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[Ascaloth] Final Critique: True Tears

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When the winter/spring 2007 previews of the upcoming anime season first started appearing on the various anime blogs, hardly anyone took notice of yet another "harem" show that was in the list; understandable, considering that SHAFT’s excellent ef ~a tale of memories~ had just concluded, and KyoAni’s big-hitter CLANNAD (TV) was still halfway through its broadcast. And of those who did take notice of it, the reactions ranged from "maybe following" to "not another harem show". Nevertheless, within the course of a few weeks, True Tears had gained a respectable following with a gripping story and incredible visual beauty, causing many who overlooked it to eat their words.

Indeed, I was one of those who was intending to skip it altogether, being fairly occupied with CLANNAD (TV) as it was. Yet, one cannot ignore such a show for long if one keeps hearing raves from others about said show, and so it was in my case, enough for me to check it out for myself. And get myself hooked, while I was at it. Let’s take a look at the various aspects which made True Tears one of the dark horse candidates within the romance/drama genre, which went from being largely unnoticed to earning itself a respectable amount of attention from anime bloggers everywhere.

Disclaimer: This is the RIUVA chapter of the Triple Critique for True Tears. The Triple Critique is a system of three reviews on the same series, composed in differing formats for varying needs.
For a short summary, the NHRV chapter offers a 5-minute quick read through the merits of the series.
For a rated review, the Animesuki Forums chapter offers the standard category-rated critique.

The World

From out of nowhere, P.A. Works jumped out to stun viewers with an incredible amount of attention to detail in the rendering of the environment in which the story takes place. It’s pretty hard to miss the fact that the True Tears world is one of the most exquisitely-rendered, visually stunning anime worlds ever seen. Various locations are drawn in a certain style that exudes the feel of a traditional Japan in a modern setting, and much care is taken to make everything look as realistic as possible within the medium; as can be seen here, where snow on the ground is as messy as it can be in real life.

And that is not all; hardly, if ever, are the characters seen interacting within a static background; if there are background characters in the scene, they will be walking, talking, cycling; the world in which the cast move around is a living background, just as how it is in real life. Moreover, some of the animation which the studio uses in certain scenes, even background scenes, are ridiculously smooth and polished, with no hints of any mistake whatsoever; such insane efforts at quality control bring to mind the early days of Kyoto Animation’s ascendency. Add in the factoid that this series is P.A. Works‘ first solo project, and the similarities between the early days of the two studios become even more apparent.

That is not all. The distinctive soundtrack which the series uses from time to time are compositions by Hajime Kikuchi; better known as cuckool, one half of the group eufonius. Yes, this is the same group which is responsible for such memorable OP themes like CLANNAD’s "Mag Mell" and Noein’s "Ideas", as well as the OP theme for this series itself, "Reflectia". Hajime’s pedigree is apparent even within the BGMs of the series, which has a distinctive identity in its own right, and goes a long way to shape the character of the world further.

To summarize, a world as beautifully rendered as this is something I don’t get to see very often; not only with great visual beauty, but also with a near-perfect level of visual consistency. It must be said that P.A. Works has everything it needs to inherit the "dark horse/upstart" mantle from KyoAni. I would be perfectly happy to see what the budding studio can achieve with blockbuster-potential source material in the near future, such as Haruhi did for the latter back in 2006.

The People

The cast of True Tears, for the most part, are a very well-characterized lot. Despite fitting neatly into institutionalized archetypes, it quickly becomes apparent that these characters are a lot more than they seem to be at first glance. Noe is particularly unique in her eclectic mix of eccentricity and unexpected wisdom, getting up to some pretty silly stunts one moment, and philosophizing the next. Yet, despite all the antics that she gets up to, the story never loses sight of her underlying motivations, and although said motivations might defy logical understanding at times, they obviously make perfect sense to her, and we see that aspect of her regularly.

For her part, Hiromi also started off as one of the most deeply characterized female leads in the recent history of this genre. Stuck in an untenable position, the story takes great care to study the intense pressure that she faced from living under the same roof as the boy she had always been interested in, yet unable to get closer to him due to the disapproval of the latter’s mother, as well as the possibility of breaking a societal taboo. Hiromi’s characterization was particularly good for a great deal of the journey, as we get to see how her resolve to remain stoic under the pressure she is facing begin to get too much for her, causing her to crack at the seams, and eventually fall apart altogether.

Unfortunately, while the character development was good for much of the way, much of it fell flat at the very end. This is especially apparent in Shinichiro, whose actions were more or less understandable for the early part, but became somewhat incomprehensible towards the end. Although he was something of a flip-flopper from the very start, it was excusable due to the same situation that Hiromi found herself in, but the latter part of the story failed to provide proper rationale for his continuing flip-flopping behaviour. It was not until the very last episode that we get to see the real reason for Shinichiro’s continuation of his flip-flopping, and whatever signs of it appeared before then just wasn’t clear enough.

This is also seen in Shinichiro’s mother, and in fact she could be said to have started the trend. Her motivations for acting the way she did towards Hiromi in the early part of the story was relatively well-developed, and so were her motivations for her change of heart in the latter part. Where she failed though, was in the transition; we got to see that Hiromi’s drastic runaway attempt was what triggered the change of heart, but what wasn’t so clear was what exactly was the factor that got Shinichiro’s mother to have a change of heart in the first place. Simply put, the reasons behind her change of heart was rushed through, with a serious lack of development on why it happened to be so.

