9/10/2007

Series Review: Tokimeki Memorial ~only love~

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"It's said that if on the day of the Graduation Ceremony, if a couple declares their love for each other under that tree, they will always be happy."

It's so cheesy; it's so Tokimeki Memorial.

The surprisingly long-running "dating sim" Tokimeki Memorial has always had at least in some form a reference to this trademark of the series, a tree which the protagonist's goal is to get a confession under.

The anime version is no exception, and probably like the games that predated it, it builds it's show using these basic building blocks. Tokimeki Memorial ~only love~ is a very no-frills, straight-forward, one might say obvious harem/romance school life anime, and if you've seen any of these before, and if you see the first 5 minutes or so of the first episode, you'll know what to expect here.

To that sense, Tokimeki Memorial is the bread and butter show of a bread and butter genre. Harem/romance anime are one of the more popular types, appealing to a large and largely male audience. Tokimeki Memorial features many of the popular types of harem characters. The school idol. The energetic girl. The shy girl. And the mostly gutless male lead urged on by his companions who in no order are 1) womanizers, 2) unnecessarily masculine, and 3) soft-hearted delinquents. You see it once, you've seen it all.

So, the question is: why why why shouldn't you hate TokiMemo a lot, forever?

As predictable as it is, as cookie-cutter as it is, TokiMemo has sort of a charm to it, something that makes it stand out a bit from the crowd.

It boasts strong points where many other anime lack - the side characters go above and beyond and go very far towards carrying a show with somewhat predictable main characters. The mood never strays too far into overblown drama, always keeping somewhat of a light side and never shying away from devolving into sanity. The main characters do break their stereotypes at times - some might say in stereotypical ways - but certainly you can't pigeonhole the main three entirely into one block.

And, on a less objective sense, it's really a very good looking show.

Tokimeki Memorial ~only love~ isn't groundbreaking. If you hate harem shows, school life shows, romance shows in general, you're going to get bored of this faster than Makoto Itou does with whoever the hell he's with now. (If you're from the future where people have finally talked about School Days, substitute "very fast".)

Even if you do have a fondness for shows like this, TokiMemo is really day-to-day. You might think it's too predictable in the face of shows like Shuffle!. You might think the lead character is too cowardly in the face of guys like Yuuichi. You might think that this show doesn't maintain enough of a down-to-earth aura like - well, what has accomplished that? Honey & Clover (which I really need to see)?

But TokiMemo is one of shows that defies comparison; it's one that may not have a huge draw, fanbase, or, even a large blog presence, but if you like this show, you'll really like this show.

Certainly I have it to thank for drawing me back into anime, and so perhaps my view is colored by the 6-month-long journey this show has taken me on. But I really have a lot of praise for a show that, among harem shows, could be surprising good despite all the ground it retreads.

(Do I really need to say "Spoilers after the jump"?)

First off, yes, Riku Aoba isn't really that great of a harem lead. He's the uber-stereotypical harem lead, with not much to say to stand up for himself. Even in the end, when we came down to the confession, Sayuri monopolized most of the conversation. He seems much more powerful in presence than he does in manner, considering how much he's affected the rest of the school.

But the characters around him do a surprising amount to make up for him. The main haremettes aren't incredibly strong but none of them are really dislikable and all of them do have strong points to their character.

Sayuri Amamiya, the chosen girl from the first moment she appears on screen, started out as one of the weaker characters. The Unbelievably Perfect School Idol is so incredibly cliche and dull that it was quite easy to be driven to rooting against Sayuri (which, admittedly, is like trying to will time to go backwards), but she did undergo the personality change one would expect from a character like her; the cracking of the perfect exterior to reveal a very human and dynamic personality. Admittedly she pulled it off quite well, and complete with her long confession to Riku at the end Sayuri doesn't seem like an overly horrible character. Not an overly appealing one either, as being the Untouchable Idol she didn't do a lot towards winning Riku, but in a pinch Sayuri's not too bad, y'know?

Tsukasa Kasuga (two familiar names, now put together) is the token really energetic girl that attaches herself to Riku surprisingly early - episode 2! Tsukasa is pretty much what you would expect - a very hyper and talkative girl who parades around with her arm around Riku a lot; with her dark side being somewhat predictable, but again, executed very well with her beginning to develop doubt that just maybe - maybe as in maybe the sky is blue - Riku has eyes for someone else. In the end her hard struggle to put on a happy exterior for her man 110% of the time, and her development of real feelings for him may not have paid off for her in the end, but it certainly was rewarding for us to watch.

Mina Yayoi is the arguable fan favorite from what I've seen, representing the underdog, underclassman shy girl faction. As is probably well known these people never win but they're always the most adorable ones when they blush so hard that their face resembles a Ferrari. Mina breaks the mold a bit as well as it was proven time and time again that yes, she does have guts and she's not afraid to confront Riku directly with her feelings - something that Riku needs to take a lesson from himself. Mina is definitely a strong character, and sports quite good development, broadening out from a simply moe character to an admirably strong one.

