About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Amagami SS Review: Haruka Morishima Arc

Deciding to watch this anime may have been the most whimsical decision of my life.

I went on Anime Suki, and saw, to my amazement, that only five series, with their own subforums, were listed under "Current Series". That's the fewest I've ever seen there, which is perhaps a concerning sign for the anime industry as a whole. Four were obvious: The Shounen Big Three, and K-On! Just about every anime fan knows those. However, the other anime there with its own subforum I didn't even recognize at all, which piqued my interest.

That fifth was "Amagami SS". So, I decided to run that anime title through a Google image search. I decided that if its promotional artwork or screenshots looked good, I'd check out at least an episode of it. The image at the top of this blog entry is the very first one that I noticed. And yes, it certainly looked good to me. ;)

So, I thought "Hey, what the hell; it looks pretty and its prominent enough to warrant its own subforum on Anime Suki, so I'll check it out". ^_^;;

Well, since I made that decision, I've watched the opening four episode arc for Haruka Lovely Morishima (emphasis on the "Lovely" ;) )

This might be the best non-evil smile I've ever seen...

While Haruka's supposed middle name is so absurd that it would make Captain Planet villains blush, the character herself is whimsically wonderfully winsome. Which is rather fitting given what prompted me to watch Amagami SS, and also given the overall mood of this anime.

Much of anime has always had a wish-fulfillment element to it, but usually there's at least some sort of conflict or struggle that has to be overcome for the wish to be fulfilled. Amagami SS sidesteps this almost entirely, with what might be the most straightforward plot-line I've ever seen in anime.

Consummately average guy tries to win over popular playful pretty girl. Succeeds.

And, yes, that comprehensively sums up just about 95% (or more) of the plot of the Haruka Lovely Morishima Arc (a full four episodes no less) of this anime.

Really, the other characters in this arc, beyond our cutely conspicuous couple, are little more than window dressing. The only one of any real plot relevance is Hibiki Tsukahara. Hibiki is the captain of the girls swim team, and Haruka's friend. It is Hibiki that eventually talks Haruka into "going for it" romantically. That's pretty much the extent of Hibiki's plot relevance. But at least that puts Hibiki ahead of the male lead's best same-gender friend.

These guys look like extras from a Haruhi Suzumiya film...

As far as best male friend's of an anime male lead goes, Masayoshi Umehara has to be as dull and non-impressionable as they come. But then, given what a blank slate the male lead himself is, that's hardly a surprise.

The following is pretty much all you can say about Junichi Tachibana after four episodes of Amagami SS:
  1. He was deeply depressed after being stood up for a date, and it took him a long time to get over it.
  2. He's a generally nice guy.
  3. His mood is heavily dependent on his love life. He is totally down in the dumps and even unable to sleep when his love life is poor, while he's mildly charismatic, creative, and very energetic when his love life is going well, or can go well if he responds to challenges well.
  4. He has a little sister that cares about him. Maybe more than cares about him.
  5. He has a virtually perfect 'normal guy' balance between shyness (represented by occasional stuttering and being at a lost for words) and boldness (represented by his quick and assertive romantic confessions).
  6. He's a very slightly kinky guy, but nothing outside the ordinary for a teenage male. He's humorously and impeccably polite in pursuing those kinky desires.

And... that's it. That's really it. We know quite a bit about his approach to love, romance, and the fairer sex in general.

But we know next to nothing about the man himself. What are his interests (aside from love and sexual contact with cute girls)? What are his attitudes towards life in general? What career or job does he hope to have when he graduates from school? Does he like sports? We don't even know how the guy is doing in school (you know, how he's doing at this little thing called 'grades'), for crying out loud.

The guy is the ultimate blank slate. This is exacerbated further by the most average of male lead character designs that I've ever seen. It's like Amagami SS took every signal non-shounen anime male lead from 1995 onward, took away each of those character's distinguishing characteristics, and then averaged them all out to arrive at the appearance and personality of Junichi Tachibana.

This makes him, in some ways, oddly preferable to the doormat male leads of some harem animes, but it also makes him a veritable cipher that you could pour virtually any personality whatsoever into. This perhaps makes him ideal for a video game character that the player experiences the game world through, but it makes him less than satisfying for a main protagonist role in a passive entertainment medium like anime.

