I finally got the chance to watch Horimiya — the most highly acclaimed romance show of the 2021 winter season. I enjoyed the couple volumes of the manga that I read and the aesthetics on the trailer looked like something I enjoyed; this was a show that I went into with high expectation.
As expected, the show has elements of a great romance. The two characters, Hori and Miyamura, are very fun; the twists to them make their relationship and interaction work really smoothly. Frankly, having two characters know the secrets of each other is a fantastic way to set up interactions. As a person who read the first few volumes of the manga, I can say that I definitely loved the sweet interactions between the two characters throughout the manga. Hori is a really cute character with great character design and Miyamura’s fanservice scene (with him running) was one where I immediately knew for sure that it would make a lot of people go insane for him.
As mentioned, the overall aesthetics of the show looks pretty. There were a few good-looking shot compositions with interesting blocking with the characters. For example, there was a scene near the end of the first episode where the red and blue silhouettes moved away and closer to Hori and Miyamura’s body depending on who was speaking. The silhouettes floating away to the left as Hori spoke visualized the relationship drifting apart while the silhouette coming back to their bodies as Miyamura spoke visualized their relationship normalizing as Miyamura cleared up their misunderstanding.
Another one of my favorite scenes came from their conversation in the middle of the episode. The two characters were framed in the background past a door with a bag and a desk serving a foreground. As the conversation is based on Miyamura’s hidden piercings, the framing serves as a nice way to show the intimacy of the characters getting to know what their life is like in the background past their hidden doors.
Other than that, the tone of the color was bright yet not shiny enough to hurt my eye; the fonts and the background effects throughout were cool to watch. And most importantly, Tomatsu Haruka’s voice acting role as Hori was fantastic. Other than the fact that the hair color variety seems too high for a grounded romance show, I enjoyed most of the aesthetics elements throughout.
However, even with all these positive aspects, I didn’t find myself enjoying the first episode as much as I expected I would. While, as I mentioned in my previous posts, I don’t normally write negative reviews, my reason for not being able to enjoy the first episode of Horimiya addresses one of the biggest parts that I look at in any shows: pacing. And I think it’s one worth of good discussion.
To give a brief overview of what happened in the first episode, Hori and Miyamura were introduced; Hori found out about Miyamura’s secret; Miyamura did a chore for Hori; Ishikawa and Miyamura talk about Hori; we find out that Ishikawa likes Hori; Ishikawa confesses to Hori; we find out that Ishikawa was rejected. That is a lot. I mean seriously a lot.
In most anime, episode one usually deals with the introduction of characters and the plot. In Bakemonogatari, we get an introduction of Araragi’s personality, role in the school, and abilities as a vampire along with Senjougahara’s personality, conflict, and an introduction to the resolution to come. Through careful pacing using the dialogue and aesthetic presentation, we are given all the information that we need to understand the situation within the first arc; nowhere in episode one of Bakemonogatari do we feel like we are being hit with too much content.
However, Horimiya feels packed with multiple conflicts and resolutions just throughout the first episode. Unfortunately, the problems that arise from this are immediate in the first episode. We see Ishikawa saying Miyamura and Hori “sure seem to spend a lot of time together recently” while getting jealous at their relationship. The problem with this, however, is that we only really saw Miyamura and Hori interact together in no more than two separate events. In fact, we never even see them together in school except for a scene in the hallway (where it seems like no one was around) and another short scene on the balcony. From the viewer’s perspective, it seems as though Ishikawa and other friends of Hori saw the two talking on two occasions and being incredibly shocked that the time that they spent increased so much. Sure, those conversations might have been two more conversations than the number of conversations that they normally have, but does this make that great of a difference that others would be so shocked? I can’t buy that Ishikawa is getting that jealous over Miyamura because they talked once or twice.
We also get scenes where Hori is saying things like “I don’t want to let others see this side of you” but when the audience literally saw them interact for less than 5 minutes, the whole conversation makes almost no sense. The audience has yet to form the connection between them this quickly simply because we don’t see the two characters interact before this line. How sweet would it have been if we saw Hori say “I don’t want to let others see this side of you” when they are close to being a couple, after spending a lot of time together. That could have been an unbelievably satisfying moment that could have defined the whole series.
At the end of the episode, there is this emotional scene where Hori is talking about an assumption that Miyamura made about Hori. The same problem is here as well. I didn’t really care about their argument precisely because I didn’t even see the characters interact properly for longer than 10 minutes. Of course, this problem becomes worse when this built-up tension from the emotional scene is pretty much all gone in less than two minutes after one scene of dialogue. It feels so empty because the build-up to the drama wasn’t that strong nor was the resolution. Both of these scenes would have been extremely impactful if they just took one or two episodes to build up their relationship properly as the audience grew attached to the two.
Unlike how Horimiya designed the first episode, most directors would have chosen to end episode one in a situation where Hori finds out about Miyamura’s other side of him or after he gets eggs for Hori when he bumped into Hori’s friend to create suspense for the viewers. This would have been able to establish Hori and Miyamura’s character and relationship in a deeper manner for the viewers to be more invested in the two characters. Immediately this would have solved both of these issues and made the first episode a lot stronger for the audience.
I’m not saying that all anime should follow this structure. Great shows like Haruhi or Nozaki either change this structure or add a little bit more than normal to their first episode. However, they still manage to keep the pace within those episodes relatively steady enough for the viewers to completely follow along with the events and get invested in the relationship between the characters. These shows actually end up making the pace feel like it is following real-time whereas Horimiya seems as though it went over 2, 3 days over episode one with the number of conflicts and resolutions they packed into one episode.
While it’s great that Horimiya attempted to change the pace (probably to get into the main relationship faster) however, conventions are there for a reason. Even just in terms of storytelling, no screenplay strays away from Aristotle’s rules of storytelling. Ones that do never usually end up being successful. And in this situation, I can’t say that Horimiya was successful in breaking the conventions of pacing in anime.
Sadly, the pacing issues affect other parts of the show outside the plot or character interactions. An example of this is the lackluster jokes. With tsukkomi jokes prevalent in anime, it is absolutely necessary to have a good setup — a good boke — to make the tsukkomi as impactful as possible. However, when the pace of the show is so fast to the point where it feels like we are skipping through time, the jokes that are delivered feel a lot more flat since the audience is confused about what exactly is going on. The episode ended in a joke that is definitely funny (the tsukkomi on Miyamura saying they wouldn’t be that good of a match). But because the show spent time not resolving the emotional scene from before, the audience is just left to think “eh? What was that?” rather than focusing more on the hilarity of the joke.
I did enjoy this first episode quite a bit despite what I make it sound like. I probably will end up watching this anime, but hopefully, the show paces down a little more in the later episodes. I definitely think they could have used a 40-minute first episode just to expand properly on the interactions.
Thanks for reading! I know a lot of people enjoy this show, so let me know what you thought about the problems that I had with the first episode!