So you have a dating sim/visual novel with six main girls, and you’ve been greenlit for an anime adaptation. You have 24 episodes to showcase your game’s girls and stories, appealing to game fans as well as attracting new fans. How do you make that transition from the branching story paths of dating sims to the linear storytelling of anime? You can either modify each girl’s route for a more non-romantic approach and go through all of them, perhaps leaving one “main” girl with a romantic ending, or you can primarily focus on one girl’s story arc while the rest of the girls are more or less side characters who maybe get a quick few moments of story focus.
Or, if you are Amagami SS, you take a third option: divide your show into six four-episode arcs, give one to each girl, and reset continuity each arc, so that each arc is like its own alternate universe.
This approach has many pros and cons. The biggest advantage is that you can give full narrative focus to each girl, and ensure that each girl gets the romantic ending fans want. The biggest disadvantage is that now you have exactly four episodes to tell a full romantic story, even if the story itself would be better off told with fewer or more episodes. In the worst case scenario, you might suddenly find yourself at the fourth episode and with no way to wrap the story up with a romantic ending without it coming off super-rushed and illogical. (Though if you’re lucky, you can get a second season of 12 episodes and give each girl two more episodes, finishing off any girl’s romantic endings that needs one while giving the rest an extra bit of story.) This, along with the possibility of having different writers for each arc, means that the quality of each arc can vary wildly.
As such, while my overall opinion of Amagami SS is just that of a general “yeah, I liked it”, I do have certain arcs that I enjoyed particularly (and certain arcs that mostly just bored me or left a bad taste). Of the arcs in the first season alone (I actually haven’t watched much of the second season), the arc that rose above the others to become one of my favorite romance stories of anime is that of Kaoru Tanamachi.
First, a quick introduction to the base story: the male lead, Jun’ichi Tachibana, once got the girl of his dreams to agree to go out with him on a Christmas date; however, on Christmas, she never showed up. Heartbroken and in despair, he nevertheless finds himself potentially courting one of six other girls who might be the girl he truly is looking for. Among them is Kaoru Tanamachi, a classmate whom he’s known since middle school. They have a very comfortable buddy-buddy friendship with each other, but through some events, they start to wonder if they want something more from their relationship.
(Be warned that there are spoilers for this arc from this point on.)
Kaoru’s story feels like a lot of the osananajimi romance stories that I love so much. Even though she’s not technically a childhood friend (there’s another girl who’s actually the childhood friend, whose arc unfortunately suffered from the “couldn’t get a romantic ending in four episodes” problem I mentioned earlier), she definitely shares a lot of the traits of that archetype: they have a lot of shared memories, their friendship involves a lot of casually messing with each other, and there’s that tension between their current comfortable relationship and something deeper. At one point, Kaoru compares their relationship to a pastel color: warm but lacking in richness of color. She wants something more from their relationship, but after having been together for so long, she wonders how to change things between the two of them.
While Jun’ichi’s belly-button kissing escapade provides them a bit of an amusing diversion (and highlights this show’s… unusual approach to fanservice), a different event provides the catalyst for pushing the two of them closer. Kaoru has for a long time lived with her single mother, and did her best to prove they didn’t need anyone other than each other; she even took on a part-time job to make things easier for her mother. However, one night, Kaoru sees her mother with a man she doesn’t know, and later finds out that her mother is thinking of remarrying. The shock of the news causes Kaoru to run away from home, hole up at a manga café, and skip school the next day.
Jun’ichi, noticing her absence at school, finds himself quite worried about her, and goes to look for her. He finds her at the restaurant she works part-time at, and during her break, he hears her out about her feelings of being betrayed by her mother. This scene is a great one, because Jun’ichi displays such a great showing of love and understanding, even at a point before he’s consciously realized he’s in love with her. At no point does he interrupt her to try to offer advice or correction, and even after she’s done, he simply acknowledges her feelings and lets her know it’s not her fault, and that it’s okay to get upset over what happened. This kind of listening and understanding is exactly what Kaoru needed, as she knew her feelings were irrational and came from shock more than anything; she just needed someone to hear them and accept them for what they were.
It’s at this point that the romance between the two has been set. After this, they just needed to go on a date with each other and confess their feelings. Overall, this arc is an incredibly sweet little romance that shows off some of the best parts of a friendship-turned-romance story. If you are looking for a short little romance for your Valentine’s Day romantic needs, consider pulling up this show and checking out episodes 5-8, which comprise Kaoru’s arc. Outside of the belly-button-kissing incident, there’s a few mild moments of fanservice, though there’s plenty of moments where Jun’ichi is thinking dirty teenage boy thoughts. (Note that I can only vouch for this particular arc, and can say nothing about the other girls’ arcs or the second season.)
This arc does provide some good takeaways, both for our relationship with others and our relationship with God. First of all, with our relationship with others, do not underestimate the value of listening. It’s all too easy when listening to someone’s problems to jump in with solutions, but oftentimes, what’s more important is to simply hear them out and acknowledge their feelings, only offering advice if they explicitly ask for it first. Listening shows that you care about the person, not just about how helpful you can be to them. The part about acknowledging feelings is important too: you should never make anyone feel like it is wrong for them to have the feelings they are having. Dismissing, downplaying, and shaming emotions will only make an emotionally distraught person more defensive and less likely to open up. Obviously, certain feelings should not be acted on, but as long as they remain feelings, accepting them is how you show unconditional love to others.
As for our relationship with God, sometimes that relationship can get too comfortable, which oftentimes means we are not growing closer to Him. If we are hiding the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves from Him (which is pointless because He knows about them anyway), not letting Him work on them because that would be uncomfortable, that is a sign that our relationship with Him is getting stuck. Just as Kaoru was able to get closer to Jun’ichi once she exposed herself to him emotionally (and also physically, in a weird but not quite inappropriate way), so we can only grow closer to God by exposing to him that which we most want to hide from others. (Having a safe place to emotionally expose those same parts to other people is also important, but that is worth its own large discussion on how to find such a place.)
As a final housekeeping note, my next post will be the last post under “The Secret Stars of Anime” name. Worry not, though, for neither I nor my dedication to promoting obscure anime will be going away; I will simply be changing this column to a more general column with a new name. That said, I still have one last Secret Star left to talk about, and I have saved the best for last, so watch out next time as I talk about my all-time favorite anime!