「せめて、この大空を。」 (Semete, Kono Ōzora o.)
“I Would Gift You the Sky”
Well, it’s over. And to some extent I’m not sure what I just watched. Maybe that’s not surprising, since Horimiya isn’t exactly a typical manga. It’s a long series based on a short series, and one which radically changes direction after a fairly early climactic moment (pun intended). But now that the anime is over, I can’t shake the feeling that it was an adaptation that looked at all that and just sort of punted. There doesn’t seem to have been much effort put into making this show a cohesive whole. And the question I find myself asking now that it’s ended is, am I glad it exists at all?
I’m going to use the buffet analogy again, but sorry – it fits. When you go to a big buffet (they call them “Viking Buffets” in Japan, for strange reasons that tie back to the old Imperial Hotel in Tokyo) you have a couple of options. You can try to eat as many different things as possible, and only a little of each. Or you can focus on what’s really good, and fill up on that. The advantage of the first approach is of course that you don’t “miss out”. But you also fill a bunch of your precious stomach space with food that’s not the best the buffet has to offer. If you limit yourself a little and focus on what’s really good, there’s no wasted space in your gut.
It’s pretty clear which approach Ishihama Masashi decided to take with this adaptation – for better or worse, and I would say mostly worse. Horimiya is indeed a series with a big spread of options, but Ishihama loaded up on too much dry chicken and stale bread and left the carving station and waffle iron sadly underutilized. What’s more, it’s like he went to the dessert station midway through and then went back for appetizers, then entrees, then back to dessert. If there was science behind this plan of attack, I have a hard time seeing it now that the check has been paid and the Alka-seltzers popped.
As for the finale itself, it wasn’t quite what I expected (which I guess is sort of fitting). I mean, there is a graduation in the manga but it’s the culmination of a lot of development. And it frankly feels like overkill after the events of last week, at least at 15 minutes plus. And there’s one particular two-chapter passage at the end that, after Episode 12, I was reasonably certain Ishihama-sensei was going to adapt this week. Wrong as usual, though – it, like everything else after graduation, may as well never have happened.
This is somewhat symptomatic of the larger issues with the adaptation, to be honest. Just like one could almost believe that Kyouko and Izumi never had sex based on the way it was ignored in the follow-up events (apart from one badly adapted passage with Souta), it feels like Izumi’s proposal last week never happened. The manga isn’t totally immune from this, but it’s not nearly as big an issue as with the anime. It seems like a very odd approach to adapting the material – but then, the choices involved in this series have me scratching my head more than not.
I would apply that to the characters as well. In effectively treating Horimiya as a school comedy (dry chicken) the anime has marginalized Kyouko’s family and especially Souta to the point where they disappear from the story for weeks at a time (and yes, Miya’s family does have some small presence in the manga too). Even the first part of this finale was a meandering ten minutes devoted to the side cast, and frankly it was a slog to get through. If you view Horimiya as a school comedy I suppose it makes sense to end on graduation, but I would argue that this is a pretty major misread of what Horimiya is as a series. Or an attempt to recast it based on what’s perceived to be commercially marketable (which is almost worse).
The best part of the finale was that it did at least end on Izumi’s perspective, and that’s as it should be if you’re going to focus on what the anime did. His character arc was the spine of the story much more than Hori’s, but the issue is that his emotional journey was too intermittently highlighted for the ending to have its theoretically possible impact. It was good, but it should have been more. And that, really, is about how I would describe this adaptation generally.
One interesting element is that the Hori-san to Miyamura-kun OVAs – different studio, director, and cast – are going to have two new episodes, the first in two years, releasing next month. The OVA was always a pretty unsatisfying take on the manga largely because it was so brief (only four episodes) but maybe it starts to look a little better in comparison now. I suspect the two new OVA eps are going to highlight some of the material the anime short-shrifted, so in a funny sense the TV series has helped to carve out a place for the OVAs in the Horimiya landscape.
I hate to end on a down note, because it’s not as if Horimiya wasn’t a very good show. It’s hard to ignore the unfulfilled potential when you know it’s there, but the TV series did some very good things. Ishihama is unquestionably a brilliant director and he delivered some signature moments, and the central relationship here is one of the more interesting anime romances we’ve seen in a long time. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hope for more – a lot more – but what we got was still a good series intercut with moments of brilliance. I hoped for better, but anime certainly delivers a lot worse.