Up Close With Yamato Kurosawa (Say I Love You)

I’ve enjoyed February so far because it has given me a really good excuse to turn my attention to the male leads in so many romances. This week I’m looking straight at Yamato Kurosawa from Say I Love You but before I get into dissecting his character (okay, that might be a bit extreme), I’d probably better mention that I wasn’t a huge fan of Say I Love You initially. I like Mei, the female lead but the first time through I really didn’t like Yamato and it took a few viewings before I actually liked the two together. However, I still find Yamato a character I’ve just never clicked with.

In order to end on a positive I’ll start with some of my issues with Yamato and then I’ll look at his good points. He does have some good points and he does grow on you after watching the series more than once.

However…

Yamato and Mei - Say I Love You

No matter how I want to look at it, Yamato originally comes on very strong toward Mei who clearly isn’t interested in his attention. While he doesn’t push it to a point where he is irredeemable, he intrudes into her space and more than once forces a kiss on her that she clearly isn’t asking for or giving permission for. He’s also very hands on particularly when she visited his house and he practically dragged her onto his lap. With a more out going female lead, Yamato’s advances probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but here it just felt like someone who was socially timid getting taken advantage of because her usual response was to freeze rather than get out of the situation. And even though she ended up falling in love with him and they all ended happily ever after, there’s still something just a bit off putting about this situation.

The second issue I have with Yamato is that he has so little actual personality, particularly early on. He very much goes with the flow of things and the people he hangs around and the things he does are very much just to stay in the crowd at times. We learn later that he started that behaviour in middle school to avoid being bullied and he even abandoned a friend because he didn’t want to stand out, but it makes him a hard character to really get a read on when he does some really nice things for Mei and then some really stupid things like when he agrees to join some other friends for bowling while out on a date with Mei. No matter how you look at it, that situation was never going to end well.

Say I Love You Yamato and Megumi

Finally, I really hated Yamato during the arc where he was modelling. His absolute lack of ability to read the situation with Mei just felt totally wrong. All the way along Mei was the one who wasn’t used to reading social cues, not Yamato, and yet suddenly he couldn’t tell that he was breaking his girlfriend’s heart? It just struck me as a really poor plot device and while it did lead to a touching reconciliation moment, it just felt kind of cheap.

However, Yamato does help Mei get out of her self-imposed shell and to actually reconnect with others. While his methods at times might be questionable, his overall desire is one of being helpful and supportive and Mei does find herself able to interact more easily with others because of Yamato.

Say I Love You Cast

Yamato also reflects on his actions and kind of learns from them. He really regretted the situation back in middle school and part of that is the reason he wanted to help Mei in the first place. He also learns after the modelling incident and becomes a lot more open with Mei. While that doesn’t solve everything, at least he doesn’t just keep repeating the same behaviour and expecting different results.

Lastly, he is a fantastic big brother. Okay, maybe he’s an overly doting and way too easily manipulated one. Doesn’t matter. Watching Yamato with Nagi is actually kind of adorable.

Yamato and Nagi - Say I Love You

For me Yamato is always going to be one of those characters I am on the fence about, but I’d love to know what you think of him so leave me a comment.

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Karandi James
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Say I Love You Series Review

Say I Love You Mai and Yamato

It’s Sweet, Right?

Love stories are a dime a dozen and in anime particularly, high school romances are prolific. While not quite as notorious as isekai stories, these roll out with at least a handful every single season premiering. Some to great fanfare, most quietly appearing and disappearing with little comment or noteworthiness. Every now and then though, a romance comes along that really grabs my attention and even after it is done I still remember it and in such cases, while I’m still very much more fond of action, horror and fantasy, but in such cases the romance may very well work its way into my heart and become a story that I treasure.

Say I Love You didn’t quite succeed at that. However, it also wasn’t one that passed by without needing comment. It’s a story that actually deserves quite a bit of attention, even if ultimately it wasn’t one that really moved me in the way that something like Kimi ni Todoke did. 

To understand my feelings about Say I Love You, I kind of have to point out that what makes or breaks almost every romance story for me are the main pair. From a plot point of view, romance stories are incredibly formulaic, and while there are a few variations on the theme, once you’ve got lonely high school girl and popular high school guy together there really aren’t that many paths for the story to take and for it to still stay grounded in any kind of manner.

