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Film Review: Kimagure Orange Road: I Want to Return to That Day

Note: If you looking for a spoiler-free review of the series from my perspective, find my review of the TV series. This post contains spoilers, and my thoughts on the contents of this film. As the only people who would/should watch this are those who have completed the TV series, and because those who have completed the TV series should already know (or have a very strong inkling) how the “triangle” will resolve, I don’t feel it’s necessary to avoid spoilers.

The Kimagure Orange Road TV series concluded with an optimistic and quite well-done moment that nevertheless did not really conclude the story because it left the issue of the “romantic triangle” up in the air. It was something of an idealized ending – providing the viewers with a happy moment without having to actually resolve the romantic triangle, which of course, would yield plenty of depressing moments.

A lot of reviews for this film are exceedingly positive, applauding it for being realistic, mature, serious, etc……I’m not really sure what my opinion of this film, to be honest. I was ready for the lack of comedy and serious nature, and I was looking forward to seeing the plotline be dealt with seriously, yet still, something doesn’t sit right with me. The first thing I should mention is that this film is very different from the series. As mentioned, there is absolutely no comedy or light-heartedness. But beyond that, it feels very disconnected from the series as well. The time shift has something to do with this, perhaps – this film takes place as Kyosuke and Madoka are preparing for college exams. But throughout the film I constantly had this feeling that the characters I was watching felt somehow disconnected from the characters that I had followed for so long in the television series.

Essentially, I suppose my main issue with the film is that in order to really “break” the triangle and yet still come out as admirable characters in my mind, there would have had to be some degree of introspection and regretfulness – which was present, of course, but perhaps not enough to satisfy what I expected. More on that later.

The majority of this film is about Kyosuke ending his relationship with Hikaru. He tells her the truth, she takes it very negatively and is unable to cope with it, and we follow her as she is consistently rejected, and in most cases very coldly so, by Kyosuke, who wants to put it behind him completely and thus treats her very poorly, almost like an annoyance. This does not seem tor reflect the Kyosuke we know – an ultimately well-meaning guy who is afraid of causing harm to anyone. Now, certainly he has to do this in order to end the series – but I don’t think it is realistic for him to become as cold and almost heartless in his rejection of HIkaru as he seemed in this film. I had always imagined that in the end, Kyosuke would be forced to “come clean” to Hikaru and that it would be painful, but I never imagined that it would end with Kyosuke gradually ignoring and acting cold to Hikaru until their correspondence simply ends. It’s simply not who he has been shown to be for 48 episodes. I also missed the short monologues Kyosuke would deliver in the series at tense moments – it provided a window into his mind that may have really have softened the nature of his actions here.

Speaking of friends, where is Yuusaku? Yuusaku did not appear once throughout the entire film. He was a childhood friend of both Madoka and Hikaru – surely this alone permits him to play a role here? Furthermore, he spent a great deal of his life harboring an affection for Hikaru, but the television series hinted that it was not simply a superficial one. For example, when Kyosuke, through some mishap, causes Hikaru to cry, Yuusaku is angry at Kasuga for harming Hikaru, rather than being content that there is trouble in their relationship (which obviously benefits him). I thought that this might foreshadow the role that he could play towards the end, but I was wrong. Yuusaku is nowhere to be found. I have to wonder then, what the people behind this film interpreted from Yuusaku’s character. That he was just comic relief intended to draw pity and laughs? I think it is disappointing that he simply disappears from the face of the Earth.

I suppose my point is that there was a delicate balance in the show that, to me, kept it from being the typical shallow soap opera that most love triangles end up as. That balance was caused by the fact that there was really no character who was at fault, nor anyone to really dislike, despite the situation. Hikaru was oblivious and took everything at face value (although the film seems to contradict this, another thing I disliked). Kyosuke was afraid of shattering the group’s friendship and causing anyone harm, so he continued in that indecisive limbo between the three characters. Madoka, though she had her fondness for Kyosuke, was also Hikaru’s closest friend, and she was always wary of doing anything that could end up harming that friendship as well as the friendship of the group as a whole. So she earned our highest degree of sympathy as a character who simply was in an unfortunate circumstance.