Lastly, for a relatively compact cast for this genre, one has to wonder what was the point of Aiko’s presence in the first place. Although appearing to be the third contender for Shinichiro’s heart from the beginning, it was puzzling how she practically dropped out of the race halfway through. That in itself isn’t anything particularly bad, since it happens in shows of this genre all the time, but the problem with Aiko is that she hardly contributed anything to the main storyline during her presence, and basically spun off to become a mini side-story of her own afterwards. If I were to be needlessly harsh, which at times I have been tempted to be, I would call Aiko a waste of time which could have been better utilized on more development in the main story. Considering how one of the main themes of True Tears was how one would deal with a wavering heart, the fact that Aiko didn’t even figure into that particular theme leaves one wondering what purpose she serves by being there.

In all, the character development in this series started off as being one of the best I’ve ever seen, but unfortunately it did not last. Considering that the writers have shown they know what makes character tick, the collapse at the end is particularly appalling.

The Tale

It has to be said that True Tears started off with an especially strong premise, and it is one that is not only rarely seen, but also held the potential for a great deal of development. This was one of the main draws of the show which helped it rise from relative obscurity, to the attention of a great number of people, including myself. Clearly, the promise of a gripping, interesting story is what distinguishes a particular work of this genre from the majority of its peers, as evidenced by examples such as the Key/KyoAni adaptations, and ef ~a tale of memories~. True Tears is another one which held such an advantage

And for the most part, this series indeed delivered on its promise. It was particularly intriguing how the show came across as something approximating the concept of an anti-harem; by taking many tropes of the "harem" genre and turning it on its head with a harsh does of reality, True Tears set itself up for a great deal of character development with the kind of material it had on hand.

Having a childhood friend under the same roof is not all that it’s cracked up to be, and in fact is likely to cause some serious problems in the family. Siscon is not the idealistic fantasy it’s often portrayed as, and in fact is a problem that is not so easily dealt with. Romance is not as sweet and idealistic as most would like it to be, and is more complicated in reality than it seems. These are just some of the themes that True Tears worked with over the course of its broadcast, and it is a good part of what made the series so special.

Yet, something happened to derail all of the good momentum that the series had built up for a good part of the way; for lack of a better term to describe it, I am forced to come up with an entirely new term for that purpose - in Episode 9, True Tears suffered what I would call a plotquake. In one singular moment, the series took away almost everything that made the story so gripping; it swept away with one fell swoop the underlying foundation of Hiromi’s situation, which in turn blew away the underlying foundation of Shinichiro’s indecision, which in turn broke the momentum of almost everything else that was going on. It was almost surreal to watch as the various plot points that the series had going on at that moment in time fell one by one like dominoes, leaving nothing more than a complete pile of rubble.

Simply put, everything the writers did to transition the early part of the story into the latter part was done far too quickly, far too haphazardly, and with far too little plot and character development to underscore why the story had taken such a direction. It was only a lot later that we get an idea of why Shinichiro’s mother did what she did to set off the plotquake, and it was only at the very end that we get an idea of why Shinichiro was flip-flopping between Noe and Hiromi when he no longer had any apparent excuse to do so. Any hints of these two developments that came before, if there was indeed any at all, was simply too subtle to be noticed easily; in other words, True Tears ended up being a little too subtle for its own good.

The Conclusion

Starting its run with a great deal of potential, and stunning almost everyone who had dismissed it at first glance with great visuals, music, and storyline, it was a pity that True Tears didn’t quite live up to its potential. Although the writers picked up new plot points from the Episode 9 Plotquake in an attempt to rebuild the excellent momentum it had in the early part of the story, it never really returned to the heights that it had reached prior to the plotquake. As it is, True Tears turned out to be a good story, but good does not do justice to what could have been great, and in the case of this particular series, it could have been great indeed. Nevertheless, there is still one good point that remains untainted by the specter of the plotquake which rocked the entire story of True Tears, and that is the fact that P.A. Works seems to be on course to become the next big thing in the animation industry. And whatever one might say, that is a good thing, indeed.

When does one shed tears. When one’s heart wavers between wanting to like something wholeheartedly, and yet be unable to, I guess. This is Ascaloth of RIUVA, signing out of Winter 2007/2008.

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3 Responses to “[Ascaloth] Final Critique: True Tears”  

  1. 1 Hynavian 26 comments

    Amazing, I’m convinced by you; True Tears enters my “To Watch” anime list during the term break.

  2. 2 leefe 68 comments

    I enjoyed it pretty well. But it was from episode one’s release when I caught on to it, which means I’ve been following it since winter ^^

  3. 3 Stifler 52 comments

    Likewise, True Tears caught my eye the moment I watched the first episode, and I was recommending it to most of my friends as one of the best shows in the winter season. Though it did fail somewhat in the 9th episode, it still is good, but not as awesome as Ef was. I felt that Ef was the best show in 2007.

Do not use any < and > for your own sake. It will end the comment there and then. Also, there is an automatic IQ filter which weeds out comments made by those who accidentally got transported from the stone age.

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