Kimi Ni Todoke is one of the most optimistic and beautiful shows that I’ve ever seen. Watching it again only made it clearer how much other shows simply do not compare. The story’s about a teenage girl named Sawako Kuronuma who, because of her scary-looking appearance, is doomed to be an outsider. But one day she meets a boy, Shota Kazehaya. And it’s thanks to this boy, and the spark that he provides in her life, that she is able to muster up the courage to try and make changes to her life. The show is then less about the love story, and more about Sawako’s growing world, growing self-confidence, growing capacity to interact with the people around her, and how this manifests itself throughout the show (relationships, friendships, her self-esteem, and even the way she’s drawn). Sawako’s personality is ultimately what gives the show its unique aesthetic and worldview.
Sawako has remained alone throughout most of her school years. There are constant rumors and misunderstandings about her. Some say she’s cursed, some day she does black magic; all anyone can agree on is that she’s kind of creepy. It doesn’t help that any time Sawako tries to force a smile, it looks like she’s just killed her husband and drowned her children – it’s scary. But Sawako remains a bastion of positivity and optimism. She always helps out, volunteers, and does things for others, never expecting anything in return. She notices how Kazehaya always seems to be around people, talking, laughing, the center of attention; she admires that. Soon enough, he’s making an effort to include her in the dynamic of the rest of the class (going so far as to sit next to her when everyone else refuses to).
It’s because of this initial effort from Kazehaya that Sawako starts making more chances. She puts herself out there, hoping for the best. Soon enough she makes two friends, Yano and Chizu. But, even still, her self-confidence and her knowledge about these matters is so poor that she isn’t even sure that she qualifies as being a friend to them. Part of Sawako’s problem is that she’s become so accustomed to being alone that she doesn’t even recognize the importance of her own feelings. She knows of things, but has never experienced them. This is why she doesn’t even know if she qualifies as being a friend, or later why she doesn’t even understand that her feelings for Kazehaya are romantic (a shoujo standby, but given psychological depth here).
As Sawako begins to make friends, the central conflict becomes internal. It is no longer about her classmates or friends accepting her, but rather about Sawako thinking enough of herself to see herself as an equal to her peers. Most of the time she believes that she should put her wants and desires on hold to let other people get what they want. That’s why she volunteers or all the jobs that people don’t want at school – she’s completely selfless in an almost self-denigrating way. She casts herself down in order to bring up others – in order for her to aspire to become like them. Part of the growth o Sawako’s character is finding out the ways in which all the people she admires and wants to be like are all flawed in their own ways.
Even after acknowledging her feelings of love and friendship and seeing what she’s on equal ground with everyone else, she still has moments when she reduces herself again. I’d like to discuss Sawako’s “chibi” moments. I’m aware of the long history of these in anime; however, in Kimi ni Todoke, they serve an explicit thematic purpose. Sawako’s “chibi” moments are an expression of her current standing within the situation. If she feels awed by a situation or if she can’t understand it, she’ll go into that mode; her height is changed, her facial features become simplified, etc. She makes herself sub-human, even; unable to comprehend the situation she finds herself in. This is because she assumes she’s not equipped or on the same level as the people around her. It’s an issue of self-esteem. But these situations become fewer and farther in between. Part of the show’s strength is seeing Sawako rise to meet the challenge in situations that are important (notice that she does not go “chibi” in these confrontations).
There’s a formal elegance to the construction of Kimi ni Todoke that still baffles me. It is a balance that seems perfectly realized. It always seems to know exactly when to leave our mundane world behind and replace it with colors, sparkles, floral patterns – it taps into Sawako’s psyche even, and the animation is derived from her emotion. How else does one explain the pinks, the greens, the effervescence, the transcendence, the almost utopian ever-optimistic sensibility that seemingly is able to only come from being able to intensely identify with this teenage girl’s feelings?
Kimi ni Todoke believes in a world where people are good and darkness is there only to allow for opportunities to grow; it is a thoroughly uplifting vision. Through Sawako, we experience the world not as it is, but how it should be.
Note: I should mention that this write-up focuses more on the first season than anything else. The first season concerns itself more with the growth of Sawako’s inner strength and confidence, and the tentative steps she takes to have a life that she can be happy with. The second season, on the other hand, tries to resolve the romance between Kazehaya and her. As such, it’s beyond the scope of what I was focusing on in this essay. However, the second series is quite worthwhile, just necessarily different.
copied/pasted from my tumblr: cruyffbedroom.tumblr.com