And it's particularly jarring when he's placed in a romance with a character as dynamic and fleshed-out as this:

Haruka Morishima is a bountifully balanced, beautifully buxom, babe.

She's extremely popular, but she doesn't come across as conceited.

She's not overly easy to win over, but she's not excessively difficult either.

Her character design is realistic, but still distinctive enough that she stands out in a crowded school setting.

What she likes and finds interest in makes sense, is fairly normal, and is conveyed well.

She's ever so slightly eccentric, but not to the point where she feels too surreal.

I can't easily pigeon-hold her into any existing anime archetype.

Her character design is also quite gorgeous, in my opinion. She is a very well-proportioned young lady. ;)

In short, she's a superb character, and the makers of Amagami SS can be proud of their work with her (and probably with much of the rest of the female cast as well). However, her strengths as a character makes Junichi's weaknesses as one that much more glaring when they spend so much time sharing the screen together.

Admittedly, animes like Amagami SS achieve success primarily in how appealing their female cast is. Still, other animes of that type (Clannad, Kanon, True Tears) still manage to put forward male leads with actual personalities that go beyond just their romantic or sexual inclinations. Whether this is a fault of the source material game for Amagami SS, or if its a fault with the adaptation, I don't know. Either way, it does weaken the anime.

That being said, the Junichi/Haruka romance is certainly not without its appeal.

Anime romances could use more scenes like this one.

Junichi Tachibana's lack of character development notwithstanding, this romance feels very fun, frolicking, and friendly. In short, it feels like a real romance. The two characters don't stand around being tsundere, or perpetually shy, with each other for ages on end, and the two seem to genuinely like, love, and care about each other. Their relationship develops at a believable pace, and for fairly believable reasons. I also like how the anime hints at a gradual, and shy but cheeky, progression in the physical side of their relationship. Most animes fail spectacularly to do this.

Either you have Tomoya and Nagisa with virtually no sexual sparks flying whatsoever (the only weakness in an otherwise outstanding romance, I would argue), or you have a sudden progression from one date to easy sex. Both of these exist in real life, of course, but I think that most teenage relationships are probably more like Junichi and Haruka's: the physical side comes shortly after the romance begins, but begins as playful experimenting and then grows from there. It's nice to see this anime portray such a balanced approach unabashedly, and honestly, and with some playful charm.

Part of me hates to be as critical of Amagami SS as I have been, and will be shortly, because it really does get a lot of things right in how it handles the first romance arc that a lot of romance animes get wrong (or, at least, not as right). Still, while some good ideas on how to handle romance can be gleamed from Amagami SS, the anime's flaws are still far too large to dismiss.

The main flaw is that it all feels a bit too easy, and smooth. There's precious little actual conflict in this opening story arc, and any story (romance or otherwise) requires actual conflict in order to be truly interesting. Conflict is at the core of virtually any story.

With this in mind, I will say the following: the romance of this opening arc would work extremely well in anything except, ironically, a romance anime.

Put another way, if this was the central romance of an anime mostly about mecha action - if, for example, we replaced Junichi Tachibana with Lelouch Lamperouge, and set this romance up in Code Geass R2 - and the romance was merely meant to compliment the actual conflict of the anime - then this romance would work splendidly. It would work well as an appealing side-element to an anime primarily about something else. It would provide a welcomed break in the fighting or war action. Indeed, it would make Code Geass R2 better, I dare say (as I would have preferred it if Lelouch had seen greater resolution on the romance side of things).

But for a romance anime to really work, in my opinion, it needs real and serious romantic conflict. Either that, or external sources of conflict impacting on the romance.

Kyoto Animation realized this, and hence Kanon 2006 and Clannad turned out the way that they did. Clannad, in particular, shows how best to adapt romance games into animes. You have one story, with romance conflict arising from the competition between the girls for the male lead, and the male lead makes a choice.

Amagami SS is, instead, choosing to show one girl's story after another after another, all in a parallel universe format. This erases real romantic conflict, and makes everything too easy, and too smooth.

If this is where eroge adaptations will be going in the future, then I think that we'll likely look back at the Kyoto Animation produced ones as the high watermark for these sorts of anime.

