Alternative title(s): Soredemo Ayumu wa Yosete Kuru, Soreayu
Manga Adaptation by Silver Link
Streaming on HIDIVE
Urushi knows that her underclassman in the shogi club, Ayumu, is smitten with her. Much to her frustration, however, he refuses to ask her out until he’s managed to beat her in fair game. As his shogi skills leave a lot to be desired, Urushi tries to get him to confess in myriad other ways, but his impenetrable poker face is as much of an obstacle to her as Urushi’s superior play is to him.
Aqua’s verdict: Takagisn’t
This never really comes up on the blog since we’re never on the podcast together, but Zigg and I are big fans of Teasing Master Takagi-san, Soichiro Yamamoto’s delightful manga and subsequent anime about a very self-conscious boy and a girl who can’t help teasing him about it. Thanks to its earnest depiction of middle school awkwardness, heart-warming blossoming romance and the surprisingly long legs of its core gimmick, we haven’t gotten tired of Takagi-san even after three seasons and an inexplicable movie, so naturally, this adaptation of Yamamoto’s newest work was on our radar.
As Takagi-san is a story marked by its tendency to stick to what it’s good at rather than reaching out of its comfort zone, it’s no surprise that When Will Ayumu Make His Move? — Soreayu for short — starts off on a very similar premise. Once again we have a boy and a girl who are obviously meant for each other, once again their teenaged proclivities get in the way of being honest about it, and once again most of the humour comes from one embarrassing themselves as they overthink the other’s intentions. The biggest difference would be that in Soreayu‘s case, the roles are reversed — with Ayumu, the boy, being the inscrutable source of the girl, Urushi’s frustrations, instead of the other way around — if it weren’t for the fact that unlike Takagi-san, Soreayu just isn’t very good.
I must admit it’s rather hard to pinpoint why exactly this first episode didn’t work for me pretty much right out of the gate. The premise is not immediately off-putting like last season’s In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki, also based on a manga by Yamamoto, nor is the production quality not up to snuff with Takagi-san‘s animation and directing. If you held a gun to my head, however, I would argue there are two main reasons why Soreayu fails to make lightning strike twice.
The first problem is the shogi. Most interactions between Ayumu and Urushi in this episode take place in their messy clubroom around a shogi board as we get to witness Ayumu’s attempts to beat his beloved senpai, and this was enough to make me start zoning out. Mind you, this is not because I’m not exactly a shogi grand master — there’s only one or two jokes here that rely on intimate familiarity with the game to work — it’s because the monotony of it all is already starting to show. One of Takagi-san‘s biggest strengths is its ability and willingness to make its central dynamic work in just about any context, ranging from various games and sports to common middle school occurrences like cooking classes or burying a time capsule. Soreayu‘s insistency on being a story that takes shogi relatively seriously on top of being “a different flavour of Takagi-san“, seems to kneecap its potential for variety, leaving it to rely on its dialogue more than Takagi-san ever had to.
This wouldn’t be an issue in se if it weren’t for the second major reason why this first episode failed to win me over. As other recent, not very good shows like Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! or Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro! have shown, slightly tweaking the Takagi-san formula is not something you can easily get away with. The interplay between the titular teasing master and her long-suffering best-friend-slash-love-interest Nishikata is unique, and upsetting this delicate balance turns a story that is often brilliant in its simplicity into obnoxious, eyebrow-raising or in this case, forgettable, fluff.
The main cause for this upset can be traced back to Soreayu‘s core concept — reversing the roles in the Takagi/Nishikata dynamic isn’t as easy as it seems, because once you do, you just end up with every other anime ever made. Takagi-san works because it’s one of the few romance anime in which the girl holds all the cards, and the boy is made to show weakness as he figures out his feelings. This is what so many of its imitators don’t understand about Takagi-san: its main asset is not the title character, who doesn’t so much tease as she just can’t resist pushing the one button she needs to press to make her beloved implode on himself, but Nishikata, whose adolescent stubbornness and tendency to shoot himself in the foot by overthinking is infinitely more entertaining than seeing a flustered, blubbering girl doing the tsundere routine for the umpteenth time. That, however, is exactly what we get here with Urushi. While Nishikata is a hilarious tear-down of teenaged boys’ ridiculous hang-ups about masculinity, she is just another overly prideful sweetheart being put in her place.
It certainly helps that unlike the magnetic, ethereal Takagi, Ayumu and his eternal poker face are about as charismatic as a bag of bricks. It’s yet another argument in favour of the claim thatTakagi-san, in spite of its simplicity, was a once-in-a-lifetime stellar congregation, while When Will Ayumu Make His Move? is more akin to the dark and empty void in between the stars. I’m not usually one to shun innovation and discourage the exploration of fresh ideas, but in this case, I’d much rather have three hundred more chapters of Takagi-san than for Yamamoto to try to hit gold once more yet again. You got it exactly right on your first try, dude. No one’s gonna blame you for cashing in.