There are two decent romcom anime this season. On the one hand, we have Love is Hard for Otaku, or Wotakoi, and on the other, we have Tada Never Falls in Love, or Tadakoi. The similar abbreviations are hardly the only reason to compare them. Romcoms are a fairly well-played genre at this point, inside and outside of anime. Their general tropes and storytelling techniques vary, to be sure, but there are clear commonalities across them. Perhaps even more than for other genres, it’s instructive to compare how different romcoms succeed and fail so that we can get at the heart of what makes them work in a broader sense. These two are an excellent case study in that, seeing as both have their share of very different positives and negatives, so let’s break those apart and figure out what it takes to make romantic comedies work in the realm of anime.
I’ll begin with what’s perhaps the most natural thing to look at when comparing two anime: the production. All romcoms can be compared on a narrative basis, even outside this medium, and I’ll be getting to that later, but what makes them unique in the realm of anime is of course what makes animation uniquely useful in general; that there are fewer constraints due to petty things like reality and as such the works are liberated to pursue more fantastical directions.
Tadakoi is a great example of a show using this to its advantage. This series is a stellar production. It’s animated at DogaKobo, which is known for its excellent, bubbly character animation and bright colors. The studio saw some losses over the last few years but their shows still tend to have some incredibly good looking cuts, even in their weaker productions. And TadaKoi is not on the weak end of their recent output. Its staff list is stacked. Director Mitsue Yamazaki previously directed Nozaki-kun and is a disciple of Ikuhara, working on a number of episodes for both Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma. Yukari Hashimoto and Chieko Nakamura are also here as the composer and art director respectively, with the two of them also having served those roles on Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma. Character designer Junichiro Taniguchi served as the Chief Animation Director on Madoka and adapted the character designs for the films. It’s really just an outstanding list of talent that contributes to a show that looks and feels great, bolstered by a production which seems pretty healthy.
But how does that concretely affect the series? I mean obviously, something being nice to look at makes it a more pleasant watching experience. And certainly, it’s nice to look at the show. The colors pop, the animation is fun, and the backgrounds are subtly beautiful. But when used correctly, strong visuals can contribute more heavily, meaningfully adding to the narrative. Strong character animation is just nice to look at, yes, but it also tells us more about the character and how they feel, giving us insights into their personality and mannerisms much as strong acting in a live action work will provide the same effect. And fortunately, that’s the case here. Close attention is paid to how everyone moves. Even the subtlest actions are elevated by animation into important ones, conveying the humor or emotion of a scene just as needed.
What makes romcoms work is the balance of humor and pathos that comes from the character interactions. And on a production level, Tadakoi just does not stop nailing these moments. I think it’s quite underrated how good animation can help jokes to land well. Take a look at this season’s Hinamatsuri for another example of how a solid production can lend itself to fantastic humor. And this extends beyond the animation into the directing. The show is just very sure of itself and jokes are generally timed for just about as long as they need to go on. A gag like Nyanko Big’s narration of half an episode is drawn out in order to continue to elicit laughter while other jokes are shorter or more subtle. The mood is always great, not necessarily staying light but absolutely remaining optimistic. It’s a very confidently made show.
Wotakoi, on the other hand, shows how production can hurt a series. This show is, to put it nicely, not a shining example of what anime can do uniquely as a medium. Now, I’m not about to get up here and claim that the presence of CG crowds in this show means we’ve accepted mediocrity. However, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that this series does nothing to elevate the source. Unlike Tadakoi, it’s a manga adaptation, animated by A-1. Which could be fine! A-1 makes plenty of great looking shows and while their best looking productions lately have been at the now differentiated CLOVERWORKS, I hardly assume an A-1 show will look bad. Given that they’re hardly even a real studio under the normal definition, it would be silly to assume anything just from seeing their name.
This one does look bad, though. And hey, it’s not like the director is untalented or anything. He’s worked on plenty of good shows. It’s just that, and this is sad to say, the series was clearly a bit of a rush job. That’s the norm for anime so it shouldn’t come as a shock but as always, it really does bring the work down.
To be fair to it, there are things about the production worth praising. The OP is absolutely excellent and has some nice cuts. I love how it uses technology to sell the couples and their dynamics. Anime has taken a huge step up in terms of sensibly using technology lately and I’m so glad to see it be used in a fun, colorful, and enchanting OP like this. The faces are great. Yeah. That’s another positive. Not one the anime actually came up with on its own but y’know.
Yeah, there really isn’t much to praise here. In comparison to a show like TadaKoi, the direction holds it down. This series really doesn’t know how long it should time its jokes. Gags which should be incredibly funny just get drawn out too long. A shot of a character’s reaction might last just a few seconds past where it should’ve ended. And this is quite unfortunate. As I’ll get into in a bit, I think the actual jokes here are hilarious and in manga form they all land almost perfectly. But this adaptation is really barebones. Comedy is all about timing and it just sucks to see the show feel like a moving manga rather than an anime. Oh well. It’s easy to see which show makes better use of its medium to sell its romance and comedy.
