While I admittedly long for the day in a popular anime when a "misfit" girl is more than just a beautiful girl with a slouch and some quirks - and is something other, maybe, than skinny, and has acne or birthmarks or greasy hair or any of the other things that kids often get teased for - I think I'm going to love Sukitte Ii Na Yo. And not just for the love story, either (though it will be good, and Yamato is...wonderful beyond words). Rather, I think I'm going to like it for the way it portrays high school as, in the words of Tachibana Mei, a "dollhouse": a confusing, isolating place where people play at being adults, form groups together, and sometimes exclude each other with no regard for the consequences of their actions or those who might be lost along the way. Finding love in the middle of that sounds like a miracle, and yet it becomes the luminous central promise of the series.
Summary: Tachibana Mei, a perpetual outcast thanks to a misunderstood incident involving a school pet long ago, goes through her days at school isolated and without friends. The victim of much mockery, she speaks only to her mother, her coworkers, and the pets she cares for. Kurosawa Yamato, on the other hand, is the most popular and well-liked guy in school. When one of Yamato's friends tries to lift Mei's skirt, she replies with a roundhouse kick - and accidentally injures Yamato instead of her assailant. Rather than be upset, Yamato decides that she's the kind of person he likes; he apologizes for his friend's behavior and gives Mei his phone number. Mei offers him bandages in apology for the kick, but refuses to accept his friendship. Unfortunately, when she later finds herself being followed and stalked by a creepy customer from the bake shop, Mei realizes Yamato is the only person she can call for help. He comes to her rescue and puts his arm around her, then - in full view of her stalker - kisses her and announces that he loves her.
Thoughts: I think that, ultimately, what will differentiate this anime from a lot of other run-of-the-mill shows will be the maturity and realism with which it handles a lot of serious themes beyond love: alienation, isolation, bullying, the strange sadness of the psychological experiment that high school can sometimes be. From the very beginning - with a soundtrack that seems largely spare and at times unsettling - the subtle cruelties of school life become very, very evident. Cruel glances, large groups of people that hang out together without inviting others in, snide comments both behind your back and to your face, social banishment due to an isolated incident years ago: this is Mei's world, and to her it's not abnormal. She exists at the edge of everything, painfully aware of her place as a social pariah, but what makes her character likeable is her profound lack of self-pity. Mei doesn't wander around sighing and weeping; she's defiant, and her defiance serves as a defense mechanism. Though she might not be aware of her own worth, she's certainly willing to defend herself - and that roundhouse kick was, no doubt, gratifying to the many viewers who have no doubt had to deal with some version of that jerk in school.
Yamamoto, too, seems drawn in an interestingly complex and nuanced way; he's popular, but seems somewhat oblivious to his own social station, and even disinterested in it. He instantly seems like a nice guy, likeable with a good (and even self-deprecating) sense of humor, but the world comes easily to him - and so his stubborn determination in the face of Mei's rejections and brusque response feels delightful and even sweet. That he can leave karaoke and his friends so easily to come rescue her says a lot about his feelings, and the confession and kiss throws the anime into high gear immediately; what will Mei do? What will Yamato do? More importantly: what will everyone else do? In high school, the social order doesn't take kindly to being disrupted.
I'll admit to being curious about a few things; were the kiss and confession simply acts for the benefits of Mei's stalker? If not, what will the consequences be for Mei? As an outcast and a pariah, she won't be viewed as "worthy" of Yamato's affection, and I suspect things will get a lot worse before they get better. For his part, Yamato might not suffer socially at all - what could be more realistic than the "popular" guy staying popular, while the misfit girl gets the blame for everything?
I don't have many complaints about the anime; this is one that feels like it might develop subtly and slowly over time, and if the characterization of high school life and the emotional nuance stays the same, this will be a show to look forward to. That said: can the animators think a little more about how to animate walking in this show? Everyone always looked like they were plodding, at roughly the same speed as Kouichi and Mei in Another when everything was on fire. But that's a minor quibble; I'm curious about where this one will go.