Seiren vs Amagami: Tsuneki vs Haruka

It feels like a mediocre copy rather than a spiritual sequel.

I can’t even remember what Tsuneki’s first name is after four episodes, but I had Morishima Haruka engraved in my mind by the end of one. This goes beyond the type of romance each series is aiming for, the expected stuff is just missing.

Amagami’s protag got stood up two years before the story. In its first 47 seconds, Amagami plays it dramatically – the color scheme, the music, the angles. It’s not the most jaw-dropping thing ever, but it’s competent for a first minute. He gets there an hour early for the special day, finds out he gets stood up, and this is a memory from two years ago – Tachibana Junichi is established as a character who takes things seriously.

Seiren also opens with the protag’s impetus: 50 seconds on how he has no plan for his future. It uses the works to paint a somewhat light-hearted and humorous picture, but nothing particularly strong in any direction. He’s talking with a teacher about his Career Plans form, and she does most of the talking, even when he has other opinions. ??? Shoichi is established as a character who easily relinquishes control of situations to others.

Ah, it’s Kamita Shoichi. I watched four episodes, then the first 5 minutes again of Seiren before starting to write this, and then had to go back yet again to find his surname. I know his given is Shoichi because it’s said enough, strange that no one refers to him as Kamita? I wonder why. I’d have to look deeper into it. Then again I’ve watched over 20 episodes of Amagami so I don’t know how long it took me to remember Tachibana Junichi. For reference, “Kamita Shoichi” is shown on screen in the first second of Seiren as a written field on a form; the first instance of “Tachibana Junichi” occurs 5:05 in Amagami and is said by the protag’s best friend.

I don’t remember Seiren’s first arc’s love interest’s name either. I know she’s called Tsuneki. She’s called Tsuneki by the protag the whole time so I presume it’s her surname. She’s introduced in the third scene and makes her first appearance 3:50, and just like with Shoichi I had to see it three times and pay specific attention before I caught it: Tsuneki Hikari.

Just like Shoichi, her first scene involves her talking about what her career plans are. She asks two friends what their goals are, but doesn’t say anything about her own, not before our protagonist enters the conversation and changes the topic – by virtue of his being there, rather than anything he says. He does say something, but that’s not why he’s noticed. Tsuneki’s reveal is in three separate shots: first of her crossed legs, then of her back as she’s stretching, and then of her face. They have the slightest additional detail in their drawing, but beyond that it’s not particularly noticeable. The first piece of music not in the opening scene or opening song plays, and it’s lighthearted – and not particularly noticeable. It all feels matter-of-fact, and the song more attributed to “this event again” rather than “the introduction of the love interest”. The first powerful image related to her comes 4:53 with a noticeable sound effect; she was sitting on our protag’s desk and it left a butt-shaped mark. The protag looks up, and she is not shown. What’s shown isn’t relevant and never again becomes relevant, what’s important is 1) it wasn’t the love interest, and 2) it showed the the protag being embaressed and wishy-washy. It feels like a romance genre story would have another shot of the love interest as part of the reaction. That it didn’t made it feel like a different genre. There might be a payoff for what happened in a different arc, but it didn’t happen in this one.

Showing the protag being wishy-washy is okay. We’re told in this scene that Tsuneki was the runner-up to the “Santa contest”, which both due to other anime and the way they talk about it is made clear to be some kind of school idol competition, so that’s great, but it wasn’t emphasized at all. Again, all matter-of-fact. It didn’t hit me until two scenes later and her second appearance at 6:58 that I consider that idea to make its first real appearance: a crowded cafeteria due to a certain limited meal, but Tsuneki has her own table because of that contest. But the embaressment and wishy-washyness of the other scene had to do with the butt mark on the desk, not that she was sitting on the desk at all, or that he had to approach the group to ask her to get off his desk. All of that other stuff was just whatever. Which means that he doesn’t actually feel anything about talking or being close to one of the most popular girls in the school. This is said explicitly two scenes later 10:35 when the best friend asks how he feels about her; he says “I find her hard to deal with I guess? She keeps messing with me all the time […] It’s like she’s a different species than us.” Her next important scene she doesn’t appear in; around 15:00 the idea floated is that she’s going on a summer vacation with a guy that isn’t her boyfriend, this time there’s stronger lighting, stronger music, louder (mental) voice, and interruptions for tension. The scene after this she does appear in but is more important for the protagonists’s impetus than her image; she appears as a part-timer and he doesn’t want to be left behind, “It’s like she’s far ahead of me in every facet of life”. So he decides to go on a summer trip to a cram school. Then she disappears from 16:45 to 20:53 where he daydreams about her in a swimsuit. Then she actually appears in something looking like a swimsuit, in a way the audience recognizes as her, but he doesn’t (he thinks it’s a ghost).

