Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m planning on breaking the mold a bit, and writing up a show that’s actually airing right now. I know, timely criticism, what a concept. We’ll be diving into the … Continue reading →
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m planning on breaking the mold a bit, and writing up a show that’s actually airing right now. I know, timely criticism, what a concept. We’ll be diving into the first episode of Horimiya, a show I’ve been anticipating since the summer, for one clear reason: it’s directed by motherfuckin’ Masashi Ishihama.
Ishihama is currently one of anime’s greatest hidden treasures. He’s likely best-known for his phenomenal work directing opening and ending sequences – his sequences have elevated shows ranging from ERASED to Occultic;Nine to Encouragement of Climb. Through all of his work, he demonstrates a singular understanding of color contrast, composition, and visual drama, complete with playful flourishes of typography, dramatic silhouettes, and carefully controlled soft focus. And though he’s rarely spearheaded projects of his own, his incredible From the New World stands as one of the best anime of the last decade, and a genuine credit to the medium at large.
While I’ve got plenty of opinions on Ishihama, all I really know about Horimiya is that it’s a high school romance, and that people I tend to trust say it’s a good one. So I’m going in relatively blind here, ready for whatever twists may come, and eager to see how Ishihama elevates it all. Let’s check out the first episode of Horimiya!
Our very first shot is a bird outside the window, spotted from that classic back left window seat. A visual metaphor staple, emphasizing our hero’s entrapment within the classroom
These visual designs are quite nice – I like the thin linework, and how lighting falls across their profiles
They’ll be studying for college exams next year, which I assume means they’re in their middle year of high school?
The cutting is very aggressive. There’s a sort of staccato tempo to it – a shot will linger for a moment, then we get three quick cuts, then another shot lingers again. The overall effect keeps the audience unsettled, creating a sense of nervous energy
Ooh, I love this shot of the protagonist, where both he and the classroom are in shadow, creating a ring of darkness around the bright, promising square of the window in the center. This is what I was hoping for from Ishihama approaching a story like this – layouts that consistently emphasize the characters’ emotions without language
“Yasuda’s pretty hot, but he keeps opening his dumb mouth.” Not-Ritsu has some opinions. I already appreciate the refreshing bluntness of this script; teenagers are messy jerks, and shows that portray them otherwise tend to feel a little insincere to me
Hori seems to be our other lead
“My teacher encouraged me by saying he was into flat-chested girls.” Well, anime is still gonna anime, all else aside. Watching more live-action films lately has reminded me that not all art is inherently compromised by a need to pander to creepy shut-ins, which has in turn made coming back to lines like this a little tough
The other lead seems very reserved, while Hori is quite social, in spite of turning down her friends’ offer to do karaoke
Miyamura is the guy’s name. I think I’ve figured out the secret behind the show’s title
Another neat use of quick cuts here, implying Hori suddenly remembering something
She rushes home to vacuum, and then gets a call from her mother telling her to handle dinner herself. A busy family, and a lot of responsibilities holding the house together
She picks up her brother Sota from daycare, and looks longingly at the karaoke place, full of fellow teens who share none of her burdens
OH MY GOD THIS OP. As I said, Ishihama is famed for his OPs/EDs, and this one absolutely does not disappoint. His clever use of compartmentalized framing is here fused with his creative typography, giving us all these half-glimpsed windows into the pain and motivation of our characters. He’s always been good about treating the frame more as a canvas than a setting, but he seems so damn confident here, so capable of turning his inspired visual ideas into an emotional narrative, while also conveying so much context about these characters
Also plenty of those rapid soft focus montages he loves, and tends to employ near the end of these sequences, in order to convey moments of great violence or emotional tension
The typography tricks continue into the episode proper. Though I suppose on-screen text reactions are fairly common to manga adaptations, since they’re so prevalent in the source material
Effectively subtle character acting here; you can tell Hori is really assessing this guy as she sips her coffee
Mori is shocked to learn this stylish guy is Miyamura
The secretive nature of their between-classes meeting is emphasized through this layout, which frames them as tucked away between backpacks in the hall
I like how, in spite of his stylish look outside of school, Miyamuya is still Miyamura at all times. He’s a quiet, self-conscious guy, and a few piercings aren’t going to change that. This dialogue feels pretty natural
