It’s been quite some time since I last talked about Horimiya, in a way. Last year around this time, I lauded the anime adaptation’s ability to trim the excess and give itself a breakneck pace that separates it apart from other romance anime. However, in another, truer sense, I also talked about Horimiya in January, as I gave it my Anime of the Year for 2021. So yeah, I did just gush about the anime, but I didn’t get to overanalyze anything there, so does it even count?
See, ever since reading Horimiya, I’ve been looking for a romantic comedy that hits the same cozy spot. I praised last season’s Sasaki & Miyano for coming close, but that series is more interested in the chase, and not in being very interesting itself. I’ve been reading Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, a lovely little manga about a boy with so little presence that he may as well be invisible, and Kubo, the only girl who can notice him because she obviously has a crush on him and this dork can’t figure it out.
The reason for this long-winded tangent is to tell you that I have not found my Horimiya replacement. Let’s say I just finished Tokyo Ghoul and wondered where I could find another dark fantasy battle manga, then Shonen Jump would have already tossed three in my lap before I finished the thought (those being Jujutsu Kaisen, Chainsaw Man, which I’ve already talked about, and Ayashimon, which you should really check out). My need for a rom com that is outrageously funny, heartfelt, and actually shows the main couple after they get together has gone unsatisfied…so I’m reading Horimiya again.
But I have an obsession with productivity and can’t justify reading any manga without seeing how I can extract content from it, so I got to thinking about what makes Horimiya special. I explained why the anime is such a good adaptation, but these characters, despite being so ordinary, are something truly exceptional.
Honestly, Horimiya is a tough elevator pitch. The central theme is that everyone has a side of themselves they’d rather hide, which is not novel in the slice-of-life scene. In fact, it’s usually just the first step in writing a lot of characters.
If you’ve been reading my last few essays about Fruits Basket and Scum’s Wish, you’d know what I’m talking about. The brief version is that these stories function by introducing characters through their relationships to established characters and elaborating on them. It makes it so we have a big social web, rather than a social circle. This style of character-driven storytelling is how a lot of good slice-of-life anime get away with having no plot.
So my synopsis is actually a character run-down. Kyoko Hori and Izumi Miyamura have no reason to speak to each other. Hori’s the quintessential popular girl, and Miyamura is the loner who brings a dark cloud into the room with him. Outside of school, though, Hori spends all her time looking after the house and her brother while her parents work, and Miyamura feels free to express himself through the tattoos and piercings he covers up at school.
And then Hori’s brother trips and Miyamura is kind enough to see him home, where the two see sides of each other that the rest of the world doesn’t get to know about, and whether or not they know it yet, they’re drawn to the intimacy of knowing a Hori and Miyamura that belongs just to them. As the series goes on, their relationship quickly advances, but there’s clearly a lot more going on here.
One of the most difficult parts in writing a romance is creating characters who are drawn to one another organically. It’s simple in concept, but it’s hard enough writing good characters, but you’re not just designing a personality and background anymore, you need to detail what they’re looking for in a partner. It’s deceptively tricky.
HERO, the author of Horimiya, makes it look easy. Just judging by the main couple, despite their differences, their chemistry is downright magnetic. I could highlight the same stellar writing between Sengoku and Remi, or Yuki and Toru, because everyone gets a lot of brilliant little moments, but if I did that, this essay would swell to the size of an encyclopedia, so let’s just look at Hori and Miyamura.
Absentee parents are taken for granted in anime and manga. It’s a trope solely so the teen characters don’t have adults interfering with the plot, but they rarely explain why the parents literally live at their jobs, or the logical consequences of that. Hori’s home persona was built around caring for her brother and keeping the house while attending school. Her friendship with Miyamura begins purely out of convenience; he’s the only one who knows about her home life, and he’s willing to meet her there.
Hori’s dynamic with her parents is a frequent source of comedy, but it’s underlined by the pain of her parentification. She’s been forced to fend for herself for as long as she can remember, and it leads to understandable results. Hori is a tsundere, right down to the occasional violent outburst, but her anger issues usually come from a deep-seated fear of abandonment and neglect. Her first fight with Miyamura stems from his willingness to stem back, feeling like he doesn’t belong, but for the first time in her life, Hori has someone she can rely on to be there for her.
