True Tears

Whenever I see you, my heart trembles.

I currently feel a strange, permeating satisfaction.

True Tears is an anime by P.A. Works, the studio which will afterwards produce the great Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asu kara among others. Its story revolves around high school student Nakagami Shinichirou and his relationships with three girls: Hiromi, who happens to live in his house; Aiko, his childhood friend; and Noe, a strange girl who takes an interest in him after they meet near the chicken’s cage. Noe tells Shinichirou that she is now unable to shed tears and asks for his help: as you might have guessed, the show’s title refers to Noe’s problem.

The art is somewhat old-fashioned but beautiful nonetheless and some scenes are breathtaking, like the festival. I must say that I’m not a fan of the 3D-animated walking characters, I found them awkward at best and ugly at worst, but everything else is solid and deserving of praise.

The soundtrack… did its job, I guess. I probably will not remember anything in a few months, but I did enjoy the one or two pieces which played during the more dramatic scenes: I have a thing for string instruments.

Where True Tears truly shines, in my opinion, is in the way characters interacted with each other. Each of them acted in a believable fashion: there were no pink glasses nor exaggerated drama. It felt real to me. The supporting characters did not feel like blank faces with a name attached to them: their actions had meaning, and even they evolved throughout the show, especially Miyokichi and Shinichirou’s mother. Noe was certainly an oddball, and I cannot fathom how a high school girl could ever behave like she does, but apart from her few quirks, her relationships with the rest of the cast felt natural.

I identified particularly well with Shinichirou: I understood all too well how confused he would get as the plot went on and secrets were revealed. I haven’t been through a similar experience, but I think I would have reacted like him, or at least in a similar way.

I truly appreciated the overarching metaphor of Shinichirou’s picture book progressing along the story’s unfolding. I’ll be frank: I do think I am able to read between the lines in some occasions, but I’ll unashamedly acknowledge that I am not sure I understood all of it. However, I enjoyed how unconvoluted the metaphor actually was: simply, it talked about a chicken who wanted to fly, and another one who didn’t. I liked the humility of that story, how it made perfect sense with little and did not try to appear deeper than it really was. It made it all the more genuine to me.

I’ll keep this part of my review spoiler-free so I’ll start my conclusion here. If you do not care for spoilers, feel free to read the bottom of the review.

True Tears gently invites you in Japan’s countryside for a bittersweet ride. There’s nothing flashy in it, nor is there anything exceptional. That, I reckon, is a good thing. The characters' motives are sometimes innocent, sometimes goodhearted, and sometimes petty and disingenuous. That’s what made them human. True Tears does not pretend to offer some sort of extraordinary adventure. Instead, it gives us a window to our own contradictory actions and beliefs and to the regrettable human tendency to make things complex rather than simple. It is a lesson of humility, tinged with shades of hope. We deceive others because we fear being hurt, so much so that we are entangled in a web of convenient lies. And yet, as we gaze at the sky and the flying birds, we yearn for freedom. Perhaps, truth is our first step to salvation.

Eventually, Noe realizes herself:

It’s tough… and it’s painful… but because I can’t fly yet, I walk.

Further thoughts below. Warning: spoilers ahead.

About halfway in, I started rooting for Hiromi. Especially after learning how much she had been through: losing her parents, and then having to put up with Shinichirou’s mother’s abusive behaviour for all this time. Before that, I just thought she was the typical cold and aloof bishoujo, but the revelations did a stellar job at fleshing her out and providing explanations for her distant attitude towards Shinichirou. I usually dislike when people are not honest with themselves, but I found myself empathizing with Hiromi.

However, I must admit, it was painful to see Noe suffer as well, even if it meant SS Hiromi was likely to sail. What pained me the most was that she was the one who consistently stayed true to herself. And, contrary to the first impression she gave me, that wasn’t because she was stupid: she had her own set of circumstances to deal with. Her older brother proving to be a true siscon was unexpected: obviously he deeply cared for his sister but I tend to have mixed feelings with incest in anime, because it often is a device to bait more viewers. Here, since Jun was not the protagonist, it didn’t feel like a simple device and even felt believable.

I loved the scene where Shinichirou came to terms with Noe. In the last episodes, I had started resenting Shinichirou’s indecisiveness. I approved of him rejecting Aiko: it was the right thing to do. However, after Hiromi kissed him and he did not reject her, I could not fathom how he could still lie on the edge between her and Noe. I felt that it was disrespectful to both of them. I did want him to choose Hiromi, but I would have been fine with Noe, too. What appalled me was how he appeared not to make any choice.

And then, when I saw him break down before Noe, it dawned on me. Sometimes, things are not just black or white. Sometimes, the shades are hard to tell apart. And it made me forgive Shinichirou for all he did, or rather for all that he should have done and yet didn’t. I suddenly understood why his actions stopped making sense to me: he himself did not know what he was doing anymore. It took me until the last scene to realize it. He even said it to Miyokichi during the festival!

Shinichirou loved Hiromi. However, in a sense, he also loved Noe.

That was all there was to it, really.

And yet, the journey that led to this simple conclusion had so much to tell.

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