Having watched my fare share of anime romances (and being in a couple of actual ones), if I’ve learned one thing it’s that balance appeals to me. One-sided relationships can evolve over time into mutual enthusiasm, but more often than not simply fizzle out, so it’s best when both parties—girl-guy, guy-guy, girl-girl, whatever—have an equal stake a prospective relationship.
That’s what we get with 3D Kanojo: two people who on the surface couldn’t be more different (gal and otaku) but who are both fundamentally good people, yet also lonely due to their personalities and mannerisms falling outside the social mainstream. This is the story of them coming together due to a realization that there’s more alike than different about them, especially in the places where it really matters.
Tsutsui Hikari is an otaku, and a middle school of being ostracized and mocked for it has hardened his heart, particularly against real girls. He brings that baggage and buys into the classthink about Igarashi Iroha being bad news, “gaudy, sleazy, and disliked by girls” as she is.
Already, a similarity: both are disliked by “normal” girls. He also latches onto a perceived insult from Iroha when the two have to clean the pool: she uses the word “gross”, which is clearly a trigger for the long-suffering Hikari. Nothing else about their early interactions suggests Iroha harbors any particular malice towards Hikari. In fact, she tells him she should “fall in love” or something.
That Sunday we witness the banality of malice Hikari and his only friend and fellow otaku Itou Yuuto endured when his former middle school classmate Mika recognizes him and continues treating him like a big gross joke. When he stands up for himself, Mika doubles down.
Then Iroha appears, in her Sunday Most Glamorous, acts as if she and Hikari are a couple, then shoos off the “fugly” girls who were needlessly going after Iroha. She even clarifies “gross” remark she made was merely about how he might feel about his bangs in his eyes, not directed at him, while admitting that with Itou, Hikari has one more friend than she does.
Both Hikari and Itou have no choice but to consider that perhaps Iroha—someone they did not know—is actually a good person, now that they know a little more about her.
Back at school, Iroha finds herself in the middle of an unwanted love triangle, and the boy who believes she belongs to him yells at her and slaps her. After momentarily standing aside and allowing her to “get what she deserves”, Hikari thankfully and quickly corrects his assessment, and puts himself between Iroha and further physical danger.
The values of standing up for what’s right and not backing down are among the advantages of his anime fandom, if not his self-preservation. He may be far weaker than this karate captain guy, but it doesn’t matter, he’s in the right.
Boy or girl, preying on the weak is wrong, at least in human society. It may still go on all the damn time, but Hikari found himself in a position to stop an instance of it, so he did…even if people thinks he’s being “gross” for trying to be a hero.
Iroha doesn’t think it’s gross. She stays with the injured Hikari until he insists she let him be, giving him a kiss as thanks for his help. But when she approaches him in class and very publicly asks him out, Hikari panics and rejects her out of hand.
In doing so he again lets himself get taken in by the classthink, despite having a better, more nuanced idea of who Iroha is. Despite being saved by her, and despite saving her, Hikari’s lack of trust in girls remains a powerful, almost reflexive force in his psyche.
It’s a good thing Hikari has the one friend, because it’s Itou who repeats the words of their favorite magical girl, Ezomichi: “You call yourself a man? You Coward!” in assessing Hikari’s reluctance to trust or respond to Iroha’s feelings. But forget masculine conventions: any relationship means bearing a part of yourself.
Hikari will have to fight against the shell of distrust he’s created to do so. To his credit, he attempts to do so, first by gathering more information about Iroha. His method for doing so—doing a terrible job stalking her—isn’t ideal, but we’re dealing with someone not well-versed in social skills.
Iroha can be a bit of a trouble magnet, such as when she’s suddenly wrongfully accused of shoplifting at a bookstore. But Hikari steps between Iroha and her accuser before Iroha strips to prove her innocence, intricately detailing Iroha’s activities since he left the hospital.
When it’s time to part, and it’s raining, Hikari lends Iroha his umbrella, and she tells him she didn’t ask him out as a whim, or out of pity: but because of how he made her feel after he stopped the karate boy. She felt it again when he saved her from injustice.
Predictably, Hikari catches cold, but refuses to break his perfect attendance record, and is soon back at school with a mask. He’s late, and has to clean the pool again…but Iroha is late too…on purpose. The cleaning duty, as well as his cold, is partially her fault (she’s willing to share the blame with him), so she removes his mask and kisses him, before going to clean the pool herself
By now, Hikari knows how he feels for this real girl, but remains apprehensive to the point of inaction. Itou reminds him of the “unconquerable resilience” they’ve both developed after years of people being cruel to them.
It’s time to re-purpose that resilience by going out on a limb and trusting somebody. Being played with or manipulated; losing his pride or dignity…that may well happen anyway. There will always be some who deem him gross out of hand. He can’t worry about that, and in any case, he’s prepared to weather it.
So he runs to the pool, asks Iroha out, and they embrace, with the caveat that she’ll be transferring schools in half a year. Hikari’s first romance may well be short, but there’s every possibility in the world it can be a sweet and rewarding one…as long as it’s a relationship of equals.
Between Tada-kun and 3D Kanojo, week one is a clear win for 3D. It was more than a collection of happy coincidences and provided far more detail and nuance in its leads, making me more emotionally invested and excited for what comes next. Also, Hikari’s timid sidekick is a lot more tolerable than Mitsuyoshi’s brash one.