First Impression: Kimi ni Todoke (Netflix, Live-Action)

Kuronuma Sawako is a curiosity. While she insists to a friend from her middle school days that she isn’t being bullied, Kuronuma is still treated like an outcast. Her classmates look at her like she’s a ghost out of a horror film, even referring to her as Sadako, to whom she has a passing resemblence, and literally fleeing in horror when she tries to talk to them. Isolated and awkward, Kuronuma has a heart of kindness but isn’t able to express it to her classmates. But Kazehaya Shouta, a popular boy in class, recognizes Sawako’s sweet nature and treats her kindly. From spending time with her during a test of courage event to standing up for Kuronuma during class, Kazehaya continually demonstrates the kind of character that she seeks to have as well. But could it be that this gap between Kazehaya to Kuronuma, “from me to you” (kimi ni todoke), isn’t nearly as far as she believes it to be?

The latest incarnation of Kimi ni Todoke dropped on Netflix today as a live-action series. Twelve episodes are currently out, but this first impression post focuses just on the initial one, which lines up almost precisely, even scene by scene in many cases, with episode one of the anime. Indeed, it tries really hard to emulate the anime specifically, even down to Sara Minami (Kuronuma) imitating Mamiko Noto’s voice. She does that admirably, but the acting is otherwise off. Kuronuma is more than just the poor communicator that Minami is portraying; the earnestness, expressiveness, and glow aren’t being shown in her portrayal. It’s lacking nuance and feels artificial, as if Minami is being told to look at certain places as she talks rather than just inhabiting the character. Still, she’s considerably better than Ōji Suzuka, who as Kazehaya is terribly miscast. He’s too scrawny-looking and he doesn’t command the screen like Kazehaya should. Suzuka’s acting is unintentionally awkward, which is also true of other actors in various scenes in this episode, though Riho Nakamura, who plays Chizuru, and the adult actors do a wonderful job in their roles, offering a bit of balance. Besides some of the acting issues, the series is suffers in comparison to Netflix’s other big Asian romance offering—Korean dramas, which are so full of life and high in production value. While live-action adaptations of anime romances are often “good,” they are rarely memorable, and little in episode one of Kimi ni Todoke seems to buck the trend.

So is there hope for this series? I think there’s some, yes. It reminds me of Harry Potter, a franchise where the young actors needed to grow into their roles, and I can see that happening here. There were also a few lovely scenes (I confess getting emotional ib a couple of occasions near the end of the episode), though that’s the excellent source material shining through. If the two leads can’t find their way, then the show will end up as just another adaptation. And for how wonderful the manga and anime are, that would be a terrible shame.

Kimi ni Todoke is streaming on Netflix.

3 thoughts on “First Impression: Kimi ni Todoke (Netflix, Live-Action)

  1. I’ve heard a lot about this series in passing, though I’m not familiar with the franchise. It’s a bit of a shame they went a bit too hard on replicating the anime in that initial episode. This series has so much heart and could have really benefited with having more of it’s own personality. I really appreciate your review here since I’ve been morbidly curious but not quite enough to watch it myself!

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