Say I Love You Mei and Yamato

Tachibana Mei is an amazing romantic heroine. She starts out as the typical loner who has chosen not to even try to make friends having been burned when she was younger. She deliberately keeps everyone and everything at arms length, save her mother and her cat. She tries not to let the ridiculous taunts of those at school get to her.

Yet one day, having had to put up with too much already, when a boy goes to pull her skirt on the stair-case, she snaps. And she does it in the fantastically amusing manner of a round house kick, that unfortunately doesn’t hit the idiot who actually deserves it, Nakanishi, but instead collides with Yamato, Nakanishi’s friends and one of the most popular guys at school.

This ends up resulting in Yamato pestering Mei and giving her his phone number among other things but she more or less resolves to ignore him, until she realises she’s being stalked and can’t get a hold of her mother. The romance begins and Mei gradually learns to open up and trust others. It actually is a fairly authentic character development and wasn’t a ‘get boyfriend and life gets better’ kind of deal. Mei has to work hard and want changes to happen for them to happen and even then there are set backs, failures, and misunderstandings. 

Through it all, Mei’s basic character doesn’t change, but her outlook on other people slowly expands and she starts to see potential that she couldn’t see before. This actually allows her by the end to help two other characters as they struggle with their own personal demons and is a nice circle to show us how Mei has overcome her own drama.

You know, if the story had focused entirely on Mei, I’d have been okay with that.

Say I Love You Cast

No, my mixed feelings and problems with this show come from Yamato. He is, by anime high school standards, incredibly good looking… and you know what, that’s about it. We don’t know if he is particularly good at anything. People just kind of converge around him and he puts on the face they want to see, and that’s kind of him. Even around Mei, he seems to just change to fit her mood and tone rather than being genuine. And while there are people like this, chameleons, who slide in and out of social groups and fit in everywhere and nowhere, they don’t make for a compelling romantic lead.

It also bothers me that Yamato defends his friend Nakanishi as being a good guy, despite the fact that he’s bad mouthed Mei even before we know who he is and then tried to pull her skirt. Sorry, not a good guy. The fact that the rest of the anime portrays Nakanishi as a ‘good guy’ who actually just wants to be Asami’s boyfriend and doesn’t mean any harm also doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll admit, if we cut the first two episodes off, Nakanishi is an idiot, but a good guy. However the impression left after the first episodes sticks for me and mostly I just want him to get kicked down a flight of stairs. And the guy I’m meant to believe is the romantic lead in this story is not only friends with him but rationalises and excuses his behaviour. It all makes it a bit hard to get behind Yamato from the outset.

I’ll give the anime props in that it did try to build Yamato’s character as it went. We see him as a doting big brother, protective boyfriend, slightly oblivious high school guy who ends up hurting his girlfriend without really thinking about it, and also typical teenager who has regrets about not helping a friend in middle-school who was being bullies.

The problem is that he never really becomes a cohesive character. We just kind of deal with whatever mode the anime has switched him into at the time. Over the top of all of these faces though is the teenage guy who fairly regularly pushes physical contact with Mei. And while he doesn’t go into inexcusable territory, he still moves a lot faster than Mei is ready for and he’s constantly pushing the agenda by kissing her or sitting way too closely.

Basically, I end up liking Say I Love You as a character study because Mei is fantastic and each part of Yamato is interesting enough, but the romance itself is more just a vehicle and not something I emotionally connect with enough to really get carried by.

But as a character study, Say I Love You is extraordinary as the support cast that grows as the series continues are pretty fantastic. Each character flawed in some manner and using others to hold themselves up or to recover from past traumas. 

Say I Love You Yamato and Megumi

Megumi is perhaps the one who undergoes the largest transformation, which makes sense given her impact on Mei and Yamato’s relationship. Still, her story still felt a little undeveloped and while the ideas were there it really did feel like we needed a little more insight into what was going on with Megumi for her story to stick. It is also very hard to sympathise with her plight when you see some of the stunts she pulls to get Yamato away from Mei.

Visually this anime is functional enough but unremarkable. Character designs are great and each character has a look appropriate to who they are, but the overall colour scheme is pretty bland and ordinary. Animation is fine but there’s little to show it off and the music works well but other than the OP is fairly forgettable.

I would recommend trying Say I Love You. It is a fun story and the characters are interesting. There’s some really good exploration of social issues such as self-image, friendship, bullying, social media use, and so on. And ultimately, the romance works well enough. I do have a friend who fell head-over-heels in love with this story, which is the reason I watched it more than once. I certainly think this is one that gets better the more you watch it because the strengths of the characters come out more and their flaws become more understandable when you know where the whole story is going.

