Amagami SS 25 and Wrap-up

Well, that was certainly an interesting way to end the series. It introduced one last girl; the girl who ties all the others together, even the first one who broke Tachibana’s heart. The Meddler; Kamizaki Risa. Risa is all up in Tachibana’s business. You could call her a stalker, really. She fell in love with him in elementary school when he always drank her milk (something he somehow doesn’t remember) and remained in love ever since. Any time it looks like he’s getting close to a girl, she’s intervened to stop it, convinced she’s the only girl for him.

With this final episode, my “alternate timelines” theory would seem to be debunked, but on the other hand, I see this as just yet another alternate timeline: one in which Tachibana actually got involved with all of the girls in the same timeline, but each time he gets too close, Risa tells them he already has a girlfriend, and shows them a doctored photo. While it’s highly dubious they’d all buy this, the fact is, they do, and those relationships never take off, leaving Risa to go in for the kill.

Yet even she realizes what an awful meddling person she’s been, and tells Tachibana she doesn’t deserve to date him. Tachibana doesn’t take this well. He’s willing to forgive her and suggests she apologize to all the girls she hurt. Once all is forgiven (Japanese are a forgiving people), Risa and Tachibana are free to date openly…and fin. While very dialogue heavy, this was nonetheless a very quick, efficient, and clever ending to a decent romantic series. I still liked the Tsukasa Ayatsuji arc best, though. Rating: 3.5

Amagami SS 24

The best arc of the series had the best ending, as Junichi manages to draw out the animated, obstinate Tsukasa he knows and loves. Frankly, it would have been a huge cop-out if it was literally the case of her suffering memory or personality loss. It turns out, she had just buried that other side of her because she misreads Junichi’s vague words. In reality, he loves all the sides of her, and doesn’t want her “erasing” any of them. Once he makes her understand this, she can be at rest.

Mind you, this isn’t before she Kicks. Junichi’s. Ass, which is an awesome way for the “raw” Tsukasa to re-surface (Thus we’re briefly treated to Amagami MM!). She’s also finally able to reveal why she is the way she is. When she discovered Santa didn’t exist, she decided that she’d be Santa; that is, she’d be the source of everyone’s happiness. Somewhere down the road “everyone’s” became simply “her’s”, and she developed her merciless drive towards perfection. But that way would only breed loneliness. Luckily, Junichi volunteered to help her out, and you know the rest.

Having confessed their love and devotion to one another, we jump forward ten years, to the cutest of epilogues, if a bit saccharine. Junichi and Tsukasa are a married couple with a cute-as-a-button daughter, attending the founder’s festival once again. They’re positively oozing happiness; but not fake or forced happiness, but the real stuff. It was a nice touch, and establishes that they didn’t just share a high school fling, but a lifelong love.

Ayatsuji Tsukasa was so dynamic and fun to watch, she’s the one girl I wish had an extra episode or two to explore. But the final episode will instead feature Kamizaki Risa, a new girl. As of now I think I’d prefer either more Tsukasa, or for the ending to feature the girl who originally stood Junichi up. Then again, the series can’t exactly end with a cold rejection, now can it? Rating: 4

Amagami SS 23

Holy crap, she snapped! Tsukasa and Junichi are seen flirting with each other one too many times, and it pisses off some girls who were conscripted into helping with the behind-schedule festival. When the two lovebirds show up late, one girl lets them hear it. No one in the classroom is prepared for Tsukasa’s reaction: laughter, followed by a deliciously thorough chewing-out of the petty ringleader. God this girl’s fun to watch.

Later that evening, this liberated Tsukasa burns her notebook and confesses to Junichi, who accepts. But when the pressure to finish the festival prep hits a breaking point, Junichi pleads for her to apologize to the girls and ask them to help. He get slapped for this, but the next morning, it’s done. Tsukasa and the girls have made up, and everyone is working again. And yet…there’s something definitely off about Tsukasa…

She’s returned to her previous state; the same state she was in the entire series until her arc; the Tsukasa who had emerged – and whom Junichi fell in love with – is gone as soon as she arrived! Worth such a price a successful festival is not. This is an intense roller coaster, but while Tsukasa is without question the toughest challenge for Junichi yet, that’s precisely why I consider it the best after a mere three episodes. I also enjoy how Tsukasa’s leitmotif changes to a kinkier minor key whenever her true self came out. I surely hope that side isn’t gone for good…Rating: 4

Amagami SS 22

Tsukasa Ayatsuji finally reveals her true self, and like Junichi, we like what we see. There’s always something extremely entertaining about a perfect girl turning out to be not so perfect after all. Flaws make a good character. In fact, a flawed character is closer to perfection than a flawless one. For 21 weeks, whenever we’ve seen her heard her, she had a placid smile and the polite, metered, matter-of-fact voice of a Nissan GT-R’s navigation system. She’s no longer that impossible and frankly dull avatar. Her expressions and tone are infused with a new energy.

