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Image courtesy of TV Tropes, Yamato and Mei

Say “I Love You” (aka Suki-tte Ii na yo) is an engaging, if sometimes disturbing, shoujo anime based around a somewhat unusual high school romance.

However the introduction of too many standard shoujo tropes is causing Say “I Love You” to risk losing focus as the series is progressing. There will be spoilers after this point.

The Setup

As a child in primary school Mei Tachibana was betrayed by the classmates that she thought were her friends. Since then Mei has retreated into isolation, believing that there is no such thing as friendship, that no-one can be trusted.

As the series begins, Mei has reached the point of complete silence at school, pays little attention to her appearance, and has only two phone numbers on her mobile: home and the bakery where Mei works part time.

In contrast Yamato Kurosawa is the school idol, popular and chased by all the pretty girls. He is surprisingly hard to catch, and an odd encounter with Mei catches his interest [1]. Yamato is fairly consistently presented as a nice guy, albeit with some past deeds to overcome.

The Stolen First Kiss

Towards the end of the first episode, Mei finds herself dealing with a bakery customer that has started stalking her after work has closed, and her mother isn’t home [2]. Mei is hiding in a convenience store and, as a result of earlier events, has Yamato’s phone number on a piece of paper. Mei then calls Yamato in desperation.

Yamato rushes to the rescue, and dissuades the stalker with the stolen first kiss outside the convenience store.

This is a complicated trope to deal with, and one that I’m increasingly uncomfortable with.  I do recommend reading this post by Starsamaria and this one by Tokyo Jupiter before proceeding.

The use here to scare off a stalker does complicate matters. Whilst discussing this on twitter  after watching the first episode, @prkaye raised the following question:

@prkaye: @arcadiagt5 @reika Is the Stolen Kiss trope a contributor to the institutionalisation of rape culture?

I don’t have an answer to that, but the fact that it is a reasonable question makes me nervous.

The Stuff That Works

Where the focus has been on Mei and Yamato, and especially on the character development that is bringing Mei out of her shell, Say “I Love You” has been working well in the first seven episodes.

Some of the side characters have raised, and called out as harmful, a couple of key body image issues. In particular the damage that excessive makeup use can do to skin, and also the harm that can result from excessive dieting.  The character in question has a previous association with Yamato, and isn’t quite prepared to let him go yet, and this initially reduced my sympathy for Aiko [3].

There have also been episodes where Mei has been helping others get over problems, and I like the interdependency that this is creating. For a start it means that Mei isn’t a victim, and for a second it is establishing relationships based on trust.

One of these episodes with Yamato’s younger sister [4] Nagi felt very much like the Kisa episodes of Fruits Basket.  Nagi’s subsequent assistance to Mei by providing a recipe that anyone can use to bake cookies [5] with is a nice touch that reinforces the mutual assistance message of the series.

The Stuff That Isn’t Working

Where Say “I Love You” hasn’t been working is in the addition of romantic rivals. These have felt forced, and excessively clichéd even for a shoujo series [6].

There is a current subplot with the transfer student model trying to break up the couple by roping Yamato into her modelling work.

Sigh.

Leaving aside what feels like an unnecessary complication, this subplot is arguably working against the body image issues raised earlier, and risks damaging whatever positive messages the earlier examples achieved. This is particularly the case with most of the other students fangirling over how pretty the model is, particularly in the magazine photo shoots.

Based on the trailers I think one of Yamato’s old friends is about to show up, and I expect him to be trying to break up the couple from the other end.

Sigh.

Summary

At seven episodes Say “I Love You” is still holding my attention.  There is some nice character development happening, and the main couple are sympathetic enough to appeal to me. There is also little to no fanservice which is a refreshing change.

I think that the real challenge for the remaining episodes will be to keep the focus on Mei and Yamato, and to minimise the distractions from the side plots.

Overall I remain cautiously optimistic that this will be one of the better shows of Fall 2012.  I’ll finish with the lovely opening credits, which do also have a Fruits Basket feel to them:



[1] That is somewhat cryptic, but I don’t want to spoil too much if I can avoid it.


[2] There’s no sign of a father in the picture.


[3] Initially, Aiko has become a much more nuanced character as of episode 7.


[4] Who was heading the same way as Mei had been, and for similar reasons. Mei being both willing and able to help made perfect sense in context.


[5] Although I’m having a little difficulty believing that a girl who already works in a bakery can be that incompetent in the kitchen.


[6] Yes, Yes, I know that cliché is another word for inevitable, but see Hanasaku Iroha for an example of a series that carefully avoided some of these issues.