A Condition Called Love – Episode 1

By: Caitlin Moore April 6, 20240 Comments
Hotaru holds an umbrella over Hananoi in the snow

What’s it about? At the age of 16, Hotaru has never been in love, but she’s okay with that. She has plenty of other things she enjoys, like good food and spending time with her friends. Then she encounters Hananoi, a boy in the class next door to hers that she never noticed, but is apparently known for being strikingly tall and handsome. After a random act of decency, Hananoi declares her his soulmate and begins to follow her around. Hotaru has never felt like she needed love in her life, but maybe she wouldn’t mind having it anyway?

What is love? A miserable little pile of secrets!

Wait, wait, no, that’s Man. Give me a second, I’ll try to come up with something.

Hotaru and Hananoi each hold half a meat bun. Hotaru is looking at Hananoi. Subtitle: Is it good?
Hold on, I’ll get to that!

I tend to be skeptical of high school romances, shoujo and otherwise. It’s such a well-trodden genre, I tune out fast if I don’t feel like they’re going to do something interesting. It doesn’t have to be new, there just has to be something that really grabs me. Interesting characters, an unusual point-of-view, thoughtfully-written themes – anything that makes me, someone old enough to have graduated high school twice over, stop and think. A Condition Called Love has some promise, although it remains to be seen whether it’ll live up to that.

I can already tell that Hananoi’s behavior is going to be a point of controversy. Is the way he follows Hotaru around, puppylike, cute or creepy? After declaring her his soulmate in front of her classmates, he cuts his hair when she mentions she prefers her own short (big downgrade, to be honest) and takes out his earrings on the assumption she’s not into flashy things like that. He buys her a barbecue pork meat bun from the cafeteria without her asking. Is this How I Met Your Mother’s Dobler-Dahmer theory in action? If Hananoi weren’t tall and gorgeous, would I be calling HR on him? Or is his devotion merely harmless puppy love?

Hotaru in a scarf with tears in her eyes. Subtitle: If it means only one person gets to be happy, then I don't want to ever fall in love!

Lucky for all of you, I refuse to treat “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” as a binary, or the ultimate measure of what makes a romance worthy of anyone’s time. To be fair, Hananoi is… intense. Because he looks like a model, people project the personality they expect from a person who looks like that onto him, but the truth is that he’s a weirdo with poor social skills. So when Hotaru does him a simple kindness – holding an umbrella for him when he’s sitting alone on a bench in the snow – and asks nothing in return, he doesn’t really know what to do with the feelings that stir in him. 

The script does a good job setting up that what he’s doing isn’t really ideal or right, but a well-intended but flawed reaction to new feelings. Things come to a head when he spends hours searching in the snow for a hairclip that Hotaru lost, to the point that he’s endangering his own health. Instead of romanticizing this or being touched by his devotion, Hotaru yells at him and drags him inside to warm him up. It’s not setting boundaries precisely, but over the course of the episode, Hotaru draws lines about what she is and isn’t comfortable with him doing for her multiple times. The sense I get is that both of them are starting in a place where they don’t really know how to be in a relationship, albeit in different ways.

A meat bun being split in half
Splitting your nikuman is a good start

If anything hurt the premiere for me, it was the utterly lackluster visual presentation. I’m of the opinion that dialogue-heavy series benefit just as much from good direction as flashy action, if not more, and that’s decidedly lacking here. The character animation is fine, although background extras are noticeably stiff CG models, but the storyboarding leaves a lot to be desired. The backgrounds are almost universally beige and bland; the moment that most got me was when I realized the world outside the windows in the school’s hallway was blank white because they didn’t have the time/resources/whatever to draw tree branches.

Perhaps I’m inclined to give A Condition Called Love more grace than I would otherwise because the shoujo aficionados I know (specifically, Colleen of Colleen’s Manga Recs and Ashley of Shojo and Tell) have been talking the series up for quite a while. But a shoujo romance where the boyfriend is neither a perfect prince nor an abusive assface, but something more complicated and human? Yeah, I’ll give it a try.

So, what is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

Nailed it.

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