Miyamura’s a lousy student, while Hori gets great grades. I like this playful slide-shifting conceit they use for Hori getting to know him
This delicate character art is perfect for this story, where Hori is constantly observing small details of Miyamura’s body and presentation
And more wonderful transition tricks – clever how the wipe cut here maintains momentum as Miyamura grabs his sneakers and rushes out of the school
Miyamura taking off his school uniform is essentially framed as Clark Kent becoming superman, disrobing into this ethereal form, and utterly dazzling Not-Ritsu in the process
So many little flourishes of direction add massively to this show’s sense of emotional immediacy. Like this quick cut of Miyamura’s sneaker hitting the ground, then the ground essentially pushing up into his shoe, emphasizing how he’s using this one pivot foot to spring forward again
Not-Ritsu’s name is Yuki. I love this jolt of crimson insecurity as Mori registers that fact, startling herself with her own jealous feelings. Ishihama is so fucking good at conveying an emotional temperature or shift through visual metaphor
“I kinda don’t want anyone else to see you like this.” She feels a sense of ownership over this private Miyamura
But Miyamura feels the same way. In the context of high school’s massively self-conscious presentation, finding a place where you can be your authentic self, and be valued by others for the sake of that authentic self, can be a thrilling sensation
In spite of hiding his piercings and whatnot, Miyamura has no reservations about telling Mori she looks cuter this way. He’s an unusual protagonist; sensitive but not bookish, quiet without being particularly insecure, and concerned with style, but never judgmental or flamboyant in his behavior
This episode’s structure is a bit odd. It feels like we’re essentially running through slice of life skits in this middle act, with little sense of how much time passes between each one
Oh my god, he’s got tattoos all down his side. This giant idiot
Clever framing trick here, as we pull back from the leads’ conversation to Yuki watching them through the window
The purple-haired boy seems to have a thing for Mori. So we’ve got a rival for both of them
Miyamura does have a sort of nervous sensibility, at least when he’s at school. Wonderful character acting here, as he plays with his hands and tenses his shoulders while talking to this other boy, clearly conveying his uneasiness communicating with another classmate. But again, he’s not weird – his conversations are normal, he’s just not much of a talker
“You have a crush on her? So that’s why you always glare at me when I’m talking to Hori-san!” Oh my god, I love this. Rather than slow-burning resentment that unfurls over multiple episodes, Miyamura just accidentally prompts this dude to reveal his crush, and then apologizes profusely. I like how much genuine communication we’re getting here, and I also appreciate how effectively compressing these staple drama beats makes them friggin’ hilarious
Ishikawa is purple-hair’s name
This is so good! And now, rather than just be an angry rival who doesn’t understand him, Ishikawa is actually getting to know Miyamura, and learning about his tattoos. What a great direction to take this, and what a natural result of Miyamura not actually being an antisocial loner
“I thought you were the gloomy otaku type, but I guess I was wrong.” And thank god for that
Now Miyamura is unsurprisingly awkward around Mori, thinking he needs to clear space for Ishikawa to confess. Good kids clumsily dealing with their emotions, good times
And her confrontation with Miyamura after the confession is just as good. Earlier on, Miyamura was mostly just downplaying his relationship with Mori to make Ishikawa less concerned – but from Ishikawa himself, those words sound like a cruel rejection of their friendship. Unkind of Ishikawa to use those words against him, but hey, they’re teenagers
Also great use of this repeated visual motif, wherein moments where their self-image and feelings misalign are literally represented by their colored silhouettes moving away from their physical bodies. As the two violently reassess their relationship, their silhouettes move wildly around them. As they come to understand each other again, their forms realign
Heck yeah, that was terrific! As expected, Ishihama made a visual feast out of Horimiya’s drama, in spite of this episode’s largely mundane setting. The clever use of framing, inspired transitions, and various visual motifs all exemplified his distinctive approach to animation, and were further elevated through this episode’s delicate character art and animation flourishes. What I wasn’t expecting was just how charming this whole cast would be, or how quickly we’d be dispensing with romantic drama cliches, in order to presumably examine some genuine, authentic relationships. With charming, intelligent writing and fabulous visual design, Horimiya is rapidly establishing itself as one of the new year’s top productions!
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