Joro’s having girl problems, and I feel bad for him, son! He’s got 99 problems, and that bench is one.
… Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk about Are You the Only One Who Loves Me?, or Oresuki for short. I’m excited to review this anime, but it so resists easy summary that it’s hard to know where to begin. Is this thing a harem comedy anime? A biting satire on the harem genre? A cock-eyed retelling of the Wife of Bath’s Tale (from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) with a distinctly anime flavor? An experiment in storytelling that veers wildly between train wreck and absolute masterpiece? Try all of the above! Before we delve into the details, though, let’s return to Joro’s tale of woe.
Oresuki introduces us to Amatsuyu Kisaragi, better known by his nickname of “Joro” (meaning “watering can”), a soft-spoken high school boy who seems to have it all. He has a best buddy in the friendly and charming school baseball star, Taiyo “Sun-Chan” Oga; a cute and bubbly childhood friend in Aoi “Himawari” Hinata (meaning “sunflower”); and a stunning senpai in the lovely and intelligent student council president, Sakura “Cosmos” Akino. Joro is thrilled when Cosmos and Himawari separately ask him out for dates one weekend, but that Saturday under a brilliant golden sunset, Cosmos sits down with Joro on an ornate white bench and confesses to him that she loves… Sun-Chan. And that she wants Joro’s help in hooking him. This obviously isn’t the outcome Joro expected or wished for, but he goes into Sunday’s date with Himawari only slightly deflated until she also sits him down on an ornate white bench and confesses to him that she loves… you guessed it… Sun-Chan.
Joro keeps his composure until he gets home, but in the privacy of his room, he explodes into a volley of curses and pissed-off outrage that shows us a completely different person—more calculating, conniving, and cynical—beneath Joro’s mild-mannered exterior. To put it mildly, he’s none too happy at discovering he’s actually the background “buddy” character of his own story rather than a bona fide rom-com protagonist.
However, with the grumbling thought that at least one of the girls had to “lose” and he might be able to date the loser, he decides to honor his promises to help Himawari and Cosmos get closer to his best friend. After an intensely frustrating day assisting them, he finds himself in the school library getting scolded by a bespectacled girl with a sharp tongue and a difficult-to-read face—Sumireko “Pansy” Sanshokuin. Suddenly, Pansy drops three bombs on him. First, she knows about his unpleasant predicament with his female classmates, because she’s been stalking him. Second, she’s aware of his “true” self, and she prefers that version of him. To deliver the coup de grace, she leads him over to an ornate white park bench that has somehow materialized in the library, much to Joro’s horror. He mentally cheers on Sun-chan for all he’s worth, but to no avail – this confession of love from a girl of questionable tastes and character is for him. He then utters the mental cry that gives the story its title: “Are you the only one who loves me?!”
Part of me wants to keep recounting the story, but it would do a disservice to you as a viewer by robbing you of quite a roller-coaster of discovery. What I found fascinating about this story is that no one in this series—not Joro, not anybody—is who or what they initially appear to be on the surface. Every major character has levels of complexity that go deep, and sometimes the noble and the appallingly selfish aspects intermix with one another. Along those lines, I also thought it notable how willing each character is to play hardball where their own happiness is concerned. This presents a completely different scenario than, say, ToraDora, where the cast almost causes a romantic tragedy by trying too hard to avoid hurting one another. Oresuki takes an opposite tack, where everyone is testing the limits of how hard they can stomp on one another without breaking something precious.
The interest created by these elements is greatly helped along by some outstanding production values that bring the story vividly to life. Oresuki was the final project of the animation studio Connect, a subsidiary of Anime Obscura favorite Silver Link that recently got absorbed back into its parent company. It was a hell of a swan song, with appealing character designs, beautiful backgrounds, some creative artistic moments, and background music that enhanced the scenes.
Speaking of music, the jazz-pop opening tune (“Papapa” by Shuka Saito) is an absolute earworm and one of my favorite anime openings of recent years. The ending (“Hanakotoba” by the voice actresses of of Pansy, Himawari, and Cosmos) may not stick in your head quite as long, but it’s a lovely, emotional tune that beautifully bookends each episode.