So by the end of the first episode my impression is: Shoichi is a wishy-washy pervert, except for the part where his opinion of the most popular girl in school is that she’s bothersome. Tsuneki is popular and may or may not be going out with multiple guys, and works part-time somewhere.

The scenes before we get to the love interest are:

00:00~00:50
lighthearted music plays. bright, somewhat washed-out colors, with good lighting. protag is wishy-washy with a teacher talking about his future. almost all of the scene is closeups of expressions. both sit throughout the scene, mostly face-level shots. only the room is shown.

00:51~02:20
(opening sequence)

02:21~03:46
no music. episode title displays. bright shot of school’s open gate, then scene gets dark, very dark in contrast to the gate. a can drops out of a vending machine, a figure starts talking, can is thrown over to the protag. protag talks about the same thing with this figure. they are outside, inbetween buildings. a group of people walk by, they talk about the leader of the group a little bit, then back to studying and grades. figure turns out to be someone who is less wishy-washy and is better at a ceratin subject. both are standing throughout the scene, mostly chest-level shots.

03:47~
no music. name of school is shown. back to the brighter colors, but no noticeable lighting and nothing is highlighted. love interest is talking with her friends about their futures. she sits on a table, the others are standing facing her. protag appears briefly, shot changes to the back of love interest stretching, protag appears behind her.

04:13
lighthearted music plays. same lighting and coloring. first shot of the love interest’s face.

~05:10
four-way conversation continues in various directions. 04:44 is another shot of love interest’s face. 04:54 has sound effect along with the butt-mark fading away on the desk. closeup of protag’s reaction (red-faced). one of the girls looks disgusted with him, he gets flustered and starts whistling and looking in various directions (no whistling sound). music ends, scene ends.

The scenes before we get to the love interest in Amagami are:

00:47~00:50
dramatic music plays. dark, muddy colors. protagonist talks about being excited for the important date. he runs up a long flight of stairs to a park with a view overlooking a city. music crescendos, protagonist realizes he got stood up. states this was two years ago.

00:51~02:17
(opening sequence)

02:18~03:51
more normal colors, lighting is noticeable. some girl is preparing for school in her room, she jumps down the stairs, 2:36 we learn her brother’s not up yet, she marches back up. 2:41 dramatic music plays, dark colors, protagonist is dwelling over the memory in the first scene. 2:58 music stops, colors return, the girl is the protagonist’s sister, she just opened a door on a closet he’s sleeping in and is jumping around saying he’ll be late. Music starts, they argue some more, and fight over the door. A couple of close-ups of their expressions occur during this time. Shots of the protag’s room also occur during this time.

03:52~05:13
music continues. colors are brighter, lighting less noticeable. they are walking outside to school. 04:23 someone puts a hand on his shoulder and talks about walking to school with a beautiful girl. music ends, protag pretends not to know him, mr. hand pulls out a swimsuit model photobook, saying he was bringing it for his close, close friend. protag is all over it in both facial expression and body language, sound effect plays, he “suddenly” recognizes mr. hand is his best friend! 5:02 we learn the protag’s name. chest shots, face shots, then they walk off together into the distance.

