Koikimo Series Review – The Depicted Relationship May Not Be Healthy But This Wasn’t Terrible

Koikimo straight out admits that ‘it’s too sick to call this love’.

I will admit that when I first went in to taste test Koikimo, or Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui, I was very much expecting not to ever finish this series. As I made clear in my watch or drop post, I don’t particularly like age-gap romance stories. Regardless of how well written the premise might be, there’s always an underlying creepy factor when watching someone in their late twenties romance a teenager and Koikimo takes it a further step and plays it for comedy.

Honestly it shouldn’t work and there’s definitely moments where I really did just want the characters to thank each for the weird experience and walk away.

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Ryo harassing Ichika.
Image from Koikimo 2021.
Nothing creepy about an older guy asking a near perfect stranger who happens to be in highschool for a kiss.

If you just watched the first episode you would probably be justified in tearing this one apart for being another anime putting unhealthy relationships on display and calling it a day. Plus, trying to make Ryo’s stalkerish and persistent behaviour come off as comedy was probably the worst choice in the early episodes.

Though to say Koikimo ‘gets better’ is also kind of a lie. The premise isn’t going away and Ichika isn’t suddenly going to be older. Ryo’s past as a playboy also isn’t disappearing. For those who can’t get past that initial premise, there’s little to be gained from continuing on into the story.

For those who either don’t care about the premise or who found it a bit creepy and off-putting but decided Ichika was an interesting enough protagonist to continue on, what follows over 12 episodes is a surprisingly sensible look at the problems a couple might have with this difference in age and experience. Whether or not that justifies the cringe factor of the premise is something each viewer will have to decide for themselves.

Ryo and Ichika meet for Christmas.
Image from Koikimo 2021.
Standard rom-com meeting under the tree moment.

For me, I don’t necessarily need to like or support a premise. As long as it doesn’t push so far beyond my limit that I quit watching and provided they then build on that premise and the characters, I’ll usually stick around. And romantic anime have a reasonable history of providing us with terrible starting points for relationships (particularly if you watch any boy love anime).

I’ve mentioned before in a post but I’m not necessarily seeking reality in my romantic anime. Koikimo in reality would probably not end up being anywhere near as sweet or endearing as the anime makes it out to be.

Let’s be real: very few mothers would simply smile knowingly as their daughter contemplated pursuing a relationship with someone ten years older when they were still in high school. And for safety reasons, they probably shouldn’t. Equally, a number of people including friends of Ichika and a work colleague of Ryo learn of the growing relationship throughout the series and not one of them actually really calls it out.

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It is almost as if they all just accept that this twenty-something year old is pursuing a seventeen year old and that’s perfectly normal. Which probably explains why a lot of reviewers really didn’t like Koikimo given it is very much normalising this situation.

Even when, at the very end of the anime, we get a public display of affection, other than a few looks from passersby, nobody actually reacts to the image of a businessman kissing a highschooler. But let’s move on.

Ichika and Ryo at the movies.
Image from Koikimo
The movie must be really dull because they both look bored.

Where Koikimo works as a romance is that it doesn’t rush the getting to know the characters part. While Ryo might ask Ichika out in episode one, she firmly denies him and what follows is an extended courtship over six months of time. At first it is one sided with Ryo pursuing Ichika, but it does become a mutual interest and over time.

During that period we learn a lot about both of the characters and both characters have another, more age appropriate and fairly viable, romantic option presented to them. Which leads to individual soul searching about what they actually want.

In that regard, I feel a little bad for both Tamaru and Matsushima. Both of these were great characters and both actually were a good match for Ichika and Ryo respectively. They would have made for a solid romantic interest and one that would have come with less complications. That both Ichika and Ryo consider this option and ultimately choose to walk away from it really helps their own relationship feel a lot less artificial and contrived and more a choice.

Tamaru couldn't be more disappointed with friendship chocolate.
Image from Koikimo 2021.
Poor Tamaru – in a high school romance you would have got the girl for sure.

It was nice that Koikimo presented love rivals of appropriate age but didn’t make these characters villainous and seemingly forcing the characters together. It would have been too easy for the writers to make Tamaru secretly frustrated with being turned down and have him attack Ichika leading to a rescue from Ryo. I think if Ichika had fallen in love with Ryo in that scenario it would have felt less endearing and more like momentary admiration than a romantic choice.

Instead, Ichika seriously considers Tamaru’s confession. She even refuses advice from those around her to really consider what she wants. When she turns him down, she does so in a straight forward manner and even acknowledges she might be making the wrong choice.

I kind of have to give Koikimo credit for treating even the rival characters as decent human beings.

Matsushima wants Ryo.
Image from Koikimo 2021.
Matsushima is a bit more devious.

While Matsushima’s character in Koikimo plays with the idea of being a genuine villain and forcing her way between Ryo and Ichika, ultimately she’s also a decent person. She knows Ryo’s in love with a high schooler and gives him plenty of reasons to doubt that relationship while presenting herself as an alternative. But once rejected she accepts it and remains on good terms with Ryo.

The other two characters of note in the story are the main character’s best friends.

Rio, who is Ichika’s best friend and Ryo’s sister, is either a loyal friend and younger sister or an enabler depending on your overall view of the story. Honestly, Rio is perhaps the worst written character because outside being her brother’s supporter and advice giver to Ichika, I honestly know nothing about her. Oh, she wants to be a lawyer because lawyers are awesome.

She’s the kind of friend that is written just to be a soundboard for the main character or just to push the plot forward. You can’t imagine Rio existing outside the confines of the narrative of Koikimo and its kind of sad given how much screen time she has.

