Hey all, and welcome to Why It Works! With the season starting to wrap up, I’m already missing one this summer’s brightest highlights: Tsuredure Children. Constructed around a group of young lovers all awkwardly taking their first steps into romance, Tsuredure Children was a consistently heartwarming and hilarious experience, something I’ve covered here before. But today, I’d like to talk about an unexpected and very welcome way Tsuredure Children brought its characters to life, and ensured we in the audience could believe in their romance. Today I’d like to highlight Tsuredure Children’s respect for the ways romance can go wrong.
Chiaki and Kana are one of Tsuredure Children’s premier couples, a pair whose central conceit is “we’re old friends who can’t help but communicate in the form of comedy bits.” The two are introduced with a gag about Chiaki not even realizing they’d been dating, since he figured Kana’s confession a year ago was just another joke. From there, the two of them ramble awkwardly through various romantic missteps, getting walked in on by parents and intimidated by classmates and generally embodying the fact that being friends and being lovers isn’t exactly the same thing. The two keep making mistakes, but they’re honest mistakes born of mutual affection. And then, in the show’s tenth episode, Chiaki really screws up.
After seeing fellow couple Gouda and Kamine effortlessly kissing out in public, Chiaki feels intimidated about his own lack of romantic progress. And so, pushing himself beyond his own comfort zone, he gets himself drunk and actually forces himself on Kana. This scene isn’t played as comedy – Kana makes her discomfort clear from the start, the drama is played as the assault that it is, and Kana immediately breaks up with him and leaves afterwards. There’s no silver lining on that scene, and no goofy horns to imply this isn’t a big deal or that he really didn’t “mean it.” Chiaki assaults his girlfriend by forcing a drunken kiss on her, Kana is frightened and disgusted by his actions, and the episode ends.
By taking this dramatic turn so seriously, Tsuredure Children emphatically demonstrates that it actually takes its characters’ feelings seriously, and ultimately reveals its underlying love for those characters. If Tsuredure Children had played off Chiaki getting drunk and forcing himself on Kana as a joke, that would frame his actions as simply funny – a “transgression” only in terms of “we’re not expected to do that,” not in terms of “this is legitimately hurtful, unacceptable behavior towards anyone, never mind someone you ostensibly love.” Kana’s actual feelings about this act would thus be paved over, implying her honest and very justified feelings of discomfort are just her own problem to deal with. Even in a show predicated on the awkward misunderstandings of young romance, Tsuredure Children draws a clear line at characters meaningfully hurting each other, and instead uses this conflict to further dive into the nitty-gritty of healthy communication and building a truly equal romance.
Tsuredure Children doesn’t simply frame this as a one-off action, either. It would be easy for the show to force Chiaki to feel bad, apologize, and be forgiven, but Tsuredure Children instead uses its darkest moment to articulate what “apologizing” in the context of a relationship truly means. It takes several more days of missed connections and acknowledgment on both sides that they still care about each other in a romantic sense, but they finally get there. The need for Chiaki’s final apology actually starts well before the actual assault. Chiaki’s messed-up action wasn’t a random lark, but the most egregious symptom of an underlying emotional problem – his inability to separate his relationship with Kana as a girlfriend from his never-serious banter with her as a friend.
Chiaki’s apology both solidifies the arc of his character and reflects the true, complex difficulty of apologizing in general. When you truly hurt someone, a simple “I’m sorry I hurt you” isn’t sufficient to fix things. For a relationship to work, you have to acknowledge when there’s an underlying problem, and pledge to improve. You can’t simply say “I’m sorry I offended you” – if you truly care about someone, you have to dig deeper, saying “I know why you were hurt, I know how I’m at fault, and I promise to do better.”
Having actually committed to that soul-searching, Chiaki finishes his apology by starting things over. Breaking off their initial quasi-relationship, he directly asks Kana if she’ll go out with him, discarding the comic buffer that kept them from truly connecting. By dropping the act, Chiaki admits to his own vulnerability, allowing the relationship to start on honest, even ground. Even when people really do want to be together, you can’t just assume things will work out. Honest communication is always key.
Through comedy and charm alone, Tsuredure Children stands as one of the best romantic comedies around. But it is the respect Tsuredure Children has for its cast that ultimately elevates it, demonstrating how much it believes in these characters and their love. By letting Chiaki make serious mistakes and Kana be seriously hurt, Tsuredure Children ultimately reflects its underlying affection for its cast. We all hurt and get hurt sometimes – being able to acknowledge that and strive to do better for each other is a huge part of love.