Right, I’d love to know what you thought of Say I Love You so if you’ve seen it, let me know in the comments.

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Karandi James
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Say I Love You 1
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Friday’s Feature: Reality in Romance

Victor - Yuri on Ice

With the Spring 2017 anime season wrapping up it is inevitable that a lot of people would be reviewing and discussing Tsuki ga Kirei. Overwhelmingly the reviews are positive and what I keep hearing again and again is how sweet the romance is, how pure it is, and how relatable and real it feels. It was a show I dropped early on but I’ve been watching double episodes over the last week to try to finish it and while I personally still find it incredibly slow moving I can also see some of the reasons why it has been held in such high regard by others, and yet it made me think about what I actually want from a romance story.

I’d like to put in here that I am not trying to actually review or critique the show.

Tsukigakirei1

And that’s the key word. It is a story. Fiction. The whole get swept away and dream of everything working out happily ever after with the guy/girl/whatever of your dreams. While grounding the whole thing in reality might work for some people and the relatablility might help them engage with the story, for me Tsuki ga Kirei misses the mark. It is sweet that these two young people are engaged in a first romance and learning what that means and how to deal. It’s actually kind of adorable. But as far as a story goes it seems lacking to me.

When tension is inserted into the plot through flat phone batteries, confiscated phones, petty jealousy, third wheels, and the like it really feels like someone remembered it was supposed to be a story and that in the last twenty minutes nothing has happened other than the cute girl avoided eye contact with the reasonable looking boy again. That might seem like a harsh evaluation and certainly if you are more caught up with the characters you might not agree, but while watching the episodes I am openly checking the time in almost three minute intervals just to make sure it hasn’t stopped entirely. Plus, they were pushing the credibility of reality when they had a teenage girl let her phone go flat when she knew he was likely to message her.

But again, this is all personal preference. I don’t like the romance in Tsuki ga Kirei because it is, for the most part, very believable and (for lack of better words) kind of dull. Guy meets girl, they like each other, have a few minor hiccups on their journey and continue on (I haven’t got to the end yet so don’t know if I have a happily ever after awaiting me or not). Essentially, it is so real that it feels like I should just sit in a shopping centre foodcourt and watch it unfold around me rather than watching the show.

yamato

Say, I Love You was another romance that I had difficulty enjoying. Despite a genuine fondness for the main character, I found the story slow moving and the character interactions mostly flat. The only reason I watched it more than once was a friend of mine quite liked the series. Admittedly, the third time I watched it through I started to really like it and I ended up buying it on DVD so all and all it couldn’t have been that bad. Essentially it depicted fairly believable high schoolers (other than the model who you have to admit was not a typical student even if her social networking issues were pretty relatable) engaging in relationships that were plagued by the usual issues of miscommunications, jealousy, and pettiness.

So what does it take for me to get into a romance?

Basically the romance needs to be one part of a bigger story. I need to feel that the interactions are moving somewhere and that there is a sense of movement in the plot and with the characters. It doesn’t hurt if the romance takes on a more fairy tale point of view either. There’s something to be said for sweet romances where people get swept off their feet and find their true love. It may not be ‘realistic’ but it makes for grandiose stories with characters I can get behind and fall in love with, at least for the duration of the show.

yuri10

This is where I think Yuri on Ice really sold itself to me. It had Yuri’s story as an ice skater and the romance was an integral part of that story. I could relate to the ups and downs and misunderstandings in their relationship and yet it moved along quickly and had that sweeping feeling of things just moving forward inexorably to a predetermined ending. Basically it felt like a story infused with romance rather than a series of events between two characters that might end up with them being romantically intertwined. I know from reading some reviews of Yuri on Ice, that some viewers didn’t really relate to Victor and Yuri’s romance and felt it was too easy, too rushed, too forced, or too one sided, and that’s where personal preferences come in and probably the reason there are so many different kinds of romance story out there.

We all like a good romance (even those people who insist they don’t will have that one story that makes them smile/cry every time they watch it). For me though, I think I’d like my romance a little less realistic and a little more fantastical. I can see reality already so what I’m looking for in a story is something that has some connection to reality but goes that little bit further to bring something truly special or memorable to the table.