Equally, Masuda, Ryo’s friend, gets a bit more personality but we still know practically nothing about him. He listens to Ryo at the bar but never contributes any of his own stories or problems to the conversation. What sort of friendship consists entirely of one person listening to the other list their love woes without sharing any part of their own?

Ryo, Masuda and Rio go flower viewing with Ichika.
Image from Koikimo 2021.
Why look at the flowers when there is food?

Koikimo definitely dropped the ball with Masuda and Rio which is a shame when the Ryo and Ichika both end up being relatively interesting protagonists and even the two rival characters both felt fairly fleshed out. There aren’t many other characters present in the story so it kind of feels like these two could have been given a bit more to do outside of being the cheer squad.

Beyond the standard romance plot with the age-gap premise and the characters, Koikimo doesn’t offer a lot. The opening theme is entertaining enough but relatively forgettable and the visuals are pretty average. While the animation isn’t bad, there’s also not a lot of animation on display with a lot of scenes of characters sitting and talking or talking on their phones.

One thing I did notice and I probably only paid attention to it because I recently finished watching Army of the Dead but there’s a number of scenes that use a shallow focus on the characters and blur the background altogether.

Shallow focus in Koikimo.
Okay, we can refocus now.

I kind of found these visuals a little distracting, though again that’s probably because of my recent viewing, and to be honest probably isn’t a criticism of Koikimo. For the most part this effect was used in touching and sweet moments and I guess were supposed to have us focus in on the feelings the characters were experiencing rather than wowing us visually. Not overly effective but it is hard to feel warm and fuzzy while being reminded of Las Vegas Zombies.

Ultimately I enjoyed watching Koikimo. It isn’t without its problems, though few romances in anime are without problems but for the most part the character journey is solid, the decisions made by characters as the story progresses feel like they have weight, and if the point of a romance is to bring us to the happy fairy-tale ending, Koikimo succeeds. Just jettison reality at the front door.

Images from: Koikimo. Dir. N Nakayama. Nomad. 2021.


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8 thoughts on “Koikimo Series Review – The Depicted Relationship May Not Be Healthy But This Wasn’t Terrible

  1. Not going to condone the central premise of a grown man lusting after a teenager but Japan gonna Japan. I suppose we can be grateful it wasn’t sexual or led to Ryo trying to get Ichika into bed rather than just being in love with her.

    Personally, I wanted Matsushima to win Ryo over as she seemed sweet and genuine, and with Asia being biased against towards women over 25, it sends a poor message in saying a young woman can’t compete against a schoolgirl!

    I wonder if it was Ichika doing the pursuing a’la After The Rain if the story would be more palatable for you?

    1. Unlikely. Just not a fan of age gaps involving teenagers and adults regardless of who is pursuing and who is pursued. I was surprised by that this one ended up being as pleasant as it was though I also think Ryo would have done well if he had ended up with Matsushima.

  2. I wonder if this “thing” for age gap relationships, where the female is significantly under age and the guy is significantly over age, isn’t a kind of Japanese cultural thing. There is a small industry of high school girls working as rent-a-dates for middle aged men. And there was that kiddie porn scandal with the guy who wrote Rurouni Kenshin.

    You can age gap me all you want as long as the younger partner is a strong independent adult.

    1. I keep thinking how much better this story would have played out if Ichika had at least been a university student. Sure, there still would have been an age-gap but the basic premise still would have sat a lot better and much of the rest of the story would have played out the same way.

      1. Yeah. It would have been much better. But it doesn’t fit the fantasy.

        Would be fun to do a compare and contrast with Fruit of Grisaia or some other anime where the boy was the younger partner.

  3. The show that made me root for two couples, mainly so that the main couple doesn’t get together.

    I pretty much agree with your take. Only thing worthy of note: The more Rio got passive aggressive, the more I got the impression that she shipped her best friend with her brother, so that she wouldn’t lose her only friend to romance down the line. Not sure if this is true, or if this were true how aware Rio would be of this, but that’s sort of the impression I got.

    Finally, anime still has arranged marriages in its romance repartoir, and they’re often arranged pretty early, so seeing age-gap romances with I’ll-wait-for-you endings aren’t that surprising. I can’t tell how this would go down. I’m fairly sure plenty of Japanese viewers would be creeped out as well, but I absolutely can’t tell how many and I’m unsure for what reasons.

    For me, that the show was pretty thoughtful made it worse. It felt like Ichika was pushed into it and the romance only worked out as it did because of her first-love confusion. What if she’d had broken up with someone before? It’d be a totally different story (and quite a few in the audience would miss the “purity” in her character). Similarly, Ryo’s late emotional maturation was fairly well portrayed, too, but taken together I found the romance actually more cringeworthy near the end than at the beginning. Cliché nonsense would have been easier to take.

    Or, to sum it up, it’s not so much the age gap as the experience gap that bothers me.

    1. Experience gap is a lot harder to evaluate given different people put different meaning on and reflect differently on similar experiences. Even with Ryo’s past as a playboy one could argue that Ichika was his first actual relationship emotionally (which kind of explained why he struggled so much with his own emotions).
      Still I really do feel Ichika’s mother should have had some misgivings about the guy pursuing her teenage daughter.

      1. Experience gap, in this case, means that Ryo didn’t have to deal with puberty and the confusion that comes with it. Basically, Ryo wouldn’t have the problem to differentiate sexual and romantic attraction (something I actually never learned, being an aromantic) that Ichika most likely has (though we can’t know since sex tends to be taboo in romance anime, and it’s not much addressed as a character attitude for Ichika – we simply don’t know).

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