But the high points of the show were always the moments where the fondness between Madoka and Kyosuke would come out for a brief moment, and, of course, come to the forefront in the final episode of the series. But this sort of positive sentiment isn’t the main focus of this film. In fact, the film almost trivializes that relationship. For me, the final moments of the television series, under the tree, were a very satisfying and mutual affirmation of a very special bond between them, yet in this film it’s like it never happened, and there is still insecurity and jealousy in their relationship, which is something I just don’t find appropriate at this point and just makes it seem like the same old shallow love triangle. The “love triangle” was never about Kyosuke being indecisive between the two, except in the weakest episodes. It was about a clear relationship between two characters which could not be fulfilled because of the presence of a third.

There was another scene that disappointed me, and that was when Hikaru visited the AbCb cafe after Kyosuke “came clean”. Here was the culmination of a friendship that had lasted since childhood, the final necessity to confront something which had built up between the two girls for years, and yet it was disappointing, as a scene, to me. It was short, and nothing deep, nothing significant was really said between them. Madoka apologizes to Hikaru briefly…..Hikaru complains at the unfairness of what is happening to her…and nothing else really happens. Hikaru leaves in anger. Friendship since childhood….and that was the final scene between them? For so long, Madoka has bottled up her own sentiments in order to prevent Hikaru feeling hurt, and I expected so much more out of this final scene between them, deeper remorse, reluctance, empathy…….I just can’t shake the nagging thought that the film is just “going through the motions” of a love triangle ending without being influenced by the characters and their history.

Oh, and earlier, I mentioned the strange altered characterization of Kyosuke, but Madoko was hit by it as well. Throughout the series Madoka has always valued the well being of others over herself. As I said, this was one of the reasons for the triangle in the first place. It is simply inconceivable to me that her decision to finally act on her own feelings would be accompanied by anything other than a great degree of reluctance and guilt for Hikaru, much more than what was present in the film.

Okay, I’ve rambled incoherently long enough. While I mostly discussed the negatives of this film, I don’t dislike it as much as my post may seem. But I can’t shake the thought that this film, at times, feels like the resolution of some other love triangle, not KOR. Like a template of “love triangle dissolution” was taken and fitted onto the KOR cast. This would be why characters like Yuusaku are absent, why the entire paranormal aspect is gone (not that I consider this essential….but it is a very obvious omission), and why characters act contrary to what has been established in the TV series. Furthermore, it’s also why it never gives the impression that the two girls were childhood friends, that the three of them have grown up together as friends, nor that the love “triangle” being broken was not one of wavering emotions, but rather an obvious and significant bond between two characters which couldn’t be fulfilled due the “triangle”.

I know how many people would probably respond to my opinion – they would say that the film is realistic, and that I am being unrealistic. That’s probably true. I don’t know. But as I said before, I very much an idealist. And by that I don’t mean that I expected a perfect happy ending….but I thought that the way we would proceed to that inevitably bittersweet ending would be more…admirable? I don’t know. But my final bit of advice is that if your favourite aspect of the show is the bond between Madoka and Kyosuke, then the highlight of KOR is still the final episode of the television series.  

10 responses so far

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10 Responses to “Film Review: Kimagure Orange Road: I Want to Return to That Day”

  1. Myleneon Nov 25th 2008

    I still find that this was a necessary moment. While he was preserving the friendship, he was still hurting both girls. The friendship could not continue in this way, it was slowly building tension and distance between everyone involved.

    Moreover, it caused Hikaru to finally realize how much her own selfish childishness was hurting the people she claimed to love. Of course she’s not going to take it well, and the scene between her and Madoka was realistic in that sense. They both loved each other too much to allow it to go deeper into blow up mode, but at the same time, they needed that moment of anger to start working through it all.

    Then again, it might also be that to me, high school friendships are there to teach people how to interact in the real world, not to continue on forever. High school is a learning experience filled with bittersweet memories that shape the way we live our lives.

