Kimi ni Todoke is heavily touted as one of the best romance anime to be seen in recent years, but referring to it as such is somewhat of a misnomer. It takes Sawako somewhere in the realm of 12 episodes to even understand the nature of her feelings to be 'romantic' and the ending is disappointing in regards to them. What Kimi ni Todoke has to offer is an innocent tale of first love and friendship wrapped up in a package of drama and school life.
Unfortunately, the execution of all these elements left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. Far from being the relatable and clever high school romance I was expecting, it combined lacklustre characterisation and over-sentimental dialogue with a suffocating amount of stereotypical shoujo fluff that made it feel like a parody of the genre itself.
Sawako builds her friendships and develops her feelings for Kazehaya in such an arduous and precise manner you may wonder where the author ends and the character begins. In every episode, she offers up a step-by-step evaluation by way of internal monologue that attempts to explain her experiences on screen without any type of silent suggestion that would leave it up for the audience's inference. The show has no ambiguity about it because everything is spoon fed to you as though you are a brain dead toddler.
Most of the plot progression finds itself within misunderstandings and school life cliches. For me, the best viewing was to be found in the arcs that concentrated on the secondary cast - particularly Kurumi's and Chizu's. I welcomed all breaks from the endless scenes of Sawako and Kazehaya gawping at each other in awkwardness as their cheeks became flushed. The romantic aspects were very sickly and sweet, usually equatable with shuffling feet, hair blowing in the wind, and the heavy beating of teenage hearts. As a portrayal of first love, what you see in Kimi ni Todoke would be better used alongside prepubescent children. The angst and sexual tension which should be pungent among sixteen year olds is buried under a literal bed of roses.
Character designs are clean, simple, and very attractive - Chizu and the gang are not the only ones who wish Sawako would smile more, because you will be surprised at just how much warmer and prettier she becomes when pictured with a simple smile. Soft colours and artistic strokes enhance the backgrounds which make the anime very pleasing on the eye during most scenes.
Chibification is used in abundance during KnT - they're incredibly ugly and used at the worst moments. Drama-filled scenes that are just about to reach their peak are interrupted with unpleasant chibification which trivialises the emotions and actions being portrayed. For examples, look out for the bathroom fight scene and Kurumi's two-faced confession.
One of the major and noticeable drawbacks with the animation is the unfathomable amount of sparkles, bubbles, stars, and prisms of light floating across the screen at any given moment. Their use goes beyond excessive, and are used at entirely pointless moments where nothing noteworthy is happening whatsoever, for example, a shot with Kurumi and her friends walking out of shot down the hallway. At times it is used well; Kurumi is shown with flowers blooming from her very aura and this acts as a humorous contrast to her true personality.
Whilst I did not care much for the voice of Sawako, Mamiko Noto's performance is very distinct and enhances the nature of Sawako's character well. I also have a strong aversion to Aya Hirano's voice but for a flawed character such as Kurumi it was well-suited.
There wasn't much to knock with the sound, but nothing particularly stood out either. The OP was highly listenable and pleasant, but I found the vocals on the ED very obnoxious and nasally. Themes throughout the show were well-composed if not a bit repetitive, but I do imagine an OST would make for easy listening.
The characters suffer heavily from the poor writing and inert pacing. They can be generalised as a rabble of witless and over-sentimental teenagers with hormone deficiencies that are off the charts. As far as the relationship between Kazehaya and Sawako goes I imagine that an encounter between two amoeba would be more thrilling.
I have no problem realising that a character such as Sawako made a refreshing change from the norm. However, as much as she managed cute without relying on moe, her shy and innocent nature became tiresome and felt unrealistic.
One of my biggest issues with Sawako is that she is so emotionally stunted and insecure that she happily ingests all the disingenuous compliments from members of her class who only recently bullied her. Any realistic portrayal of a bullied character would not require that she desperately wants to befriend the very denizens of hell that make her life a misery. Sawako's ability to brush off these comments and still want to see the good in people is both an insult to bullied teenagers everywhere yet also elevates her to the position of role model.
Kurumi steals the trophy for best character as a formidable yet naive love rival with a natural progression between jealousy, spitefulness and underlying sensitivity. She may make you want to slap her but she is the only character who seems to have a healthy hormone balance. There is no denying she is well-written, and a nice hint of negativity in an anime that seems fuelled by writers on Valium.
The rest of the cast have their moments to shine and are used at the right times to help ease the annoyance of characters you might dislike.
I guess it goes without saying that I feel Kimi ni Todoke to be highly overrated. This is an anime which practically abuses its genre and employs far too much worthless cliche to deserve its current position just outside the Top 100 on Anime-Planet. It is certainly above average, and has some highly enjoyable moments and arcs that make it worth watching (if reviewing the character arcs separately Kurumi's would get a 7.9 and Chizu's a 6.5). However, I simply cannot recommend this to anyone who considers themselves to have an above average level of emotional intelligence.