I’m definitely liking the balance of their relationship so far: she toys with him, but he toys with her right back. He may be better off staying away from someone so self-involved, yet he can’t turn away. She’s also intrigued by his kindness. He took the first step to knowing her better by agreeing to work on the committee with her, and he’s become the first person other than herself she’s actually interested in. Thinking about him even disrupts her studying.

Tsukasa is also defined by her relationship to her free-spirit sister, a Luna Lovegood-type without a care in the world. Tsukasa has all the cares, and as someone who has to build facades around herself when interacting with people, it isn’t surprising she resents her sister’s freedom. The more Tsukasa comes out from behind those structures, and the more frequently she drops the miss-perfect act – the more interesting and sympathetic she becomes. Junichi feels the same way. Rating: 4

Amagami SS 21

In a break from the previous five arcs, I’ve decided to do individual write-ups of the last five episodes, in hope the series goes out with a bang and not a whimper. I’ll assume the producers saved who they deem the best girl (or at least the most challenging) for last.

Tsukasa Ayatsuji (voiced by Kaori Nazuka) hasn’t been much of a factor in the series thus far, serving the obligatory class prez role. But I was looking forward to the series bringing her out of that neutral, dormant state and giving her some personality…and human flaws. When Junichi decides to help her out with the Founder’s Festival, he, like us, learns a great deal about Ayatsuji-san in a very short time.

Ayatsuji excels in academics, is a swimming instructor, and is extremely well-organized when it comes to the festival planning, to the point where the timid, inept Junichi is almost in the way. But we also learn that she has a older sister (no more than one or two years her senior, by the look of her) who she seems extremely annoyed to have bumped into while with Junichi.

There are several other subtle hints about her “inner side”, but none so in-your-face (literally) as the final shot of the episode: Having found and read her notebook, Ayatsuji fears he now knows of this side, though in reality nothing he read was incriminating. Regardless, by putting him in a deathlock she’s shown him a side of herself neither he nor anyone else in the school knows about. There’s infinitely more promise in this arc than either Sae or Rihoko’s, for which I’m glad. Rating: 3.5

Amagami SS – Rihoko Sakurai Arc

When this arc began, I was wondering how they were going to make someone as dense as Tachibana even notice Rihoko Sakurai, let alone fall in love with her like he has the previous four girls. Well, it turns out this series was wondering that too, and wasn’t able to answer that question. Of all the arcs, this one was the most anti-climatic: things pretty much end the way they began; with Rihoko hoping “her feelings will someday reach him.” Okay…

So yeah, this was kind of the worst arc, IMO. Nakata Sae’s wasn’t that much better, but at least it ended with a substantive exchange of confessions of love. And while putting the focus on Rihoko really brought her character to life, this arc was definitely Tachibana’s worst showing; I’ll allow that he’s a dense guy who’s either unwilling or unable to deepen his relationship with his childhood friend…but most of the time he’s just dull and wooden.

I suppose I should have seen this coming. All of the previous arcs had quite a bit of momentum by the end of the third episode, but this time I still had no idea how the heck Tachibana was going to fall for Sakurai, short of a love potion. That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with the relationship they end up with at the end, it just seems like a cheat, because she never had the guts to confess to him. Rihoko likes things to stay the same – and they do. One girl left: the prim, proper class prez with intense bangs. Here’s hoping it doesn’t end with naught but a hearty handshake, eh? Rating: 3

Amagami SS – Ai Nanasaki Arc

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying this was the best arc so far in Amagami SS. This arc was all about winning the heart of Ai Nanasaki, an underclassman like Sae, but not so much shy as aloof, moody, and an initially hard nut to crack. In other words, she was the most complex, intelligent, and interesting girl to cross Tachibana’s path so far. Her seiyu (Yukana Nogami) did an outstanding job mixing of strength and vulnerability in Ai’s voice. Having an awesome secret hot spring to take Tachibana in order to confess to him doesn’t hurt either. Christmas skinny dipping: that’s how romance is done.

