I remember when I first heard of Kimagure Orange Road. It was on an anime forum where I was looking for romance recommendations during grad school and someone told me about this very endearing love triangle anime that’s widely seen as a classic. Did some research on the show before I got to watching it and was informed that Kimagure Orange Road set the standard for a lot of modern anime romances in the same vein that Dragonball set the standard for a lot of modern shonen action series. Also discovered that the main character was a psychic-user and the two girls who fall in love with him were delinquent girls aka sukebans, which really interested me as someone who was used to visual novel and shojo cliches and wanted something different.
So I dove into the show eager to see what all the fuss was about and ended up quitting the series after four episodes because there were a few things lost in translation when I read the premise. While it’s true that the two main girls were borderline delinquents who smoke and are looked down on by the school, they quickly turn into standard anime girls who are in love with the main character upon getting to know him to the point that their bad reputation may as well have not existed. And while the main character, Kyosuke, has psychic powers, it turned out that he never used them for anything useful, which I found to be incredibly stupid. Also, he was a weenie with a very generic character design.
When I initially quit the show, I thought that was it regarding my relationship for the series, especially when I later got to watching old Rumiko Takahashi romance comedies like Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku, and vastly preferred them to Kimagure Orange Road. But then I ended up meeting a few folk over the years who swore up and down that the series was a masterpiece and wanted me to give it another try.
Eventually I did and tried to appreciate the relationship between the main trio, but I ended up dropping the show again when they spent an entire episode trying to find one of Kyosuke’s sisters (because she was stupid) and couldn’t stop sucking Madoka’s non-existent dick during the entire search. Because it turned out that the majority of the episodes were fucking filler that didn’t actually progress the romance. “Oh but it’s funny”, says the fanboys/girls who grew up with the series. Yeah, I didn’t laugh once watching that show. I just had to come to terms with the fact that the series was incredibly dated by modern standards and just not for me.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I found out that Kimagure Orange Road was a Shonen Jump anime since it’s not really marketed as such when people talk about it. I only found this out by chance when looking at a list of the classics that Shonen Jump has had throughout the years, and that was when everything started to make sense. Even if it was late 80s, Shonen Jump’s successful manga has always had a particular style of long-form storytelling that we’ve just come to accept from the magazine these days, and while their action stuff is the most famous for it, their episodic romcoms from To-Love-Ru to Nisekoi to Ichigo 100% to We Never Learn was basically hundreds of chapter filler with sparse important moments in-between as well (well okay, Ichigo 100% was more plot-focused. But that love polygon didn’t need that many chapters, let’s be real). Probably because KOR inspired them to be that way.
And as someone who enjoys indulging in Shonen Jump’s history even though I’m not a shonen fan to the point that I’ve been binging a few of their old shows as of late, the fact that KOR was also part of that lineup (as in, the remembered classics and not the failed projects that nobody cares about anymore) convinced me to group it amongst my binge-watches of Cat’s Eye and City Hunter and tank myself through the series until I actually finished it. If things got too painful or dated, I’d just mute the show (though I never did) or take a break (which I did have to do).
Well I finally managed to finish the series and I can say with great certainty…
But at least this time, I appreciated its place in anime history, so it’s not like I didn’t get anything out of the experience. Also, it had some good things, which I’ll get into first.
Kimagure Orange Road is regarded as the progenitor of modern anime romances for a reason. It wasn’t the first to do its cliches, but it was the one that popularized them. I would never deny that. And I understand that as an older series that set the standards for a lot of future shows, there’s going to be some things that feel generic by today’s standards. Maison Ikkoku had some of that too, and that manga/show is older than KOR, yet I liked it.
Kyosuke being an indecisive moron who constantly gets in trouble due to his powers isn’t something that’d fly in a world where Mob Psycho 100 exists, but I get that it’s supposed to be a creative way to get him involved in sex comedy scenarios. And when the series was created, it took inspiration from the 80s American sex comedy, so it makes sense that certain cringe scenes will play out in a dated way. The show constantly uses misunderstandings to create conflict, but again, so did Maison Ikkoku. This got bad in Ikkoku towards the end of the show, but again, older series. While the romcom genre would just run misunderstandings into the ground to the point that they’re unbearably awful now, back then, they were more acceptable.
Once I accepted all that and started paying attention to the main trio myself, I found out that I actually really liked them. Not sure if I’d say they’re the best two-girl, one-guy pairing in anime, but the chemistry within this dynamic definitely holds up by today’s standards. Madoka and Hikaru are the best of friends. Hikaru initially became attracted to Kyosuke for a cool sports trick that he used his powers to accomplish and later came to like him for his personality. Madoka likes Kyosuke because of a combination of how he sees the real her along with how she actually met him in the past. And Kyosuke likes both girls in different ways (Ayukawa because she seemed nice and Hikaru because he just cares for her). While the ending will eventually break the trio, this relationship is sweet and I liked it when it fully formed.
When I finished the show, I thought to myself “I don’t like love triangles, but man these three were fun”. I don’t think I have to clarify why I hate love triangles other than they’re just a massive pain to sit through. Comedies are fine to an extent, but when it’s used for drama, it gets too dramatically messy for my taste. And yeah, there were times when Hikaru walks in on Madoka and Kyosuke being lovey-dovey, causing her to run off crying. But you know what? I actually liked those scenes. Didn’t really like how Kyosuke used time travel to reset it so those scenes never happened, but before then, it gave some brief engaging drama to an endearing friendship that was fun while it lasted.
I’ve seen some other acclaimed love triangle anime like Oregairu and White Album 2, but while those are good in their own way, there’s something about the Madoka/Hikaru/Kyosuke pairing that stands out to me. Probably because in Oregairu, there weren’t many moments when the trio got to actually have fun together. I really only remember them being real friends in the second season (third season, Yui’s personal woes sort of broke the group up for the majority of the runtime), and the final episode of that season was when they actually got to have fun.
My memories of White Album 2 are hazy so I only really remember the time when the main trio shared a hot spring together. But it being part of the White Album franchise (very dramatic visual novel series in case you didn’t know), it was a lot heavier on the drama side of things, and like I said, I’m not big into those kind of love triangles. Especially Setsuna’s characterization. That is just too clingy for my taste.
So yeah the series really shined with this trio…when they were allowed to be a trio. And that’s when we get into what was never good about KOR no matter when it came out. What am I referring to, you may ask?
First off, the male supporting characters in general were baaaaadddddd. Female ones are okay because they tend to get at least one episode dedicated to fleshing them out even when they’re annoying, but the male ones are just horrible. The only humor that comes from them is that they’re perverted or that they want to mess with Kyosuke for no good reason. I don’t care when this anime came out. Physical abuse and sexual harassment was not funny in the 80s and is not funny now.
On top of that, they get no character development or have any depth to them. There’s a lot of throwaway male extras who exist just to pick fights with Madoka, which is just dumb. Kyosuke’s two friends are pretty much just walking sleazebags who aren’t the least bit helpful to him in any way, shape, or form.
But the biggest dealbreaker of them all is, as I alluded to earlier, Yuusaku. This guy straight up physically assaults Kyosuke because of his own inferiority complexes, is supposed to be a childhood friend of the two main girls who is also aware of their true selves and yet he doesn’t have any chemistry with them, and he’s physically strong to an absurd degree yet said strength doesn’t help him whenever something serious occurs. You could transplant the personality of Mineta from Hero Academia into the body of Rupert Murdoch and he’d still compare favorably to Yuusaku.
