An anime doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be great. It just has to make a really great wheel.
In the theory that there’s a Seinfeld quote for every occasion (which there is), “What took you so long?” Anime has produced so many bad and mediocre relationship series over the past decade – dozens for every one that’s really good. Adaptations from manga, light novels, visual novels, originals – a million and one spins on something so universal and straightforward, and so few really hitting the mark. And all the while something like Horimiya sits out there almost totally unadapted, ignored. Now it’s an anime and it’s extremely popular – which it would have been if it’d been produced years ago, which it should have been. Sometimes the smartest thing is the easiest to do.
By contrast, Horimiya is extremely smart because it succeeds by not overcomplicating things. It just relies on straightforward character interaction, emotional honesty, and universality. Sure there are a few too many “Hori is violent” gags (which you can only write off to the vintage so much), and the conceit that someone like Sakura isn’t cute is rather a stretch. It’s not perfect, but then neither are the characters it depicts, or people in real life. The small missteps here have a sort of integrity to them which makes them minor irritations at worst. At least for me.
The drama here is grounded enough to feel like real drama, and that definitely helps. I’ve certainly faked sick to stay out of school (for various reasons) as Hori does here. And we know enough about her to realize that she has to be seriously unsettled by Izumi’s confession to do it. And that isn’t helped when Souta comes home and announces that he’s seen Onii-chan walking with a girl. Even less so when he announces that she was “wrapped around his arm”. This is all perfectly uneventful for him, but then Souta is still in first grade. For Kyouko not so much.
Of course Kyouko knows intellectually that there’s a straightforward explanation for this. But the point is, these are stages and moments in our lives when intellectual detach is not driving the car. She returns to school but tries to avoid Izumi as best she can (not very well) and eventually is cornered at the shoe lockers. Izumi (bless him) comes right out with it – “Were you awake?” He knew she was all along of course, which was exactly why he said what he did. She’s not ready for all that yet though, and changes the subject to the Souta incident. And goes full Hori-mode when Izumi keeps referring to the girl he was with by her first name, Chika.
The gag isn’t Horimiya – or Hori – at their best, but I did like the fact that she apologized for it. The explanation is adorably silly – Miyamura didn’t know the girl’s last name (she’s Shindou’s girlfriend). The circuit isn’t quite closed yet, but the arrival of Kyousuke (Ono Daisuke) trips the breaker. He’s the last member of Kyouko’s oddball family to be introduced, and the biggest oddball. It’s clear from her reaction that he’s home even less often than Mom, and from the fact that she calls him “Kyousuke” that their relationship is somewhat untraditional.
Kyousuke slips in and out of the dad role like a cheap suit, clearly having fun with it and the effect it has on Izumi. He gives a little push by urging him to call Kyouko by her first name since he’s around (“I’m Hori-san too”). And though probably unintentional, his asking his daughter if Miyamura is her boyfriend is the final nail for the pretense that they’re not dating. It’s a roundabout but very believable way for them to get past that roadblock – thanks, Dad – and now they can start to deal with the very different set of challenges attached to being an official high school couple.
Kyousuke is awesome as a character, and a very useful friend to the audience (we now know Izumi is an only child). There’s still that matter of first names (again, hard to overstate what a big deal that is for Japanese people), but again HoriMiya get some outside assistance here. Turns out Souta’s new friend (who we meet at the beginning of the episode) is “Izumi-kun” (it can be a first or last name of course). This sort of gives Hori a sort of free pass to test drive “Izumi-kun” around Izumi, which she’s only too happy to avail herself of.
Not to leave them out, Tooru and Sakura are stumbling out of the blocks too. He’s very clearly not over Kyouko, and Sakura’s caught up in the notion that she’s some sort of hideous troglodyte. It’s a manga trope to be sure (just like Hori getting violent), cute girls thinking they’re ugly – but it doesn’t take much to get a self-conscious teenager thinking that way. What Sakura really is rather than ugly is unconfident, which is exacerbated by her friendship with someone (Remi) who exudes confidence (to the point where an experienced observer might think it was overcompensation). The obvious next stage here is hard to miss – but alas, teenagers are not nearly as good at not overcomplicating things as Horimiya is.