First Kiss Story

I'm not sure exactly why the Japanese have such a corner on the market when it comes to realistically depicting the bittersweet joy and melancholy of adolescent love. It was, after all, the love triangle in "The Macross Saga" that pulled me into Robotech, which was my gateway into my lifelong anime adventure. And it's been the gentle longings in shows like Kimagure Orange Road, Maison Ikkoku, and Only Yesterday that have kept me going in this hobby through the dry patches. American audiences are used to romances driven by crass humor and by-the-numbers resolutions, only rarely getting a taste of real heartfelt sentiments. Frankly, I'm tired of it. I bring all of this up because First Kiss Story gets the emotion right, despite only having a running time of 25 minutes. The animation is at times non-existent, and there's too little time to really develop the story as it deserves, but this brief OVA struck a chord with me.

Kana's finishing up high school, though her mind is most often on her boyfriend Yoshihiko, who's already started college. Loaded down with classes and responsibilities, Yoshihiko still cares deeply about Kana, but their brief phone calls are limited by their schedules. Into the midst of this long-distance relationship is thrown a new wrench named Shogo. He's a student teacher filling a position in Kana's homeroom class. She's struck at how he resembles her father, a kindly man who died a few years back on Valentine's Day. So imagine Kana's surprise when she returns home to find Shogo there! As it stands, Shogo's a distant relative who'll be staying with her family during his brief tenure at the school. As she gets the chance to know him, she has a strange draw to him, though she is still very much devoted to Yoshihiko. Which cliché will apply: "absence makes the heart grow fonder" or "out of sight, out of mind"?

Anyone who's tried to carry on a serious relationship over the phone and through letter writing will instantly feel at home with First Kiss Story. I've had two of these relationships in my life--one successful, one not--and the show brought back some powerful memories for me. There's no typical "comedic misunderstandings" that drive so many mediocre love stories. Instead, there's a real sense of heartache and yearning, surprising for such a short show. Perhaps I'm projecting my own feelings onto the show, but there's more than that. Kana has a supportive mother who gently encourages her, and that character just feels real. Here, we see a parent who really cares and is taking an active interest in her daughter's happiness. She's such a small part of the show, but that touch adds an appreciated realism.

Now to the problem spots. From a perspective of straight animation, well, it's pretty bad. There's just not much here. Though I was only distracted once by a badly executed movement shot right at the beginning of the piece, none of the animation is at all commendable. This doesn't extend to the main character designs--Kana is a sweet character whose visual look is quite beautiful--but the actual animation is lacking. I watched it on a VCD I made, and it looked soft and pretty, but at full definition on a computer screen, the animation also seemed a bit harsh.

Getting out of the technical side, there's also a brief PG-13 moment where Kana's female friend Ayaka gropes her at a busy swimming pool and comments as to This wasn't totally offensive, though it was out of place and out of character with everything else in the show. The word "unnecessary" comes to mind. It's a jarring moment that ripped me, for a minute, out of the show's context. A show this short doesn't have that luxury. And ultimately, what keeps the show out of the running for an A grade is that timing issue. It's just too short to accomplish everything it needs to. It comes very close, but I'm just not completely bought in to the ending yet. I love how real it all feels, but the final moments aren't quite there with the rest of it.

First Kiss Story is another anime making the rounds on Bit Torrent, and as a free download, it's excellent. I really liked it in many ways, though its flaws are not insignificant. Would I buy it? Doubtful, I suppose, unless they saw fit to continue making episodes, which would make me quite happy. It's a short and sweet story of first love that understands what it means to be sixteen again. And if the show has a few missteps...well, didn't we all at age sixteen?

First Kiss Story -- brief lechery/innuendo -- B+