Ritsu’s new friendship goes south as she unexpectedly ends up at a karaoke mixer. Back home, a little bit of plum “juice” coaxes her into some much needed honesty.
If you missed last week’s post, I had two concerns going into the last episode: 1. Seeing Usa ride in and save Ritsu, undermining her character, and 2. the art was atrocious. I’m happy to say both of those were smashed in the first minute or so with a brilliantly self aware imagination gag and what was far and away the best looking episode of the series. In fact, everything played out about as well as you could expect, from Ritsu maintaining she’s a strong independent character with real human emotions to Usa’s adorably courageous and awkward attempt to take things to the next level. About the only thing that raised an eyebrow was getting Ritsu drunk, which is about the laziest “Truth Serum” plot device ever. Even that managed to produce a series of incredibly well animated sight gags though, and it never got as far as making Ritsu spilling out her true feelings before she was ready.
This episode even ironed out one of our biggest complaints throughout the season, relegating the rest of the housemates to the sidelines and popping them in exactly when needed. Maybe it would have been too much to ask to have every single episode of the series to be this well written, this well directed, and this well animated, but I’m glad we at least got to see Kawaisou live up to its potential by the finale.
Kawaisou did exactly what it needed to in order to execute a successful finale. I’ve been saying forever that the show is always at its best when it’s focused completely on Usa and Ritsu, keeping the rest of the cast on the sidelines. I definitely am the hardest of everyone here on the supporting cast, but it’s for good reason. It’s plain to see from episodes just like this one that, when taken away from the gags, our main pair are able to breath and more effectively deliver the message of the episode.
My thoughts are much akin to Jel’s, the resolution of the cliffhanger was handled very well. Ritsu is shy, but she is no pushover. It was heartening to see her quickly assert herself in a situation she is clearly uncomfortable with. It was pretty adorable to see her come to Usa’s defense by proxy. It really is the height of pretentiousness to look down on those who want to learn, but struggle with where to start. I have to wonder if she would have had that opinion without having first gotten to know Usa.
The use of drunkenness to force honesty is a bit old hat by now, but Kawaisou did as best as it could all things considered. The drunk Ritsu faces and Kana Hanazawa’s ever enjoyable performance made up for the slight contrivance. I think having Usa go into outright date rape mode the minute she got plastered seemed a little off character. At least a few of those jokes were pretty funny, even if the bit with Ritsu in her underwear was some pretty shameless fanservice. The way that even this scene could bring us another cute bonding moment between our protagonists is a testament to this author’s good storytelling.
While ideally a good series is consistently great throughout, there’s something to be said for finishing strong. Kawaisou’s odd structure, repetitive gags, and general lack of purpose in the initial episodes are a bit of a turn off, painting the show as nothing more than a painfully slow high school romance with a gag comedy shell.
But even in the first episode as Sumiko prepares Mayumi’s favorite comfort food, it’s clear there’s something magical buried in this show that makes it worth sticking with. As the characters have more time to interact and grow, Kawaisou becomes more than just gags and romance. It becomes a story about friendship, even family, as the ensemble of weirdo housemates bond with each other and analyze their relationships with everyone else. All of this is handled with a level of insight into how real humans think that is rarely seen in anime, making the characters somehow relatable no matter how cartoonish their antics get. It’s a feat we’ve seen author Ruri Miyahara pull off to a lesser extent in the beloved Glorio Blog favorite Love Lab, but with a stronger emphasis on story that makes Kawaisou a satisfying watch.
Of course the slow burning romance is still the heart and soul of Kawaisou, but it’s so well written that I didn’t feel frustrated by it at all. Usa plays one of the most believable high school boy leads in recent memory, with his mix of hormone fueled naiveté and good intentions probably not too far off from my own experience at 16 years old. Sure things move a bit slowly, but it’s more of a matter of Usa not knowing what to do than the usual inability to be honest with yourself (I’m looking at you, One Week Friends). Ritsu also avoids falling too deep into the “Quiet Girl” tropes and is hardly a delicate flower to be protected. She’s shy and awkward but not to the point where she’s incapable of interacting with other people, and while Usa does help her at times she can also be perfectly fine taking care of herself.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the romance aspect of Kawaisou is the emphasis on friendship over physical attraction. Usa makes it clear he is attracted to Ritsu of course, but he also makes an admirable attempt to really understand her. Watching him figure out exactly how to do that without getting his judgement clouded by infatuation makes his struggle way more endearing than frustrating. By the final episode, as he’s attempting to read a difficult book in his room instead of out in the open to impress her, you can’t help but cheer the guy on.
All of these qualities add up to a series that takes the familiar parts of anime romantic comedy and arranges and alters them into something that feels unique. It may take some time to get there as the first few episodes stumble around and the ensemble cast tries to find its footing, but once it settles into a groove Kawaisou finishes strong enough to make you forget what you were complaining about in the first place.
I initially came into Kawaisou only expecting it to be another Sakurasou. The similarities were there superficially: A main romantic duo made up of a reliable everydude and a stoic quiet girl, a dorm filled with an assortment of wackos, I could go on. Unfortunately, it shot out of the gate and tripped on the first pot hole. I have to wonder if watching this show was like watching the evolution of how Ruri Miyahara changed the formula as it went on. It starts out as an absolutely atrocious gag comedy. Far too much focus is given towards the adult housemates, with Usa being the straight man in trite manzai routines. The biggest problem with them is that they have almost no character. They exist to spout the same gags over and over. Even in the episodes devoted to them, they do little to define themselves outside their monikers.
I cannot overstate how much the show was improved by dialing these characters back and letting the main pair interact organically. Many times I would see a great scene unfolding, only to have it ruined by a last minute interjection by one gag or another. However, as the show went on, these occurrences became less frequent, and the show really started to come into its own. I had initially dropped the show at episode 2, and the only reason I came back was the fact that Jel had still stuck with it. I’m glad I changed my mind, as what started completely irredeemable quickly 180’d into an adorable coming of age romcom. Certain problems kept it back to reaching the level of enjoyment I got compared to Ping Pong, but as long as the plot was focused, it was a highly enjoyable experience.
Friendship and romance are frequent topics in anime, enough that I don’t expect to come away from a romantic comedy with much to show for it. Kawaisou doesn’t reinvent the wheel with it’s quirky characters and simple gags, but it shared a perspective on relationships that won’t be quickly forgotten. The characters form a dysfunctional family-like dynamic that is both heartwarming and hilarious. The jokes themselves follow a predictable pattern, but I believe it’s selling it short to ignore Kawaisou’s delivery. It’s the often ridiculous situations these characters go through that makes them so interesting and kept me laughing at their jokes and concerned for with struggles. Kawaisou’s humor can be uncomfortable at times, especially when Shiro’s masochism is at the brunt of the jokes. If a dose of off color humor shared between a cast of awful people learning to become comfortable with themselves sounds appealing then Kawaisou has something precious in store for you.