Every anime season, there’s a handful of romcoms that get made. The one that immediately came to mind are Fall/Autumn 2020’s TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For Youa show that made such a serious impression on me that two years later, I’m hankerin’ for a second cour. Oh, and also Spring 2018’s Wotakoia show that definitely informs a double-digit part of my personality and equally deserves a second cour. Basically, I love love: I’m the kind of person who, after 30+ viewings, easily says that The Proposal Featuring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Renolds is my favorite m/f romance. (My favorite queer-adjacent romance is naturally Kakegurui. It’s also, unsurprisingly, my favorite queer drama, and if you stretch it, also my favorite queer romcom too.)
This season, one of the ones I’m sitting with is Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie a show so curious to me that I couldn’t help but request to review it. Why?
Well, you see I’ve been looking for a romcom to make my entire personality, and while there’s some solid candidates, I’m willing to stake my next three months on Shikimori and the potential for some gender non-conforming antics, starting with episode 1, “My Girlfriend is Super Cute.”
Episode 1 is what all premieres are: table setting to get you introduced to the cast. In this case, we start off with Izumi, the world’s most hapless boy who happens to be pink-haired beauty Shikimori’s boyfriend. Together, they make something of an odd couple, especially when you realize that Shikimori’s charm point isn’t her trope-ish beauty but the fact that she’s hella smooth, when given the chance to be.
In fact, this forms the backbone of two of the series jokes: Izumi is clumsy and Shikimori is actually quite cool, inclusive of her beauty. Together, they play off of one another, supporting each other and just generally being heckin’ cute. It makes for this genuinely interesting back and forth comparison that… sadly, isn’t quite there yet in terms of being compelling.
In fact, it’s kind of just okay, which feels quite cutting to admit on what is now my second watch of this premiere.
And that’s really my biggest takeaway from episode 1, a premiere so… tipid, dare I say that I actually found it remarkable for how middle of the road it is. Sure, there’s jokes and they’re solid enough, but so much of this first episode feels like it should be a third episode. There’s this gap that kicks in during the back half that made me wonder, “Wait, was I not paying attention?” because there’s an intimacy between the friends—that is, between Shikimori and her aptly colorful hair crew—that… sat strangely. Still, it’s enticing enough that I kinda wanna get to know these kids a bit better, just to settle into the intimacy of a group of good kiddos.
That all said, episode 2, “Wind and Clouds, Ball Sports Tournament!” is kinda where its at, giving Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie a burst of momentum early on so it
A lot of the front half of the episode is the same old, same old: Izumi-san’s terse relationship with gravity—and the simple fact that Murphy’s Law seems to absolutely want this kid to eat it– gets him immediately into trouble when a soccer ball goes flyin’, slamming straight into Izumi’s face. And at base, this isn’t anything unusual: I feel like it’s a time-honored (and very good) trope to have a nurse office visit in a romcom. What made this a bit different for me was the fact that we get a taste—nay, a small sampling—of why ShikIzumi (that is, Shikimori x Izumi) has the potential to be quite compelling, and it’s done in a simple scene of Shikimori tending to him.
At base, the joke of clumsy boy and cool girl… isn’t enough to carry the story. But there was something about seeing Shikimori and Izumi relaxed together, loving one another and being really, really tender that sunk its hooks into me. If I had to pinpoint what did it, it was just how much Izumi really loves Shikimori and how utterly cool he thinks she is. Basically, I’m caught up, hook, line, and sinker, and I imagine that if there’s more tender, earnest moments of them just really loving each other, I’ll continue to feel much the same, even if the show at large isn’t “compelling” quite yet. That said, I’m definitely willing to wait for it to become the show that I think I see it having the potential to become.
I think it’s fair to say that Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie is having a conversation with gender norms: how deep that conversation will go remains to be seen, though I’m going to preemptively lower my own expectations to “it’s probably not going to be subversive” which is alright. I don’t think I subverted a single thing at sixteen: I don’t expect these kids, nor the source material it draws on, to be doing heavy lifting on Japan and its entanglement with binary gender expectations.
My feelings about everything feeling like it’s a bit later in the series still remained true as the credits rolled for episode 2, but I think that’s by proxy of this story starting with the couple already established versus spending its cour building up the “will they, won’t they?” aspect. Here, that’s non-existent. Rather, we get to see the aftermath of that in all its nicely animated glory. And truly, there’s something fascinating about a series where the confession is said and done: it’s a nice vehicle to a pleasant, low-stakes story about a cool girl and her clumsy boy. So often, anime love stories end with the finale focused on the confession and acceptance of love. In my experience, I haven’t gotten the joy of a series where the couple is already a couple: I’ve gotten heaps of series where the couples occur very early on, but never a series where episode 1 opens with the couple already a couple. In that, Shikimori’s Not a Cutie has already won me over. I think it’s just adjusting my standards and meeting the series where it is. (And maybe picking up the manga as well.)
As a fan of pink-purple haired couples (or in Wotakoi’s case pink-blue couples) I’m here for Shikimori and Izumi. If this show never becomes bigger than the sum of its parts, I still think I’ll have found a quite earnest show that seems to be playing with what it means to be in a relationship, as well as how genuinely passionate and charming teenage love can actually be. (Also, the localization choices are pretty dang choice, which is easily one of the things to stick around for for sure!)
Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Mercedez is a JP-EN translation and localization light novel editor & proofreader/QA, pop culture critic, and a journalist who, when not writing for ANN, writes for Anime Feminist, where they’re a staff editor. They’re also a frequent cohost on the Anime Feminist Podcast, Chatty AF. This season, they’re falling in love with Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie and A Couple of Cuckoos. When they’re not writing and reviewing, you can find them on their Twitter or on their Instagram where they’re always up to something.