Dumped on the Market

A smattering of strong characters distinguishes this by-the-books romance, but their appeal, and the occasional success in mining a vein of genuine heartbreak, can't boost the series' quality long enough to fight the law of diminishing returns. We've seen this series before-young man in a gorgeous rural city gets entangled with a variety of sad girls-and frankly this latest stab at the formula has nothing new to add. Unless you count its twin obsessions with chickens and tears.

It's all here: the hero from Planet Bland, his craaazy best friend (he eats food off the floor! Craaazy!), and the trinity of girls defined by their quirks-the quirky loner who comes out of nowhere, the chilly perfect girl with the past, the chipper best-friend type. As you might expect, the first episode is a torturous hell of soapy cliches, including a simply awful -destined meeting- moment and an opening monologue that will send viewers' literary sensibilities running for cover. But as the series wears on it builds a scattershot appeal, mainly on the backs of Nobuse and Noe, displaying a periodic tear-jerking power that belies its dreadful beginning.

Though ostensibly about Shinichiro, Noe and Nobuse are its true heart. Two highly likeable and (to a certain extent) believable characters, when either of the two is the focus-particularly later when their disparate love lives begin to disintegrate the series reaches melodramatic heights to match the best teen romance. Nobuse coming slowly to the realization that his girlfriend doesn't love him, Noe discovering that it was she, not Shinichiro who ultimately was unable to fly-these are powerful moments, potent emotional uppercuts that taken on their own stand with the best of their type. Those heights are ephemeral, however. After all, Noe and Nobuse may have all of the series' charm, but they don't have all of its running time.

Director Junji Nishimura is too grizzled a veteran to let poor characterization or uneven writing hobble his visual instincts. Nishimura salts the series liberally with memorable images: a silk-smooth CGI-enhanced basketball game for instance, or Noe delivering a monologue while holding a desperate Jibeta up to the setting sun. And copped from Kanon though it may be, the series' atmosphere, built of dusky light and quietly shifting seasons and hauntingly empty interiors, is undeniably beautiful.

Forget that its sense of humor could fit in a thimble and still leave room for Andre the Giant's thumb. Forget that its obsession with women's tears is serial-killer-creepy. All you need to remember is that true tears doesn't work as a romance. No romance can survive a cast with the chemistry of inert gasses, and definitely not one led by a dud like Shinichiro. Of course, any series that can have you reaching for the hankies-and it will make you reach- one minute and throwing them at the TV the next can't be all bad. But a few tears do not a good series make.

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