Horimiya Review

You know, I still can’t believe that Hori is actually a brunette. The manga doesn’t shade or tone her hair at all, so I assumed for so many years that she was actually blonde. Did anyone else think that? I’m not going insane, right?

Story:

Hori Kyouko is a girl that seems like your general popular girl with people surrounding her at every turn, hiding the fact that at home she pretty much fulfills the homemaker role due to her parents typically working extended hours. Miyamura Izumi is a boy that is seen as gloomy with few if anyone knowing who he really is with some assuming that he’s just a creepy otaku. On a chance encounter with Miyamura meeting Hori’s younger brother, the two of them cross paths. And the secrets that each of them harbor start to be revealed, sparking a relationship between the two of them.

I’d like to start this off with a history lesson because Horimiya being a 14 year old series at the time of writing this isn’t really a stretch of the truth. As the series first started as a webcomic under the name of “Hori-san to Miyamura-kun” in 2007 before getting adapted in 2012, remade in the same year under the name “Horimiya” before being adapted so many years later again. Why does this matter? Well because so much of the original spirit and tone of what the series was built upon even back when it was first a webcomic exists even in this adaptation.

While the setup would have you believe that Horimiya has a more involved or ‘deeper’ story regarding two individuals coming to terms with their feelings for one another, (basically another road to confession story) Horimiya is more like a slice of life series that paints a somewhat idealistic picture of high school life with few if any of the bells and whistles that the anime medium has put in place as ‘commonplace tropes’. While the series does build up the romance between our titles characters in a way that’s reminiscent of most romance series, in reality, most if not all of Horimiya is less drama filled and focuses more about some of the small bumps and hurdles that come from worrying about things that only happen when you’re young and in school. As a result, Horimiya feels genuine and isn’t a series that’s bogged down by many tropes as the character dynamics between members of the cast give everyone a unique space to occupy that doesn’t fit into neat little boxes. Which is personally one of my favorite aspects of the series as a whole because it gives everyone the kind of three-dimensionality that they need in order to give us this rose-tinted version of high school on a screen.

On top of that, the show’s tone and mood feel somehow muted in a landscape where high energy or exaggeration is the norm. The episodes feel soft and quiet, immersing the audience in an almost soothing aura because life typically isn’t all that bombastic or crazy. True the show does have its slightly exaggerated moments, but they’re nothing but small bumps that break up the monotony a bit and show off more of the character dynamics between the cast, demonstrating the kind of relationships that everyone has with each other.

All of that being said, this adaptation still doesn’t sit right with me. And the pacing is wholly the reason to blame. At least when it comes to the manga, Horimiya is kind of a slow series, and the slow burn of tension and or the time characters spend with each other is crucial to some of the more dramatic story bumps that show up. This adaptation feels more like an abridged version of the entire story, picking out primarily early sections in the story from the first thirty chapters as well as a few additional ones from the middle sections of the story where other characters come into play to give the story more oomph. All to cap out with the manga’s exact ending. The pros of this are obvious, as a lot of the lackluster middle chapters where day to day life happens are cut out in favor of more character-filled moments with some internal struggle. The downside is, the show ends up feeling rushed with not enough time in-between sections of the story in order to let things sit. As a result, the show feels a lot more dense than it really should be, which kind of sucks since it’s clear that the showrunners wanted to squeeze in as much as they could, but in my opinion, lost what I believed to be part of what made Horimiya special in the first place.

And when you factor that in, the adaptation comes out to being a relatively faithful rendition of the story with maybe a few more bumps than I wish it initially had. It’s still competent and hits on a lot of the bigger points (though I wish some smaller stuff was also in here), but the pacing I think is where the show loses points and becomes only a good adaptation instead of a great adaptation. I’m glad that Horimiya finally gets the attention it deserves as an adaptation after so many years of quite frankly just existing, but a part of me still wishes the show either got more time or just tried to do certain things like adapt only the first 30 chapters instead of picking and choosing whatever they wanted from a list of 123 chapters.

Characters:

I find it both difficult to talk about Hori or Miyamura without each other and with each other. Reason for this is because both of these characters are usually not seen without each other, but they each also stand on their own two feet without the need for the other character’s involvement due to the series having a lot of individual character interaction with one of the pair talking to other members of the cast. As a result, the romance between the two feels more like an actual relationship instead of an idealized puppy love. They poke fun at each other, learn small, insignificant parts of each other, care for each other, and above all, fulfill each other’s kinks to the best of their ability. While Miyamura is more soft spoken than his more rowdy partner, there are so many more facets to their relationship than what’s first seen, making the show altogether feel more genuine because it’s just two kids who love and care for each other with compromises, vulnerabilities, and arguments sprouting up in the midst of their time together. The one thing I’m not sure was communicated well here though was Miyamura’s past, an important section of the story yes, but one that felt like it was adapted with a lot of holes in the backstory. Enough holes that made it seem less impactful than it really was considering that was the entire reason why Miyamura looks the way he does starting out.

