Sure, looks aren’t everything. That’s a nice message to send to the kids. But would this show still exist if the genders had been swapped? Okay, okay, that might just be my cynicism talking! I can’t help it, you know. I mean, I just can’t remember the last time I saw an anime shoujo lead that wasn’t stereotypically adorable. Even the plainest Janes of the anime world are at least above average in the looks department. Even the girl from WataMote isn’t unattractive. Physically, that is. She’s plenty unattractive in other ways, but you get my point. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a less-than-attractive girl will be the heroine of her own anime series one day, and we won’t even try to give her the She’s-All-That treatment! It really doesn’t count if she ends up being the prettiest girl in the room by the end of the story, y’know? But until then, I guess we should just appreciate Takeo’s sickeningly sweet love story. Sure, he gets the cutest girl. And hell, even Makoto’s pretty sister likes him too, but I’m sure the same would’ve been true the other way around! Yeah, let’s stay positive! After all, it’s not like I hate the series. Nah, I don’t. So let’s go into what I do like about it.
First off, Takeo isn’t annoying. In fact, none of the main characters are annoying, and that’s good. That was the main problem with Isshuukan Friends. The more I watched the show, the more I just grew to dislike Yuki. Fine, not everyone’s perfect, but characters typically grow and mature over the course of a series. There are exceptions to this rule, but in a story like Isshuukan Friends, it’s just jarring when a character arc actually goes the opposite way. By the end of the story, I couldn’t take Yuki’s whiny, dramatic antics anymore so I had to turn off the anime. But to bring this back to Ore Monogatari, Takeo’s a solid dude. Of course, we’re only five episodes into this story, so there’s plenty of time for him to shit the bed. For now, however, Takeo doesn’t piss me off. And like I’ve said, none of the main characters really do. These stories typically have a bored, disinterested-looking best friend, but Makoto doesn’t go too far with it. Basically, he doesn’t become a sarcastic jerk just to counteract Takeo’s earnestness.
Also, the couple “hook up” pretty early in the story. By episode three, in fact. That’s pretty crazy for anime. Most anime romances can’t help but tease the courtship out for eternity, and by the time the main characters finally realize that they’re meant for each other, the show’s over! But what about the actual relationship! What about the ensuing romance and all of its highs and lows? Nope, fuck it. All we care about is the courtship! Well, Ore Monogatari is one of the few stories to buck that trend. Sure, it still took three episodes for Takeo to realize that Rinko likes him, but can you blame the guy? When you’ve gone unnoticed for so long, it’s hard to suddenly see yourself as something — someone, even — to be desired. Hell, it’s not just those like Takeo who have to deal with this. I’d imagine that anyone who is less than an 8 out of 10 on the attraction-o-meter probably has a hard time seeing themselves in that light. What can I say? Both genders are guilty of this in some form or fashion.
I also like that Takeo, for the moment, isn’t a bundle of psychoses. He isn’t a fucked up individual that only a woman’s devoted love can heal. This a problem afflicting many shoujos. Every bishie is a cold, heartless jerk on the surface, but that’s only because of painful x and y events from his past. He just can’t help it! And he also can’t talk about it! Not yet, anyway! But don’t you give up, girls! Just keep hammering away at that stony facade and eventually, he’ll melt in your arms and give you that hot bishie dickin’ of your life! No? Well, point is, Takeo’s a pretty healthy individual. And Rinko seems healthy, too. We’re not all perfect, but we’re not all fucked up individuals either. There’s nothing wrong with the latter either. Hell, Eternal Sunshine is one of my favorite movies, and we all know Joel and Clementine are two fucked up individuals. But not every story has to be the same, and if you’re going to be the same, you better approach it in a fresh and interesting way.
Finally, Ore Monogatari goes beyond the romance, ’cause there’s even a bromance. All too often, the male best friend is just a mere side character. You never really explore the friendship between the male lead and his best friend. They just happen to hang out even if the two of them never seem to share much of a bond. But in Ore Monogatari, the narrative focuses heavily on Takeo and Makoto’s friendship right from the get-go. Hell, their friendship seems to make more sense than the actual love story itself, but we’ll get to that in a minute. My point is that the bromance here adds a much-needed dimension to the love story. Here’s romantic love, and here’s platonic love. I would even argue that 50/50, a movie about a guy dealing with love, friendship and life-threatening cancer, has a very appropriate for that very reason. It’s not that platonic love is absent in anime. It just needs to happen more often, especially with regards to male characters. The best friend is too often a comic relief character. So far, it seems like I even like this show, right? I mean, it has managed to set itself apart from so many of its ilk! Still, I don’t love Ore Monogatari. It has its strengths, but it definitely has its weaknesses.