05:14~
tranquil music plays. lighting is somewhat brighter. incline with various students walking. various characters get shown. protag and best friend continue talking about the book. 5:39 love interest’s name appears for the first time as best friend says it and points. pan-up of love interest and a friend walking from behind.

05:45
first shot of love interest’s face. lighting is a bit brighter.

05:47~
best friend sings her praises. protag is lovestruck.

05:53
sound effect plays: brighter colors, textured, pan-up still of love interest. music crescendos slightly, protag’s voice gets closer as he sings her praises.

06:02
second still in same style.

~06:07
school bell rings, still ends, protag and friend run up hill. episode title displays, music ends, scene changes.

By 6:07 in Amagami I understand a few things about the protag and like him enough to root for him, it’s clear who the love interest is, I like the love interest, and I’m rooting for the guy to see how he’s gonna get the girl. The best friend seems like an interesting guy, the little sister is adorable, and there seem to be a couple of other interesting characters that may (do) appear in the other arcs. There’s been shots and color schemes of various kinds, and characters feel alive.

By 5:10 in Seiren the only interesting shots that have appeared are of the protagonist’s face, the teacher’s face, the butt-mark, and the throwing of a drink from mr. smarter-than-the-protagonist to the protagonist. There’s a few more angles when showing the love interest’s legs and butt, By the end of the first episode I still wasn’t sure if Tsuneki or the teacher was supposed to be the love interest. I knew she was because I’d seen her in the promo art, but that’s not what the art itself told me. The protagonist does not feel strongly about anything, and I don’t feel strongly about him. I don’t care about any of the characters introduced. The love interest acts a bit spicy, but she’s not very interesting either.

I’d go through Amagami’s first several minutes in more detail, but this is already pretty long, and if I had to expand what I wrote above I’d have to expand quite a bit. In other words – I was only able to write so much about Seiren because other than what I wrote, not much happened, and it doesn’t make me feel like a lot of things happened. Amagami makes me feel like I’m missing things constantly. I really want to know the layout of the protagonist’s house. Of his room. Of his sister’s room. Who are all those characters I saw? How is he going to get the girl? I don’t feel interested in anything in Seiren except how he’s going to get the girl, but that’s because that’s what I came here for, not because the series itself made me interested. I mean, I guess I’m interested in whether he gets some with the teacher. But that room felt like a closed room, the vending machine open-air hallway felt like a closed room, and the classroom where we’re introduced to the love interest felt like a closed room. Amagami used the excuse of the protag’s sister waking him up to show a great shot of their house and snuck in a couple of details about his and her rooms. Walking to school is an excuse to show off different characters. Seiren does it here and there, but they’re few enough that it feels calculated in the mass of boring shots. Amagami feels like it does it in almost every shot, if not every shot, and multiple times per shot.

This sort of difference continues for the 4 episodes of screentime for each heroine’s arc.

I feel Junichi’s pain, I’m mesmerized by Haruka, it feels like any guy with just enough luck and enough of the right attitude at the right time could find and fall in love with a great girl and live a happy life. He wants her, he tries hard, with some luck and some time together, they get a dynamic going and eventually she pins her hopes on a relationship too. It’s dramatic and romantic.

I don’t care about Soichi and I barely care about Tsuneki. The rest of the arc isn’t about their relationship, though it does build during that time. It’s about the time they spend at the summer cram school, which happens to be at some resort in the mountains. Circumstances bring them closer together, but their dynamic doesn’t really change. There’s a lot of explicit commentary, other characters will talk about how they’re close, or how she made a meal for him, or how she’s wearing his clothes, and maybe there was a line about how he’s close with the most popular girl in the school, but between them they don’t really change. She’s mostly focused on escaping the cram school, and he’s focused on how hot she is, and on the cram school. Then in the last episode we find out the time she spent with him and a few others at the cram school made her think seriously about her future, and she says this to him, though he doesn’t reveal that it’s the same back. It’s a bit melancholic though, which I like, and his inability to say it fits his wishy-washyness, which I also like.