Another highlight of Oresuki that deserves special mention is that our boy, Joro, is one of the funniest damn protagonists to ever headline an anime. A significant portion of the cast taps on the fourth wall from time to time, but because we’re in Joro’s head the most, we see that he frequently takes a sledgehammer to it. This could become irritating if the show became too enamored with its own meta-humor, but thankfully Joro acknowledges it and moves on in a way that surprises us and makes us laugh because of its brevity—he’s far too busy (and beleaguered) to waste time feeling self-satisfied about his meta knowledge. (“Damn… it’s that bitch from episode four again!”) Moreover, Joro is such an asshole… but such a relatable asshole with surprisingly shiny silver linings… that the viewer can’t help but cheer on this bitter “background character” as he wages all-out war on common rom-com tropes.
Finally, perhaps the most pleasant surprise to be found in Oresuki is the strong mystery element that underpinned every single one of this anime’s various arcs. If this anime has a moral, it is that people are often not who they appear to be on the outside, but that teasing out and discovering this hidden person can be a fascinating and worthwhile process of discovery. The viewer tags along on that path with Joro as he sleuths around and digs through the motives (either hidden and real or public and false) responsible for the crazy messes he keeps getting dragged into. The stakes are sometimes minor, sometimes nail-bitingly high… but always, always entertaining. It adds a delightful bit of story spice to what could otherwise be a pretty silly affair.
With all of that said, any bold creative experiment carries a high risk of failure, and Oresuki is not a show without its problems. I almost quit watching it twice.
The first time I nearly gave up on the series was after the first story arc. Every single character came out of that looking so bad that I was despairing of finding anyone likeable enough to keep me coming back. All I’ll say there is that if you start feeling the same thing, watch one more episode. Beginning with the next arc, everyone redeems themselves to a surprising degree. I also felt like the series “slumped” a bit in the middle—not enough to recreate the negative feelings engendered by the first arc, but enough to hurt momentum.
Oresuki had two big flaws, though. I’m going to make some people really mad with this first one, but it’s my honest opinion: Pansy is easily one of the least interesting characters in this series, and promoting her to a lead role nearly kills it at points. The concept of Pansy sounds great on paper. Like the old witch who becomes a lovely and faithful wife only when trusted from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale, the calculating Pansy may not be the sweetheart Joro wants, but she often proves to be the one he needs. Also similar to that witch, Pansy reveals herself to be breathtakingly beautiful (and curvy!) once she drops her conservative and plain dress and hair, and she does so only after Joro willingly puts his full trust in her and his fate in her hands. That much of her character concept was really creative and cool.
Where the concept starts to break down, however, is that Connect was terrible at creating an ugly duckling character. She looks from the start like what she is: a stunning babe attempting to Clark Kent her way into anonymity and doing a bad job at it. This makes Joro’s dismay at her confession and his impatience with her throughout the series a bit hard to swallow. Furthermore, she’s too perfect. Virtually nothing is there to connect the viewer with Pansy on a human level. On top of having the body of a voluptuous goddess, nothing ever rattles her, and she displays almost inhuman levels of calm and self-possession. If she has a sense of humor at all, it’s so bone-dry as to be virtually imperceptible. In theory, her “stalker” persona could convey some moe awkwardness or at least amusing cringe, but it’s never paired with any social consequences or nervousness on her part that might make it funny or endearing.
Pansy can show deadpan irritation, she can be a happy and flirty “ara-ara” seductress, and she can evince slight physical discomfort when something makes her sad or worried. That is the absolute limit of her emotional range according to what we see on screen for most of the series. A few of the later episodes finally, mercifully humanize her somewhat by having her display other physical reactions to stress—clutching her wrist tightly behind her back, pressing her lips tightly together—but this sort of thing should have been done much earlier and more often, and even those behaviors aren’t particularly memorable or charming.
The other girls in the series are all considerably more flawed, but they are also orders-of-magnitude more interesting as people. Compared to Himawari’s cute mixture of being ditzy but really perceptive, or Cosmos’s adorable verbal awkwardness whenever she gets flustered, Pansy’s bland perfection came across as sadly… boring, at least for this viewer. Minor flaws and insecurities make us human, lovable, and interesting, and she needed more of them. It’s not a series-ruining problem, and I liked and appreciated Pansy much better after the final arc after we finally got a few glimpses behind her alternating stony-faced facades, but I firmly believe she could have been a much better main heroine by being a more imperfect one.
