(Blast From The Past Article):
In the past year, many different types of anime have reached the shores of America. I, myself has seen more than my fair share of these anime for better or worse and I have taken a particular interest in one of the lesser known genres. The dating sim anime, as it is known today, struck me as something of an oddity amidst the sea of cliché that I firmly believed to have permeated this foreign entertainment medium. These anime provided new stories and fresh ideas, and for me, a feeling of hope from the imaginary depression commonly associated with the fall from the “Golden Age of Anime,” also known as the late 80’s to early 90’s. And so, as a way for me to show my fandom, I write what I hope to be a semi comprehensive guide and narrative to this budding genre. Please keep in mind, this is being written with little to no official research done on the topic, and many of my statements are based on subjective observations.
Inspiration for anime has always come from a variety of sources including manga, video games, and East Asian novels and legends. These sources have long since blessed us with such popular titles such as Rurouni Kenshin, the endless line of Street Fighter merchandise, and the seemingly eternal Saiyuki and its many renditions. However, 2003 saw the rise of a brand new source of anime, the dating simulator game. Not always seen as the most moral and tasteful of all aspects of anime, this genre has nonetheless come to dominate much of the anime fan-base.
The use of video games as a source of anime plot and content is not at all foreign to the industry. One of the most famous and a personal favorite of myself and many is without a doubt the Super Mario Brothers series, which continues to be one of Nintendo’s trademark franchises. Street Fighter, Fatal Fury, and the Final Fantasy series are also very notable anime titles that had their roots in console and the arcade. Final Fantasy VII is actually getting a fully computer generated, direct to DVD sequel which is due to be released in Japan soon if not already. This genre of anime is still living large today with popular titles such as Ragnarok The Animation and Square-Enix’s latest Japanese bestseller Full Metal Alchemist dominating the anime community.
The dating sim to anime concept is not entirely a foreign idea to many. One of the earliest successful anime to be based off a dating sim that I can remember would be To Heart which was released in 1999 and is roughly based of a popular dating sim of the same name from earlier years. Many people including myself, saw nothing special about this anime and found its simplicity to be rather boring. Although others may see To Heart as an innovative work of art, one undeniable fact remains, To Heart served as means for many of today’s top Japanese seiyuus to be noticed. People such as Kawasumi Ayako, most notable for her role as Mahoro in Mahoromatic and Aoi in Ai Yori Aoshi, found one of her earliest voice acting roles in To Heart.
The next big anime with dating sim roots that I can remember would have to be Comic Party which debuted in 2001. Oddly enough, this was created by the same group who did To Heart and actually carries a short cameo from the entire cast of To Heart in the first episode and repeated cameo appearances of Multi (once again from To Heart) throughout the rest of the series. Once again, this anime was not something to really take note of. In my opinion, the existence of a continuous plot throughout the series made it infinitely better than To Heart, but ultimately it still suffers from the same lack of an intriguing plot to the common anime viewer and so it falls into obscurity like many of the others dating sim based anime that will not be mentioned here. The only real redeeming value of Comic Party would be its licensing by Right Stuff International, making it the first anime based off a dating sim to be licensed by an American company to the best of my knowledge.
2002 brought dating sim anime into spotlight. Kanon, one of the most popular and known titles in dating sim community in Japan and Western countries was made into an anime. Kanon was very much a hentai dating sim, there’s no doubt about its less than tasteful origins, but the focus of Kanon was more so on character development and the story behind the characters. This resulted in a re-release of the game in an all-ages format and eventually the anime. The anime was an extraordinary anime, mostly because of how it liberally followed the game and took advantage of the character building and in-depth stories that made the game popular, undoubtedly the already established fan-base greatly added to the popularity of the anime. Many notable names in western anime fandom, such as Megatokyo creator Fred Gallagher, have taken a liking to Kanon and this has no doubt helped promote the anime among anime fans in the west. Aside from being obscenely popular, Kanon confirmed the presence of an audience for the dating sim anime and prepared everyone for many of the titles in the 2003 anime lineup.
Good old 2003; to say it was a great year, would be a grand misnomer, but to claim it to be anything else, would be just far too simple of a description. To kick off this remarkable year of dating sim anime Green Green took the spotlight as a small and very much unfitting glimpse of things to come. What originally started as an OVA in 2002 with no point, no plot, and next to no effort spent on animation, somehow became popular enough to motivate the creators to make a TV series with more than enough sexual innuendos to strike it down in any American television network. How this flourished on Japanese TVs is beyond me, but it was popular enough that a second OVA was released in early 2004 that would probably be best described as soft-core hentai. Thankfully, the rest of 2003 proved to be much more rewarding than Green Green could have hoped to achieve.
For me to recant all of the dating sim games of 2003 would be a horrid waste of time. Many of which were average at best, while others truly stood out among both the genre and anime fandom in general. One very popular and also somewhat small title in the 2003 lineup was Mizuiro, often listed as Mizuiro 2003 because of how it shares its fame with an earlier hentai OVA based on the same game. A personal favorite of mine, Mizuiro 2003 broke the proverbial mold when it was released. The story focuses on a brother and sister who one day discover a mutual childhood friend of theirs in of all places, the wardrobe. As silly as this premise is, the story quickly develops into a heart-warming story with excellent animation and ends all too soon as it spans only two episodes.
Another very notable title of 2003 would be Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien, the Eternity You Wish For. From the story of a couple of kids finding love in their carefree years of high school, it quickly develops into a test of friendship and loyalty as fate breaks bonds and promises made long ago. It’s a truly beautiful story that keeps your attention from ever episode. For me to even begin to summarize it would not do it justice, everyone should see this series or at least watch up to the second episode before passing judgment. Understandably, this may not be as pleasing to all audiences because of how it is presented like a soap opera at times, but it currently holds second place in the Top 100 list at AnimeNfo.com for a reason.
Many other dating sim based anime have since graced the western anime fanbase. Shingetsutan Tsukihime, Popotan, and Da Capo are only a few of the names that have resounded heavily in 2003. Each noteworthy in its own right, together these small, almost trivial titles of interest have come together defining 2003 as the year of the dating sim anime. Oddly enough, this newfound fascination for this overlooked genre must have finally reached the desks of corporate executives for Shingetsutan Tsukihime and Popotan have recently been licensed by Geneon Entertainment, and To Heart has made it to RightStuf’s summer anime licensing list. We as fans of these titles can only sit and wait to see how this strange new genre will play on the cable TV otaku generation. I for one, will definitely get all of Geneon’s Shingetsutan Tsukihime releases as they come out.