An Amagami Retrospective

by eternal on January 20, 2011

In dire need of an imouto route.

Contrary to what some believe (possibly even the popular belief), dating sims are an intricate art. They’re not about the (nonexistent) ero-scenes or other forms of sexual titillation, and they demand more depth from their characters–even if it’s an illusion of depth–than your average moege. They are, after all, referred to as “romance simulation” in Japanese. Much like a good moe series that puts its own spin on the tried-and-true archetypes, good dating sims demand immersive writing that doesn’t rely on plot.

Judging from AIC’s adaptation, Amagami is indeed a good dating sim. I was underwhelmed at first since the show opened with perhaps the least realistic arc, but it quickly became evident that, despite the absence of Kenichi Kasai’s rather liberal interpretation, I was enjoying the series as much as KimiKiss.

My opinion of Amagami has always been more or less positive, but the turning point for me was Sae’s arc. It wasn’t really about anything per se, but wasn’t it sweet to see her struggle against her exaggerated fear of social interaction, all the while slowly falling for her mentor? She’s not much more than a mess of overdone tropes, but I fell for her all the same. It didn’t matter that I saw the ending from a mile away or that I consciously realized that her personality archetype is simplified and that a similar scenario would be impossible in real life.

…In other words, I fell right into the show’s trap. That’s exactly the reaction that dating sims coerce from you.

Looking back, all it took for Amagami‘s neatly woven fantasies to sink in was an encounter with my chosen heroine’s route. It’s telling that I loved her arc even though her story was one of the most bland–some might call that shallow, but it’s more a testament to the writing than anything else. In most cases, four episodes of utterly transparent (and let’s face it, childish) romance would be literally painful to sit through, but here, it works. It didn’t surprise me at all when I found myself enjoying Sexhair Kaoru’s and Tsukasa’s arcs just as much, despite my lack of emotional involvement with the characters.

Best scene in the show, and it wasn’t even from my favourite character or arc.

Specifics are tricky in a subjective genre like this, but I did notice a few things while viewing the series. One key scene that every (or at least almost every) arc features is the moment in which each girl realizes their feelings for Junichi. It’s only a matter of seconds, but those little third-person interjections in the narrative make a world of difference. In fact, most of them stand out in my memory: Haruka talking to her friend on the phone, blushing and kicking her feet; Kaoru brooding in the bath, Ayatsuji going deredere as she realizes that she enjoys Junichi’s company. Nothing is more effective in a romance series than those subtle moments–and in a dating sim, they double as a moment of victory.

The show is also very stylized, both in terms of presentation and plot. I don’t mean it in the sense of “following convention”; rather, I’m referring to the way it goes along with unrealistic clichés or events for the sake of telling a better story. Case in point: Ai’s kiss scene on the swings. The scene was as cheesy as something out of a shoujo manga, but it works. Same with dressing Sae in that frilly lolita outfit for the final episode of her arc–all the writers did was hang a flimsy lampshade on it, but it works because it’s all part of the fun. Even the unbelievable triumph that was Haruka’s arc looks good in retrospect as it embodies a completely different dynamic.

In other words, Amagami is both plausible and implausible where it counts. The little scenes that need an extra stylistic flare are bolstered by a bit of dating sim magic, but it isn’t enough to shake the viewer’s suspension of disbelief created by the core of the story, which is simply a series of well-written love stories that make you forget just how impossible they are.

[haitaka]

Amagami‘s appeal is naturally subjective and so it’s a difficult thing to articulate, but I believe the show’s heart lies in its dialogue. Plotless romance is a hard thing to do right, but these guys can do it, apparently. There isn’t much textual evidence I can bring up short of quoting random conversations (and I’d be quoting fansubs at that), but we all know that romance writing can’t be pinned down that easily.

It’s a more general thing about how the stories capture all of the awkwardness and hesitance and eventual thrill of first love. Every key conversation resonates with realism, even if the scenarios are implausible, and the characters are just transparent enough for us to enjoy watching them fall in love. Each relationship has a completely different dynamic, too, and Junichi ranges from playing the persistent would-be loser to the oblivious childhood friend. He’s a great guy, Junichi Tachibana–the only thing generic and uninspiring about him is his character design (and I have nothing but respect for that purple turtleneck).

