The ability to hold our heads high and keep moving forward is one I think we would all hope to have, being able to determine with some success our circumstances; still, even the most persistent of us will sometimes lose their way, and their hearts will waver. True Tears tells us of the reprieve, that’s okay to cry, and that as long as we’ve got sights set on something we truly believe in and is worth holding on to, there can be beauty in our plight. In order to realize meaning behind our tears, we must understand the path which we must walk. True Tears’ premise is simple: Do we go to the drawing board in order to figure out the next step, or is it to avoid figuring out the next step? It may even be that we find ourselves through this process of avoidance because the wall inside us is too strong to face directly. Shin’ichirou muses to himself in the opening exposition, “The you inside me is always crying, I want to wipe away your tears…”; this is indeed what he must sort out over the course of 13 episodes, what his true feelings are and how he should convey them. The person he cares about is right in front of him, yet as it often is, the people who are closest to us are the hardest to reach out to. It has been years, and Shin’ichirou feels trapped, unsure of how to move forward. Enter Noe Isurugi to unsettle the dust and give Shin’ichirou a new perspective, and perhaps teach him a thing or two about life.
Our cast is small, not always the most likable, but there are no throwaway characters much like it is in the real world. Miyokichi Nobuse is extroverted, cheerful, and often initiates activities in which Shin’ichirou passively joins. Miyokichi is grounded, enjoying life as it currently is, and will fight to protect what he has. Perhaps those are the only things he can be sure about; when faced with situations that challenge his world, he would rather dismiss his own feelings than blame his friends. In this sense, he is most responsible for his reliability, yet irresponsible for not facing problems directly; his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Hiromi Yuasa, conflicted between perceived familial responsibilities and her feelings, has put up a wall and retreated within; she rebukes any advance to challenge that wall, defeating the possibility of leaving her exposed with her stoicism. She drowns herself in sports and club activities to disengage from what pains her the most: not being able to acknowledge what she cares most about. Noe Isurugi finds solace in using nature as a metaphor to contend with topics of life and death — and freedom. She doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind, giving the impression of being socially aloof, although she may be the only one honest enough to admit to the whole range of her emotions, including sadness. Aiko Andou has preferred to put the happiness of her friends above herself, never being in the moment, until she realizes that her actions have caused misunderstandings, having felt guilt from the consequences of her deception. However, she is pragmatic: she is able to find the silver lining without taking herself too seriously, and is willing to take the initiative to make amends.
True Tears does a few things right. It accomplishes its intrigue mostly within normal everyday experience, meaning there are no mysterious illnesses, evil twins, ghost girls, or memory loss. Most of its characters are very much in the moment, the show isn’t bogged down with indulgent flashbacks; instead, they are brief, the point succinctly laid out — a key conversation is mentioned but left up to the imagination, and for the better! True Tears trusts us enough to figure it out through context. It doesn’t need to exploit every piece of information to induce tears; it picks its battles wisely. But its greatest strength is perhaps its well-scripted character events: each character is given the fair chance throughout the show demonstrate emotional capacity, creating depth that push them away from being merely cardboard cutouts that is apparent in some other shows. There are a few brief moments in which I am able to feel what they feel — their pains become mine, and for a moment, I am able to catch a glimpse into the window of their souls. Even secondary characters have their moments; in fact, one of the most memorable lines in True Tears for me is a Jun Isurugi pondering, “It is agonizing to no longer be able to like the things that you like.” These dramatic developments are well-planned, interspersed evenly throughout the episodes, the carrot never dangling too far from our nose. Gradually, by the end of show, we might feel like a classmate, hanging out in the back row, given a chance to see all the developments in person.
But while the characters are not one-dimensional, they are not as fleshed out as I would like. What the characters are like when they are not tugged along by the string of plot is rarely given consideration, and this is primarily where True Tears falters: it doesn’t give enough time for a human connection to be established with the actual characters as people — who they are and their true personalities — rather than just characters who happen to fall in love with other characters. They are sometimes enigmatic, their actions puzzling, like strangers suddenly thrust into the spotlight. It’s hard for me to care about their hesitance, their insecurities, even if they are eventually explained — even if I feel that I’ve come to understand their feelings at times, I don’t care very much about the character having those feelings. Romance requires individuals, and True Tears tries to sell the romance before establishing who the players are and why we should care; as such, it is hard to look through the eyes of the characters and feel, empathize, with their predicaments and the conditions that might have led to their character flaws before the onset of events. I want to be there, to see what Shin’ichiro sees when he looks at Hiromi or Noe, instead of just looking in from the sidelines. Part of the reason Toradora! works so well is because the comedy in the first half establishes the foundation for us to emotionally connect with the characters and the justification for the characters to emotionally connect with each other, allowing the second half to work its magic. True Tears misses an opportunity on this front; if it spends more time in the beginning highlighting Hiromi’s charm instead of just telling us through narration, Shin’ichirou’s poetic musings would come off more heartfelt and less pretentious; if more moments are shown with the characters just enjoying each others’ company, the character relations would be much easier to receive. Confessions, unrequited love, love triangles… While these are things that might make a romance fan’s heart flutter, there’s a tendency for romance novices to only pay attention to all the reasons, interactions and events, like specifications or key-frames to the animation of our life; it’s all too easy to forget that it’s the glue in between the layers, a human element, that holds together the veneer. It is those moments of lull that define a character, that heightens the intrigue and shows what’s at stake. Perhaps this is a symptom of being a 1-cour show (nevertheless, the pacing could have been improved), but True Tears never slows down to let the characters breathe. Rather for the most part it sticks tightly to the script, moving through plot devices however well written, and only in brief moments to we get to see some authenticity. And this is unfortunate because it’s when the characters do get some alone time that they really shine. Their facial expressions while in thought or feeding the chicken at leisure tell us more about who they are than the conversations that move along the plot.