Because I don't see eroge adaptations that work along these "parallel universe" lines appealing much to people who aren't already into eroges... whereas Clannad and Kanon 2006 managed to branch out well beyond those limitations.

7/10 for Amagami SS' first arc.


  1. You know, I consider the past year to have been extremely weak in terms of romance drama anime, and I was disappointed by the lack of drama in Amagami SS. And I also prefer the Clannad style “integrated” approach to some extent (well, actually, I prefer the EF/Ever 17 style “multiple romantic plot threads” approach, but that’s besides the point). But I cannot agree that an integrated approach is better because romance dramas need romantic conflict.

    Yes, Clannad, Kanon, and Iriya all had examples of romantic conflict. You could even spin the “temptation” scene in Hantsuki that way, I guess. But in my opinion, all of these shows only used this conflict as spicing alongside the other conflicts the characters faced, which to me are the real “meat” of the stories. True Tears, EF, and Sola admittedly all do make heavy use of love triangles (albeit in only one arc of EF’s four). But in all three of those, the girl’s backstories come into play as well. You don’t need a love polygon to make a good romance drama, and when present, it’s seldom the only thing going on.

    Nor is romantic conflict usually a core element of most visual novels. Usually, it’s dealt with quite early in the game, after which you’re on a specific girl’s route, and her story becomes the primary focus.

    That Haruka doesn’t have an engrossing backstory tells me that Amagami was never really intended as a dramatic game. It’s more about fun antics and wish fulfillment. Hence, while I was initially hoping for another EF type show, I quickly found myself watching it more for the sort of reasons that I watch K-On!

    I suppose that you could introduce some drama into Amagami by introducing romantic conflict, but with six girls and one guy, it’s going to be a mess. Or downgrade some of the girls to “just friends” like KyoAni does, but whereas it works great for KyoAni since many Key girls have a storyline that involves more than romance, I don’t think it would work well for Amagami. I think you’d need at least one reset to make things manageable.

    (Amagami’s spiritual predecessor “Kimikiss: Pure Rouge” (which was made by the same company) tried splitting the protagonist into two characters to avoid a reset, but the fanbase didn’t really take all that well to the changes. EF got away with it because all of those male characters appear in the original game.)

    What the seinen romance drama genre needs right now is girls who bring a dramatic story to the table in themselves, not attempts to adapt a romance-comedy storyline into a dramatic one by introducing love polygons.

    For the record, once I got over my initial disappointment, I’ve been enjoying Amagami for it’s, uh… “imaginative nature.” The “feels real if not realistic” nature of the show really helps… I like thinking about what it whether some of the scenarios within would work for my girlfriend and I… the answer is almost always “NO!” simply because we’re much more reserved personalities, but it’s fun to think about.

    (Although… my girlfriend did suggest that as she’s cosplaying Kanbaru at our local con this year, I could cosplay Kanbaru’s love interest. Hint: she wasn’t talking about Araragi. I declined on the grounds that I don’t have time to make a costume and don’t want to end up on the butt end of an internet meme.)

    Also, since this is an Amagami post, this must be posted:
    That’s up there with the Rie Kugamiya (Shana/Louise/Taiga) tsundere voice pack you can get for some GPS software in Japan in terms of amusement value.

  2. 0utf0xZer0 - I agree that having six girls actively involved in a competition for one guy would indeed be a mess. Even the classic harem animes (Love Hina!, Tenchi Muyo!) that surrounded the male lead with about that many (if not more) potential romantic interests, only took about two or three of those potential romantic interests as truly serious ones.

    However, I think that Love Hina! and Tenchi Muyo! do show how you can have an anime where a large number of girls can all show at least passing romantic interest in the male lead, and have it work. It's just that the focus needs to be on two or three of the girls in particular, and (ideally) you have an eventual victor rise from out of all of them.

    An approach like that could perhaps have worked for Amagami SS.

    My main point isn't that romance dramas absolutely need romance conflict... just that ANY kind of story needs SOME sort of conflict (like I said in the review, this could be "external sources of conflict").

