When it comes to end-of-year anime wrap-ups, unsurprisingly, people tend to write about the best and/or worst shows of the year. You know, the ones that practically emitted a heavenly glow as angels burst into perfect harmony during the opening sequence, or else made viewers want to hurl themselves into the black, black void, cursing the day they ever exposed their eyeballs to such putrid filth on screen.
Today, I’m doing neither, because I’m talking about Horimiya. Not a terrible show by any means. Also not a great show. It was fine. Above average. Perfectly cromulent. It was also, despite far from being the greatest anime of the year, easily the nicest – and I’m not being in the least sarcastic when I say that’s something I prize a lot, especially given the General State of Things in 2021.
Admittedly, I’d set a pretty low bar for Horimiya from the get-go – in part because the premise made it sound like little more than a copy of Kare Kano, and in part because I have a bad track record with most rom-com anime in that I find a lot of them, maybe even the majority, to be… what’s the phrase I’m looking for here… borderline abusive and objectively awful. (Also, this is more of an aside, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the first thirty seconds or so of episode 1 of Horimiya did absolutely nothing to endear me to the show. I don’t know why the series started out that way, it was an incredibly dumb move, but if by chance you haven’t watched this and end up trying it out based solely on my recommendation, be aware that this initial scene has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the anime and something like it never shows up again, even once. I promise.)
So. As you can imagine, I went into Horimiya with a far from good feeling about it. I expected something creepy, bitchy, and eye-rollingly drama-laden, with a terrible excuse of a human being for a male lead, a girl who allows herself to be blackmailed into dating him and then for some other reason actually falls for him, and the obligatory bunch of jealous, gossipy side-characters who do everything in their power to sabotage this already unhealthy relationship. All this would naturally be passed off as either romantic, comedy gold, or both – if you’ve watched your fair share of romance anime, you probably know the drill.
Horimiya is none of those things. Imagine my surprise, my delight, when I realized I was watching the single nicest anime in existence since 2016’s Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. I don’t just mean that the plot is relaxed or that everyone seems pretty chill. I mean that despite being a high school romance, with several love triangles forming place amid themes about public vs. private image, Horimiya features a cast who are genuinely, wholesomely lovely. Seriously, it was almost off-putting at first – mostly because I was just waiting for someone to reveal their true evil self and admit (to the viewer) that they had actually been consumed with malicious spite for the main couple the whole time, and were simply biding their time on making everyone’s lives a living hell.
Well, that never happens. Everyone honestly is just that nice. Sure, they’re a bunch of fairly typical angsty teenagers for the most part, yet they put their friends before themselves and value one another as equals. They’re not overly hasty to make character judgments, and needless to say, not once does it even cross anyone’s mind that they might want to sabotage any person or situation for their own benefit, no matter how they feel about X dating Y.
I realize this might not sound especially ground-breaking on paper, but trust me, for anime, it kinda is. You’ve got all this opportunity for drama that’s all but designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, yet Horimiya manages to be one of the least drama-filled anime I’ve ever watched, in any genre. That’s not just rare. That’s practically a unicorn.
Granted, as I mentioned earlier, Horimiya is far from 2021’s greatest anime. It’s just not unique, innovative, or ambitious enough to stand out all that much in and of itself – especially since it aired way back in January, meaning most seasonal viewers have all but forgotten its existence by now. But that’s okay, because while Horimiya may not win any awards for best anime of the year, it should definitely take home the award for being the sweetest. And if you’re feeling anything like I am right now – i.e. burned out, exhausted, homesick, and possibly battling a cold while hoping to hell you haven’t caught Covid – that might just be exactly what you need.