“This is the last time I’m going to practice…” Natsuki Enomoto, a third-year student at Sakuragaoka High School, has feelings of unrequited love for her childhood friend, Yu Setoguchi. Unable to be true to her own feelings, Natsuki tells Yu that she is merely using him as a stand-in to practice confessing her love to. As Natsuki continues to pretend not having any feelings for Yu, her classmate Koyuki Ayase asks her out on a date. Will Natsuki ever be able to stop “practicing” and actually confess her love to Yu?
I’ve Always Liked You is a feature-length film on teenage love triangles and examines love and heartbreak from the perspectives of a group of boys and girls as they struggle to convey their feelings to one another.
Yu and Natsuki are childhood friends who have lived next door to each other for years. Now in high school, Natsuki confesses to Yu out of the blue one afternoon – but then, in her embarrassment, insists that it’s only for practice. She’s not the only one nervous about her feelings either. Natsuki’s friend Miou has an oddly romantic relationship with Natsuki’s friend Haruki, though neither has ever really confirmed that they’re dating. Meanwhile, timid Sota Mochizuki has his heart set on Natsuki’s other friend Akari, who’s not even sure if she likes anyone, and Sota’s friend Koyuki has remade his image with the ambition of confessing to Natsuki. Natsuki’s brother Kotaro also has eyes only for Yu’s sister Hina, while she is interested in Koyuki. As the days pass, hormones rage and the potential for relationships reaches its boiling point.
I’ve Always Liked You is a film that premiered in Japan in April 2016 and has made it over the pond. It is one hour long and takes a rather shoujo manga tone that centres around three schoolgirls and their love lives. Through this we see many typical variants being shown here: a love growing from childhood, unrequited love, worrying about taking that first step, taking a friendship into something more, love triangles, loving from afar – safe to say that this one has all the bases firmly covered when it comes to this material.
The scenes which make up the building of these relationships are nothing unusual by anime romance standards: full of rampant emotions and occasional mild comedy, with lots of blushing and downcast eyes. As annoying as this could have been if overplayed, it all plays out with a remarkable level of care and skill that made the character’s appear cute and awkward (especially the boys – so cute!) rather than stereotyped.
Though the coverage of adolescent love is pretty comprehensive, I can’t help but notice that it’s a little lacking in other areas. There are the main character’s interests, drive and familial relationships felt sacrificed in order to focus on one specific area for 60 minutes. Every character’s dialogue, every scene and every interaction in the entire film is to reinforce that these characters have crushes. That’s it. As far as we know, they exist only to love the other students in the school and don’t exist for anything else. Despite this, it definitely didn’t feel over-packed for an hour – the studio clearly has the intention to keep things simple and tell an intense story in the short run-time they had.
Character designs are attractive and rather distinctive, especially the slightly untraditional (for anime) beauty of the lanky, sweatpants-sporting Natsuki. The animation is also more robust that you might normally expect for an anime with little-to-no action, with particular emphasis paid to subtleties of facial expression, background movement and conveying a great deal of emotion just through a close-up of a pair of eyes.
The final conclusion to all this romance is very satisfying and will not disappoint the viewers that have been silently cheering on the characters to become a couple from the get-go. It is rumoured that a second movie is coming in December 2016, which will focus more on some of the supporting character’s that perhaps didn’t get enough attention this time around (I’m assuming that there will be a focus on Hina and her relationship with Koyuki, considering the small scene after the ending credits). For now though, I’ve Always Liked You is a good stand-alone anime film that will keep you entertained and leave you with that nice, fuzzy feeling after watching.