That said, this video would not exist if Tadakoi was simply better than Wotakoi in every way. It may trump it in terms of production but Wotakoi has a number of strong points in its favor that help to keep it a worthwhile watch.
First, the characters in Wotakoi are more immediately likable. The people in this show, while having notable key traits that they could be called by — the BL doujin artist, the crossplayer, the game otaku, etc. — are given just enough depth and interesting traits that it doesn’t feel like those archetypes are all they are. The two female leads may be fujoshi but they are not the caricatured fujoshi, spending all their time shipping their real-life friends. They’re just otaku who like BL as much as I’m an otaku who likes yuri. They have other interests and enjoy other things, they’re capable working adults in their own right while enjoying their specific niche interests at the same time. The jokes surrounding them are excellent because of this. It’s easy to sympathize with Momose in the first episode as she questions how to talk to Koyanagi, wanting to make it clear she’s an otaku without accidentally revealing her interests too much, putting the other woman off if she’s not in the same camp. It’s something that I and many others have probably gone through in the past and it relies on the fact that our characters are rational, understandable people who also share interests with the viewers.
In this, Momose is great as a protagonist. While her exterior is a fairly basic cute woman — though being in her mid-20s already sets her apart — she’s arguably the biggest otaku among the main 4. And that’s really nice to see. First, because media portrayals of otaku often depict them solely as men. When women show up, they’re the caricatured idea of a fujoshi I mentioned earlier, not the well-rounded ones with other interests that you see here. When she agrees to go out with Nifuji just because he’ll help her out at Comiket it’s hilarious because we can relate despite how bizarre it is. In other words, the show laughs with otaku, not at them, making it a pleasant comedy which never feels belittling to the very people who’ll be watching it. The references are ever-present but instead of just asking the viewer to remember that they, too, know what Mario Kart is, it serves to ground the experiences of the cast, making it feel as if anyone watching could have a similar scenario occur.
And when the show straddles the line between the romance and the comedy, it can really succeed. The idea that Koyanagi would get upset because Kabakura doesn’t like her as much as fucking Ranka is hilarious. Fictional characters being competition is so blatantly stupid that there’s no way to take it seriously. But while Ranka obviously isn’t a threat to her, the idea that she’s not satisfying what he wants is genuine. And that just ties into the general idea of the show that love isn’t necessarily about getting a person who fits all of your perfect interests, that people aren’t like the media you consume as an otaku. The show might not use its medium all that well but it certainly excels at its premise.
Tadakoi, on the other hand, is a lot less consistent from a writing standpoint. The characters here are certainly unique but I wouldn’t say they’re always interesting. Ijuin can be quite annoying at times — though he’s such a good friend to Tada that I can forgive him — and Pin-senpai is just an outright bad part of the show, a character who adds very little and subtracts a lot through his creepy level of interest in “the female form”. It’s fine to be into girls, dude, but you need to chill. Of course, the flipside of this is that some of the other personalities are a ton of fun. Teresa is great and given that she’s the heroine, that’s a very good thing. Alec, too, is excellent and easily stands as my favorite character in the show. But by being less grounded, the series risks a lot, with those risks not always paying off, leading to a cast which is broadly less enjoyable to watch than Wotakoi’s.
To put it simply: when the jokes in Tadakoi land, they land incredibly well, leaving me laughing for minutes on end. But often, because they’re not as relatable and the characters aren’t as interesting, they just don’t land at all. In Wotakoi, the jokes almost all land but due to the production, they don’t do so nearly as strongly as they could. Which you’d prefer is up to you — and neither is my go to comedy for this season — but it’s a shame neither could nail it.
That said, I must touch on one other aspect of these shows before I end things: the actual main romances. I haven’t talked a ton about these, because they’re actually quite different. Romcoms, as I said at the start, are well-tread but even within them, there’s room for a lot of difference on this key aspect. For both of these, the titles describe the core of the main romantic arcs. Tadakoi is a bit more focused on developing the romances — though I wish they’d leave Pin-senpai’s alone — and having Tada come to appreciate Teresa more as she falls in love with him. Even from that first picture he took of her, it was clear that the show knew how to sell their relationship and slowly that seems to be working. I’d probably find the show a bit more interesting if Tada actually never fell in love but I expect him to do so by the end. This isn’t Nozaki-kun, after all, even if it has the same director.
Wotakoi, on the other hand, is more focused on the jokes. Momose and Nifuji were already friends after all so their dynamic exists prior to the show. What does progress is how comfortable Momose feels in treating him as her boyfriend and I quite like how this is handled. Given that she’s surely had sex at this point, she might be a bit too embarrassed, but she’s also been friends with him since elementary school. I can get the awkwardness, even if it seems like a bit much. And as I said, the focus on loving who you’re with even if they’re not perfect is cool.
Ultimately, these are both shows which are worth watching. I’d honestly put them at roughly the same level. Neither is really excellent and both of them have places that could be improved. I do wish that the staff for Tada-kun had gone for a smaller, slightly more down-to-earth cast and I also wish that Wotakoi had gotten the time and staff it needed such that the show could actually end up being as great as it had the potential to be. Oh well, that’s the anime industry for you. Just gotta hope that things turn out better next time.