Have you ever been in a relationship which feels awkward although you are certain you love your partner, and this awkwardness could probably be resolved if only you knew what the other was thinking? Tokyo Marble Chocolate presents Chizuru and Yuudai, two lovers so insecure that they cannot for the life of them communicate their feelings - so the narrative does it for them, with each episode dedicated to telling a particular ordeal in their relationship from his or her point of view.
Although the notion of giving Chizuru and Yuudai each a chance to present their perspective is a fun one, it eventually gets a little tedious when you consider having to watch the same dilemmas over again. Plot-wise, TMC is not particularly deep and the events are not actually that fascinating since the characters just suffer a couple of cliché plot developments. Moreover, many of the scenes are reused and only a few of the changes made to accommodate the different experiences turn out to be genuinely memorable. For that reason, seeing the events played out from each point of view is little more than a clever exercise.
The most revealing feature of TMC is the reflective monologues each character gives as they go through their day; those moments are both intriguing and touchingly funny, and help to establish Chizuru and Yuudai as distinct personalities very quickly.
Apart from being typical, there is one more element that I just do not understand - namely, the choice of twist. Let me paint you this picture: an anime about two people unable to share their feelings will, at best, make for static viewing, so a catalyst is needed to move things along. Usually the romance genre has no end of readily available clichés to pick from - a third party love interest perhaps, or one of the couple gets a job somewhere else and has to move, or maybe a terrible accident jars them out of their emotional anaesthesia. But not a love donkey, right? Seriously, for some unfathomable reason, there is an aggressive, weirdly perceptive, diminutive, love-healing blue donkey in this story, causing slapstick havoc and generally being the only vehicle through which Yuudai and Chizuru can interact sensibly. It might just be me, but this injection of eccentricity just comes across as a cheap gimmick to spice up the otherwise nondescript series of events. Although getting used to it is not that difficult, and the donkey does provide one or two funny moments, I still wish more of an attempt were made to emphasise the serious human tale instead.
Rich in tone, sketchy and minimalist in style, a lot like what you would get if you crossed Bokura ga Ita with Paradise Kiss, TMC offers my favourite kind of animation. On the one hand, the combination of pale skin tone and the pink fingertips gives the characters a surreal and simplistic China doll cast. On the other hand, the backgrounds are highly detailed, dreamlike tapestries washed in muted pastel colours, and movement is smooth like silk. I enjoyed every visual moment to the fullest.
There is nothing at all wrong with the voice acting since everyone fits their respective characters to a tee and performs brilliantly. The soundtrack, however, could have done with a slight improvement. Although there is good use made of natural sounds, a more stylistically distinct score added to the stunning animation would have done wonders to enhance TMC's atmosphere and allowed it to make a stronger impact as a whole. Instead, we have to wait until the end of the episodes before anything memorable happens soundtrack-wise.
TMC manages to portray insecure, unhappy people in a way that makes them highly sympathetic; their likeability is probably due to the fact that their plight is one that almost anyone can relate to, but also because there is much thought put into developing them as mutually unique individuals.
Yuudai, a young man who is the complete opposite of what most men are stereotypically expected to be - protective, self-assured, the sexual aggressor etc - is thus a mildly frustrating person for others to understand. In fact, every girlfriend of his has at some point felt like she is engaged in a friendship with him rather than a love relationship, which is never a good place to be. Why can he not just say ‘I love you' and save himself a lot of the same hassle with Chizuru? In truth, Yuudai is more adorable than annoying because his macho deficiency manifests itself in sweet gestures and a mumbling manner. Importantly, he feels a lot more realistic for being a sensitive, kind and slightly dopey human being than if he were the stereotypically anguished, charismatic bastard that so many of the guys are in these kinds of anime.
Alternatively, Chizuru is the more proactive of the two since she has the strength to make a decision to break up, although she remains highly insecure about the way she handles her relationships. While she blames herself for all her broken partnerships, she still wishes someone would tolerate her clutziness and love her despite her flaws. Comparing the two, I find Chizuru less interesting than Yuudai because she is a conventional shoujo romance character. Completely absorbed in this angst-love, misinterpreting cliché scenarios, and whining about the situation without doing too much about it, her main value lies in the play-off between her needs and Yuudai's.
TMC is a short and sweet delight for the senses, although, ultimately, it is not as clever as it would like to be. Few surprising or unique revelations are unearthed despite the inventive style of narration - rather, they turn out to be quite familiar scenarios. I recommend this one especially to fans of Bokura ga Ita and its ilk because, with such superb animation and an undemanding running time, the typical content itself will be far from a turnoff.
Chizuru loves Yuudai; Yuudai loves Chizuru. Yet neither of them can say it clearly because each is uncertain about the other’s feelings and is afraid of being hurt. Trapped by their insecurities in a relationship that’s going nowhere, they drift further and further apart. While Chizuru thinks this is the end of the road, Yuudai struggles desperately to overcome his cowardly nature before he loses what is most important to him. There are two stories to every relationship, but can love survive if they don’t meet halfway?
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