The writing in Horimiya is just so darn smart because HERO knows the genre inside and out. The tropes we know so well aren’t subverted simply for the sake of subversion, but every trite scenario we’ve seen in a rom com is twisted slightly to make a more effective emotional beat.
But I’d be remiss to ignore the other half of Horimiya, even if I’m reminded of why it took so long for me to write this. Miyamura’s characterization is uncomfortably close to my own experiences, as I watch a socially awkward kid struggle to realize he has friends for the first time in his life. I mean, I didn’t pierce my ears and get tattoos because my mother would crucify me, but Miyamura’s unidentified battle with depression and social anxiety resonates with the audience because it’s unfortunately common.
As I said, his and Hori’s first fight comes from her fear of being left behind, but Miyamura is still coming to terms with the idea of her or anyone else wanting him around. He’s so quick to step back when he thinks Hori and Toru will start dating because he’s unused to that idea.
He looks at his friends in class or on the student council and can’t help but think that one day, reality will come crashing back in, and he’ll be alone again. This lack of confidence dogs Miyamura to the very end of the story, but it is perhaps best represented early on, when their teacher tells them to get in groups of four.
If you don’t understand why that sentence would be a source of anxiety for Miyamura, congratulations, you had a much better time in middle school than I did. However, Miyamura looks up to find that Toru, Yuki, and Hori have already dragged their desks over in the time it took him to remember the days where he heard those words and was left sitting alone.
The penultimate chapter of Horimiya is the ultimate what-if; where would they all be if Sota had never tripped and brought Miyamura home? If he and Hori never learned about each other’s real selves?
Hori would still reject Toru’s confession, but without Miyamura, there’d be nothing holding him in the group, so his sort-of romantic relationship with Yuki would never begin. Miyamura would have never defended Hori from the student council, and so Sengoku, Remi, and Sakura would have never met most of the group.
It’s chilling to think that the blissful past 120-ish chapters could have so easily never happened, but that’s when reality comes crashing back in. Not the cruel isolation that is all Miyamura has ever known, but the friends and girlfriend who know and love him for who he is.
We’ve seen fragments of who Miyamura was, the boy who hides his piercings behind long hair and glasses, but he’s never confronted that person. Ultimately, Miyamura reconciles with the other boy, because he can’t fight with a ghost. It’d be silly to call it fate, but there’s been this force working in Miyamura’s life, “pushing me to the place I wanted to be”.
As he graduates and faces a far brighter future, he wonders how he can make it up to Hori; how can he pay her back for everything she’s done for him? He’d like to take the whole sky and give it to her, but in the end, she would only want a cake with lots of whipped cream. All she’d ask of him is to reciprocate her small gesture of kindness that meant the world to him.
I have tried explaining why Re: Zero is my favorite anime, but if I tried explaining why Horimiya is my favorite manga, it would sound really stupid because I’m just repeating myself. Odd as it is to compare the two, they’ve both showed me someone whose struggles I can identify with, even if I’m not that person anymore. That even if someone hadn’t come out and shown me how much joy there was, if I was still that person, that there’s a way out of it all.
So while I believe both series are the pinnacle of anime and manga, I can also acknowledge that it is a deeply personal statement. If I didn’t relate so closely to Subaru and Miyamura pushing their way out of the loneliness and anger of their old selves, I might give both a 7/10 and leave it at that. But I do relate to them, and they are just so sincerely written that I have to believe that speaks to many other people.
Besides, this is my blog, and people read what I have to say (not a lot, but that’s more than zero), so yeah, Horimiya is still the best rom com. I’ve looked and will continue to look for way too long in the hopes I find something that can hold a candle to it, but I’m not worried about it anymore. If I don’t find one, well, I can always come back here, and Hori-san and Miyamura-kun will be there waiting.
So if you love Horimiya as much as I do, or you think you know a rom com that could give it a run for its money, why not tell me in the comments, or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku? I promise to talk about some manga other than Horimiya there, so go check it out. Until next time, thanks for reading.