It starts with the characters. Yeah, they’re not jerks, they’re not annoying, and Takeo isn’t patient on Rinko’s couch. But they’re not interesting either. Takeo is big and strong, noble and virtuous. But beyond that, I don’t really know much about him. His personality is pretty flat. Rinko fares even worse. She’s just that generic super cute shoujo. And she likes to bake. But beyond that, who is she? Sure, she has a personality, but it’s the same personality that I can see in most other anime. Not only that, her portrayal doesn’t strike me as individual. Rather, it’s like she is purposefully designed to contrast with Takeo as much as possible. She’s not just a tiny girl! She’s even tinier than other girls! Her voice isn’t just feminine! She squeaks better than the rest of them! Yeah, the old adage is that opposites attract, and you’re playing this up for effect, but yo, you’ve taken this too far. Seriously, what does she have to offer besides cake? But maybe there’s potential towards the end of the fifth episode. She apparently has some dark secret after all. But then we’re just reversing the problem: this time, it’s the girl who has a troubled past. And at the end of the day, teasing her dark past is just that. It still hasn’t given her a personality.
Likewise, their relationship has no depth. I’m not saying that couples should fight or argue or that every conversation they have should plumb the depths of their souls, but holy shit, even Makoto can’t help but comment on the mind-numbingly dull nature of the couple’s exchanges. I’m sorely reminded that this is anime, and of course, this is high school love. As a result, everything is sterilized and pasteurized to such a degree that the relationship itself, much like the leads of the story, lacks any discernible personality. Instead, it has been reduced to this cloyingly sweet puppy love, and sure, this is cute and everything, but it’s also sorely lacking in, well, any meat to chew on. Perhaps the problem lies in the way love itself is conceptualized and idealized. Love is treated like a light switch. One day, event x will occur, and as a result, two people will just fall instantly and madly in love with each other. They don’t get to know each other. They don’t explore their feelings, their compatibility or anything of the sort. So the end result is that, at the moment, Takeo and Makoto have more chemistry than Takeo and Rinko.
Finally, the thing that bothers me the most are, well, the girls in the show. Rinko’s fine, I guess. I imagine that she never once talked shit about Takeo behind his back just because of the way he looks. But uh, wow, I can’t say the same about her classmates. And you can see it in the way that the genders are being portrayed. Most of the guys respect Takeo because he’s strong, he’s caring, he’s brave, he’s a good bro, so on and so forth. Most of the girls, however, croon for Makoto because… well, he’s hot. That’s it. They don’t know jack squat about him, but it’s okay, because he’s hot, hot, and also cool. And episode after episode, it’s one girl after the next, either bugging their eyes out of their sockets for the hot bishie or scratching their head in abject confusion at the fact that the cute and diminutive Rinko would pick Takeo of all people. It’s enough to make me wonder. I thought things might be a little different in the fourth episode, too. I thought we might meet Rinko’s friends and be spared of this.
But nope, even two of her friends can’t help but talk shit about Takeo. W-what about the girls who don’t talk shit about him? Well, they just don’t talk at all… until later, of course. Until Takeo’s manliness finally makes them all weak in the knees. And sure, even the two mean girls eventually warm up to our hero… after he saves both of them from a raging fire… but what sort of message is that? That you can only knock the shallowness of these girls through superhuman feats? What if you didn’t have superhuman feats? What if you are just as noble and brave as Takeo, but you just aren’t strong? Sure, our actions define us more than anything else, but it’s just… weird that so many of the minor female characters in Ore Monogatari seem to be cut from the same mold. I mean, on that same token, do you actually want to convince me that almost every single girl that had ever confessed her feelings to Makoto would also turn around and badmouth Takeo, thereby explaining Makoto’s rejection of them?
And to see girls chatting away on their phones, making fun of Takeo in the middle of class, it seems to suggest that they lack any sort of empathy. They can’t even see why a girl like Rinko would even like Takeo. But it goes beyond the these schoolgirls. After all, they’re just girls. Unfortunately, even a grown woman in the fourth episode — a mom, in fact — ends up thanking Makoto when he didn’t lift a finger to help her. Rather, it was Takeo who carried her child and her child’s stroller up a flight of stares. C’mon. A grown woman. You can argue that Rinko’s classmates are immature high school girls, but what the fuck, man? And it happens again in the fifth episode. This time, Takeo heroically dives into a river to save a kid, but in the end, the mother is so blind to everything but Makoto’s good looks that she showers the latter with praise. This is not funny. This is just sad. In fact, it’s a scary world to live in when one gender is supposedly so biased towards a young, well-adjusted man just because he isn’t attractive. But we know that this isn’t really the case in the real world… right? As a result, there’s a disturbing texture to Ore Monogatari that belies it’s bright and cheerful narrative on the surface.
And oh yeah, there’s one more thing…
MACARONS. MA-CA-RONS. C’mon, subs, it’s not that hard: