In anime, school comes off as an emotional battleground that is especially perilous for socially awkward girls trying to make friends. Kimi ni Todoke and RELife both show the courage of the introvert.
Both anime series feature socially awkward girls. Sawako, the main character of Kimi ni Todoke, is shunned by everyone because she looks like Sadako, the main character in Japanese horror movie The Ring. The even call her Sadako so much, many people believe that is her real name! Sadly, others don’t realize that Sawako just wants to be friends, but her friendly overtures just come off as creepy and sad. Sawako really wants to be more outgoing and make changes. She knows that others are afraid of her, and she really wants to be friends. She spends a lot of mental energy thinking about it. But it’s not just her unfortunate appearance that’s the problem. Because people have avoided her for so long, she has failed to develop even the most basic social abilities. So, she often misreads situations. For example, she inadvertently fails to deny the rumor going around that she was talking smack about other girls.
Similarly, Hishiro has similar social problems in ReLIFE. The smartest person in the class, she comes off cold and aloof. Because of this, few people know that she, like Sawako, doesn’t understand social cues. She then resorts to looking up information on the Internet to understand her social world, which often makes things worse. But like Sawako, she is not satisfied with her lot in life, and is looking to make changes to be more socially engaging.
While the male protagonists of both series help Sawako and Hishiro on their quest to develop social skills, their real progress is made in developing friendships with other girls. It’s ironic that Sawako becomes friends with Ayane and Chizuru, two other girls who are barely on the social scene themselves. Both are marginalized in their own way. Ayane seems to be more mature than the average high schooler, while Chizuru is ever the tomboy. While they don’t actively tease Sawako, they aren’t initially eager to be her friend either. Slowly, they begin to see Sawako’s efforts at being more social and take to hanging out with her.
Their budding friendship is tested when a rumor starts, suggesting that Sawako called Ayane a slut and accused Chizuru of being a juvenile delinquent. Initially, Sawako is so socially inept that she inadvertently confirms the rumor. Circumstances common to anime creates a series of partially-heard and erroneously interpreted conversations that increases the tension between Sawako and the two girls. During this time, you get to see how Ayane and Chizuru become more and more upset, not about the rumor, but at the possibility that it may be true that Sawako spread rumors about them. They slowly come to realize that they are upset because they already consider to be a friend and care about her. In a climatic encounter, which occurs at the center of girl life in school (i.e. the girls’ bathroom), it is Sawako that defends Ayane and Chizuru in front of others and flat-out denies the rumors. Ayane and Chizuru are overjoyed that Sawako stood up for them, and incessant hugging ensues. Not bad for an introvert.
Hishiro’s introvert tendencies are tested as well. She has decided to make friends with someone, and she chooses Kariu. Unbeknownst to her, Kariu considers Hishiro to be a rival because she lost to her in the competition to be class representative. She interprets Hishiro’s subtle attempts at friendship, like making eye contact and smiling, as mockery for losing the position. Kariu gets so angry that she decides to teach her a lesson by stealing her bookbag. She’s caught, leading to a faceoff between Kariu and Hishiro. Hishiro works up the courage to ask to be Kariu’s friend, even after she confirms that Kariu stole her bag. Kariu is taken aback, then slowly begins to realize that all those times she thought Hishiro was mocking her, she was really trying to be her friend. Like Sawako, Hishiro’s forced attempts to smile are creepy, but Kariu also gets to see a genuine smile from Hishiro. In the end, they become friends and Kariu even invites Hishiro to have lunch regularly with her volleyball friend.
Both ReLIFE and Kimi ni Todoke are charming stories of extremely introverted girls making social strides with friendships with other girls.
“Kimi ni Todoke Season 2-7). Avvesione’s Anime Blog. https://avvesione.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/kimi-ni-todoke-season-2-7/. (13 Aug 2016)
“ReLIFE – 03 – 06 Hishro.” Clouded Anime. https://cloudedanime.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/relife-03/relife-03-06-hishiro/. (13 Aug 2016)