I’m heartily pleased to see that the anime community seems to be responding very positively to Tonikaku Cawaii. For me this is definitely a series that’s better than the sum of its parts. Hata Kenjirou is a funny sort of author for me, in that he trades far more heavily in tropes than I normally prefer. In Hayate no Gotoku the balance wasn’t quite there for me, and I couldn’t really embrace the series. But with Tonikaku Cawaii it works, despite those tropes being even more overused now.
It says something about the charms (and I use that word quite literally) of this show can survive intact even in a Chitose-heavy episode like this one. She’s ToniCawa’s fart in an elevator, the tropiest of the tropes with everything but Kugimiya Rie. The less we see of her the better, generally speaking, but her presence does give Hata the pretense to show how much more appealing the main couple are than the supporting cast (though I don’t think that’s the intention). What it comes down to, I think, is that Tonikaku Cawaii is saved by the fact that Hata is preternaturally good at executing tropes in an entertaining way – which is no small skill for a mangaka.
I think ToniCawa is better than Hayate for much the same reasons Cross Game is better than Touch (though both those series are obviously much better generally). What comes across as sharp and youthful from the pen of a mangaka in their 20s benefits from age, like a tannic red wine. I honestly think you can intuit from Hata’s writing that he has a much better understanding of what’s really important in life now than he did 16 years ago starting Hayate. This show is a reflection on young love from a man who isn’t all that young anymore, and his affection for Tsukasa and Nasa is apparent.
A writer liking their characters is really important, though it hardly ever gets talked about. I don’t think you could write the food court scene without a lot of affection, and the charm factor is really off the charts here. It’s as slice of life as it gets really, and Tsukasa’s intense enthusiasm for the vagaries of fast food is adorable. These two are so different – truthfully, their tastes are about as diametrically opposed as you could imagine. But that just makes them more interesting to the other, and (for me this is the best part) they each go out of their way to try and show enthusiasm for what their partner loves. If that isn’t the grounds for a good relationship, what is?
This dichotomy is apparent when they arrive in Kyoto. Nasa is unsurprisingly gung ho about seeing the sites of ancient Kyoto, and equally unsurprisingly has OCD’d a detailed plan of attack. Tsukasa, meanwhile, is mainly interested in cafes and the manga museum. Anyone who’s ever traveled with a partner – romantic or otherwise – who has divergent tastes can identify with this situation to be sure. In the food court Tsukasa scolds Nasa for wanting a beef bowl from a chain restaurant (delicious or not) when he can get that in Tokyo. In Kyoto, he scolds her for seeking out cafes and bakeries which Tokyo is chock-a-block with them. This could lead to strife (as Chitose desperately hopes) but it doesn’t – because each of them is willing to give a little.
Nasa and Tsukasa are an interesting blend of old soul (no comment) and young lovers traits, in a way that’s totally endearing. In some respects they resemble a couple who’ve been married 30 years, but the full flush of first love is still rosy on their cheeks. I adore them, in case it isn’t obvious – for me, this pair is Hata at his very best. Nasa’s pearl of wisdom that you don’t get married because you’ve proven you’re in love but in order to prove you’re in love is the product of a writer who’s lived a bit of life and started to understand it, and his finding his voice through his idealistic protagonists is no doubt why they combine those young/traits. And it’s a major reason why Tonikaku Cawaii works as well as it does.