A group of middle-school girls (and some high school girls as well) struggle with their feelings as they pursue, and are pursued by, boys.
I think I should start here with the things here that either made me feel uncomfortable, or that I simply didn't like, and then look at the more positive aspects of this show.
I didn't like that this series, for all its ostensible focus on the girls and their feelings, still had a strong tendency to treat them from a male perspective, in other words, frequently as sex objects. The show's characters (male AND female) have an obsession with breasts and breast size (it's the crux of one girl's story), and we also have a panty shot or two; in fact, there are some included short episodes with a storyline based on missing underwear (and female humiliation to boot.) If we used, say, Maria Watches Over Us as the zero on a sexism scale (a nearly pure yuri show), Boys Be as a 5, and Green Green as a 10 (for pure sexism and female objectification), we're at about a 7 here. Maybe even a 7.5.
The other main annoyance is Koyoi Bessho, one of the middle-school contingent of girls, who has a "brother complex." I've seen Sister Princess, Koi Kaze, and many other shows with kid sisters who are, let us say, overly affectionate toward their big brothers, and I DO wonder if this syndrome is really that common in Japan. The other problem with Koyoi is that when you combine her with the other younger girl in the pack, Ayumi Arihara, you get the sort of "kawaii overdose" that one got with a similar pair of younger girls in Kimikiss Pure Rouge. (It's not cute, it's just cloying.)
Some of the other characters are much better, or at least much more nuanced. We have Etsu Kusuda, who first comes across as the usual perverted, loudmouthed little jerk we've seen in so many other shows, but we're eventually shown that a lot of his attitude comes from feelings of inadequacy (especially about his looks.) Instead of being in the cast for no other apparent reason than to be annoying (which is usual in shows of this sort), Kusuda becomes one of the chief protagonists, a person with a heart and feelings (which he tries to conceal), and he does grow (a bit) in the course of events.
His counterpart on the female side is Kei Enomoto, a rich girl who says that the only things important in a boy are looks and money. She would seem to be the natural enemy of a homely, crass guy like Kusuda, and that is indeed the case as the story opens.
Among the female characters, I have a couple of personal favorites. One is Rika Dobashi, of the middle school contingent. An athlete, she's a quiet sort, but is capable of bold action when it's needed, and her romance, with a boy who has a severe lack of self-confidence, is low-key but deeply sweet, and without the vacillation of most of the relationships here. She knows what she wants, even if her beau is at first somewhat bewildered by her behavior.
The other female that I really liked was Misaki Yamamoto, of the high school contingent, a beautiful and charming girl who naturally has multiple suitors-one she is herself pursuing, and two others that are pursuing her. She's very unpredictable, mainly because she tends to go with whatever whim strikes her, and I'm not sure how long her relationship with the person we see her with at the end would really last, but I suppose you could say that about many couples at the end of series.
Among the guys, I suppose I like Mamoru Zaitsu best. He's a very considerate guy, but another one lacking self-confidence, and he has an older brother who's frankly terrifying. As is also common in romantic anime, he has two boisterous sidekicks-Kusuda is one; the other is Hiroyuki Sogabe, a guy with glasses and a crush on another character in our cast. One humorous recurring bit is where the three of them, broken-hearted, meet on a staircase and sit, head in hands, moping. (Yes, this is actually funnier than it sounds.) In most shows the sidekick characters are not given romances of their own, but as we know there are shows like Boys Be that are exceptions. Is this one an exception too? I'll only say that only two of the major male characters are left without apparent prospects-and one of those two doesn't exactly have no girl who loves him, it's just-well, we won't go there. Of course, the fun of a romantic anime is seeing who actually ends up with whom, and how they get there. The show is courageous enough to leave some loose ends-there are cases where one party has declared for another, but the other has not yet returned the declaration, and so on-but for most of the cast there's either a happy, or at least hopeful, ending.
I thought the character art was wonderful for the girls, less so for the boys-the guys are mostly drawn rather gimlet-eyed. The closing song rocks nicely, but the "cosplay" scenes during the closing are more fanservice pandering.
I could have gone for another star if the show rated a little lower on the above sexism scale. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Naked breasts (big ones at that) are shown (in soft focus), and this is a recurring theme for one girl's story. Another girl is threatened with sexual assault in the very first episode. The box says TV14; sounds fair.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Hatsukoi Limited © 2009 Mizuki Kawashita / SHUEISHA / Hatsukoi Limited Project
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