He’s basically supposed to be the romantic rival character that questions the male lead’s seriousness towards the girls, kind of like Ryoga from Ranma 1/2, Mendo from Urusei Yatsura, or Koga from Inuyasha. The problem is that he’s a total dick who’s unfunny, stupid, and boring. And apparently the original manga agreed that he was a bit of a pain so they limited his presence after he was introduced. But for some reason, the anime producers liked this character and kept having him tag along whenever the main trio goes anywhere. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but didn’t people like this anime because of the relationship between the trio? Not the trio and this unnecessary fourth wheel.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this character instantly made the anime terrible the second he gets any screentime. I really hated him. Every scene he was in was a pain to watch, and he’s the main reason why I’d never want to watch the show ever again. In fact, I enjoy the OVA series and movies far more than the original show. Why? Well first off, the animation is much better and they gave Kyosuke a slightly less generic appearance in those things. But more importantly, with the exception of the first OVA, Yuusaku wasn’t in them. It was mostly the main trio doing their own thing and it was all the better for it. Fun fact: all the trio pictures that I’m using for this post are from the OVAs themselves.
Not that Yuusaku was the only problem with the anime though. Kimagure Orange Road was made during a time when anime was allowed to be more different from the manga than you can be now without creating fan backlash, and the results have been hit-and-miss in my experience. The changes made in Urusei Yatsura for example, I really liked. Particularly when Oshii introduced his Ghost in the Shell-style to make some weird mindfuck episodes that actually fit well for an old romcom. The changes to Ranma on the other hand led to a lot of boring filler, so I wasn’t keen on that.
I actually read some of the Kimagure Orange Road manga to spot some of the differences and while there were some good changes, a lot of the way events played out were things I preferred in the manga. Especially the ending. While it is a very emotionally heavy ending, it kind of bordered on unnecessarily cruel for my taste to just abandon Hikaru entirely in the anime. I preferred what the manga did with Hikaru finding out the truth for herself and breaking down, only to later settle things with Madoka and Kyosuke at the end. Yeah there’s technically the second movie if you wanted that, but I’ve heard mixed responses whether that was supposed to be a sequel to the anime or the manga. Also, it wasn’t a very good movie.
Additionally, the manga had some better supporting characters in my opinion. It had a better flow to things without feeling so episodic. There were adaptation choices that did make the anime better than the manga…in the OVA series. The only thing I preferred in the anime were the times when Madoka and Kyosuke got alone time, as well as when the trio was actually allowed to be a trio. Hikaru getting alone time with either Madoka or Kyosuke was nice too. Too bad that didn’t happen all that often.
Seriously, Madoka gets almost all of the good scenes in this anime, which I don’t understand. Yes I know she’s the legacy character, the most marketable part of the show, and the obvious winner in the love triangle, but it’s just so one-sided to the point that Madoka comes off less like “best girl” and more like “god the producers simp for her so hard”. Why doesn’t Hikaru get any good scenes? She’s shown in the past that she can also scrap a little, plus she has her own good sides. So why doesn’t she get a chance to show off aside from like one or two times in this really long show?
For that matter, why is the number of times that Kyosuke is allowed to have a good scene so limited? He definitely gets more than Hikaru, but for someone who’s supposed to be the main character, he’s only allowed to be badass or take charge around 10% of the time. Fully aware this is something a lot of Shonen Jump romcoms do for the record. Waifu culture being what it is tends to translate to the main male just being an accessory for cute girls and their antics. Still doesn’t make it any less stupid to see in a show after decades though. It’s like going to an anime promotional event and the only thing being promoted is My Hero Academia. Yeah it’s a popular show, but you do realize there are more anime besides Hero Academia, right?
And that’s why I’m giving the main Kimagure Orange Road series a “doesn’t hold up at all” thumbs down when all is said and done. Because someone had the gall to give Yuusaku so much screentime. When it’s just the three main characters by themselves, I can see why the show was considered a romantic classic with genuine feelings that still hold up even though the 80s are over. That episode where the girls helped Kyosuke go on a date with his sister (don’t ask) was a standout. Too bad the anime itself doesn’t seem to realize that when it comes to its iconic trio, three’s great, but more’s a crowd.