Say “I love you” (好きっていいなよ。) is a 13-episode romance series by Studio Zexcs from 2012 based on a manga1 by Kanae Hazuki.
Tachibana Mei has gone her whole life without friends of any kind, thoroughly satisfied in her cynical bitterness about how people will always betray you thanks to some bad experiences in elementary school, when one day she kicks the most popular boy in school down some stairs over a misunderstanding. Rather than be upset Kurosawa Yamato becomes intrigued by Mei’s brash directness and decides he’s in love with her, thus beginning his efforts to slowly open her up to actually interacting with people again.
Say “I Love You” is perhaps one of the most realistic romance series there is, it avoids the high drama or cliche situations of most and tells a fairly gentle and straight forward tale of blossoming love as well as overcoming the scars of your past to find happiness again. The various characters in it act like real people where the problems they have are relatively subdued making them very relatable while it deftly deals with some rather heavy issues around bullying and high school kids gossip. There’s a theme throughout it of everyone having scars of some kind and how the kids deal with their issues informs their personalities immensely, the more antagonistic characters are consumed by their problems and lash out at others to compensate for their own insecurities while the people around Mei are all trying to move forward while facing their pasts.
Helping sell all of this is the animation. On first sight it doesn’t look like much coming off a bit rough even, watch it carefully though and youll see a lot of very subtle quirks of movement and importantly realistically distinct character designs. Mei is a girl who you can believe is a wallflower that everyone avoids or gossips about while Yamato has a charismatic aura which sets him apart from the other guys; its subtle details in the designs like that which help it sell an anorexic girl as actually being slightly too skinny without needing to exaggerate her looks compared to everyone else. All of this effort pays off as it makes the whole series work together to really become a lived in world that could be anywhere Japan or USA.
Say “I Love You” is a romance series, not a romcom and not even a romantic drama (even if it does have some moments of levity or serious drama in it). While this singular focus does help if you want to watch a romance series, the lack of supporting genres can make it a little TOO focused sometimes as theres nothing else to distract you from the central plot. You kinda need to be in the right mood for this, doubly so depending on your particular high school experience and/or how recent it was as they at least briefly touch on a number of different ways kids bully or hurt each other which can be uncomfortable. Thankfully it never lingers on any one of those issues as the biggest drama in the show comes from Mei grappling with Imposter Syndrome and her own insecurities as she had so closed her life off to anyone she constantly doubts why Yamato wants to be with her.
Its not exactly much of a downside but if there’s a chink in the shows realistic approach to things its actually Yamato himself as he’s pretty much a golden boyfriend who can do no wrong, or when he does do something to hurt Mei its purely on accident and he apologizes. On one hand the show kinda needs him to be like that as Mei is messed up enough that some balance is required to offset things; on the other it really makes him the least interesting member of the cast with the least amount of character development.
Weeb level: 0.5/10- Borderline 0/10 as the show avoids any of the overt Japanese-ness that comes with a lot of high school set shows.
Fanservice: 1/10- The only underwear shots are a couple of incidences of the anorexic girl looking at herself in the mirror in possibly the least sexy underwear shots in anime. While a number of the peripheral character discuss having sex its certainly not anything close to what Mei is doing.
Quality: 8/10- Its not something youre going to want to rewatch constantly and the singular romance focus can mean you want to be in the right mindset for it, but if youre down for high school romance this is one of the best.
Where to watch it: Crunchyroll and HiDive have the whole series, but looks like no dice on Funimation or Prime.