That said, I am going to finish watching Tsuki ga Kirei. Who knows, by the time I get to the end I might have even learned to love it. But I’m turning it over to you and asking you how you like your romance? Do you prefer the realistic, the sweet, the spicy, the funny, the dramatic, or some completely different style of romance altogether? I’d love to know.


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Karandi James.

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Friday’s Feature: On Bad Romance in Anime

Last week I looked at some of the common elements of anime romances from the positive point of view. This week I want to look at some of the more problematic aspects of anime romance that seem to crop up again and again from personalities to full on stalking and imprisonment. As always I’d love to hear your point of view in the comments below.

01. The guy doesn’t just come off as being a bit of a jerk, he is actually a jerk. Maybe there’s a reason for his damaged and warped personality but what he does is emotionally destructive to his love interest. Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be convinced that the girl will put up with this and should actually pursue this character despite the emotional trauma she’s dealing with, and that this is romantic. While I know that there are many, many people trapped in emotionally abusive relationships it would be nice if so many romance stories didn’t glorify this. For a non-anime example we could most definitely point straight at Twilight. Edward is a controlling bully and his leaving Bella caused her to become nearly catatonic. This is not healthy. However, let’s go back anime and look at Wolf Girl and Black Prince. Whatever redeeming qualities Kyoya Sata may have or may develop later in the series he is a bully and the argument that Erika got herself into the mess with her lying doesn’t make it any better.

Of course there are plenty of other candidates out there for girls putting up with guys who manipulate them. Then again, we could easily turn that around and look at some of the truly horrendous girlfriends anime has given us over time.

02. Following on from number 1, we have the guy who wants a more physical relationship than the girl and is willing to push for it even when she clearly isn’t comfortable. While in comedies the guy in question will usually get slapped and dropped to the floor or beaten with a broom (hilarious, really) in serious romances what usually happens is the girl allows herself to be convinced. Generally speaking I avoid anime that goes down this road. One I did watch was Say I Love You. While it isn’t too far over the line, Say I Love You definitely hovers on that borderline during the earlier episodes before the relationship starts to balance out a bit. For the most part Yamato is a generally nice guy (with a couple of rough edges) who helps Mei out and seems to like her but he is definitely more experienced in relationship and at times he is clearly pushing for more than she is willing to give.

Yamato.gif

Though mostly this is nothing compared to what happens to some guys in a lot of BL so maybe we should just be thankful for that and move on to the next point.

03. Anime romances tend to normalise stalkerish behaviour. Secret photo taking, finding out someone’s entire schedule, likes and dislikes of food, their home address and phone number, it seems nothing is off the table for some determined would-be partners in romantic anime. It would be an adorable display of affection if not for the creepy real world consequences of actual stalking. However this particular behaviour has been normalised to the point where it is now parodied in comedies and played for laughs. Momokuri last year with Kurihara took this to extremes and while in the show it was played cute and for laughs with Kurihara having no ill intentions, one has to wonder what would happen if Momotsuki had ever tried to break up with her. Of course, we see the far darker side of this behaviour in Mirai Nikki through the notorious Yuno Gasai who will genuinely do anything to keep Amano ‘safe’ including tying him to a chair and holding him in captivity.

This is probably my least favourite trope in anime romances.

04. The characters know nothing about each other but declare they are in love. How many times do we see the scene where the girl confesses to the guy having never actually spoken to him before? Why are you in love with someone you don’t know? There are so many assumptions being made here and it really makes me wonder how they expect a relationship to last when they can’t even speak to the guy properly. Of course, there are just as many male characters confessing to girls they’ve only ever admired from afar so this isn’t exclusively a problem of the heroine of the story. I love it when they follow this up with an internal monologue that says they’ve always been watching that person. Yeah, because that will tell you everything about them, or you are journeying into the stalker territory from number 3.

05. The girl starts changing herself entirely based on the guy’s preference. She asks his opinion on everything and ceases to actually make any decisions on her own. It is like being in a relationship was akin to lobotomising the character and suddenly their brain has stopped functioning independently. I know this one isn’t fair but a character who pretty much has no identity outside of her relationship is Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess. Realistically, what little we see of her before Keiichi makes his wish doesn’t really reveal much of a personality to start with (other than sweet) and then she’s bound by his wish for most of the rest of the show. In this instance it kind of works but I still find these sorts of characters frustrating.

Belldandy.png

That’s it from me on bad romance trends but feel free to suggest your own or provide more examples of the ones above.

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Karandi James
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