    I also think the essential difference between this and the series is what we didn’t see. Time has passed, and the tension that the series tried to ignore or show as funny finally turned into what it is. Life cannot continue the way it was. I agree that Kyosuke’s “indecisiveness” was as much his desire not to hurt as anything. But that still hurts. It hurts Hikaru when she sees his eyes wandering. It hurts Madoka every time he treats her as if she’s the one, then turns back to Hikaru. It hurts Kyosuke as he sits there stuck between a rock and a hard place. For one school year, it was okay, but to continue on at that pace? I think that’s why they skipped so much time, to provide the distance necessary. Who wants to watch an OAV or short series about people starting to bicker? Instead, skip right to the crux. I think the characters were spot on in the end–they were 3 people that’d been hurting each other for 3 years straight and had to do something to make it stop. Because without it, there’s no hope for anyone being friends.

    In the end, Kyosuke is really only sacrificing his relationship with Hikaru. Madoka and Hikaru have too much history for this one thing to split them. They’re going to grow more distant, as is the way things go when people head off to college, but there will still be affection and memories.

    Still, I understand why you feel the way you did. You’re an idealist, and want things to work out. Whereas I’m a bit of a romantic, but also much more a realist. This was a necessity in their lives to me, and something that made them all stronger.

    And surely you liked the very ending, right? The moment with Hikaru after her performance? The moment that said, I can do this? Stole my heart, it did. ^_-

  2. adminon Nov 25th 2008

    But that’s the thing. I can see how my review may read at times like I was just wishing that the finale could be unrealistically happy and cheerful, but that’s not really my reaction at all. In my review I mention that I don’t think things have to work out, I’m not an idealist to the extent that I think they should all remain close friends while somehow breaking up the triangle. Clearly Hikaru has to be hurt sometime or other in order for the series to conclude in a satisfying way.

    It’s the way that it was done that I disliked. It just didn’t feel like the KOR characters that I knew. It felt like the ending of some other love triangle, a more typical one. It felt like they hired someone to write a finale and said “It’s a love triangle involving Madoka and Hikaru. Kyosuke chooses Madoka.” But that trivializes the whole thing. KOR was never an indecisive love triangle in that way. Kyosuke “chose” Madoka far back in the TV series, and it was solidified by the end. We have already been show the beautiful connection between the two yet…the film eliminates it by making it seem again like an indecisive triangle in the beginning…

    I guess it’s rather hard for me to verbalize my rambling and incoherent response to this film. Well, I’ll put it this way, I wanted the film and characters to have to really face the extent of what it all means, what it means to truly lose friendship, lose innocence, to pursue something that feels right even though it may hurt someone you hold dear to you, and as a result, have to grow up emotionally. Yet the briskness and near-callousness with which Kyosuke and Madoka go about ending this source of conflict which has existed for years, in my opinion, betrays the part of their characters which enabled the conflict to begin with. I expected far more introspection, sympathy, regret, and emotion. I don’t know, there was just something that felt artificial and insincere that kept nagging at me.

    There was one phrase uttered by Madoka during the AbCb conversation, “I guess it will never be the three of us again.” That is the sentiment which I thought would be so prevalent throughout this film, that bittersweet sentiment of “wanting to return to that day” but knowing you can’t, and in the end, I just didn’t get that from the film, except for a few token phrases or flashbacks. But maybe I’m just insane =)

  3. Mechamorphon Nov 25th 2008

    I think one thing that made Ano ni hi Kaerenai seem so abrupt is that the anime concentrates on their Junior High days while the manga went on to their time together in High School. This made the ending far more gradual as time has caused great strain to their relationships as both friends and romantic partners. We had the inkling that something had to snap sooner rather than later. The anime is essentially Kyosuke looking back on the fun times they shared in Junior High and are even framed as memories with those photograph shots at the end of each episode. I can understand that the segue to Ano ni hi Kaerenai then becomes rather jarring.

    There is yet another Kimagure Orange Road movie that takes place after another significant timeskip, Shin Kimagure Orange Road. Perhaps that one will be more to your taste. Let’s just say that it does not all end on a sour note.

  4. Myleneon Nov 25th 2008

    Ah, I wasn’t trying to suggest you wanted it to be happy sparkle sunshine. ^_- However, I think you verbalized (er, in text) a bit better in the comment what you felt it was lacking than in the initial post. Or perhaps the conciseness made it clearer to me.

