Director: Masashi Ishihama
Streaming on: Funimation
Most of my content might lead you to believe I am a brick-headed shonen fanboy who can’t pay attention to any show where someone isn’t getting beaten to a pulp. The joke’s on you, because I can’t pay attention to anything, at any time, ever. That has more to do with a learning disorder than with my tastes in anime, but I like to think that I’ve cultivated a broad taste in anime.
I would call romantic comedies my guilty pleasure, but there is no guilt when I queue up Bunny Girl Senpai or Rent-a-Girlfriend. If you have read my Noblesse review, then you also know that my other (not) guilty pleasure is anime with just the prettiest characters. Throw long eyelashes on Kirito and you might actually get me to say something positive about SAO. But my appreciation for the aesthetically pleasing anime characters goes beyond a simple appreciation for the hard work of the animators, I mean some honest to goodness pretty characters.
Every other day I will preach about the virtues of writing, compositing, and color palettes, but not today. Today we look at Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, or Horimiya for short. This also serves as a mini-review for the manga, as I did not want to wind up in the uncomfortable position of praising something only for it turn into a trainwreck immediately after, so I picked it up a couple of months before the show started airing. In Horimiya, the characters aren’t just gorgeous, they’re also endearing and well-developed (except for Hori, but don’t tell her, she’s sensitive about that).
Hori is a studious tsundere who takes care of her little brother while both of their parents are busy at work. Miyamura is the quiet gloomy kid in the corner of the classroom whose long hair and year-round winter ensemble hides his piercings and tattoos. After a run-in results in the two sharing their personas outside of school, they strike up an odd friendship with a whole lot of romantic tension.
The original manga came out in 2012, so if it feels a little weird that Miyamura has to sweat it out every day to cover his body modifications, keep in mind that Japan is reserved at the absolute best of times. Japanese society has loosened up somewhat in the past couple of years, but tattoos still are a taboo, considering their association with gang activity. Despite this, Miyamura has his because he’s sort of impulsive and a teenager, so if you were hoping for a little yakuza action here, sorry to disappoint.
Like I said, I read about half of the manga in preparation for this coming out, because throwing my free time at something I’ve heard good things about on the internet is just what I do now. I could compliment the manga for all the strengths of the anime, as it’s a pretty faithful adaptation, but the anime has the bonus of condensing the story to quicken the pace, plus all of the things I’m about to get into with its presentation.
Horimiya’s presentation is absolutely gorgeous. Cloverworks has done series I absolutely adore, like the aforementioned Bunny Girl Senpai, and they have clearly shown Horimiya a lot of love. The character designs from the manga are strong and endearing, and while you would think the main characters would get the most memorable designs, that’s not the case here. They’re both dark haired and plainly dressed, while the rest of the characters get more of those typically unnatural hair and eye colors. It’s an interesting artistic choice, to say the least.
Obviously a slice of life romcom is not heavy on the action, which allows the production to maintain a high level of quality and detail throughout. The character animations are all expressive and manage to capture the spirit of the manga. I don’t think that all anime adaptations should serve as 1:1 translations of their source material, but they make it work even as they take creative liberties.
For example, often when the characters are speaking they will project a uniquely colored disembodied shadow onto a white background. It’s neat visual shorthand to communicate someone being deep inside their own head, while also ratcheting up the emotional emphasis of the scene. Plus, it just helps spice up the dialogue scenes. A lot of the times the dialogue in the manga is just a character’s face on a plain white background, so this keeps things more aesthetically engaging.
I usually talk about the soundtracks in my anime reviews, but while I think it complements the series, the opening is a bit strange. It’s this sort of melancholic, melodramatic take on what a Horimiya opening could be, except it’s not really like that as a series. It has its emotional moments, even its dark or sad scenes, but it rarely keeps itself down for long. Maybe the reason for this change will become more evident as we see Cloverwork’s vision for Horimiya pan out, but it strikes me as unnecessarily mopey.
The ending, on the other hand, is this claymation-style depiction of Hori’s day, and the soft dreamlike music helps convey this idea of looking at these characters through the windows of a dollhouse. I know how much of a pain it is, but I do wish more series would use different artistic media, especially when they have the freedom of doing openings and endings. This is a memorable ending because it does something noticeably different, the best comparison I can make is how the opening to Beastars used textured felt claymation.
As for the series’ other aspects, I think the story is usually the disregarded part in most slice of life anime. After all, slice of life hinges on a new scenario at least once an episode, so the stories almost have to be quantity over quality. For what it’s worth, Horimiya’s overarching story is rather good, because slice of life stories are usually the character arcs of the people in the story.
That can be a tricky thing to pull off, because your characters have to act similarly enough to their normal selves so as to not alienate the audience, but if they refuse to change, the whole formula becomes stagnant. It makes sense that when Hori and Miyamura slowly ran low on interpersonal conflict, the series began to look deeper into the relationship conflicts of student council present Sengoku and his father, or Hori’s friends Yuki and Toru. However, that’s not to say that the main characters in Horimiya are lacking.
Hori feels like what a tsundere would actually behave like. She’s sensitive, quick to anger, and is a little too quick to get violent or use harsh words, but it’s not overused. Her tantrums usually come as a result of someone hitting a sore spot, but she doesn’t break into people’s houses and beat them with actual weapons like a classic tsundere. Still, if you’re a fan of a good ol’ “It’s not like I did it for you, b-baka!” you’ll love Hori, as once she calls someone an idiot, she literally cannot stop.
Miyamura is an excellent counterpart to Hori. The series is predicated in the idea that people have different personas in different parts of their life, but Miyamura’s is usually more of a fashion choice than a personality shift. Throughout the series, he remains quiet, empathetic, and polite, although he’s not the best with social cues and people sometimes just kind of stump him. It’s nice to see a kind character not used as a doormat by some of the more domineering members of the cast, because it feels like a lot of anime like to punish their characters for being nice.
The romance elements in Horimiya are believable, which is one of the more difficult aspects of writing a romance. These two characters can’t just be well-rounded and fleshed out people, they also have to be designed as people who would have chemistry. Hori and Miyamura have some common traits, but they’re very different people, and that’s generally how couples work. You don’t find someone exactly like yourself, you find someone whose jigsaw puzzle pieces fit into yours. The reason they’re called couples is that they’re two halves of a whole, and those characteristics generally complement each other.
Now, at this point in the story, the side characters don’t get a lot of chances to show off, but the time will come probably later in the season, if they keep up the pacing. Toru initially presents as a rival for Hori’s affection, but she rejects him immediately and he pretty much gives up soon after. Not too long after that, the story introduces a love triangle that doesn’t involve the main characters, so there is actually a small amount of tension in who is going to end up with who. However, I won’t get too into that here, as that’s material that would be covered in a hypothetical season two.
There’s just a lot of colorful personalities that it’s fun to watch. The student council is responsible for some of the funniest jokes, because they’re all kind of neurotic messes, while Miyamura’s best friend Shindo is responsible for the largest majority of Hori’s jealousy, and it’s as silly as it is entertaining. I haven’t even gotten to talking about Hori’s father yet, but all you need to know is that he is the biggest Chad. You’re welcome.
Horimiya is probably not going to be one of those anime that changes your life. Despite that, I’m always going to welcome a smartly written romantic comedy with likable leads, and the gorgeous presentation is just a little bonus. It doesn’t do a lot to challenge the conventions of the genre, it’s not a dumpster fire like its cousins in the harem romcom family are, but everything it sets out to do, it does well. I’d say that if you like Toradora, you probably will like Horimiya; it has a lot of similar character archetypes and group dynamics, with the benefit of modern animation and storytelling. 8/10