Article: Avoid the Royal Wedding by watching romance anime
If you were a new animation studio looking to make a splash, then you really couldn't do much better than True Tears, a visually sumptuous original affair that had more to it than just pretty visuals to boot. True Tears was the first project flying solo for P.A. Works (aka Progressive Animation Works), and a series which set the bar for their impressive artwork which has continued to define the studio.
The premise of True Tears is simple enough - Shinichirou Nakagami finds himself the subject of attention from three very different girls; oddball loner Noe, the energetic Aiko and Hiromi, who resides in the Nakagami after the death of her father. While all of this is pretty traditional stuff, where True Tears excels (aside from the gorgeous aesthetic and great character designs) is in the way it presents its drama - yes, it's pure soap opera as all sorts of problems swirl around Hiromi and Shinichirou in particular, but it's so carefully and sensitively played that it's nigh-on impossible to avoid being drawn into events as they unfold.
The other area where True Tears excels is that you can't help but root for all three of its major female characters to some extent - even the under-represented Aiko is an immensely likeable girl, while Noe's oddity and Hiromi's troubled history have their charm, and Shinichirou's mother makes for a perfect pantomime villain of a character that we can all boo and hiss at whenever she drags the massive chip on her shoulder regarding Hiromi on-screen.
Overall, True Tears is very much a series which is the sum of its parts - it wouldn't be anything like as engrossing if it weren't for its visual polish, but by the same token those visuals would be nothing without a strong, solid story and the characters to carry it. It's this combination that makes True Tears a must-watch for anyone on the look-out for a slice of romance-led drama.
True Tears is available on Region 1 DVD from Bandai Entertainment.
It's rare to find a visual novel making a successful transition to an animated form (although we have a couple of others in this list) but 2003's Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, or Rumbling Hearts as it became known in the west, is perhaps one of the earliest examples of a successful leap in format.
The mainstay of Rumbling Hearts is a love triangle with a twist, with protagonist Takayuki Narumi dating a girl named Haruka Suzumiya, before a car accident leaves her with a coma and leads a distraught Takayuki into an eventual relationship with mutual friend Mitsuki Hayase. When Haruka awakens with no realisation that three years have passed since her accident, both Mitsuki and Takayuki are thrown into a heart-wrenching dilemma about how to handle both their friend and their own love for one another.
This kind of plot is, of course, soap opera of the highest order via a plot that wouldn't look out of place in Eastenders, but that doesn't hide the fact that Rumbling Hearts carries this rather dark plot fantastically, spending plenty of time examining its characters and thrusting them into the spotlight as their worlds, twist, turn and outright fall apart. The series also doesn't shy away too much from the sexual aspects of its source material - although there aren't any truly explicit scenes within the series, the physical nature of Takayuki's relationships aren't hidden from view either.
While Rumbling Hearts might be showing its age slightly now, and the entire thing was spoiled a little by a poor follow-up OVA released in Japan a few years ago, it remains a sharp and darkly entertaining romantic drama that makes for compelling viewing indeed.
Rumbling Hearts is available on Region 2 DVD in the UK from Revelation Films.