    I guess I didn’t feel the disconnect between the anime and movie versions of the characters because I just didn’t have the same attachment to them. I liked Madoka very well, but Hikaru was just “OK,” and Kyosuke just sort of irritated. The pervy friends turned my stomach, Yuusaku was well-meaning but annoying, etc. I also didn’t see the depth of the trio that you did. It never felt like a trio to me, but rather 3 duos put together in a way to make for comic interaction. To me it was Hikaru and Madoka, Hikaru and Kyosuke, and Kyosuke and Madoka, not Hikaru, Makoka and Kyosuke. I just never felt they tied together that much as a group, particularly since they aren’t really shown as a trio, or if they are, they’re looking longingly at one person or another. I’m starting to really see how much weight you put into the trio that I just didn’t think was as strong. It’s definitely a different perception, and certainly explains your discontent.

    I’m very interested in reading the manga now after Mechamorph’s comment. It would be interesting to actually get to see the rising tension.

  5. adminon Nov 25th 2008

    I suppose that could be a source of the different perception. Even then, I wouldn’t say that alone was the most significant source of my disconnect with the film. And even without the trio, I felt the Hikaru-Madoka dynamic was sorely lacking. But I think that this discussion could go on forever because there isn’t really one specific thing that made the film strange for me, it was more or less just a combination of several sort-of-related things so no matter what the topic is, I’ll probably just continue saying “that might be a factor, but then again, there was also this….” ^_^;

  6. adminon Nov 26th 2008

    By the way, I agree with your assessment of the characters. I was contemplating writing a post about my favourite KOR moments or episodes (though decided not to), like I did with Maison Ikkoku . However, in the scenes I had gathered so far, the trend was obvious, every single one of them involved Madoka. Her characterization was kind of fuzzy at first, but eventually it settled into being the best character and probably the crux of the entire anime.

  7. elrustyon Dec 21st 2008

    A lot of the stuff said above is true. In my opinion however, I agree with the triangle not being a triangle because somebody was always being left out. I hated Kyosuke ignoring Madoka so many times and hurting her while trying to spare Hikaru’s feelings. In my opinion, Hikaru was spoiled and innocent; and in the movie it was necessary for her to learn to consider others’ feelings and not try to impose. In the movie though, I liked the aspect of her having known for a long time about Kyosuke’s love for Madoka and that she kept preying on Kyosuke’s soft-hearted nature. In the movie though while it was sort of a different Kyosuke that we see, the fact that he has grown up is comforting in that now we know that girls would not be able to take advantage of him like they tried to and that he’s fully committed to Madoka. Something still lacked at the end; Madoka and Kyosuke didn’t seem all that happy together. I have to say the highlight of KOR would be episode 48; all seemed to be falling rightly together for Kyosuke and Madoka.

  8. elrustyon Dec 21st 2008

    also it would have been nice to have a grown up version of Yusake for Hikaru to lean on; Madoka and Kyosuke were the center of her world.

  9. adminon Dec 21st 2008

    Hi, elrusty. I agree with you about episode 48, I mentioned that in my review as well. I also agree about Madoka and Kyosuke not seeming that happy together, which is why the ending felt unsatisfying. It all seemed too much about insecurity and less about love. Some kind of balance was lost. I also agree about Yuusaku. Where the heck was he? I think he was important enough to appear in the final film…..

    In my opinion this is what needed to have happened in order for me to have really liked the film. #1) It had to be Kyosuke who took the initiative to tell Hikaru the truth, rather than Madoka being overtly jealous – that’s just not her character. #2) It had to be done with a lot of regret / sympathy – I didn’t buy that Kyosuke (or Madoka) could suddenly become so coldly decisive. That’s not their characters…. #3) They should have had a more significant ending and “coming together” of Kyosuke+Madoka to leave on a strong, even if maybe slightly bitter, ending.

  10. Robon Jun 25th 2009

    Yeah the way the movie ended was kinda bad. You realise that the three characters are so good together through the series and it ends with them apart:( and when it’s over you wish there was some way they could remain friends with Hikaru.

    There was a movie after that did e uinite the three. But i warn you it ws very badly done. The animation is too slick.. so slick that you can hardly recognise the characters. The plotline is like a hollywood movie. It’s like they take your favorite book and butcher it in hollywood.

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