But Seiren unfortunately is not a 5CM/S. There’s no buildup. There’s no aspirations or dreams which are met, or aren’t met. Soichi doesn’t have any dream, throughout the story he only does things because he doesn’t want to be left behind. Tsuneki doesn’t seem to have any particular motivation at all, until partway through the third episode she suspects Soichi for ratting her out about her part-time work, which in turn led to her being sent to this cram school. There’s no other conflict. There’s a few gratuitious shots of her body, and we get to see and hear his thoughts and reactions, but he never acts on these, and she never notices. In the final episode we find out someone else ratted her out in some sidestory which barely registers, she gives it up real easy with the takeaway “nothing can stop a girl in love”. The primary conflict. Given away. Just like that. To something that hasn’t been developed at all. Which is fine too, this still isn’t the killing blow, the killing blow is when Soichi asks her out to the beach later and they have an underwater kiss. Why? Where did this come from? We know he has feelings, and we might’ve suspected she had feelings too, but the only times we see her not put on a facade in relation to Soichi is when he compliments her for her work ethic / cooking / side of her he doesn’t expect.

There’s one obvious point of escalation that happens beforehand when she asks if he’d like to see her in a bikini, and then we do, but that scene opens with her already in a bikini, from a distance, they’re talking for a bit, and we get a pan-up of *the protagonist* before getting a pan-up of her, more than 30 seconds after we first see her in it. And when we do get it, it’s not special. Same lighting, same color, etc. Contrast to Amagami where the first time we see Haruka in a bikini is a much brighter and more colorful close-up of her ass, then her tits, then a pan-up of her, before returning to a (normalized color/lighting) reaction shot of the protagonist, with someone making a big splash coming off the waterslide to punctuate it.

Turns out Tsuneki “never had confidence in any of [her] skills”, that was her takeaway from the summer trip, and now she wants to study overseas to be a cook, which was part of her duties at her part-time job. Which, now that I look for it in the second episode, was probably the first time she showed an embaressed face. But like everything else it was very matter-of-fact. No close-up. No special lighting. No special colors. So in the end the underwater kiss was more like a business kiss, and the whole thing a business relationship. Soichi got the confidence to go to the summer cram school from Tsuneki, Tsuneki got confidence to pursue cooking from Soichi, she kissed him, no confessions, she actually turned it down because “I don’t want to half-ass anything, so let’s keep things as they are”, -he agrees immediately-, they don’t have any meaningful communication after that, Soichi follows in her footsteps again by aiming to become a nutritionist or something, works at her old place part time, and then after a timeskip she comes back and they meet again.

They meet again and they’re just standing there. Her with a big backpack and travelwear, him with an apron behind a counter. Side shot.

Flat.

I suppose it’s better than nothing that they bothered to airbrush in some lighting and stuck a additional colorful details in for that shot.

I never got the feeling that they were both deeply in love, but, due to the circumstances of where each of them were in life, how he wasn’t particularly talented and had a lot to work on while she had this one chance that required her to go far away, that it was a love that couldn’t be. If that’s what it was, I’d have loved it. Tragedies are great. But that’s not what it was. I was told she was the most popular girl and she developed feelings for this guy she always picked on, but I never saw her being popular, I barely saw her develop feelings at all other than simply spending time with the guy which could literally be explained as entirely circumstantial, and she seemed to just drop hard feelings at will anyways. The only hard feelings she didn’t drop were her feelings for her future as a cook. Seiren doesn’t feel like a highschool romance story grappling with the difficulties of modern working life realities, it felt like highschool students anticipating working life realities with some gratuitious shots here and there and a kiss thrown in.

