Rumbling Hearts Volume 1 review
Full of Heart
From initial impressions it's easy to dismiss Rumbling Hearts as another of those high school romance dramas. From the packaging artwork on the DVD to the initial scenes of the series there are clear markings of such a genre. Delve a little deeper and this anime shows itself to hold much darker tones that tackles more painful experiences, and lets it establish itself as a great show.
The first two episodes start off along the familiar track, and to its credit it does manage to do this pretty effectively despite it not being the overall main focus of the series. The story begins with Haruka finally building up the courage to ask out Takayuki out, and the plot flow then focuses largely on the struggling relationship between them as Takayuki finds initial difficulty in making things work until he comes to a conclusion and accepts the relationship fully.
The pair are supported by their close friends Mitsuki and Shinji, whose roles don't bear great significance this early on but their own interactions and involvement help move things along. Mitsuki moreso as she is the one who plays cupid to the couple, but both of them have their own roles to play that hold good meaning.
Then it happens. At the end of the second episode Haruka is hit by a car waiting for Takayuki, and the end credits scenes are a clear indication of where the show is heading. When episode three begins it is three years later and things have certainly changed. The school romance is behind them and the series takes on a darker approach to the story. Haruka has been in a coma since the accident and a relationship has formed between Takayuki and Mitsuki.
This is where the dynamic for the show comes from. You can easily see the conflicting painful emotions that are coming from this setup. Mitsuki loves Takayuki but she feels like she has betrayed her friend for pursuing her emotions, and is further hurt by feelings of guilt as she continues to blame herself for Haruka's condition. Her emotional distress is further exemplified by her uncertainness; she is seen to doubt her own decisions and space out as she thinks back on more innocent days.
There have been other ramifications of the accident and the following years. Akane (Haruka's sister) used to look up the Mitsuki and even followed her onto the school swim team, but now she clearly hates her for what she sees as the ultimate betrayal. Although they only cross paths a couple of times the tension makes for some interesting exchanges.
Takayuki has clearly been affected by the situation as well. Although putting on a brave face, the pains in her heart are clear in his everyday actions. A few times this is made all the more obvious as he too experiences his thoughts drifting back. His presence isn't as great as the girls but it's enough to help push the themes.
There was clearly a need to counterbalance the dark themes though, so say hello to Mayu and Ayu. These are two waitresses who work at the same restaurant as Takayuki and provide the show's more light hearted moments in perfect fashion. Ayu especially works her magic as argumentative, who often gets into conflict with both Takayuki and even the customers. Her attitude is brash and her rants are really amusing to watch. Mayu's role is more of the shy innocent girl (almost as a reference to the school days startings of the series, minus the actual school), but her calmer approach to situations can be quite refreshing too, and often ends up in situations with Ayu as either worrying over it or ends up dragged into things. These pair also have their own little chibi skits at the end of episodes from episode 3 onwards, which is nice comic relief too.
The series makes good use of flashback sequences to explain what happened in the gap between the accident and the current events. Seeing the circumstances at present is one thing, but it's good to see the flow of events from then too and the execution is just as good as the rest of the events shown.
The visual artstyle used here is simply stunning. The initial episodes follow the usual bright cheery designs that you might expect from any decent school romance drama, with stylish uniforms and youth focused designs, such as Mitsuki's long blue ponytail and Haruka's cuteness. After the accident everyone is aged well, taking on more mature appearances more fitting with the overall theme. The portrayal of Haruka is amazing, as the years lying comatose really shows on her now frail body. Colours feel more muted than the initial scenes as well, which is a good compliment to the overall goal.
Quality is very high here too. Praise to the artists for transferring character concepts into animation form, with all the details fully fleshed out. Backgrounds are usually used effectively and the combination creates some wonderful scenes. Animation level is high, with some very convincing actions and the lip synching looks to work nicely.
The music style is that of a melancholic nature, with soft soulful melodies playing out gently as an emphasis for the sequences that play out. The ending song matches the mood perfectly by hitting the same kind of theme. By contrast the opener feels a little weird. It's a nice song but putting an upbeat J-Pop number in there just feels out of place. It might have worked if the series had followed the initial setup, but when it starts playing from episode 3 onwards it doesn't seem right.
Voicework is very nice. I must give special mention to Leah Clark, who despite not having one of the lead roles does an excellent job of bringing Akane Suzumiya into the spotlight during her scenes. From the comic banter in the early episodes to the scornful remarks in the later ones, the transition is seamless and it's nice to see her handle both aspects well.
Colleen Clinkenbeard and Kevin Connolly handle the lead roles of Mitsuki and Takayuki very well. Takayuki's schooldays voice might sound a little too bland, but afterwards his tone does seem to match in well. Colleen's transition works much better, as she hits the cheery tones early on but puts forward her character's pains in her voicework.
With five episodes on this first disc I can safely say that Rumbling Hearts is set to deliver a wonderful heartfelt tale. The characters possess significant depth and the emotionally charged conflicts make for an engaging series.
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