It might be because of this that some of the character interactions and key events feel forced, insincere even; I understand that Shin’ichirou wants to solve Hiromi’s sorrow, but I don’t understand why he’s so attracted to her in the first place. It’s hard to sympathize with Hiromi’s evasiveness when I don’t know what she’s like when she’s happy. It is things like this that leave me disengaged, that by the time some of it is explained, I have already settled into dislike of the character — the reveal, as moving as it is, is not enough to fully pull me back into the drama. It is already too little, too late. This impression is compounded by True Tears’ harem roots, due to it being a visual novel adaptation. To be sure, True Tears never settles into the back-and-forth frolicking typical of that genre. Shin’ichirou is decisive when intentions are overtly made clear to him, but he nevertheless suffers from some of the cliches of the harem male, especially when he acts clueless earlier on in the show. As a result, perhaps, of Shin’ichirou being the player character, the girls take a more proactive role in initiating romantic developments; even the moves to kiss are always led by them, except for a couple cases of a creepy #4 basketball player. The girls who are attracted to Shin’ichirou inexplicably pin their hopes on him. Sometimes, it feels as though all the quandaries could be solved through just a little communication. I don’t expect all the plot to be revealed at the beginning of the show, but that the character chemistry needs to come from somewhere.
Several literary techniques and directorial choices also serve to distract from the believability of the relationships. Tropes exist in any great work and do not detract by their own virtue, only when they are lazily incorporated, such that they inefficiently contribute to the themes or exist merely to give a facade of deepness do they pose a problem. One motif that I’ve come to conclude should have never existed — since I believe there is always a better way to tell the story — is the metaphorical picture book: using some seemingly unrelated children’s story to explain subtext in the main plot. Presumably if True Tears does its job correctly, the exposition would be superfluous: we should understand the character’s thoughts through their actions (and their countenance) directly. The oddness of some of these cryptic children’s books contrasts too much with the high school setting, especially as the high school students grapple to take the metaphors too seriously. It always comes off as being pretentious. And in case anyone believes there is originality left in the concept, there are tons of shows within the same anime genre that also feature picture books; off the top of my head: Chobits, Clannad, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien… The other motifs that center around the naive Noe include flight representing freedom, the sky representing a brighter future, and sealing away someone’s ability to cry or love with a curse, which, once again, are a bit immature considering the high school setting, and in some cases also seem to highlight avoidance strategies symptomatic of the harem genre. They do contribute to Noe’s quirkiness, making her more memorable, which can be a good thing and a bad thing.
True Tears has a tendency to zoom to the lips whenever there is character-defining dialogue that it wants us to pay attention to. These techniques are often used in anime to good effect, but when used in regularity, it creates too much contrast with the normal style. True Tears also uses sketched stills to indicate dramatic symbolism, once again with regularity. Any techniques that directs attention through contrast are only effective if used sparingly, otherwise the sought emphasis becomes too noticeable and distracts from the work that it seeks to highlight. It is my belief that imagery and symbolism within the script needs to be subtle, and that I need to be able to understand key points conveyed without feeling like being coerced.
On that note, True Tears is for the most part stylistically in line with the mood it tries to establish. Several piano themes try to hold on to a fleeting melancholy, yet firmly planting resolve. The orchestral score is deep and introspective, with a sometimes dissonant cello breaking off from the recurrent melody in an unconventional scale, as if finding its own path; it hits the right notes, positively contributing to the atmosphere across several key scenes without being too intrusive or manipulative (a complaint I’ve had with Clannad). The opening song, typical of the genre and much like Kyoto Animation openings, starts off somber before kicking it up with a steady beat which belies the singer’s unchanging enthusiasm, giving an impression of empty hope that works well with uneventful slice-of-life’s. The animation is generally above average, with some standout scenes of hair blowing in the wind while the camera pans. Background texture is usually muted and uneven in a good way, using watercolor-like effects to showcase lighting.
True Tears is a fair attempt at high school romance, a good addition amongst the ranks of Hantsuki or the ef – Tales series. It brings to the table some character dimensionality and nuance that could be further expanded, and mostly realistic developments. While the episodes are never a drag, I was never really enthralled; there is an absence of, say, foundational character development — who they are when nothing in particular is happening, their habits, quirks, hobbies (the few times we see their rooms are in narrow angle) — that prevented me from fully caring about them. When True Tears has drama, it is proficient, the direction is effective, and the characters do gradually elicit empathy and pull through towards the end. An avid romance fan might be able to see past the few flaws it has and enjoy it more. In the end, gave it a 5.4, round it up or down as you wish.
L-Bound/U-Bound represent the worst and best, respectively, that I expected True Tears to end from watching it up until the point in the chart. The show dips a bit in the first half while setting up its harem, but pulls through in the second half when it starts to elaborate on the characters.
Warning: This pie chart is unscientific.