But where TokiMemo really wins is the side characters. Not just the side characters, like Riku's friends, but the side characters. The ones you'd expect to only see in still or establishing shots.

Not to say that the real side characters aren't bad. Riku's friends are typical guy friends, being the ones that lament the most about getting a girlfriend (and notice the most skimpy outfits), but they are real friends, which is proven a few times in their loyalty to sacrifice themselves for him. They have their amusingly insane moments as well, whether it be the raw girl analysis of...uh...Eriol-look-alike (blue hair), Doujima's over-the-top manliness, or, well, Hiyoko. A talking chick (like baby chicken) that provides most of the insight and a lot of the manpower on the show.

Not that we could understand him, but still, Riku got to know a lot of interesting people.

The dynamic between Mina's friend Mo-chan and soft-hearted delinquent Inukai was sweet to watch as well; I'm always one for side relationships and watching Mo-chan (whose real name escapes me) get shot down over and over really was one of the more touching moments of the anime.

And, best of all, the rest of the classroom really gets a strong emphasis in TokiMemo, as opposed to other school life shows where everyone not important enough to be a Friend or Haremette simply gets ignored. You can get to know the minor characters in this show as well, both student and faculty.

While they may not have whole episodes to themselves or anything, speaking roles and short half-minute bits are common, and over the course of the show you'll find yourself recgonizing many more faces than you think, whether it be one of Sayuri's friends, a random meganekko, that girl with the funny deep blue hair, or one of the rather well-defined teachers that line the school.

Speaking of teachers, they are another good example of putting insanity to work for you. TokiMemo doesn't claim to be an overly serious series and so it doesn't put on any such airs; rather, it's almost like it should be an Azumanga at times with the randomness of the Evil Scientist teacher (complete with awesome organ music), the Deathly Ill (every day) teacher, the secretary/vice principal combo, the Nanako/Yukari act-alike, the gender-bending (almost) drama teacher, and even just the sweet homeroom teacher. All of them are good for a few random laughs and scenes, and generally do a lot towards expanding the depth of the series, character-wise.

The Bread Lady deserves a paragraph to herself, with a sweet smile and a scheming heart that Kohaku herself would be jealous of. Certainly when she shows up you know something good's going to happen.

Even the sports club leaders make regular appearances and are extremely energetic and entertaining. Perhaps they are somewhat cliche characters as well, but with the wide character roster the show can rotate gags enough so that they remain quite fresh. It's really one of the strongest parts of TokiMemo.

Perhaps to elaborate on some more negatives after ranting on about the characters for forever, the ending of the show really left sort of a bad taste, and while it's not a show-breaker, it definitely could have been done better. There was a lot of good buildup of drama and characters in the last 6 or so episodes, with Mina and Tsukasa's breakdown, their final ultimatums, and Riku's sudden moving away, and the last episode just didn't conclude enough of it.

Maybe in the efforts of time, Riku's closure scenes with Mina and Tsukasa were completely cut (I hope at least he will keep their contacts as well), and even his last scene with Sayuri felt a bit tacky. There was no true confession from him, ever, as he just let Sayuri run over him with her feelings. In the end, there was no "payoff", as they call it in the harem business. Maybe that's not the kind of show TokiMemo is.

And, on a more minor note, we never did get conclusion between Mo-chan and Inukai. If there was one girl that should've gotten her man, it'd be her, more than Mina. Maybe straight fanboyism, but hey, root for the underdog. And the side characters. And the soft-hearted bad guy.

Hello, OVA material.

Quality wise, the show felt very good as well; graphically I felt that it went above and beyond with a lot of lighting effects and artwork. Musically it wasn't brilliant - the OP/EDs didn't capture me - but the songs were recgonizable and so when you hear that chase music for just one more time in the last episode, yeah, you've got a big smile on your face. It works well.

That's the main points of the series; there aren't too many more gripes - sure, sometimes the insanity totally kills the mood at times; and sometimes the mood kills the insanity - but TokiMemo has a bit of everything to that regard, and so both fans of light and heavy harems can enjoy this show without going all Reese's on each other ("You got your plot in my comedy..."). It's not going to be a show that even comes close to going down in history one way or another. It's not a groundbreaker.
But, it does have very strong merits to it as a show that manages to fit a lot of varied and different content into a standard genre, and comes off as an excellent example of the lighter side of harem shows without devolving into fanservice. It has depth and extremely likeable characters to it. It's not going to change your mind about the genre, but if you can stand the taste of harem, Tokimeki Memorial ~only love~ will be a quite filling show.

-CCY

4 comments:

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