WARNING! There will be spoilers, as it is impossible for me to review this without them. However, this is a shoujo anime, and if you know anything about shoujo, you'll be able guess most of what happens.
Moral of this story: Stalking is totally cool and you should do it, too! But more on this later.
On the first day of high school, Kotoko develops a crush on Naoki Irie, the tall, handsome genius of the school. She promptly writes him a love letter, which he rejects without reading, and does his level-headed best to ignore her while she spends half her time pining for him, and half her time feeling stupid and/or angry. When the house she lives in collapses, Kotoko and her father end up moving in with the Irie family, much to Naoki's displeasure. Thus begins the tale of our romantic couple.
As I mentioned, this is shoujo, which means it is marketed towards girls. This is important, because this relationship is told from the perspective of a female fantasy. This means that any attempt at portraying a realistic courtship is tossed out the window, and instead tries to show us that you, girl, can get the love of your life by obsessively stalking him for years. Because Kotoko never gives up on her crush (although she wavers from time to time) and never moves on with her life. We are supposed to ignore this unhealthy attitude, because we know the female protagonist will end up wtih her guy, so it's all okay.
But more on this later.
Before I get into the negatives, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that the story didn't simply end with the admission of love, but followed the couple through marriage and beyond. I have seen way too many romantic anime/manga stories, that somehow seem to think the story should end with the admission of love, as if there is no more plot after that. Married life can be, in many ways, harder than the initial courtship, so this anime does get points from me for trying to confront those.
I say "trying" because it doesn't quite get interesting enough. The whole subset of problems pretty much amounts to:
1. Kotoko gets jealous and/or feels insecure.
2. It turns out that Naoki *isn't* cheating or doing anything wrong, Kotoko manages to learn something, and then...
3. Rinse and Repeat. It happens all over again. Showing she doesn't learn anything, but I'll get to this more in the character section.
As I mentioned above with the moral (which my anime group jokingly stated), stalking is featured strongly throughout this. In addition to Kotoko stalking Naoki, Naoki's mom stalks both her son and Kotoko, Kin (the obligatory friend-zoned male) stalks Kotoko, and at least a dozen other characters do some level of stalking, or have some level of unrequited love. That's pretty much what this anime consists of.
To be fair, there is quite a few comedic moments throughout this series where it works, but they are far and few between. The story is primarily Kotoko's half-ass attempt to woo Naoki, who seems constantly annoyed by her, and acts fairly cold towards her.
The anime also tends to skip months or even years between episodes, which can be a bit jarring because you don't realize exactly how much time has passed at times, leaving you wondering what happened.
No real complains here. The animation style is a bit dated by today's standards, but it works and doesn't get in the way of the story. If you like and/or watch shoujo, then you should be familiar with it, and will already know if you like it or not.
Again, no complains here. The opening tune is a bit catchy, and it grew on me after several episodes.
This is where I'll spend most of the review, because this is very much a character-based anime.
As mentioned, Kotoko is pretty much the typical romance heroine, consisting of the eternally clumsy and inept archtype. I think this means we are supposed to develop some sympathy for her, but they pushed her into real extreme dunce territory, and so I found myself groaning everytime she attempted something. Really, guys, would it hurt to try making a more normal girl for once, who wasn't totally inept and instead could actually do things and learn? In fact, that was my biggest beef with Kotoko, is that she never really learned; she'd repeat mistakes that she had supposedly learned the episode before. And she seems comically unable to even learn educational things without Naoki tutoring her. To her credit, she eventually learns to become a nurse, but I'd have to say that was the first and last thing I saw her manage on her own.
What I got most from her character, was a giant, disturbing lack of self-respect. She doesn't really stand up for herself much, or see herself as capable of living apart from Naoki. While that is supposed to showcase why they are supposed to be destined for each other, it instead comes off as a woman who is unable to let go and stop pursuing a guy who doesn't seem to want her around. When she finally seemingly does manage to show an inkling that she's moving on, it only takes a finger wag from Naoki to draw her back in. In the span of a few moments, Naoki suddenly declares he wants to marry her and that he loves her. But even after the marriage, she still has self-esteem issues, outright accusing Naoki of not loving her or getting jealous of other women. I had to facepalm as I thought to myself, "Really? You didn't see this coming? The guy never seemed to like you, and yet you married him anyway, and are suprised and angry he doesn't seem to love you?"
Naoki, as our male protagonist, is the typical genius who is good at everything. He comes off as cold and annoyed. Early on, I actually sympathized with him more, as he tried to tell this girl, who he had no interest in, that he wasn't interested. And yet, she kept on intruding and messing up his life. I think they wanted to show us that he was all logical and no emotion, and probably doesn't understand emotion... except he knows very well how to play with Kotoko's emotions! In one brief moment of sanity, Kotoko is on the verge of finally giving up on him, when he kisses her. It feels fairly sinister, since he states "Do you really think you can give up on me?" Almost as if he is trolling her, and stringing her along. With most romances, you can chart where and how a character falls in love, but with the exception of one, maybe two minor throwaway lines, we don't see that withi Naoki. He simply seems to suddenly love her. He spends most of the "courtship" annoyed at her, and yet, when he thinks she's about to marry someone else, he suddenly wants her. Why? As I said, there was some line or two about how she has turned his life upside down, but that's about it. This is something that should have been developed a lot more. At least some sort of scene where he says something like, "I don't understand it... but you matter to me, more than anyone else. I don't know why!"
Take note people, this is how you get someone to want you: make them think they are going to lose you.
The secondary characters are almost forgettable. Indeed, Kotoko's two female friends never receive any real focus, except as commentators on Kotoko's life. Kin, her only male childhood friend, does receive some development, but only as the stereotypical friend-zoned male whose overtures are always rejected. Early on, I was rooting for him, because he was acting much like Kotoko herself... except that somehow they try to show Kin's actions as "bad" while Kotoko's are "good." At least, that's the impression I got. But I felt Kotoko deserved Kin far more than Naoki. They eventually paired him off with one of Naoki's spares, which is a typical romance tactic, and felt a bit cheap, as a way to get him out of the picture. But at least he continued to show up; after Kotoko and Naoki get married, her two female friends disappear, not reappearing until very near the end. It felt odd.
As I said, this is shoujo, catering to a female fantasy. You should know by now if that is something you would like. It's not something I would normally watch, but my anime group was going through it, and I suppose it wasn't too bad. I just couldn't get into the characters much, being constantly annoyed by their attitudes and antics. I found very little sympathize with, and much to facepalm over. While I did like the fact that it followed our couple past marriage, the stories often felt repeated, with someone other guy or girl falling for Kotoko or Irie and jealousy entering. They seemingly learn a lesson about trust and love, only for it to repeat again.
While there is a little variety, it could have used a lot more. I would have liked to see clashes over finances, over whether to have children, or something!
Let me be clear: this anime wasn't made for me. It's a fantasy anime geared at girls, so I understand some people like this. I, however, can only look at it from the perspective of a real life romance story. As long as you go into it knowing what you're getting, and are okay with that, then you'll like this. But if you prefer a more realistic romance, or more multi-facted and developed characters, then look elsewhere.