My Love Story!!
Gouda Takeo is a kind-hearted highschool first-year whose massive size, imposing physique, and intense features nonetheless accidentally scare many people away; although he has several male friends, including the attractive (and popular) Makoto Sunakawa, he's never had a girlfriend. Indeed, several girls whom he's been interested in have instead gone after Sunakawa, only for him to turn them down each and every time.
One day, the two, while riding the train to school, come across a groper harassing a girl from another school; Gouda steps in and dispatches the creep, getting arrested for his own roughness with the man as a result, but also earning an admiring gaze from the girl, Yamato Rinko. Yamato soon starts sending Gouda text messages; as usual, he assumes that she's trying to get closer to Sunakawa, but it turns out that our gorilla-esque hero may not be as unpopular with the ladies as he thinks....
My Love Story!! is just about the perfect feel-good romance anime. For being one of the few shows that actually puts its main couple together almost right away (and that really isn't much of spoiler), it isn't a series that's trying to make profound points about love or relationships, nor does it really put its focus on having the main characters work through, say, the trust issues you find in Say, "I Love You", but damn if it isn't cute. My Love Story!! works as well as it does by being funny and sweet throughout, and by playing with the conventions of its character types, particularly those of the secondary cast, the latter aspect being its greatest strength. Those uninterested in romance anime need not apply, but for those tired of the "will-he-or-won't he" baiting so common to high school drama, and of the painfully slow and awkward progress of Clannad and its ilk, My Love Story!! might be worth your time.
My Love Story!! is probably the only romance-centered, female-targeted show that I've come across whose primary point of view is largely that of the male lead, and Gouda's very much unlike the archetype of bishounen love interests typical of this type of story, with Sunakawa falling into that role far more readily. Indeed, no other word better describes Gouda Takeo than "manly:" he has the imposing height, ultra-muscular physique, and intense eyebrows of a sumo wrestler, and one episode goes far enough to have a metal beam fall on him and have him be able to stop its descent with his bare hands. Every gesture he makes is exaggerated, every facial expression is more astoundingly intense than the last, and everything he says is uttered with the utmost conviction, sincerity, and gusto. He represents quite a different beauty standard than does the taciturn, outwardly nonchalant and disaffected, and more traditionally "hot" Sunakawa, and in fact, his hyper-masculine physique seems almost like the sort of thing you'd find in bara manga; an episode in which he takes a job at a shirtless butler café and excels in that role confirms this, for me. As it is, My Love Story sets Gouda and Sunakawa up as potential adversaries at the very start, for given how aloof Sunakawa seems to be and how outwardly apathetic he is, it's not clear why he sticks around Gouda, and while Gouda's earnestness and proneness to being misunderstood make him a sympathetic figure, Sunakawa isn't initially easy to like. Romantic overtures notwithstanding, the passersby that Gouda so readily helps tend to thank Sunakawa, since he's more approachable, and while Suna at least never takes credit for these instances, it still made me feel sorry for Gouda and a bit wary (perhaps more than I should have been) of Suna.
And that's where My Love Story!! surprised me. Having come across romance anime and manga of a variety of target demographics, I expected to see Yamato, Gouda, and Sunakawa be drawn into a love triangle; instead, the show naturally and pleasantly writes Sunakawa into being its most sympathetic character. Indeed, while on the one hand My Love Story!! seems to suggest that Yamato would fall for Suna, it simultaneously indicates that while she's about as girly and feminine as Gouda is manly and masculine, the two are united in their guilelessness, their expressiveness, and their own tendencies to be oblivious to what should (hypothetically) be the other's obvious affections. Now, a lot of anime push their luck with how long they can pull this off without it simply becoming ridiculous (with Nisekoi possibly being the worst offender), and that's where Suna becomes important to the story. For one thing, he instantly becomes more sympathetic once we get enough clues to realize that he's actually simply something of a shy person, and that this is easy to mistake for aloofness or "coolness." He becomes even more of a great character when he very cleverly engineers a confession between the two, resulting in a hilarious scene that's probably much more fun to watch than to read about via review spoilers. Indeed, Suna is friends with Gouda because he admires his innocent and straightforward kindness and his lack of inhibition in doing anything, not because he wants to take advantage of him, and it turns out that much of his turning down people over the years related to their badmouthing Gouda and wanting to date him only for his looks. Indeed, a later arc centers on him tentatively pursuing a relationship initiated by a long-suffering secret admirer, because a single note she gave him years ago, in which she thanked him for the simple act of protecting her from a doge ball, is the only evidence he's ever had of somebody liking him for something besides his looks.
I suppose this is a good point to raise a dichotomy in My Love Story, and that's between what is a pretty traditional (if especially affectionate), sweet, and good-natured romance on the part of our ultra-innocent leads, and the show's playing with conventions for its side characters. The series, as I pointed out earlier, doesn't really have much to say about the nature of love, nor does it present much in the way of conflict between its lovebirds, which brings the risk of the series being unsatisfying to those of us hoping for something more nuanced. It's too extreme to say that a sweet romance show comes at the expense of exploring relationship dynamics, since Mysterious Girlfriend X (of all things) and Say, "I Love You" touch upon this without reaching the degree of pain and drama seen in, say, NANA, but in this case, Gouda and Yamato are just so lovey-dovey that there's simply no way we'll ever get into that: with Yamato making baked goods for Gouda constantly and being enthralled by his manliness to an adorable degree, and Gouda in turn somehow managing to smile even wider than usual while thinking of her, there isn't much time or space for reflection. It's true that it's simply a question of commitment, more than anything, for when potential threats to their relationship arise said commitment to each other basically sweeps such threats aside, particularly when a bishounen character who is actually in love with Yamato appears at the end. But our main couple are, at the end of the day, best for a daily dose of sugar and adorableness and, in Gouda's case, one of hilariously contorted facial expressions. If there's a major weakness to My Love Story!!, it's that Yamato, while a lovely character all around, lacks the screen presence and gusto of her counterpart and thus sometimes comes into her own as a character less than he does, in part because she's left out of the more nuanced look at the side characters; if there's another, it's that for those of us hoping for sexuality to become part of the conversation, we never get anywhere beyond kissing.
