Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $59.98 US (DVD); $69.98 US (Blu-ray)
Running Time: 325 minutes
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now
You’ve heard the story a thousand times, shoujo fans. A girl with a troubled past meets the kind-hearted boy. The girl, not wanting to risk being hurt, isn’t open to the idea of dating said boy even though he is clearly interested in her and slowly but surely she starts opening her heart enough to let in the boy and together they find happiness.
This is certainly not a new plot element for the genre but the Complete Collection of Say, “I Love You” manages to bring us a romance story that is as warm and as inviting as it is a cute slice of shoujo bliss. If that sounds like high praise for a series that doesn’t bring anything new to the table and will probably end predictably then I should add that sometimes it’s not the destination that matters but rather how you get there that does.
The 13-episode series introduces us to Mei Tachibana, a 16-year old student at Toumei Public High School who keeps to herself because of an unfortunate event in middle school that makes Mei realize that friendship will eventually lead to betray. Since then Mei has not made a single friend in her high school and that’s perfectly fine with her. Of course, this way of thinking has transformed an otherwise sweet girl into a gloomy loner who spends her lunch break seeing to a cute cat.
In the same school is a charming, chivalrous and kind-hearted boy named Yamato Kurosawa who is – of course – extremely popular with all the girls because he’s an absolute hottie. This boy who seems to have nothing in common with Mei Tachibana finds himself interested in her after a misunderstanding has the girl kicking Yamato. While every girl in the school hates Mei for kicking their school idol, Yamato sees the girl in a romantic light to the point that he gives Mei his phone number.
Yet Mei is the stubborn kind who is not willing to give friendship a chance let alone romance. In fact, the thought of having a boyfriend wasn’t an option and she had no intention of even calling Yamato until a creepy stalker forces Mei to call the only male she knows … Yamato. When he scares off the stalker by kissing Mei right in front of him, an awkward relationship is born as the girl who doesn’t want friends suddenly finds that she now has somebody in her life.
Awkward is definitely the right word to describe the relationship between Mei and Yamato. While she tries to come to terms with her growing feelings for a boy who has only the noblest of intentions, romance is still a relatively new deal for her. However, Yamato is never pushy and is actually patient enough to give her a chance to realize that he has fallen for her. Believe me when I say that half the fun of watching this series is that awkwardness as the pair try to transition from strangers to boyfriend and girlfriend roles.
While Mei can’t quite summon the courage to tell Yamato how she feels about him, it becomes clear that Mei is changing to the point that she allows herself to become a part of Yamato’s small circle of friends that includes his pervy buddy Kenji Nakanishi and his crush, the busty Asami Oikawa. Suddenly, the girl who intentionally turned to solitude as a defense mechanism is now becoming sociable and it feels good albeit strange.
However, not everything about her new social life and romance is all roses because there are obstacles that fall in front of the girl and it threatens her relationship with Yamato. There’s Aiko Muto, a girl who has a past with Yamato and despite the fact that she’s dating somebody it becomes apparent that she still has strong feeling for Yamato and will not give up on having him as her boyfriend. Aiko attempts to separate Mei from Yamato, not realizing that it is Yamato who loves being by Mei’s side … a fact that not only angers the girl but also pushes her to the edge in a very dramatic manner.
Then there’s Kai Takemura, a boy who had befriended Yamato during middle school only to feel abandoned by Yamato when Kai was mercilessly bullied in a violent confrontation. As a result, Kai has not only missed a year of high school but has exercised to the point that he no longer resembles the wimpy boy Yamato knew. However, Kai has turned his attention on Mei and attempts to woo her out of both revenge against Yamato but also because he identifies with Mei. Kai’s insistence on winning over Mei causes Yamato to see him as a rival.
While both Kai and Aiko cause problems in the relationship, it is a popular and very attractive model named Megumi Kitagawa who poses the biggest threat for Mei. She immediately sets her sights on Yamato and, despite her sweet exterior; she’s malicious and determined to drive a wedge between the couple in order to have Yamato for herself. Megumi even gets Yamato a gig as a male model, a job that he accept reluctantly and not knowing that it makes Mei insecure about their relationship. I mean, how can an awkward girl like her be dating a male model?
However, even with the obstacles that test a relationship between two young people who are new to this courtship, both Mei and Yamato show us that love can bloom for even the most unlikely couples. The series just doesn’t concentrate on Mei and Yamato’s romance but also that of characters like Asami, Kenji and even Aiko who change because of Mei.
The trouble with Say, “I Love You” is that it follows the usual shoujo trapping that we have seen countless times before and even the ending offers no surprise. The show’s real strength comes in the fact that the writing is still fresh enough to make Mei’s plight seem realistic enough that you will not only be drawn in by awkwardness towards love and friendship but you’ll be rooting for her. Sure, there are some overly dramatic moments scattered throughout but they are often overshadowed by the cute moments that make the characters actually quite endearing.
On top of the great storytelling, the series features some gorgeous animation that makes each character stand out in the best way possible. There’s also a solid voice-acting cast with the original Japanese seiyuu being the best way to enjoy the series thanks to the strong performances by the two main leads. However, the English dub isn’t bad either with the likes of Monica Rial, Greg Ayres and David Matranga joining a good cast of voice actors.
While never really offering anything new to the romance genre, Say, “I Love You” is tremendously charming and endearing enough to make this Complete Collection set a genuinely satisfying treat well worth savoring. Filled with an assortment of likeable and interesting characters, the series’ major highlight is the blooming romance between Mei and Yamato that is so touching and cute that you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen. Now that’s how you do good shoujo.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Mei Tachibana had decided to abandon all hope in terms of making friends to the point that it has made her a sullen loner. Then, the handsome and very popular Yamato takes an interest in her after Mei kicks him on accident. It isn’t until an incident pushes the girl who is closely guarding her heart to find friendship once again as well as romance. Sure, there are rivals that pop up but the biggest obstacle for Mei is learning to trust again and make sense of her growing feeling for a boy who clearly likes her.
VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation in this series is top-notch and gorgeous even on DVD as the backgrounds and character models are delightfully colorful. Sure, Yamato’s hair is atrocious but he certainly makes for some pleasant eye candy.
AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The original Japanese voice acting is definitely the way to enjoy this series especially with outstanding performances by Ai Kayano and Takahiro Sakurai. Still, the English dub cast isn’t bad at all thanks to the talents of Monica Rial, Greg Ayres and Brittney Karbowski just to name a few. Another plus is the score that is as delightful as the animation and the opening and closing theme songs are new favorites of mine.
The Complete Collection set comes in a three-disc set with the first disc including the clean opening and closing animation plus the original Japanese promo videos as well as a few Sentai Filmworks previews. On the third disc, there are the Mei & Marshmallow 6-episode 3D animated shorts that you find at the very end of the closing credits. These are short yet cute and worth watching since both Mei and her chubby cat, Marshmallow, are funny.
Like most shoujo anime series you have seen before, Say, “I Love You” is a romance story that ends the way you expect it to end but the real magic here is in how this romance unfolds. Genuinely earnest, engaging and downright cute, this series will not fail in drawing you into its warm and inviting light from beginning to end.
Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks