Kyosuke is Doug and Madoka is Pattie Mayonnaise, these guys are weird fragments of Skeeter with all the good parts cut out.
We're dealing with primitive 80's technology here alright? It would be another 20 years before we streamlined this character type into just 1 guy who later on gets a story arc that moderately redeems him.
I really don't wanna come off as harsh against Orange Road because the 1980s vibes are just lovely, but man does Kyosuke make it hard. Like I said, his failures make it so that every time Madoka does something nice for him it feels undeserved. Kyosuke makes a bad first impression with Madoka when he scolds her for smoking (although she later tones down on the cigs when she remembers how he acted). But when she finds out that he messed up dating Hikaru, I honestly wondered how she let it slide. The guy is dating your best friend, ditches her for you, and you deign it worthwhile to give him the time of day afterwards...? Even Madoka can't explain why she's so generous with the guy.
If my best friend's date was such a flake, I probably wouldn't be in a hurry to work at the same café as them or tutor them for exams.
I get the impression in those early episodes she's mostly giving him rope because Hikaru's so head-over-heels for him. And once she gets to know him she recognizes he's at least not an asshole, just a total weiner who needs to grow up and act decisively. And he does at least make some progress in these early episodes.
It still feels like a lot of slack to give a guy with no outward merits. Provided, Kyosuke does have good intentions, but through one way or another shows his worst side. One of my favorite character moments from him is when he has the chance to use his powers to show off and look cool in front of Madoka during a basketball game--and doesn't go through with it. Full credit for the guy wishing he did later (that felt quite humanizing), but it's a good glimpse at how principled Kyosuke is.
I mean instead he uses those powers later to follow her around town - and nearly gets run over for his troubles - so he's not that scrupulous about the psychic powers thing. Which all told do end up feeling superfluous in the show so far. Outside of imprisoning the family cat who yearns for freedom you could get rid of them and nothing much would change.
BTW somebody please save this cat. God damn.
Yeah, the psychic powers are a weird addition here. For those too young to remember: similarly to how isekai and slavery apologia are popular trends in anime today, and a few years back we had monster girls, "little sisters", and maids as popular all-encompassing trends, the 1980s had psychics as a trend. They called them "ESPers" and they were everywhere (notable examples include Mai the Psychic Girl). This feels a little like how every anime in the mid-00s had maids in there, even if it was the most-forced inclusion ever. They just needed to have a maid in there, or face ridicule.
I'm sure they become a bigger deal at some point, but for now they're mostly there for visual gags and to explain away Kyosuke getting around the city without so much as a bike.
Also, again, torturing the Big Chungus kitty.
Damn, that's a good cat. 10/10. What an absolute unit of a lad.
He's also the only pussy Kyosuke's getting any time soon.
I had only just managed to wipe that scene from my memory.
Like I said, somebody free this cat. He yearns for peace and escape from these super-powered teenagers.
But now while I'm traumatized, I would also like to point out to the JoJo fans in our audience: our boy Kyosuke has you covered.
Kyosuke: My sisters are so irresponsible using their powers in public!
Also Kyosuke: Time to go full ZA WARUDO in broad daylight in order to mildly scare two guys hitting on my Not-Girlfriend.
Though while we're talking about KOR's place in the landscape of rom coms, I do like that part of what infatuates our hero towards Madoka is how she has a complicated personality. He's a doofus who doesn't realize it yet, but his musings about her different "sides" reminded me of when I was a dumbass teen realizing, oh right, girls are also people with their own shit going on.
Madoka definitely stands head-and-shoulders above many of the other Premium Girls of anime by virtue of having, um... a well-rounded personality. It's not that she's just arbitrarily hot-and-cold, like Naru Narusegawa, or is a tough girl who's just soft on someone like Lum. Madoka is gentle and sweet, but doesn't have patience for boorish oafs or people who waste her time. Small wonder people think she's a delinquent, she doesn't bother playing the Jr High social game. She's ahead of the curve.
She's a perfectly reasonable person when you're not blowing smoke up her ass, which Kyosuke finally figures out when they spend a week working together. Also I have to give props for reversing the typical changing-room gag.
Don't worry, Kimagure Orange Road. I won't hold it against you if you don't give Kyosuke nipples.
That said, I think Madoka being more mature than her years or the standards of the genre would normally find is why I have such a bizarre reaction to this series. I'm more used to either everyone in a romance being fairly dense, or everyone being fairly smart (albeit emotional). Here, our hapless protagonist is finding himself having to deal with a paramour who laps him in maturity.
I can dig it. Unlike something like Rent-A-Girlfriend there's at least a sense that Kyosuke's making strides to better himself. Like hey, he learns to shut the fuck up sometimes.
I know from experience more teenage boys could stand to figure that particular life lesson out.
Many fans of harem romances make the argument that the protagonist "gets better". And I know a lot of people who really wave the banner on Rent-A-Girlfriend--they like the protag being as pathetic as he is because they appreciate the growth he makes. (I've had more than a few pleasant conversations with those people, more power to 'em.) Gripes aside, Kimagure Orange Road ultimately gets my nod because Kyosuke isn't a horribly irredeemable lout (although our first glimpse is that Madoka can do way better). Kyosuke's progress may be "two steps forward, one step back", but clearly there's something about him that Madoka likes and appreciates enough to give him the time of day.
Kimagure Orange Road is a pillar of the romantic genre for a reason, and it's not all on just nostalgia for 80s imagery. There's some genuine emotion here, and the series is a genuine wistful summer romance.
This is a 33-year-old series so there's going to be conventions that have aged out of use for good reason, but at its core there's definitely a charm to it that I found myself clicking with. I don't know if I have the time for the whole series (and OVAs, and movies...) but I'm at least curious enough to check out a few more episodes. Though the sooner I never hear this line again, the better:
Same here. I don't feel good saying that Kimagure Orange Road is a little too slow for me, because this series is a classic. But I guess the same way it's easier to just emulate a FM Synthesizer with a 2020 KORG keyboard, there's no shame in preferring one of KOR's subsequent offspring for pacing alone. I wholeheartedly recommend this to older fans and folks who are curious, it's such a gift that KOR is available on RetroCrush. But there's no shame in preferring to watch Toradora! or Waiting in the Summer after a few episodes.
At the very least, look up the intros for Kimagure Orange Road, because they are peak 1980s vibes and they slap.
If nothing else, it's worth is for the glorious disaster we call 80's clothing.
You take that fashion dissing back or so help me God, you'll be wearing this saxophone for a hat.
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