But considering how straightforward, innocent, and lovey-dovey the main romance is, I was actually rather impressed by the amount of care taken with the side characters, with Suna being the first and most prominent example. There's also his older sister Ai, and if Gouda and Suna are contrasted in terms of one being a traditional "manly man" and the other being a pretty boy of sorts, Ai (a college student) is the mature woman to Yamato's girly girl, at least in looks. It's rather evident that Ai also likes Gouda, and several flashbacks adorably establish this, with Ai having always remembered that Gouda (innocently) told her that she was beautiful because of, not in spite of, her height. And while Ai, who's somewhat prone to jealousy and, in spite of her "mature girl" demeanor, prone to fits, seems set up to be somebody who'd hate Yamato for the sole reason of romantic rivalry, the show pays her character more respect than that. She sees almost instantly that Yamato, in her own lack of guile, is about as perfectly-suited to Gouda as possible, and ends up becoming something of an advice go-to for her when she needs another girl to talk to, and one who understands Gouda to boot. Thus, My Love Story!! writes Ai as somebody whose affections might fade with time but that remain for now, since the things he said to her did really mean that much, but also as somebody who isn't going to destroy her friendship with him or another girl's happiness because of it. A similar scenario occurs when a member of Gouda's school relay team falls for him; the character in question, Mariya Saijo, is one of several examples of the show making a more than half-assed suggestion that male and female characters, if a relationship doesn't work out, don't necessarily need to avoid each other and can still have a platonic friendship, and there's a wonderful scene later on where she deliberately gives him Valentine's Day chocolate a day late so as not to offend Yamato. While something I'd take as commonplace, anime have a habit of skirting around this point (possibly because if our editor-in-chief emeritus is to be believed, the potential for normal social interaction between male and female students at school is often rather low in Japan), and while I suppose it's still mildly irksome that we can only have platonic friendship after a love triangle is suggested, I'd still call it progress.
Really though, in addition to being adorable on the one hand and willing to play with the conventions of side characters on the other, the draw of My Love Story!! is that it's just a fun, well-animated, funny, and appealing series. I was definitely happy with the bright colors of the visual presentation, throughout, and Yamato's cakes in particular will please foodies (did Yumeiro Patisserie start a fad of pastry-chef food porn in shoujo anime?). The animation is sharp and consistently strong, and I enjoyed the background music and both of the soft-rock theme songs, with the opening sequence having one memorable parody of King Kong that depicts Gouda (a frequent butt of "looks like a gorilla" jokes) holding not Yamato but Suna hostage. Speaking of which, the show has ample opportunities for softcore fanservice of all types, and I'd mostly say that's a good thing, but there's one scene that sticks out negatively to me and that means that I need to give LGBT anime fans in particular a caveat when recommending this series. During this scene, Gouda corners Suna, covers his mouth in plastic wrap, and "practice kisses" on him, and if [b]School Days[/b] taught us anything it's that "practice [insert sexual act]" never, ever ends well. In this case, this rapey scene, which seems to reference the worst possible tropes of yaoi, mainly leaves Sunakawa with unpleasant memories; given that the show sometimes hints at a BL attraction between the two (and, again, indicates that Gouda could be right at home in bara), it's just depressing that it chose to engage in the worst possible aspects of those fandoms. That aside, there's pleasantly drawn pretty boys and muscular men throughout the series, while Yamato is about as moe as they come and Ai would easily fit right in one of the better-drawn josei series; there's ultimately something for just about everyone.
My Love Story!! ultimately glosses over the inevitable kinks in its main relationship somewhat, and given that that's an important aspect for me in romantic-centered stories, it prevents this from being one of my favorite anime series. But aside from that, and leaving the one particularly heinous scene aside (it's in episode six, just to warn you all), it works as an adorable daily dose of sweetness, and it stays fresh via the humor brought about by Gouda's expressions and Suna's quips and via the arcs of its side characters; in addition to the ones I mentioned previously, Gouda's (equally big and strong) mom gets a story of her own that's one of the series' best episodes. Though I doubt it'll win you over to watching romance anime if you have no interest in that genre, there's a lot to make it stick out, and it ultimately pulls almost all of those aspects off.
Really, really cute and sweet (most of the time) and with enough humor and nuance to the side-character arcs to keep it interesting. It falls just short of a perfect score for me because of the possibly unrealistic lovey-doveyness of the main couple; I'd say don't bother with this is romance is not your genre. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There is a single scene in which Gouda kisses Suna against his will (in episode six), and in addition to being rapey and problematic overall, it's really not appropriate for kids. That aside, the fanservice in this show is very low-key and our main couple never really gets beyond kissing and cuddling, and given the lack of any real violence or profanity, everything besides that one scene should be okay for all ages.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (24/24)
My Love Story!! © 2015 Aruko, Kazune Kawahara/SHUEISHA, OREMONOGATARI PROJECT
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