    Even K-On! at least has the initial struggle to get the band together, the frequent conflict between its members over goofing off vs. actually practicing, a slight element of conflict in Ritsu's teasing of Mio, and heck, even the one episode where everybody wants to help Yui pass her test at least indicates a struggle of sorts.

    Granted, these are all very low-level conflicts, but at least they're something.

    So, a Romance Drama needs actual drama. This can be achieved through having plot elements that are tangental, or even extraneous, to the romance, yes. It can be found in helping Fuko make her sister's wedding a success, or in helping Mai fight demons.

    But barring that, there needs to be romantic conflict, imo.

    Also, if you're going to go with the integrated approach for an eroge/visual novel adaptation (which we both prefer), then romance conflict needs to be there, unless you're going to downgrade all but one of the girls to "just friends" (and I think that this would enrage most of the fanbase of the source material for these sorts of animes).

    So, for this reason as well, I see at least *some* level of romantic conflict being ideal for a romance drama rooted in an eroge/visual novel game (barring the EF approach, of course).

    Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not saying that Amagami SS is crap. It's not. I wouldn't have given it 7/10 if it was. It gets a lot of things right. The visuals are great. The character designs for the female cast are excellent. The OP, which I forgot to mention, has surprisingly good English being sung (even pronouncing 'love' correctly!), and is good in general. The romance is cute, endearing, and realistic.

    But there's just no real drama here. At least not from the point of Tachibana's second romance confession onward. The second half of this first arc is pure, utter, cotton candy bliss, with not an ounce of conflict. It's a shame that there's not more conflit/drama, because with it, this anime could have been really, REALLY good.

    Anyway, a lot of this is just my personal opinion, of course.

    But while I hope that anime learns from the visual style, character designs, and gradual romance development, of Amagami SS, I also hope that it learns that integrated stories with real conflict within it is the way to go for these sorts of animes.

  3. Oh, by the way - good luck with the cosplay. ;)

    And thanks for that YouTube link. Funny stuff, lol

  4. The problem with the Love Hina 5/6 to 1 model for many VN adaptations is that the romantic development between the player character and the choosen girl AFTER the player makes a choice is usually quite an important part of the story. Based on what we’ve seen of Amagami, I think this is even more true of that game than many others.

    Key had it easy here: in Kanon, the girl’s arcs are generally centered more around their individual problems than romance. Clannad is a bit harder: you don’t need romantic development for the core of Fuko and Kotomi’s stories to work. Nagisa and Kyou’s storylines definitely need it though, and Tomoyo’s can only be partially completed without it. Note that one of these characters is the focal girl and the other two got OVAs. I’m pretty sure this is the reason why Kyou and Tomoyo got OVAs rather than, say, Kotomi.

    The impression I get with Amagami is that EVERY girl’s storyline requires romantic development to flourish. Hence, you would have to cut the bulk of the game’s story in order to do an integrated version, unless you introduce multiple protagonists. Which is basically the approach that Kimikiss took. (Which bombed, but I’m not sure if this is entirely related to the dual-protagonist approach. The basic comment I keep hearing is that the Kimikiss anime felt “too shoujo”, and I’m not sure if that’s referring to the protagonists or something else… I probably need to watch the anime to form an actual opinion on it.)

    I guess I could see romantic conflict working in Amagami WITH the addition of multiple protagonists. Especially if they managed to avoid the triangles descending into the kind of viciousness that some animes allow them to (even EF does this). It’s nice if the girls can remain relatively friendly with each other – Clannad managed that, and the understanding Iriya and Akiko come is pretty close even if it is pretty aggressive at first.

    Also, I do feel the need to ask… how much did you space the episodes of this show out? I think a seven is pretty much what the show deserves, but I have the feeling the lack of conflict is more noticeable if you watch the episodes close together than in a weekly format.

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  6. Hmm I loved this anime series.
    Wish I could get some more of it.
    Anyway, you're right about Junichi's lack of personallity.
    And we never get to know how they are doing at school or at life in general.
    We only seem to get to know the love part of their lives.
    I guess that doesn't help much with getting to appreciate the characters and make the much likeable, however, the love side of this anime compensates for that flaw pretty well. :)
    I'd say Morishima Haruka and Nanasaki Ai's arcs were my favourite.
    Thanks for the review, I'll start following this blog from now on! ;)