「顔は、ひとつだけじゃない。」 (Kao wa, hitotsu dake janai.)
“You Wear More Than One Face”
If I was going to choose a word to describe Horimiya’s magic, it would be “natural”. Everything just feels so unforced and easy. Mind you there would be plenty of words you could choose from, because this is a show whose appeal goes layers and layers deep. It’s a series of many moods and many faces, with each subset of the cast orbiting around the two leads having its own distinct appeal. As I’ve noted before, one of the hardest things to do in anime is to make it look this easy.
Part of the credit goes to Ishihama-sensei of course, and his genius as a director is on clear display here. But the source material is a brilliant canvas for him to paint on to be sure. Horimiya is one of those series that has the quality of making you feel as if you know a character almost as soon as you meet them. These are three-dimensional models, not cut-outs. Some are more immediately likeable than others but the ones that really matter are ones it’s a pure joy to spend time with.
For, me, that’s epitomized by the Hori living room, with the easy-breezy familial camaraderie between Izumi and the siblings. Added to that mix this time is Kyouko and Souta’s mom, Yuriko (Kayano Ai). I find her the less entertaining (spoiler) of the Hori parents but she’s a lot of fun in her own right, and naturally quite interested in the boy both her children seem to have taken to in her absence. She even sends Kyouko on an errand run so she can get some alone time to scope out Izumi (unwittingly foiling her daughter’s plan to find out his first name in the process).
This name bit is classic Horimiya in easy mode, a lovely and relaxed comic sequence at Hori’s expense that never feels mean-spirited. I especially love Hori-san in the Gendou pose as she schemes to try and figure out the puzzle (this includes peeping on the boys’ changing room), and Souta’s puzzled bemusement as the two teenagers bantered back and forth. It’s a silly thing of course, but sometimes it’s the silly things which make the best entertainment, and it’s hard to overstate the absurd importance first names seem to have in the Japanese social fabric (especially for adolescents).
The school is at least as important as a setting, and it’s the interplay between these two worlds that drives much of what happens in Horimiya. Making their first extended appearance is the student council, led by president Sengoku Kakeru (Okamoto Nobuhiko) and V.P. Kouno Sakura (Kondo; Reina). It soon becomes clear that the seitoukai imposes on Hori-san to help them out, seemingly because member Ayasaki Remi (M.A.O.) – who also happens to be Sengoku’s girlfriend – isn’t carrying her weight. And for whatever reason (Izumi, Yuki, and Tooru correctly guess the reason easily enough) she seems unable or unwilling to say no.
The drama here isn’t forced or overplayed. The fact is that high school is full of injustices, so Kyouko suffering one is hardly an unusual occurrence. It’s also kind of refreshing to see that she’s partly at fault for her situation, having been rather a bully towards Kakeru across their childhood days. The payoff is the key, as it gives us a window on the mild-mannered Izumi’s nature. He lays low at school (partly because he’s given himself no choice) but he’s not the sort of guy to stand idly by and see a friend wronged (much less publicly). And he’s got a bit of an edge to him if crossed, too.
The third act here is spring break, which also happens to be the season of Kyouko’s birthday. She reflects, not without some unease, on how much Miyamura-kun has wormed his way into her life (Souta telling her to “be more honest with yourself” is a classic moment). Izumi’s choice of a gift is perfect, which likewise pushes her thoughts into uncomfortable areas. I can’t overstate how brilliant it was that Ishihama inserted no less than a 10-second pause (I counted) as Izumi stared out the window and worried about the future – a theme very much on the minds of kids about to enter their final year of freedom from adult responsibilities. A director and an author both willing to let the moment speak for itself – a rarity in anime at any time, but a unicorn when in combination.