General spoilers for Rumbling Hearts are unavoidable in this review. Please proceed with caution.
#1 Coping with grief
The initial premise of Rumbling Hearts appears to be that of a standard high school romance. The anime follows Takayuki Narumi and Haruka Suzumiya; a fresh young couple who have only just started dating at the insistence of their mutual friend Mitsuki. There’s some initial hints of conflict as Mitsuki is obviously interested in Takayuki herself, but more immediate drama strikes when Haruka becomes the victim in a car accident.
She is left comatose with no indication of when or if she will ever wake up again, leaving her family, friends, and boyfriend devastated. After this, Rumbling Hearts cuts to a few years later, when Mitsuki and Takayuki have become full-fledged adults, but still carry the scars of “losing” Haruka with them.
Rumbling Hearts does a fantastic job of exploring how these different characters process their grief and how that comes to influence the rest of their lives. When we catch up with Takayuki, he seems like a well-adjusted young man, but various flashbacks to years prior depict the hardships he had to overcome to get as far as he did. Dropping out of school after Haruka’s coma was the least of his problems.
Mitsuki has had her own share of problems as well, but another character that receives a lot of focus is Akane. She is Haruka’s younger sister, who used to be close to both Mitsuki and Takayuki, but has fallen out with the two in recent years. Unlike them, Akane did not have the luxury of moving on after the incident. Her comatose sister has been a defining part of her daily life for years now, while her boyfriend and other comrades eventually stopped visiting for various reasons. Something she is understandably upset about and which defines a lot of the story’s conflict post-accident.
#2 Strong romantic drama
Even before the car crash, it was obvious that Takayuki’s love life was destined to run into drama sooner or later. He allows himself to be pressured into accepting Haruka’s feeling, but while he does work hard to love her back, it’s obvious how much rather he’d be with Mitsuki. And when Haruka is then left comatose, Mitsuki is faced with the difficult choice of either continuing to repress her true feelings or becoming a villain by stealing her friend’s emotionally-fragile boyfriend.
The story of Rumbling Hearts truly gripped me. It’s full of twists and intense moments, which benefit from the well-written characters. Takayuki, Mitsuki, Akane, even Haruka herself, are all likable but flawed characters. Their stories and personalities are fascinating, exactly because they aren’t always perfectly reasonable or in control of their emotions. They make dumb decisions, they let themselves be over-emotional, and sometimes they just mentally freeze up because their stress has piled up too high. These characters got a lot more drama going on than just a fight over which couple emerges victoriously.
What I also appreciated is that the bulk of the story revolves around adult characters. Takayuki and Mitsuki are at an age where they are concerned about starting a family, finding a home, and improving their careers. This adds some interesting stakes to the romantic drama, which could uproot their entire lives. The few sex scenes throughout Rumbling Hearts are modest in their presentation, but add to the feel that this is a romance anime for a grown-up audience.
#3 Retro anime aesthetics
Anime like Rumbling Hearts are some of the most nostalgic for me to watch, because I am enamored with that early-2000s aesthetic. A look that Studio Fantasia and visual novel producer âge fully embraced.
The look of the characters is especially appealing. Bright colors, elaborate hairstyles, those large eyes; it’s the iconic look for anime, but doesn’t lean as heavily on the moe factor that âge’s rival Key was so reliant on. I was also quite fond of the series’ varied backgrounds, and the animation is not slacking behind either. All-around, an impressive-looking show for such a relatively smaller production.
If you’re a nostalgic sod like me or curious about exploring older anime, then Rumbling Hearts is a great pick. It does a fantastic job at encapsulating the look & feel of anime just after the turn of the millennium.