Oresuki’s second major flaw takes less space to explain, which is that it breaks Rule #1 of Anime Obscura’s “8 Rules For Making a Perfect Harem Anime” by including far too many romanceable options for such a short series. (Specifically, six to nine girls for 12 episodes and an OVA, depending on how you count it.) This is less of a problem than it could have been thanks to how vibrant even this anime’s minor characters are, but it still robbed time that could have been better-utilized giving us a more expansive look at the inner lives and personalities of the main cast.
Despite being one of the series’ cutest characters, Sasanqua has no plot-related reason to be there at all, and Tsubaki could have been written out of the story entirely if you just said Himawari or Cosmos was the one whose family ran a restaurant. I’m not saying these characters absolutely should have been removed, because I enjoyed them. The series didn’t have sufficient space to do them full justice, though, and that’s a bit of a shame. As with my complaints about Pansy, it wasn’t a total deal-killer, but it certainly wasn’t a strength. If Oresuki returns for a second season and it doesn’t continue to throw more characters at us at such a fast rate, this may become less of a problem moving forward.
I don’t want to close this review on a negative note, though, because I loved this series despite the minor frustrations I’ve mentioned. Thankfully, the OVA finale provides me with a great opportunity to pivot back to talking about what makes it so fun to watch. While getting there felt like a long and bumpy road for a series so short, Oresuki actually has one of the most heartwarming and satisfying endings of any anime I have ever watched, bar none. The final arc not only introduces a charming, formidable antagonist, but it raises the emotional stakes to levels not even seen in the opening story arc. The actual TV series ended on a cliffhanger in December 2019, with the finale of the story not appearing until 9 months later in September 2020.
The movie-length OVA circles back years before the series began in places in order to explore the backgrounds of our cast and to explain the friendships, rivalries, misunderstandings, and insecurities that have been driving this crew of misfits forward all along, for good and for bad. On top of that, we get to see Joro combine his loveable-best and loveable-worst traits to try to salvage a nightmare loss scenario of his own making. The OVA and the series itself close with two quiet scenes that put the spotlight on two key relationships that evolved throughout Oresuki, and in the process these scenes completely reframe the anime’s full title. Those scenes were very sweet, they were unexpected… and they were honestly beautiful. More than anything else, they were proof-positive that this quirky, experimental harem anime transcended the boundaries of satire and its own subgenre to become something truly special in its own right. The finale also brings the series to a decent stopping point that would certainly allow for a second season, but wraps things up neatly enough that it feels “complete” even if that never happens.
Oresuki isn’t the first anime to deconstruct the harem subgenre. Perhaps most notably, School Days steered its story into a train wreck of an ending on purpose just to prove it could. Oresuki aims for a result that requires a bit more finesse, though. It picks up the harem subgenre’s tropes, examines them with care, catalogs them, and struts around wearing them as a silly hat. Then, against all odds and logic, it constructs a Ferrari out of them and roars off into the sunset. I won’t pretend it’s perfect, but I strongly encourage anyone who loves a good love story… or a bad love story… or a good bad-love story… to give it a try. Oresuki is truly outstanding. It doesn’t get nearly enough respect yet, and I refuse to be the only one who loves it.
If you want to watch Oresuki, you can stream it on almost any of the major anime streaming sites. Crunchyroll, VRV, HiDive, and Funimation all carry it on their channels. Unfortunately, the series has yet to receive any sort of physical release on Blu Ray or DVD in North America… and equally unfortunately, it’s licensed by Aniplex of America. That means that if we do get any sort of physical release, it is likely to be painfully expensive unless they happen to sub-license it to Sentai Filmworks or Funimation. (Aniplex has increasingly tended to release their own titles in recent years, so I don’t think that scenario is likely.) To be honest, though, I’d even be willing to pay the “Aniplex premium” to have Oresuki as part of my physical anime collection. It was thoroughly charming, short enough to conveniently revisit, and a true creative success.
And at this point, there’s really only one thing left that needs to be said. Cosmos is best girl.