When I read that the shojo manga Kimi ni Todoke by Karuho Shiina was to receive an anime adaptation last year, I was filled with mild anticipation and intrigue, especially in account of the studio Production I.G, which has consistently set the benchmark in not only delivering exceptional animation, but in capturing base material faithfully. Upon watching the opening episode, it was clear from the outset that the studio had succeeded on the production front. Straying away from the usual clean and detailed approach they’re mostly known for, the studio instead provided this water-coloured look that’s in keeping with its manga counterpart. It’s a testament to Production I.G’s ability to deviate when required, and to do so successfully. If anything, this style is more reminiscent of what I’d expect from J.C Staff or P.A Works.
The series tailors for its intended demographic/audience down to a tee. It doesn’t really attempt to offer anything beyond this. However, it goes without saying that this is shojo at its best; a misfit girl named Sawako who is severely misunderstood by everyone in her school due to her awkward disposition and supposed likeness to Sadako from the classic horror flick Ringu (she’s actually smart, conscientious and perceivably pretty) and her encounter with her social bi-polar opposite of Kazehaya, the golden boy of the school, whom everyone adores, especially the girls. The clinch lies in that Kazehaya is attracted to Sawako, but due to her social ineptness, naivety and innocence, doesn’t realise this at first. So, there you have it, the premise that’ll lead to a classic case of dramatic irony, where us the viewers are fully aware that there’s a would-be couple in the making, but due to miscommunication and outside interference, this realisation withstands the length of the series.
While this premise is typically shojo with all of its motifs, what distinguishes Kimi ni Todoke amongst others of its ilk is its exquisite execution. Every scenario is presented right on the mark. The moment I started to root for the two and thereby gaining a genuine sense of frustration when something went wrong, I knew the series was doing something right. In an odd way, it was a ‘good’ frustration since it’s indicative that I was fully engaged with the story and the characters. The last time I had this feeling was from watching the anime adaptation of Mitsuru Adachi‘s classic Touch, which is saying a lot. I suppose, with any good shojo series, it’s all about the characters and their development throughout. Sawako was absolutely adorable, in every sense of the word. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her purity and selflessness. I wanted to root for her and felt dismayed when something went wrong for her. Although I knew she’d eventually gain happiness, the journey to attain this was deemed necessary to see through to the end. In this respect, Kimi ni Todoke is very much about Sawako’s social growth and the trials and tribulations she encounters along the way. As for Kazehaya, I appreciated that he didn’t succumb to the childish mentality and insecurities of everyone else in the school and instead was confident enough in himself to see past the reputation she had inadvertently gained and to realise who she really was. Moreover, despite his popularity, it didn’t get to his head. He still had his own issues and aspirations. It’s all too common to find the opposite in shojo, where the male lead is aloof and stoic due to his supposed ‘perfection’ (Itazura na Kiss’s Irie comes to mind), but gradually his facade is broken down by his unlikely love prospect. I can’t say I’m overly keen on this character archetype, so I was glad that Kazehaya didn’t follow this (he was a lot more like Yano from Bokura ga Ita, another shojo series that bears similarity to Kimi ni Todoke). Sawako’s unlikely friendship with Ayane and Chizuru was also endearing to watch.
My only slight complaint is that the series could have potentially fared better with the 13 episode format, not 25. It did start to linger nearing the end, repeating the same formula over and over, which lessened the momentum and final impact somewhat. Moreover, I wasn’t overly keen on how the studio simplified and distorted the characters when they were expressing themselves. It worked in Paradise Kiss due to its simplicity, but for Kimi ni Todoke, I felt it was too much of a contrast from when this wasn’t employed.
I’ll also quickly say that the Japanese voice cast did a stellar job, particularly that of the main group. Special mention should go expectantly to Mamiko Noto, who portrayed Sawako well.
So, all in all, Kimi ni Todoke is easily one of the best shojo offerings in the past few years. I suppose, ultimately, this is very much a ‘feel-good’ series. It’s a beautiful display of human relations and how they overcome obstacles to better themselves. The manga has received notable acclaim and popularity, spawning a live action film and a video game, which is only to be expected. With Production I.G on board as well, the anime adaptation of Kimi ni Todoke is definitely up there on the shojo mantel and something I’d certainly recommend.