Seven girls. Two guys. One school. A lot of romance. I won’t blame anyone for flinching at what those words imply, since the high school romance genre is done to death. But I’m not jaded enough to start bashing unoriginal stories just because they’re unoriginal; any story can be good with enough care. But instead of talking about entertainment philosophies, let’s look at Kimikiss ~Pure Rouge~.
The story opens with a quick scene of a lass arriving in town, followed by a scene where main lead Kouichi wakes up from a dream he can’t remember. But as he wakes, the doorbell rings with that lass standing at the front door, who promptly settles down in his house as if she knew him. But Kouichi doesn’t know who she is, until his friend Kazuki shows up at his house as he and the lass quickly recognize each other. The lass is their childhood friend Mao, back from overseas and staying at Kouichi’s house for the time being.
But this event is bound to cause waves, as Kouichi has been trying to build a relationship with his classmate Yuumi, while trying to make a film with Kazuki and their other friend Akira. But Kazuki is worse off, working on that film, being forced into soccer practice with Asuka, and kissing experiments with Eriko! Meanwhile, in the senior class, Mao sparks an odd friendship with Eiji. And in the first year class, Kazuki’s younger sister Nana and her friend Harumi go on...udon cooking adventures.
Well. That complicated quickly. Before going any further, it’s worth noting the udon subplot is pointless but takes a good 15% of the show’s screentime anyway. It serves as comic relief with no impact on the story, which is a shame since the leftover 85% is indispensible, tightly written, and believably blends together like Very Berry Ramen.
Okay, maybe only Eriko would like that flavor. There’s a running joke throughout the show about her lack of taste, but otherwise there’s a lack of humor about her that keeps most people at bay. Kazuki and Eriko share a mutual growth throughout the show that moves Kazuki from indecision to finality, while the ice wrapping Eriko slowly defrosts without changing her aloof attitude. Her laugh at the ramen stand is barely visible but undeniably there, she starts to join Nana and Harumi for lunch, and that stoic face can’t hide her agitation when Asuka confronts her.
The spunky Asuka herself is the one who pushes Kazuki to do his best. He doesn’t know whether to seriously pursue Eriko at first, but thanks in part to the way Asuka pushes him on the soccer field and off it, he decides to go for it. And not just with Eriko, but everything he does in life. His newfound vigor drives him on the soccer field but as it does, he accidentally hurts Asuka’s leg and she’s sidelined from playing for a while. It’s a fitting scene, since it’s more than Asuka’s leg that’s hurt as she soon learns.
The downside to Asuka’s progress is how different she acts before and after her injury. Going from a drill sergeant to a blushing pile of goo after one scene is jarring enough as it is, but here it’s only made worse because of everyone else’s subtle progress. Unfortunately, that subtlety is also taken too far with part of Eriko’s progress, since the reason she’s doing these experiments comes too little, too late. Everything else about Eriko’s progress is otherwise solid and connects well with the rest of the story in the few times they connect.
This connect shows in a recurring scene where Eriko and Mao relax and talk in the school nurse’s office. At first, Mao crashes the nurse’s office just because she’s not a morning person, but later goes there after her personal reasons develop. On the other hand, the genius Eriko goes there just to skip class, but later on even she doesn’t know how to face her feelings. Eriko and Mao’s mutual growth parallel each other like the beds they rest on, with the former experiencing love and the latter being afraid to lose it.
Mao herself is the big sister figure to Kouichi and Kazuki, and always seems on top of everything. Like being the matchmaker for Kouichi and Yuumi, or pushing Kazuki to go after Eriko. But she’s also rounded out, often barging into Kouichi’s room for a round of video games, or her attempts to befriend her classmate Eiji. But as the show goes on, her face denies her actions, and her actions deny her feelings. It could be easy to dislike her for being dishonest, but it can also be something to appreciate. In other words, she’s a believably flawed character.
Then, there’s the somewhat flawless but still compelling Eiji. His aloofness is the most noticeable thing about him until the aesthetics take care of the rest. He’s a late-night jazz saxophonist working at a bar with muted lighting. There’s no word of his family throughout the show, and his teacher criticizes him for focusing too much on music and not enough on his studies. He lives a strange life, but this doesn’t faze him much nor does he develop from it. But that’s not a bad thing, as he’s mature beyond his years as he plays the voice of reason for Mao AND Kouichi.
