Well, finished all 11 episodes of the anime, and on one hand, it didn’t go where I was expecting at all. Turns out most of the meaty melodrama (which, by the standards set in this series, is still extremely low-key—your average shoujo character sleeps more drama than this) comes relatively early in the series. In total, it ends up being more about slice-of-life time spent with friends, one-sided love (none of the main characters who like someone have the feelings returned), and first loves found and lost, in an extremely low-angst, low-key way. The mood strikes a nice balance of pleasant everyday, quiet melancholy, and just a twinge of dramatic overtone. Didn’t really end on a downer, though certainly low key by any standards and in total nothing much actually happens after the first half-dozen episodes—just keeps threatening to.
On the other hand, it left me feeling entirely frustrated and unsatisfied—it seems to end just when it’s starting to get somewhere. That sort of thing annoys the heck out of me. There’s also the fact that I’m more a fan of romance than unilateral pining, though I can appreciate plenty of one in build up to the other.
(As a side-note, I’ve always remembered and taken to heart a phrase in a magazine review of I believe Remains of the Day that I read long ago: British tragi-romance/drama is about the slow, repressed burn, but Americans like something popping loose at the end. I indeed do—I can handle repressed/low-key drama, but I want to see something pop loose at the end. This is, to note, where Emma went entirely right with the genre.)
And, as a quick discussion with Google reveals, there’s a reason I felt that way: The 11 episodes of the anime directly follow the first 18 chapters of the manga it’s based on, which currently has 12 chapters after that point and isn’t finished yet. Given that the characters and style caught my interest, I would very much like to see another season (which, presumably, the’ll be enough material for once another half-dozen chapters are added), and I’m going to have to read the manga. Synopses make it sound like it’s going at least somewhat more where I was expecting—the complete lack of romance between Fumi and Akira was a bit surprising given all the hints and the minor revelation (to the character—as a viewer I’d picked up on it even ignoring the tells in the opening) of Fumi’s feelings for Akira as a little kid, and it sounds like that becomes a bit more central later.
Of course, it could still stick to the one-sided love thing even then, and it looks like the business with the two older girls wrapped up, but it leaves me with some hope of seeing something proverbially pop loose at the end.
On an unrelated note, there’s a lot of very pretty (if oh-so-loosely drawn) Kamakura flavor in the series, particularly a late-episode visit to nearby Enoshima. Wikipedia makes it sound like the author got inspiration from a tourist trip to the area, and given my own experience doing exactly the same thing, it certainly sounds right—many of the locales are drawn straight from real life, most notably everything on Enoshima, the view from Kamakura’s famed train line with its old-fashioned cars, and the general feel of the town. No sign of Sasukeinari-jinja yet (featured prominently in the opening episode of Escaflowne, which was also set in Kamakura), but there’s time. The character animation is also consistently appealing, with many touches of realism that had me smiling, though it seemed to ease up a bit in the late episodes.
Other strengths overall are Akira’s awkward cheerfulness, “Pon-chan and the gang”, three fun-yet-believable, energetic classmates of Fumi’s who are in the drama club and as a result are frequently goofing off dramatically, going so far as to briefly re-enact a dramatic scene from someone else’s past. That turned what could have been florid melodrama into something far more human, and they give a nice breath of normalcy to every scene they show up in. There are also the relatively large number of male and straight female characters for such a series (another thing Wikipedia tells me the author went out of her way to add), giving the whole thing more of a sense of being set in the real world.
In all I can only call the anime, in its single-season current state, impressive in its realism and memorably distinctive in spite of being incredibly low-key, but unsatisfying and somewhat of a disappointment given the strong start. Hopefully a sequel some day will change that.
And, it would seem, my search goes on.