Spoilers for Koikimo, Higehiro, and We Never Learn
Age gap is a genre that has been a cornerstone of anime and manga for years. It’s had highs and lows, challenging some of the soundest social norms to paint a picture of taboo love. Personally, I never had an issue with the genre. I enjoyed Domestic Girlfriend a lot, not really paying mind to the 17 to 24 love affair between Hina and Natsuo. A Child’s Time did something I think a lot of people weren’t expecting making it one of the most popular manga’s of the early 2000s. The point I am trying to make is age gap can work, and when it does I think it works well. So in the spring 2021 line up two series have aired using this genre, Koikimo, and Higehiro. And boy, that is where the similarities end.
First I want to say that all of this, as always, is in context to fiction. Hina’s hold over her student is heavily influenced by the fact she is a teacher and an authority. That is something I actually really liked about We Never Learn, specifically the Mafuyu ending. Even though by that time Yuiga was a teacher and a colleague of hers, she hesitates to accept his confession because of the simple fact that she was his teacher at one point. Even though he is an adult now she influenced him when he was younger, making the relationship a bit taboo either way.
It is a hard thing to make work as a true love story, the idea itself honestly being the problem. But out of the two seasonal shows taking their shot at this, one is doing everything right while the other, possibly on purpose, has become a show I’ve grown to hate. Koikimo follows high schooler Ichika who has the misfortune of attracting 27-year-old businessman (and older brother of her best friend) Ryou. What follows is a one-sided love affair that drives me insane, and I will explain why in a moment.
Higehiro follows adult businessman Yoshida who drunkenly takes in a high school runaway Sayu after finding her late at night on the street. Though she attempts to seduce him many times, Yoshida firmly declines any and all advances from her, turning the story more into a rehabilitation tale about a girl who lacks proper love. So out of these two, I think it is pretty clear which one I believe took up this genre and did it well, this is why.
Though I’ve seen this take a lot around the internet I cannot shake the fact how pushy both Ryou and his sister Rio are towards Ichika. My main issue with Koikimo isn’t the fact there is a 10 year age difference between them or even everyone within this world minus Tamaru is completely okay with it. But it is the personality of Ryou himself and how shitty he is in every given situation. What is weird to me is that the show is completely aware of this. Ichika and Rio alike have stated many times to each other and Ryou that he is a manipulative ass hole who only selfishly does things to get what he wants. It does this in a weird way that somehow always blows back on Ichika herself and it is extremely frustrating to watch for me.
One part that comes to mind is when Tamaru confesses to Ichika and she isn’t sure how to take it. Trying to figure out her own feelings Ryou keeps pushing her, knowing that something is up. When she snaps telling him to fuck off he just straight up says no, then proceeds to flip it on her as if her lashing out from his aggressiveness is her fault. She then apologizes for this even though her actions are completely in the right and the fact that someone confessed to her is none of Ryou’s business. The show somehow then proceeds to take these actions and make them romantic, as if Ryou is just looking out for her but in the same breath states that he is a selfish jerk, honestly, I just don’t get it.
It also does this mature fine line walk where Ichika isn’t sure how to feel about Ryou because of their age, most of the time reflecting on her own feelings as if she is the problem though she is clearly not. It doesn’t help everyone on the show, literally, everyone, enables Ryou. Ichika’s best friend, Ryou’s best friend, Ichika’s mom, you name it chances are they are going to side with Ryou simply because he seems serious about her, which to me isn’t enough. Koikimo has just been very annoying to me to see because I think it is the worse way to show the age-gap romance. It takes all the worse tropes and ideas mashes them together and forces it down the watcher’s throat, and even if that was intended, it doesn’t make it much better. The full title of the series is “It Is Too Sick To Call This Love,” which implies some level of self-awareness, but that doesn’t discredit what it is trying to do.
Now let’s talk about Higrhiro, a show I wasn’t expecting to love, but ended up doing so deeply. Where these two-part heavily are on how the romance is played out. Yoshida and Sayu are clearly the main couples but they dance around this, Yoshida trying to be more of a caring guardian than a lover. It can do this in a none cringe way because of Sayu’s ability to keep him in check, opening up in touching moments making Yoshida realize that she is indeed a girl. This narrative allows the show to set up the outcome of the two of them becoming a thing and it does so near perfectly because it was never about romance, to begin with.
Yoshida and Sayu’s relationship is based around love and caring that isn’t void of romance but it is hardly the main focus. It tries to tell a story about a girl damaged by society trying to find her own self-worth and a guy who just happened to do the same. They improve each other in a lot of ways and I think that part isn’t discussed much. Yoshida was nothing but a single man who worked constantly, came home, drank, went to bed. He had done this for years on end until Sayu came into his life. It was at this moment he started taking better care of himself because it wasn’t just about him anymore, he had someone waiting for him at home, someone he would end up loving.
Higrhiro is a truly wonderful tale and a showing of how the age gap genre can be done. It goes past the simple antics of romance to tell a story about trauma and finding one’s purpose. It is helped with this by the fact all the side characters work well with the dynamic minus the fact it does have the trope of Yoshida’s best friend never hangs out with him, I never really got why series do that.
Oddly enough that is something I respect about Koikimo, Ryou and his bud Masuda hang out literally all the time.
Age gap is a tricky mess to pull off but I do think that it is also one of the most rewarding and is a pillar of the anime medium. It is a little weird, risky, and questionable but none the less it is something that I think can only be conveyed well within the anime platform and the proof of that is everywhere to be seen. Let me know what you all think about these two series if you have been keeping up with them? I am generally interested.
As always thanks for the read!