I particularly like the fact that even though falling in love is affecting her swimming negatively, she realizes that’s what’s happening to her is more important than sports statistics, and lets it happen. Neither she nor Tachibana are ever annoyingly coy or reticent, but gradually and naturally their relationship develops and matures at a refreshing rate of speed (necessary with only four episodes to work with). I fear Amagami may have already hit its peak with girl number four, as I seriously doubt the dumb girl who thinks she’s fat or the straight-arrow class prez will be able to top Ai. Rating: 4

Amagami SS – Sae Nakata Arc

I continue to enjoy the diversity of relationships Amagami delivers. The first arc involved an “out of my league” girl, the second involved the “childhood friend”, and the third arc involved a girl who was neither. Junichi’s target this time is an underclassman who has a really high cutesy voice and is extremely shy,  reticent, and unsure of herself. Her voice somehow avoids getting too annoying, probably because she rarely talks that loudly. I suppose you’d call her moe.

As in the other two arcs, the feelings of both guy and girl are explored. They both like each other, but both lack courage until the conditions are right. As usual, four episodes is a perfect amount of time for them to get to know and like each other. The student-instructor formula is used well in this case: He builds her confidence by training her, and her resultant success bolsters his.

In a strange move, this arc heavily featured a narrator, telling the story like a fairy tail. I must confess I could’ve done without this, as it was lacking in the previous two arcs and the writing is good enough that the narration usually only spells out points already made…though the way he said “Special Banana Parfait” was pretty damn funny. As for the ‘flash forward’, I’m not sure how filming your girlfriend in a blue penguin suit jumping on your bed with your little sister is an appopriate activity for girlfriend and boyfriend, but whatever floats your boats! Rating: 3.5

Amagami SS – Kaoru Tanamachi Arc

I’m now two arcs through Amagami SS. While Arc 1 involved the ‘initially unattainable hottie’, Arc 2 involved the ‘old friend’. I preferred Arc 2 due to what I considered better chemistry between the guy and girl, and the fact Kaoru is voiced by Rina Satou, seiyu of the Railgun, Mikoto Misaka. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for her earnest and tomboyish yet vulnerable delivery. Also, this arc lacks a flash-forward to the future in the ending. The one in the previous arc didn’t grate with me, but I still didn’t really deem it necessary.

Many have used the word “rushed” to describe this series thus far, but I’m not among them. I maintain that while so many romances drag on too long as the would-be lovers circle each other. There’s something to be said for quick, compact, efficient stories that throw you right into the middle of a romance that is essentially fated, but despite basically knowing the outcome of each arc, the journeys to that conclusion are nonetheless enjoyable.

Sometimes you just want things resolved, and with Amagami SS, you can rest assured they will be, within a four-episode period, without fail. I also like the variety and the alternate-universe quality of the resets after each arc. Why spend 26 episodes on a guy courting one girl when he can court six? Amagami SS – Romantic tapas. Rating: 3.5

Amagami SS – Haruka Morishima Arc

“Well, when you think you love someone, you love them. That’s what love is — thoughts.” – Bill Adama

Whether it’s a book, TV show, or film, I typically like going into it relatively blind, knowing as little about it as possible. For instance, I didn’t know Amagami SS was based upon a “dating simulator” on PS2 called Amagami that explored various guy-girl combinations in a high school setting.

That said, the first episode of Amagami SS felt like a rather generic high school romantic drama featuring a dull guy and out-of-his-league girl that could potentially continue generically soldiering on for 12-13 episodes without anything ever coming to fruition. I was wrong.

This show actually has a rather novel layout: it’s six arcs of four episodes each all featuring the same guy, but each arc focusing on a relationship with a different girl. The first arc involves Haruka Morishima in episodes titled simply “Yearning”, “Getting Closer”, “Jealousy”, and “Love”.

I was actually quite refreshed to see the romance of the first arc make such rapid yet realistic progress, probably because anime romances (and romantic comedies in particular) all too often lead their audience along an endless ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ conveyor belt that can be excruciating. I’m not at all saying it can’t work (as it does here and here), but it often doesn’t.

This anime avoids that, as well as an even bigger problem, the harem complex (too many girls like the same guy) by focusing on one girl at a time (at least, in this first arc). I was surprised how quickly the guy gained the confidence not only to confess to her, but confess a second time after being soundly rejected, and how they both turn out to be pretty weird people who complement each other perfectly. Even in four episodes, the story didn’t feel too rushed, at least for me. This is also the first instance in anime I’ve seen of a guy kissing the back of a girl’s knee. Kinky.

It struck me as just one of those times you meet someone in high school and you know you’re the only ones for each other, and you eventually marry. Yes, that happens, even in today’s modern, cynical society. No dark pasts, no villains, no rivals…just a short, sweet, efficient romantic story. One girl down, five to go…I liked this arc, and hope the others differentiate themselves. Rating: 3.5