Kouichi, the main lead, breaks away from the milquetoast quality that’s too easy to fall into. Though he needs a push from Mao to really go after Yuumi, he shows qualities that make it believable why Yuumi would like him. His strong work ethic, like working on the film, is where he and Yuumi spend a lot of time together. And his dreams of being a novelist come from a certain plot point, that lies with a certain someone, who’s with him less and less as the show goes on. Kouichi can’t help but be concerned for this certain someone, and Yuumi can’t help but notice his concern.
Yuumi herself is meek, but she doesn’t shy away from conflict. She takes bad news pretty well, and from to librarian to film maker has a work ethic of her own. Unfortunately, she’s static compared to the rest of the characters. There’s a lack of reaction on her part despite being in love—her incessant blushing doesn’t count—and her role in the story is underwhelming despite being so important. Still, she does nicely build the story in the show’s film subplot.
Because past the romantic drama is a film being made by the honestly devious Akira. But what starts as a waste of time slowly shows itself to parallel the story in many ways. There are script lines that recite themselves in real life, and casting decisions between Yuumi and Mao that are hard to pay mind to, until the story fully plays out. At the end, Akira screens the film, and congratulates himself on making it a tear jerker. Sound melodramatic? Well, the in-show audience’s reaction to the film is tearful but muted. It’s a frighteningly believable response, and shows how strong understated storytelling can be.
This is because the show’s storytelling is restrained. It hardly tries to tell the viewer how to feel, letting dialog and character progress rule each scene instead of a loud soundtrack. This restraint lets the story be serious without being heavy, and lets the lighter scenes exist since they don’t become full-on comedy. These restrained aesthetics show the story’s confidence in its storytelling and its viewers to know the characters, with often superb results.
Let me describe some of those results. When Kouichi and Yuumi are talking after an exam, the viewer can see Mao watching them like the matchmaker she is, but the slight slant to her eyes is a sign of things to come. During an experiment between Kazuki and Eriko in the middle part of the show, a blush and a tremble cross Eriko’s face, while Kazuki is noticeably calmer. And when someone tries to return something to someone else, the viewer WILL know what it means at that point. It’s scenes like this that are powerful, mostly quiet storytelling moments where Kimikiss ~Pure Rouge~ is purely divine.
Unfortunately, when the show heavily relies on music, half the time it makes a muted scene try too hard. When someone shares bad news with another, just having the news foreshadowed and the viewer’s connection to their relationship is enough. Or in the couple of scenes where someone is trying to confide in another, half the time those scenes work and half the time they don’t. The show is 3/4 quiet and 1/4 loud. There’s nothing wrong with a loud scene to show emotion, but it’s a gamble the show loses half the time.
But when the show wins that gamble, it wins big time. When a scene where someone is confiding in another works, the music is perfectly timed. When the second major kiss in the show happens, the first ending number, ‘Negai Boshi,’ perfectly caps the moment. The music itself is often understated and doesn’t stand on its own, but it always sets the mood, rarely failing to be subtle but effective. This is part of the storytelling’s restraint, which also shows its hand in the visuals.
Quite oddly (or quite thankfully!), for a show with several heroines, there’s no overt fanservice. Save for one shower scene and one beach scene, the show uses intimacy to show off its bevy of beauties. Often times after a kiss, there’s a heavy emphasis on the heroine’s lips. Not body. Not mouth. Lips. The lips are shown as is, without any attempt to dress them up, since these girls are quite lovely already. This show knows its heroines are the cover attraction, but plays up their appearance sparingly, gracefully, and with dignity.
The art design itself is lively, brightly colored despite the limited color palette, but nothing great. Its real strength is WHAT happens with the art itself. A second-long flashback followed by a dark, empty apartment implies everything important about a certain character. Or another scene where a bedroom door is framed between two characters, to show the disconnect between what they think the other one thinks. Or really, any time a character’s face tells the story, from Eriko’s denial to Eiji’s intuition.
Of course, strong filmic direction doesn’t mean anything without good pacing. And even counting the pointless udon subplot, the show’s pacing is very solid. There’s always a sense of time for what plot thread is happening when, and they’re not mashed together but connected by mutual characters. The story is multi-layered but still easy to follow. Maybe too easy to follow for its own good.
This is because Kimikiss ~Pure Rouge~ is a romance story through and through. It doesn’t really do anything new for its genre, but it doesn’t need to. It just needs to tell its story well, and it far surpasses that mark despite its flaws. Despite some characters being better written than others, most of them are sincere to the story. Despite being heavy-handed at times, it’s otherwise powerfully quiet. It doesn’t pass with flying colors, but a kiss needs only the color of ~Pure Rouge~.