And because this is a slice of life story, there are a…lot of side characters. Some of which who get their own mini-arc within the adaptation because it was part of the original story and served as drama points to kick the story up whenever it wanted a little more than just everyday life interaction. You have Tooru and Yuki who with Miyamura and Hori create a typical character quartet, the student council trio of Sengoku, Remi, and Kono, a couple odds and ends characters like Akane and Shu, Hori’s entire family, and a few leftovers like Shu’s sister and Sawada, who is bar none the worst character in the series. While this isn’t really cast bloat due to all of these characters showing up in the original source material, the show definitely makes it feel like it. Again, pacing is the problem here as characters aren’t really introduced at an even pace, but rather just kind of thrown at the audience, getting larger and larger as more episodes pan out. They’re certainly not bad additions and most of the cast has enough character interactions with everyone else to actually make it seem like they’re friends and not just a bunch of characters slapped together. But I really wish we kind of fed them in at a more even pace than we did because all of their introductions ruined the flow of the story a lot more than once. A lot more than what I would’ve liked at least.

Though altogether my complaints with the cast are relatively minor. True the pacing made some developments seem a lot more wonky than they should be, but from a general perspective looking over most of the scenes where the characters are just talking to one another, it’s a lot more faithful and a lot better than I had initially hoped for.

Aesthetics:

While I typically see Cloverworks as an in-between studio that can succeed or fail depending on whatever mood they’re in, Horimiya undeniably got the gold star treatment from them, and I’m all the happier for it. The softness of the series is really at play here with the visuals and general art direction of the series. The characters are a lot more…colorful than I would’ve liked them to be (even though they’re like that anyway), but the color isn’t very intrusive and the show overall looks really good. Backgrounds and the many closeups of the characters look fantastic, which is probably helped by the fact that the characters have generally really simple designs and the need for in-between frames isn’t all that required given how the most animation the show needs is for a snappy comedic moment that usually requires a small act of violence.

Speaking of which, I don’t really know who decided to use like…child drawings for backgrounds during the comedic moments, but I’m all for it. Yes there’re still some typical exaggerated backgrounds, but a surprising number of the more comedic moments sport a crayon aesthetic which surprisingly works given how often these dumb teenager characters act and are stupid to one another. It’s refreshing. Additionally, a lot of the show has moving panels of characters, which again is not a choice that I thought would be made for Horimiya, but it surprisingly works to fit the mundane yet dramatic aspect of the show without dramatizing everything to an annoying degree.

I will say for all intents and purposes, the OP/ED pair sound a lot more dramatic than I think they really should be for Horimiya. Yoh Kamiyama’s “Irokousui” is quite a somber yet emotionally charged sounding piece that fits with some of the more emotional bits between the main couple, but while I consider that to be some of the better parts of the series, I feel like it feels a little too heavy for what’s being painted as a healthy romantic relationship between two people. By contrast, “Yakusoku” by Friends is a song that fits a similar bill, being a lot more somber than I really think it should be. I think it fits a little better though if only by virtue of it being an ED and helps give off the feel of a mundane yet fun everyday life with friends and that special someone. It’s nice and quaint, but isn’t really much beyond that. I also want to note the soft OST that usually plays in the background and just how much I love that that was the direction that they went with the OST. It didn’t really need any energy and I’m glad the show’s tone was retained with the softness of the OST as well.

Final Thoughts:

While Horimiya certainly doesn’t have a…tumultuous history, it definitely took a long time to get to this point of a ‘full’ adaptation of the story. Hell if you told me back in 2014 when I started reading this that it would get an adaptation 6 years later, I’d have thought you were crazy because why would you wait that long to adapt a story that already has quite an interesting history behind it given it’s already a remake of an even older series.

History aside, while I do have a number of issues with this adaptation, there were enough moments in here to make me feel happy for revisiting the series again. Hori and Miyamura feel like a gold standard for how to write a proper anime couple given how the two of them bounce off of each other in such a way that feels genuine with mutual dependence and communication that so many romance series seem to really lack. This is especially true since Horimiya isn’t purely just a ‘road to confession’ story, and rarely, if ever, does the show fall on the trope of characters freezing up when they talk to their crush and stammer for the next five minutes. A really annoying trope that should be fazed out of existence because at that point you’re just wasting both the runtime and the audience’s time. All of this is why I tout Horimiya as one of the best romances in anime and have longed to find something that comes close to the kind of multi-faceted relationship that these two have. Something that despite my complaints, still remains in this adaptation.

Unfortunately the pacing really bogs down what could’ve been an amazing adaptation to just being a semi-competent one. The content of the story I feel is what drives this show to be as good as it could be, but because so much is thrown at you at once, some stuff just doesn’t stick and there’re way too many holes for me to be comfortable with given how many small yet crucial details are put in here for the sake of trying to deliver as many high points as possible. When in reality, Horimiya isn’t about that, but rather about the little things like spending time with another person. It’s such a shame that this is how things turned out because I really wish the quality of the story was prioritized instead of cramming everyone in the show and making sure everyone got their turn in the spotlight. Which would be fine if the show got more time, but it ends up feeling a little disingenuous given how fast everything is.

Truthfully though, I can’t hate this as much as I really want to. I have my complaints sure, but being able to see some of my favorite moments again in animated form and relive parts of the manga that kickstarted me in wanting to seek out romance as a genre was fun if not nostalgic. I’d definitely recommend this show if only because the anime is a pretty good abridging of the story because the manga kind of drags on in its later parts before just…ending. It’s the same ending either way, so it’s really up to you. Although I will mention again that the manga has a lot more smaller moments that help build up the slow burn that the anime lacks, so you really end up having to pick your own battles with what you want out of this series. Still a high recommendation from me because very rarely do we ever get a couple of this quality, and maybe someday in the future this series will be remade again. Because why not at this point?

Also, I swear Hori was blonde. I still cannot get over the fact that this girl is actually a brunette.

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