What’s it about? Sajo Wataru has relentlessly pursued Natsukawa Aika for their entire high school career to date, no matter how much she complained. But one morning, he realizes that maybe it’s time to listen to Aika when she tells him to stop following her around—which only seems to make her more upset.
I have to hand it to ‘em – “protagonist actually takes the tsundere at their word” isn’t a bad joke to start building a rom-com from. We’ve had plenty of humanized interrogations of how the archetype might wear on a character exhibiting remotely recognizable traits, from Asuka to Taiga, but the “ reacting to such an exaggerated standby of anime like a normal human” has at least one leg of comedy potential. For reasons I cannot divine, Dreaming Boy has elected not to be a comedy. Unfortunately, it also hasn’t elected to be anything else, and even that kernel of a workable idea is crushed under the relentless woodenness of the execution.
If you told me this was the first AI-made anime they were trying to sneak by us (putting aside that it already happened), I’d believe you. It hits the general beats of a school rom-com, but the sense of timing in the writing is off, whether it’s Sajo trying to explain why he fell for his crush or the reveal that the apparent girl-of-the-week had been flirting with him to camouflage her own relationship woes; a disappointing whiff from queen of sparkling dialogue Yokote Michiko. The pacing bumbles along from scene to loosely connected scene, unhelped by an especially stiff subtitle track. There are joke-like cadences, but neither voice acting nor animation are capable of selling an over-the-top mania and the writing fails to pick up the slack.
The visuals, meanwhile, cry for help in a manner one doesn’t usually see until midseason or so. It’s not KamiKatsu bad, but it’s concerning to see a parade of well-worn shortcuts trotted out when it’s “best foot forward” time. Characters outside of the core cast are rendered without eyeballs; walk cycles are stiff and Hana Barbara-bumpy. Much of the episode consists of group mid-shots, which not only results in static camera work but also strips a lot of facial detail out of the character models. A professional animator on their worst day is a better artist than me on my best, but a few shots tread perilously close to middle-school sketchbook territory.
Then again, maybe the reason characters never move is that when they do there’s a feeling of pasted-in uncanniness to moving objects, and on the rare instance that characters touch it has all the weight of smacking paper dolls together. It’s all so barely hung together that I feel almost bad digging into the faults of its premise, like the fact that Sajo’s earnest speeches about how he was a creep to keep throwing himself at Aika when she expressed clear disinterest are somewhat undermined by the necessary conceit that his persistence at some point worked.
I can’t work up the energy to hate this. It’s not particularly mean-spirited, and a better production might have elevated it to the heights of “lower tier acceptable shounen rom-com” that come out almost every season; instead, Studio Gokumi is presumably putting their A-listers on this season’s Reborn as a Vending Machine and leaving this title to languish. That doesn’t mean I’m so sympathetic that I’d encourage giving it a try; there are much better anime about dreaming boys and anime penned by Yokote Michiko that deserve your attention.