Amagami impressed me more than I expected, and that’s saying something since I expected a lot. Part of me still thinks that the romanticized love polyhedron of KimiKiss will always be superior since it’s a spectacular adaptation, but Amagami proves that the real heart of both stories is in the source material’s writing. I applaud the staff at AIC for putting together an anime in which 4 episode arcs are enough to capture the naive bliss of a full-length dating sim.

~ ETERNAL
つづく

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

lelangir January 20, 2011 at 3:48 am

This show trolled me so big. Shouldn’t have even watched it. My reaction to Rihoko’s arc was like Hitler’s. My reaction to this show was fffffffuuuuface.png

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eternal January 21, 2011 at 6:43 am

Elaborate? I forgot to mention that Rihoko’s arc was indeed meh (though I thought it was more sad than disappointing…), but I’m not sure what your problem with the rest of it would be. I thought Ayatsuji’s arc was the best of the bunch.

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Valence January 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Don’t you just like it when you put effort into a post and all people do is post some ‘tl;dr’ comment? ‘ *rolls eyes at lelangir*

Favourite heroine aside, I think for the most part, you’re right. Amagami SS’s forte is the ability to capture this feeling of ‘first love’ within the short span of 4 episodes. Within 4 episodes, Junichi takes on several roles, from guidance mentor for Sae, to childhood friend, and so on -presenting us with a new situation every time the show reaches a new arc. While I admit it’s an interesting way to carry out a show, you’d have to admit that AIC did pretty well. They didn’t have to stoop to heavy reliance on ecchi content, nor did they have to resort to unfunny ‘humour’ or anything to try and entertain the viewer. The time is spent on building the characters and their relationships – something many shows should have been able to do.

And the best part about it is the little scenes.

Scenes such as Junichi’s concern for Rihoko by enlarging the hole in the fence, the scenes where he tries to find out more about and care for Tsukasa, and et cetera. It’s these moments which create the magic in Amagami SS. It’s these moments which mark their relationship,, from friends, to lovers.

Every little scene adds a little to their relationship, and makes their implausible situations, sound so very, very human.

And that’s why I like the show. It doesn’t matter if people tell me that ‘it’s not very good’ , or criticize particular character arcs. What matters to me is that we get to feel the bliss of watching a full love story bloom and blossom.

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eternal January 21, 2011 at 6:48 am

Yep, you’ve got it. Again, it’s a hard thing to articulate without being overly general, but it really does come down to the “bliss” of watching the relationships develop. And yeah, I’m aware that Sae is probably the least popular heroine, but I think it says something about the quality of the writing in that I like her for her personality even though I admit that her arc is vastly less interesting than some of the others.

>Don’t you just like it when you put effort into a post and all people do is post some ‘tl;dr’ comment? ‘ *rolls eyes at lelangir*

Generally, yes, but me and lelangir know each other pretty well so it’s cool :3

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$tranger January 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Funny that you write a comment about the show when I just started watching it ;)
So far I’ve only seen the first arc, but I can already understand what you’re saying. There are some incredibly clichèd scenes (like the oh-so important bread-buying part), but somehow I still find myself enjoying the episodes, even though I usuually dislike those generic scenes.

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eternal January 21, 2011 at 6:50 am

That’s great. I think you’ll find that the show does a really good job with the cliches and they’ll start to grow on you after a while. As I said, it uses those unrealistic cliches to make the story more fun, but it’s realistic where it counts.

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Samukun January 23, 2011 at 6:00 am

This was a near perfect series that stumbled with the Rihoko arc. It shows how you can make something completely ridiculous completely plausible if you just convince the audience to want to believe that all of it is true.

Also, the Sae arc was awesome! b^_^

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eternal January 31, 2011 at 6:31 am

Yes, a Sae fan! Somehow I’m not surprised that you like her. Also,

It shows how you can make something completely ridiculous completely plausible if you just convince the audience to want to believe that all of it is true.

That pretty much sums up the art of dating sims. Indeed, it’s not as simple as tossing unrealistic fantasies at the player.

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MkMiku January 26, 2011 at 3:02 am

One of my favorite anime of 2010. I didn’t like the last few arcs, but it was still a great and funny series. I really loved the animation and story arcs by AIC.

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