We’re kicking off this rewatch with Age’s first anime, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (branded as “Rumbling Hearts” in America). I may have mentioned this before, but this is a very important show to me, since it was my introduction to Age. I had seen the game mentioned in an issue of Hobby Japan that I had bought back around 2002 – I looked up the name online to find more about it, found that it was a Japan-exclusive game with no tie-in anime, and so dropped it as something I would never get involved in (ha!). Then in fall 2003, when looking through the list of upcoming anime, I happened upon the name “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”, and purely by coincidence, recalled looking that name up over a year ago, and started watching the anime based only on that connection. It’s amazing to look back now and think that such a large part of my life started on such a whim.
I believe Kimi ga Nozomu Eien was actually the first TV anime based on an 18+ visual novel to retain the cast of the 18+ version. Many 18+ games coming out around this time were still unvoiced, with an all-ages cast being brought on for the console release and anime. Kanon and Air are pretty famous examples that came out around this same time period – when they were adapted to anime, they retained the all-ages cast from the console release. On the other hand, games that actually were voiced for the 18+ release would often get recast with an all-ages cast when making an anime. Da Capo is a famous example of that – they wound up maintaining both an 18+ cast and an all-ages cast for all their releases for many years.
KimiNozo, then, was breaking new ground by retaining the original 18+ cast even for the TV anime, and one way you can see that is in how they deal with pseudonyms. As more anime based on 18+ visual novels were made, they eventually settled on crediting all the actors under their real names, while continuing to use pseudonyms for any credited game staff (like the original author or artist). For KimiNozo, they seem to have left it to the individual actors (and/or their management) to decide whether to be credited under their real names or their 18+ pseudonyms, and the final cast list is pretty much split 50/50 among those options. As far as I know, this is the only anime ever made where the credits are split that way. As for the staff, both the original creator (Kouki Yoshimune) and the original artist (Baka Ouji Persia / Gai Sugihara) are credited under their real names (Hirohiko Yoshida and Masanori Sugihara), which is also extremely rare nowadays.
As for the show itself, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room, at least in regards to the upcoming Alternative anime. KimiNozo and Muv-Luv share a similar structure, in which the game looks to trick the player into thinking that the game is set entirely in high school, only to reveal that the actual meat of the game is set somewhere else entirely. The KimiNozo anime compresses the entire high school section of the game into only two episodes, allowing the rest of the series to be set three years later. I actually think the anime does an admirable job of making this work, which then can’t help but raise the question: could a similar thing be done with the Muv-Luv anime, compressing all of Extra into two (or maybe even only one) episodes? And my answer to that is . . . maybe? I think that even though KimiNozo and Muv-Luv have a similar structure on the surface, the way they use the high school section of the story is different enough that Muv-Luv would struggle to do what the KimiNozo anime did successfully. It couldn’t be done if they were to simply adapt the Muv-Luv story as-is – they would need to do a really hard rethink of how the story unfolds to make it work. There’s a real reluctance in today’s anime industry to do that kind of reworking, so I don’t have a lot of faith there – but it’s not impossible.
Keeping in mind the fact that these first two episodes have to fit in a LOT of story, one thing that catches my attention on this rewatch is the way the first episode in particular uses a lot of flashbacks. Takayuki’s first meeting with Haruka in the bookstore is a major example of this. In the game, this event happens in “real time”, with Takayuki meeting Haruka early in the game, and then following Takayuki through each subsequent day until he is introduced to her again by Mitsuki. In the anime, we start with Mitsuki introducing Haruka, with the first meeting then reduced to a quick but effective flashback. Using flashbacks this way helps present all the major scenes while cutting out all of the extraneous filler material in between. Even the scene of Mitsuki pushing Takayuki to meet her at the hill is reduced to a flashback Takayuki has as he’s walking up the hill – even though that event would only have happened a few minutes ago, putting it as a flashback cuts down on the need to spend time setting the scene up and then linking it to the current scene. It’s an effective device that helps the episode get through the enormous amount of material that it needs to, without making the episode feel as rushed as it actually is.
Having spent so much time with Muv-Luv, it’s a nice bonus to see that the KimiNozo anime actually has a number of scenes with the cast in the familiar Hakuryo Hiiragi winter uniforms. My recollection is that the original game has maybe just one brief flashback sequence depicting the winter uniform. In the first episode of the anime, though, we see them wearing the winter uniform in the flashback of Takayuki meeting Haruka in the bookstore, as well as when Haruka first tells Mitsuki about Takayuki. (The winter uniform also suggests that quite a length of time has passed between their meeting in the bookstore and the present day – as I mentioned, the game has it happening only a few days earlier.)
Incidentally, now is probably a good time to mention that I last played the KimiNozo game a long, long time ago, so my memory of it isn’t nearly as good as for Muv-Luv. I do remember a lot of it, and I’ll mention some interesting points where I can, but I’m not going to get into the real nitty-gritty of comparing the anime to the game nearly as much as I would for Muv-Luv. I also apologize if I get anything about the game wrong. I do have the game installed right now, but I just don’t have time to go through both the game and the anime at the same time.
In many ways, though, it doesn’t really matter as much, because the anime radically revamps the story of the game such that direct comparisons would be pointless anyway. This is something that I will touch on a lot during this KimiNozo rewatch – this anime retains the story of the game, but it makes a lot of changes to the details to make the show work as a proper television drama rather than a visual novel adaptation. And the work really pays off – back in the day, it was very common, when people would bring this show up, for them to mention that they had no idea it was based on a game. That’s all thanks to the effort the anime puts in to adapt the story to a television framework.
One small example of that, which you can see in the first two episodes, is that the anime populates the school such that all of the lead characters actually appear to have friends. Takayuki and Shinji hang out with some other boys and talk about Valgern-On; Haruka has her own group of friends that she hangs out with after school. In visual novels, particularly in visual novels of this era, it’s common for the main characters to only talk to each other, with seemingly no interaction with anybody else. This carries over to anime adapatations as well, and it’s one of those things that simply make a show feel like a visual novel, when the main characters seem to live in a bubble. Even something as little as seeing our characters talking to other people helps break this show out of that framework and makes it feel more real.
I’ve seen people argue about whether or not Takayuki was in love with Mitsuki during the high school era, and the honest truth is, he really wasn’t. There’s even a scene late in the original game where he pretty much explicitly says he wasn’t. They actually recorded a commentary track for the Japanese Blu-ray release, and in it, Kouki Yoshimune (or “Hirohiko Yoshida”) states that Takayuki sees Mitsuki like another guy friend, and it’s a pretty good description of their relationship. He originally dates Haruka because that what his buddy wants; he hangs back from the festival to comfort her because that’s what a buddy does for his buddy. But there isn’t really any indication that his feelings go further than that.