Though billed as a tie-in to a dating sim, True Tears breaks such shows’ trademark tendency of using hideous character designs with distorted features indicative of developmental disorders. Nominal chromosome counts aren’t the only distinguishing characteristic of the cartoon, which, name aside, turns out to have absolutely nothing in common with the eponymous visual novel. Yet, even as it fails to serve as an exploration of the game (which Wikipedia describes as a generic moé property), True Tears the animation succeeds as an enjoyable show.
Serving as the backbone for the plot in True Tears is a classic love triangle, with high schooler Shinichiro torn between two classmates: basketball star Hiromi, and Noe, a spaced-out weirdo who talks to chickens. The unremarkable initial episodes introduce a premise that threatens to develop into a harem scheme — or, worse yet, a drawn-out spectacle of people taking a whole season to admit feelings obvious to all others from the start. Thus, I braced myself for the standard assortment of insipid cliches that tend to crop up in any anime tailored to a youth demographic. What I didn’t anticipate is the characters displaying any sort of depth, let alone development, in the 13-episode span.
Notably, there’s no array of single-trait females, each with a hair style conveniently indicating which otaku fetish she represents — even the quirky Noe, whom one might initially dismiss as an oh-so-endearing mental case, has compelling reasons for the way she acts. Shinichiro himself is not just a faceless proxy for the viewer; he is portrayed as a pretty convincing teenager, with the romantic anxieties typical to his age compounded by an insecurity about his skills as a painter. Shinichiro’s art provides glimpses into his emotional state; his frustration at Hiromi’s indifference is channeled into a sappy picture book filled with mopey emo tripe about fashioning a necklace out of her tears. Interacting with Noe, whose gleeful antics sometimes border on the idiotic, inspires Shinichiro to draw stories about livelier material. As the plot progresses, he ends up having to choose between his childhood love and his muse — and it makes for a pretty interesting story.
As a rule, becoming a seasoned anime watcher goes hand-in-hand with increased expectations, yet it takes a true veteran to appreciate a proper treatment of storytelling basics, having long since written off anime as largely incapable in that respect. In his Key the Metal Idol review, Dave marvels at the revolutionary concept of pulling off a satisfying ending. The characters in True Tears likewise impressed me by addressing personal issues by means beyond the canonical anime triumvirate of “blithe denial”, “complete meltdown”, and “GANBATTE! fightin’ attitude”. As the addition of other characters mutates the love triangle into more curious geometric structures, the cast nonetheless finds the strength to confront the issues at hand. We see them acknowledge and learn from mistakes; Noe thanking Hiromi for the first earnest squabble she’d experienced is one of the most mature things I’ve seen a young character do in a teen-oriented anime.
Another pleasant surprise is True Tears‘ atmosphere. The colors are crisp and vibrant. The background environments are lavishly drawn, with a particular attention to detail in scenes involving nature. The passing of seasons is especially vivid, from the colorful mosaics of light reflecting in the autumn leaves to the bleak winter sky that frames a townscape engulfed by thick blankets of snow. Aside from the slightly jarring use of CG in panoramic cuts, this is a stylish show with a well-constructed ambiance.
In the end, being completely unrelated to the original game, with its disturbing-sounding “tear points system”, doesn’t sound like a big loss for True Tears. After all, romance visual novels are written to furnish a surrogate reality to people who fritter away their youth playing them. Thus, while it remains unclear why this anime is named after a game it has nothing to do with, this disconnect is probably why it turned out to be a good one.