#1 A romance anime without any likable female leads
Key to my enjoyment of romance anime is being able to appreciate the main characters involved. If I am not invested in the characters, then what’s the point of rooting for them as they pursue a romance? That is the first and foremost problem with True Tears, in which I didn’t like any of the story’s female leads.
True Tears follows middle schooler Shinichirou Nakagami. He’s a young guy who has a crush on his adopted sister Hiromi, even though she behaves cold and unfamiliarly towards him. The two can’t even have a normal conversation and barely interact during their day-to-day lives. This changes when Shinichirou befriends the school’s local oddball: the chicken-obsessed Noe Isurugi. In spite of her strange behavior, the two become very close and their interactions soon turn romantic. Much to Hiromi’s annoyance, who promptly begins acting nicer towards Shinichirou and makes an attempt to get closer to him as well.
This initial romantic conflict immediately tilted in Noe’s favor. Hiromi is easily one of the least interesting female protagonists in a romance anime that I can recall. She doesn’t have any standout qualities or personality traits, she always looks so inexpressive and bored; there’s nothing to her. She even resembles a generic background extra. There’s little synergy between her and Shinichirou, which makes the romantic interest between them feel artificial. It comes off as a forced plot convenience, just to act as an obstruction for the less-incestual relationship.
That is not to say that Noe fares much better. True Tears is desperate to make her seem weird every chance it gets, at the cost of more meaningful character development and interactions. She feels like an attempt to capture the “moe meets emotional drama” angle of KyoAni‘s Key adaptations, but they laid it on far too thick. She’s a torrent of “wacky” antics and bizarre statements, the charm of which wears off quickly.
Finally, there is childhood friend Aiko Andou. Probably the most “normal” and likable character in the cast, were it not for the fact that she’s pursuing Shinichirou in spite of already being in a relationship. An icky situation that she manages to keep making progressively worse and unfair to everyone involved. What enjoyment I found in her personality evaporated along with my sympathies for her.
#2 Sluggish pace
True Tears is a 13-episode TV series with numerous specials and bonus materials, but I found the anime becoming unbearable by around episode 8. While the romantic side of the anime suffers from its lackluster cast, its drama is similarly burdened by how tediously slow it is to progress.
Himori has trouble getting along with with her adopted family, Shinichirou is trying (and failing) to be a writer, Noe has her chickens; basically everyone has a hang-up that they are trying to overcome. I was initially interested in seeing where these threads would develop, but I lost interest because True Tears keeps circling around them instead of moving forward. To name an example, Hiromi has MANY confrontations with her adopted mother throughout the anime, but those don’t lead to any kind of gradual change in their relationship. At one point the story just flips a switch and Hiromi’s arc is instantly marked as resolved, making all the scenes before it feel like they were just repetitively reaffirming the basic premise instead of being actually meaningful to the storytelling.
A secondary issue here is that there’s just not enough meat to some of the arcs. Shinichirou’s story is meant to be a traditional take on a boy wanting to break away from a family tradition to pursue his own life ambitions, but it receives so little focus or pressure that it doesn’t even feel relevant. This even applies to Noe’s storyline—from which the anime derives its title—which is only mentioned a scarce few times before being drowned out by constant banter about chickens.
#3 Generic presentation
True Tears isn’t terrible-looking, but it sure often looks ugly and uninspired. It occasionally stars some nice backgrounds or manages to pull off a funny scene, but these are the exceptions in what is otherwise an underwhelming series to look and listen to.
The art direction is often particularly bland. Many scenes use dulled or few colors, which combined with the “simple” character designs makes True Tears look unimpressive. The character-design is especially bad, as even the main characters are stuck with forgettable designs that lack any kind of nuance or detail to make them memorable. You wouldn’t be able to pick these kids out of a crowd.
Actually, that’s a lie. True Tears has awful-looking CGI crowds which make the traditionally animated main characters look jarringly out of place. Hilariously, they even put one of these terrible crowd shots in the anime’s OP. Were they proud of “animating” it like this?
Speaking of the OP, the sound & music isn’t much to write home about either. The opening song “Reflectia” is the most basic song you can possibly imagine for a romance anime and the music during the anime itself never stood out either. The voice performances weren’t “bad”, but you could watch the anime on mute and not miss anything significant at all.