Sawako's existence: a pure, unspoiled girl, gifted with a charming, near heartbreaking innocence is the most outlandish element of Kimi ni Todoke. The rest of the cast - whether it is the perceptive Ayane or the manipulative Ume - demonstrate traits expected from people, adolescents especially. But Sawako doesn't. Her boundless appreciation for the simple things she experiences, whether that's dinner with friends, karaoke after school or eating lunch in the company of others could easily become tiresome; however her plight is so utterly genuine and her reactions so heart-warming that it overrules the presence of obvious genre tropes and raises a pang of guilt for not believing her character could exist outside of fiction.
Sawako Kuronuma hasn't experienced the best of school - her isolation from her peers was neither self inflicted nor maliciously enforced. Upon entering high-school however, the affable Shota Kazehaya - who effortlessly makes friends and interacts with people - catches her eye. Sawako envies his personality, but when out-of-the-blue he comes to speak to her one day, her whole life changes as classmates become close friends and she begins to enjoy a more fruitful school life. The change is not without its tribulations though: jealous rivals for Shota's affections attempt to sabotage Sawako's prominence in his eyes and the burgeoning affection she feels for him leads to a number of misunderstandings. As the school year draws to a close, Sawako wonders if she will be able to let Shota know just how much he means to her.
The series' greatest failing is not the cloyingly saccharine storyline but the pacing which starts strongly but declines precipitously shortly after the half way mark. Split into several story arcs and initially focusing on Sawako and her formative friendships, the penultimate storyline primarily concerns Chizuru who, up until then, played a supporting role. Tenuously stretched over four episodes and preceded by an amusing if not redundant recap, Chizuru's story grinds Sawako's to a halt and does very little to texture the other characters, effectively stalling the series until the four episode conclusion which frustratingly leaves things open-ended and ripe for a follow up. Chizuru lacks the charm to make her story anything more than a secondary, a fact reflected in the animation quality which shows prolific corner cutting in the run up to the finale.
Prior to this however, Ume Kurumizawa exhibits how best to integrate a supplementary story: jointly drawing her into the main plot while directly affecting Sawako and those around her. All the more surprising is that Aya Hirano is able to imbue Ume with pathos and understanding rather than the petulant sparrow she has built a career out of. Ume's story transforms Sawako into much more than just a girl walking the line between naivete and obliviousness; whereas before Sawako was content to experience events vicariously through her new friends, she takes a much more proactive stance, reflecting a more confident approach to other people. It is this development of her character that is the core story of the series and its strength allows one to overlook the constant blushing, floaty piano music and pastel backgrounds.
The romance genre demands the utmost from its characters and Sawako has tendency to wholly eclipse the others; even the object of her infatuation, Shota, who frequently shows he is more than an empty vessel for impressing her ideals upon, has to be carefully measured out to ensure his particular brand of denseness doesn't overwhelm. To its credit, the rules the series operates by aren't made apparent until the climax: boys must never vocalise their feelings to anyone of import, girls must make all of the effort and may only cry at auspicious moments, and both genders must ensure ample opportunities for clarity are presented but never capitalised upon. This of course results in longing glances across snowy streets, awkward and bashful gift giving, and tremulous phone calls to each other - all staples of the goofy, sparkly romance genre. Without these the series would be over in no time, however when the story begins to crawl it is difficult to become anything other than infuriated with the enforced dawdling.
Railing against genre idiosyncrasies is disingenuous to what is otherwise an adorable and thoroughly fulfilling series. With trepidation Sawako's personality begins to unfurl and the niggling worry that her downfall is only a misinterpreted gesture away begins to ebb - first with her two newest and closest friends proving she is more than just a curio to them, then with someone as devious as Ume proving ineffectual her against positive persistence. The series never plunges into histrionics and stays the right side of believable, rewarding an investment in the characters: when Sawako smiles, the view softening in chorus, it is a jaded person not to grin alongside her. The frequent dips into deformed, exaggerated styles begin as cute then meld into the timbre of the show, masking the economical animation which pays special attention to hands, hair and eyes but little else.
It may end without incident but Kimi ni Todoke hits all the right notes and proves that a story about honesty, trust, happiness and love isn't automatically relegated to the same heap as that of pulp romance novels. Sawako is a criminally endearing protagonist, bolstered by a sturdy supporting cast and a predictable but well told story that is captivating in an incorruptibly sexless way. Mamiko Noto is supremely accomplished in her role and characterises the well crafted production which is unfortunately marred by a meandering latter half and an ending which begs for a sequel or a live-action remake. Wholesome and affirming, there is much to love but the series' ethereal, near heavenly slant could grate as much as endear.