What’s it about? Shoichi Kamita is a second year high school student trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. While he considers career options and starts studying harder to prepare for university entrance exams, he tries to rise above the teasing of one of his classmates, Hikari.
Seiren made a lot more sense to me once I rewatched it with the opening credits. I usually skip them so as to have as little information about the story as possible, but Seiren was easier to understand with the opening sequence to temper my slice of life expectations. My understanding now is that it’s like a route-based visual novel adaptation but without any source material, with Shoichi’s relationship with Hikari the first option. Her name is in the episode title (“Tsuneki Hikari Chapter 1: Decision”) but he is the point-of-view character.
There is a lot of overlap with Fuuka, another high school romance with a directionless protagonist and presenting women from a man’s point of view. However, where that main character’s older sister lounges around in lingerie and demands he run errands for her, Shoichi’s older sister plays board games with him in shorts and T-shirts, using vulgar language she wouldn’t come out with in public. In Seiren, “women from a man’s point of view” means family members are comfortable and supportive, female classmate groups are unsettling and incomprehensible – probably a fair assessment from Shoichi’s perspective.
Hikari treats Shoichi badly in a ‘mean girl’ kind of way, finding reasons to get him to talk to her then teasing him mercilessly. Shoichi clearly doesn’t enjoy it, and never responds in kind; this isn’t banter or flirting. One conversation, in which she and her friends ask Shoichi if he’s perverted or gay, is particularly uncomfortable to watch.
However, it’s not uncomfortable in the cliched way Fuuka is uncomfortable; Hikari and friends are being awful to Shoichi in a way that many real teenagers are awful to each other. For his part, Shoichi listens to gossip about Hikari dating an older, bearded man, and on that basis gets angry about her going on a trip with her female friends and some male third-year students – because that would be cheating on the older boyfriend he thinks she’s foolish to have. He has unacknowledged feelings for her, which he expresses through entitled, frustrated muttering.
So Hikari is cruel to Shoichi and Shoichi is judgemental of Hikari. Shoichi ends up not voicing his judgements to anyone but best friend Ikuo, but only because Hikari is popular and he doesn’t want to be punished socially. Hikari ends up forcing herself into Shoichi’s study group so that she can take advantage of the high-achieving Ikuo’s tutelage in order to go on holiday with the third-year guys. Both of them are problematic, but that’s more because teenagers often approach relationships problematically than because the show is framing them problematically in order to please adult viewers.
Inherently problematic relationships can be handled well (I’m looking forward to Scum’s Wish very much) but it’s hard to tell from this episode whether Seiren is up to that. There is at least one moment of pure fanservice, and a scene of what looks like adult male teachers ogling girls in a PE class played for laughs. However, there are none of Fuuka‘s panty shots, face slaps or romcom interactions. Seiren is more soft focus slice of life than Fuuka in general, then bizarrely takes on more horror notes in the closing scenes. There are accurate representations of the low key bigotry, bullying tendencies and black and white thinking of your typical group of teenagers, then moments of dialogue that will make for great Anime Screenshots Without Context submissions.
I would have preferred Seiren as pure slice of life without the preordained relationships, just a group of teenagers interacting with each other while fixating on their own concerns. However, I also like well handled romances, especially between unexpected couples, so if they can win me over on these two in the next episode I will likely carry on watching. It’s a shame that there is unlikely to be an Ikuo route – Shoichi’s relationship with his best friend already makes for some of the most down to earth and engaging scenes in this episode.
I’ve had a strong opinion about all the premieres so far this season, but Seiren is such a mixed bag that I don’t know yet if I’d recommend it. This needs another episode or two to really show its strengths and weaknesses.