If you’ve been paying attention to the seasonal anime beat for any length of time, you know about the heel turn in quality. An anime might tap into something special, either a phenomenal adaptation or an original that shows you something you never dreamed of.
The God of High School was the best thing to happen to anime fight choreography since the beam clash. Darling in the Franxx gave Evangelion’s psychosexual angst a teen melodramatic romance twist. Sabikui Bisco is about a Mad Max wasteland and fighting dictators with the power of mushrooms.
And then, the heel turn. Spoilers, but The God of High School burned through dozens of chapters and crammed convoluted characters and a magic system into a story that didn’t have room for either. Darling in the Franxx slipped that it had no original ideas, and then they go to space and fight the Anti-Spirals from Gurren Lagann. Sabikui Bisco killed off its protagonist and antagonist, brought the villain back as the Colossal Titan, and its protagonist as a magic laser mushroom man. In any case, anime is no stranger to jumping the shark.
We have almost grown used to the idea that a great anime could go up in smoke at any moment. That attitude and the nature of online discourse means the anime community will turn on anything that doesn’t immediately dazzle. On that note, my favorite anime of the season is the highly-anticipated adaptation of the rom com manga, Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie.
Well, it was anticipated. The trailer got some major mileage, and the manga readers were hyping it up hardcore. Then the show actually aired, and that hype evaporated. Excitement fizzled, and words like “cringe” and “boring” got thrown around, but you probably know slice-of-life gets that all too often. Even so, I can’t accept it.
When shows like Spy x Family, Kaguya, and Komi are all getting their due, it’s shocking and upsetting to see Shikimori get tossed aside. It’s also been like, a week and a half since I found a hill to die on, so here I am. Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie is peak fiction, fight me.
Not to overestimate my own influence, I’d like to take a piece of the blame. I’ve frequently cited this brand of quirky rom coms like Kaguya or Nagatoro as their own new subgenre. In my defense, these newer shows are just plain eccentric compared to older rom coms like Toradora or Nisekoi. Frankly, romantic comedies have gotten much weirder, and while I love that, I made a mistake in calling them a genre.
By so persistently trying to classify these shows as their own type of rom com, I undersold their individual strengths. In hindsight, something like My Dress-Up Darling doesn’t share a lot of DNA with Shikimori. It’s just that rom coms are grown and evolved. It isn’t a shift in genre, but the tastes of those stories’ audiences.
And I don’t know if you’re familiar with internet culture, but…erm, we’re big fans of strong women. Lady D from Resident Evil Village was a bona fide phenomenon, and she was only indicative of the trend. I’m surprised it took us this long to get an anime where the whole premise is “this girl is such a badass”. Micchon Shikimori is much more than a cutie, though: she’s competent, gorgeous, and has a dangerous competitive streak despite her normally easy-going demeanor.
She’s a complementary piece to Yu Izumi, her soft-spoken, perpetually unlucky boyfriend. The best part of this anime and manga is that it almost entirely skips their first year of high school before they get together. We don’t exactly need another anime about a shy boy who dragged his feet confessing, do we?
Now that they’re dating, though, it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Shikimori usually has to wind up bailing Izumi out of his own bad luck, and…wait, what do you mean that’s the part people are complaining about? Seriously?
It happened again. With last season’s My Dress-Up Darling and its protagonist Wakana Gojo, a subsection of the anime community mistook a male character who is timid with being boring (but more on that later). More than that, people have been criticizing the main couple as cringe. I’d love a hit off of whatever you’re smoking, because it’s gotta be other-worldly. What were you even watching this for, if not corny rom com shenanigans?
I don’t like calling anime “cringe”. Descriptors like that, edgy, or boring are cheap, even if I’m guilty of using them on occasion. It’s just a shortcut for saying you don’t like something without thinking that hard about it. Cringe or edgy aren’t often used for similar shows, but they mean the same thing; this story takes itself seriously and expects you to, and you refuse to.
Platinum End is edgy, and that’s bad, because it throws around dark and visceral subject matter tactlessly. It takes its ludicrous characters and plot developments with ultra-grim seriousness. Compare that to Re: Zero, which has a dark tone, but uses violence and shock value for moments of horror which keep the story developing organically. So, what does it mean when you call Shikimori cringe?
For Shikimori, it means that the story is sincere and doesn’t care about sounding silly. We call that “cheesy”. Tolerance for corny rom com tropes is subjective, but you should know whether or not that’s for you without insulting the show. Every show I’ve mentioned until now is cheesy as all heck, and that’s why people love them.
Do you think Spy x Family, currently the fifth highest-rated anime on MAL, isn’t sincere and saccharine? Furthermore, would you like it if it wasn’t? Not every anime should be cynical and self-aware; I like Konosuba and shows like it, but in no way do I want every anime to be a jaded parody.
You don’t need to like Shikimori or rom coms in general, but if you don’t, it’s unfair to pretend that this anime is any worse than its peers. Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie wears its heart on its sleeve, which makes it no different than Kaguya or Komi. That’s not just me comparing these shows, either, because they all have their talents, and Shikimori’s no exception.
I tried reviewing a bunch of shows in one batch this season, and honestly, I did a disservice to the shows I was reviewing. Sorry, my bad. I guess take this as your update that I’m going to keep doing individual reviews for now, but also as my heartfelt recommendation of Shikimori, because it’s great.
It’s impressive how author Keigo Maki was able to take such a simple gag manga premise and run with it. Shikimori began as five-page chapters, which have their own appeal, but working with full-length chapters has allowed him to substantially develop both leads. Despite whatever they say on Twitter or Reddit, Izumi and Shikimori are both really good characters.
The heart of a good romance is understanding the characters’ chemistry. Why do these people fall for one another? What are they drawn to, and why? I went more into detail on that in my love letter to Horimiya, which you can read here, but it’s obvious here. Shikimori might be really cool, but that side of her comes out because of Izumi. She wants to protect and impress him, and it also feeds into her insecurities, because she’s worried he doesn’t think she’s cute.
Izumi, on the other hand, is defined by his misfortune, but he’s also more than that. It’s usually played for gag, but the series is fully capable of getting serious, and explores the consequences of having such terrible luck.
Izumi isn’t a doormat weakling like people make him out to be; he’s a fundamentally kind person because he has experienced some of the worst luck that a person can have. His misfortunes have made him incredibly sympathetic, and doesn’t take pity on himself, which are both attractive qualities. He doesn’t get chances to be cool or tough, which causes him to admire Shikimori, but he has his own strength that makes him a compelling character.
Long story short? Izumi and Shikimori are effective characters on their own, but their chemistry together is really sweet and fun to watch.
Oh well, this whole rant was probably just the result of spending too much time online. It’s pointless to get frustrated by stuff like MAL scores even though I love to get frustrated by MAL scores. Between this and Tokyo 24th Ward, it feels like I’m trying to fight the atmosphere. It’s okay, though, because everyone already expects my takes to be garbage, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So go ahead and watch Shikimori, and tell me what other shows this season should get their own essays to make up for individual reviews. Other than the megahits, I’m quite enjoying Dance Dance Danseur and Aharen-san wa Hakarenai, so I’d love to talk about them.
Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter @Exhibition, where I recently shared my revelation that “nonplussed” means being surprised but it also means being unperturbed. Anyone who can explain that, please tell me over there. Until next time, thanks for reading.