Seiren’s art is worse, its music is worse, these are less important, it’d still be worse than Amagami if all of those things switched. For some inexplicable reason the opening song gets cut off rather than a nice fade-out, which brings me to something important that I forgot, the above tragedy-type story isn’t hinted at at all in the OP or ED. The final shot of Amagami’s OP is a snowglobe of a Christmas tree, reminding us that the goal of the protagonist is to have a date in time for Christmas. The rest of its OP are shots of the girls either by themselves or doing everyday things at school. So, makes sense. What does Seiren’s OP depict? Close-ups of the girls, a close-up of a pair of legs, love interests with a few shots each establishing their general character, and then the girls playing in a field. There’s no trick being played here either, the lyrics paint about the same idea. The final two shots are someone dropping their cell phone and reaching out for someone, and kissing behind a curtain in a classroom. So, you’d think, that Seiren is supposed to be able realizing working life difficulties, then overcoming them.

I think Amagami made the right choice to open their omnibus with Haruka. The protagonist’s drive is for a date by Christmas, and what better goal than the school idol who doesn’t have any particular conflict or strong interest in anything, except by the end, the protagonist? If it started out with a couple of the other ones it almost certainly would’ve crashed and few people would be interested enough to watch the rest (which is terrible in terms of how anime gets funding), and the others even though doable would’ve required more work, since they all have activities which they’re associated with which require significant time investment. Haruka’s time investment is going to the library to find photobooks of puppies. It’s a romantic comedy with some drama, and Haruka is the ideal candidate.

I don’t know what Seiren’s about. It’s definitely not a comedy. It’s not really a romance. Not really a drama either. The protagonist here has no drive, but supposing it’s the one we’re told about, then Tsuneki isn’t really a good choice.

If the idea is that he needs to start taking his future seriously, and we’re trying to write a series where the thought of a future of work breaks apart budding love, the first girl should either be the class rep or a class rep type who has everything set in stone but finds out even for her there are things she can’t control:

The protagonist finds out about this summer cram session she’s going to so he decides to go to it too. Protagonist sucks, and sucks so bad publicly that she feels compelled to help him out privately, she finds out he’s absolutely atrocious in either skill level or work ethic, they talk about what it means to be productive and what it means to have something to live for. She trains him, short montage of progress and hijinks. Love interest gets a call, has to leave, cram session ends, summer ends, teacher explains empty desk, fall term is well underway before she gets back. She doesn’t look well. She doesn’t perform well. She loses public image after being called on one day and not having the answer. Protagonist pipes up to keep the lecture going, shot of the love interest not reacting to the situation. That day the protagonist finds her after school, he asks a lot of questions, hits the mark with one, she lashes out at him in public, he takes her hand and pulls her somewhere privately.

He pokes her some more, she spills the beans, worries about her future and what to live for, protagonist confesses his feelings, that he had nothing to live for, but now wants to live for her. Details about who initiates the kiss in what way depends on personality details about protagonist. Whoever initiates tries to move one step further, the other one breaks it off. They both come to the understanding that going further would cost both their futures. Since she’s still better than him academically he can’t help. It could end in various ways from here. The happiest way would be that she recovers enough to be good enough for her original plan rather than be a prepared ace, and he rapidly improves enough to join her on it.

What we get instead is a girl who’s also uncertain about her future, but doesn’t show it much, and is interested in the guy, doesn’t show that much either, and in the end gets her motivation from the guy, but she never finds out that she inspired him too. She has only the slightest of reasons to like this guy, her kiss doesn’t seem to mean much at all just like any of her other reactions, neither he nor she seems to feel too strongly about breaking it off, nor when meeting again by chance years later.

No close-ups, no lighting change, no music change, no voice change, no expression change, no body language.

I was originally suspect about Seiren because they’re only releasing half the planned heroines right now; 12 episodes for 3 love interests now and who knows when for the other 3. But now I think that whoever decided that made the right decision. I haven’t paid attention to the tastes of the anime market in particular, but I sure as hell wouldn’t buy DVDs of this.

I’m going to watch the rest of it eventually just because I am marginally interested, and because I’ve wanted to learn storywriting and this looks like a uniquely easy situation to learn it in: two professional versions, one a masterpiece and one which appears to be something even someone completely untrained could do better at.

Seiren: 3/8


Tsuneki Hikari, Seiren, first three face shots:
Morishima Haruka, Amagami SS, first three face shots:
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