I didn’t even know they could do that.
|Chiba TV|2003-2004|14 episodes|30 mins.|
Before I fuckin’ proceed, I should probably let y’all know that this review will contain mild spoilers for the first few episodes of the series. The reason for this is that it takes a few episodes to set up the basic premise of the series, so if I want to talk about what the show actually is, I’m gonna have to be a wee little bit spoilery.
Rumbling Hearts begins in familiar territory for anime viewers: high school romance. Mitsuki (blue hair) befriends a grey haired young asshole called Takayuki, because her shy friend Haruka has a crush on him, and this way she can bring them closer together. You see, in Japan, nobody can actually tell anybody how they feel without an elaborate ruse, comedic misunderstandings, or nipple clamps.
Takayuki’s friend Shinji is often listed as a fourth main character, but his appearances are mostly brief and often have little bearing on the main plot.
So, after days of walking home together, Haruka finally picks up the courage to ask Takayuki out. I think she’s violating several national laws here. If I recall correctly women under the age of 18 are not allowed to say or do anything but blush and bend over. Takayuki accepts, and off they go on a whirlwind teen romance.
OR DO THEY?
One day, Takayuki is running late for their very important date, when he bumps into Mitsuki, who makes him even later with her stupid jewelry shenanigans. Takayuki finally rolls up to the intersection where he was to meet Haruka and instead of an orange haired bit o’ jailbait, there’s broken glass, smashed cars and police cruisers and everything.
Turns out, while he was goofing around with Mitsuki, a car veered off the road and smashed right into Haruka. Takayuki just fucking collapses there in utter shock and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Up to this point I’d been enjoying the series. It was a cute series, starring school kids who weren’t annoying for once. Takayuki and Haruka were pretty adorable together, the other kids were pretty funny… I knew it was based on an H-game, but the anime hadn’t gone into creepy lolicon territory. BUT THEN THIS HAPPENED. HOLY SHIT THIS WAS A BRILLIANT MOVE. I love misery and heartbreak. I love it when a seemingly happy story takes a sharp turn into Despairsville. The torment of these characters is fucking delicious to me. I was suddenly extremely interested.
So, we fast forward three years. The kids are now young adults, and Haruka remains in a coma. Takayuki and Mitsuki have realized their feelings for one another and are now living together. Takayuki’s relationship with Haruka’s family has deteriorated, and her younger sister Akane outright hates him. But he and Mitsuki have moved on from that tragedy. Until one day, Haruka wakes up.
Rumbling Hearts took me completely by surprise. It evolved from a sweet high school thing into probably the most mature romance I’ve ever seen from an anime. It subverts the conventions of the genre, and forgoes blushing girls, tsunderes, and just the general fuckery of anime romance in favour of character development and genuine, human emotion.
So, Japan, my question to you is, why can’t you do this all the time? Why do you have to resort to stereotypes, clichés, and some twisted, adolescent clown-shoes vision of romance? It can be fucking done, people. SHEESH.
The focus of the show moves onto dealing with just how much Haruka’s awakening fucks with everyone’s lives, and the mess of emotion that comes with it. Takayuki sort of has to make a choice between the two, breaking one’s heart over the other, before things escalate further and tear everybody apart.
As I was watching the series, I was also looking through old threads on each episode. It’s something I enjoy doing when I review shows for this site so I can see the audience reaction as it happened. One thing that kind of baffled me was just how angry everyone seemed to be at Takayuki’s difficulty in figuring this mess out, blaming him for everything that was going on.
This was surprising, because to me, it looked like it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. It was just an awful situation to be in. Haruka spent three years in a coma. Of course the other kids have to carry on. And I’ve been in Takayuki’s position before. I have been in love with
more than one person at the same time and I had enormous pressure to make a decision one way or the other. And that’s hard. Many might see it as philandering, but it’s something that really puts your heart through the wringer when it’s happening to you.
Rumbling Hearts portrays it that way, too, and this series will always be very near and dear to me for that. There are no easy answers for anyone involved. Even though things spiral out of control, it’s hard to pin the blame on one person. Takayuki’s current relationship with Mitsuki versus his old feelings for Haruka represents a choice between past and present that I think a lot of young adults face. For most of us, it’s the choice between maturing and independence and continuing to act like you did in high school.
The time skip causes problems beyond just the love triangle. Takayuki and Mitsuki have had three years to graduate, move out, get jobs, and enter adult life. For them, their friend was practically dead. For Haruka it seems like almost no time has passed at all. For her, her mindset and her feelings for her friends have stayed exactly the same, and it’s just not the way things are any more.
One more thing to touch on is Rumbling Hearts’ treatment of sexuality. It’s a refreshingly realistic take on it, at least for this genre. It’s not exploitative or fanservice-y at all. There is nudity, but it’s rather tastefully done, and rather than objectifying sex, it’s portrayed as simply being a natural part of relationships. Different characters will have sex in different ways for different reasons, but it never gets too goonish.
The ending deserves special mention. It doesn’t feel cheap or easy or contrived. Nobody walks away unscathed from this, and the final scene is…well, fuck it, it’s a beautiful and fitting end.
Don’t get me wrong, this is an emotional story, and a sad one at that, but it’s not an unending wangst-fest, either. There is a little bit of anime silliness and comic relief, mostly provided by Takayuki’s coworkers. At 14 episodes, Rumbling Hearts keeps things moving at a brisk clip and packs more into one episode than Naruto packs into five. The pacing on this series is exception. It’s concise, but rich, and keeps things exciting.
Rumbling Hearts is an outstanding animated drama that ignores most of the anime conventions and gives us believable characters. People who actually act like real people might. It probably sounds unlikely for an anime based on an H-game with schoolgirls on the cover, but if anything that just makes me more impressed with the wonderful story they managed to extract from it. This will likely not appeal to most of our testicle-owning readers, but it’s worth a chance. And if romance or slice-of-life is your thing, don’t pass this one up. It’s a rare treat.