As someone who actively writes fanfiction and engages with fandom, Koikomo makes a lot of sense. A lot of people who dabble in fanfic like age gap romances: “age difference”, as it’s marked on Archive of Our Own, is a popular tag with over 50,000 individual pieces attached to it. I’d go so far as to say that the subgenre carries a specific, intriguing appeal for some. In many cases, it’s the notion of dating an older, more mature man (whether fictional or real) who’s got that certain… zhuzh about it. I mean, heck, I know that’s why I love Dante from Devil May Cry 5: he’s got that particular, silver fox look to him, is a little cocky in a seasoned way, and ultimately spins that into a quite attractive package. Plus, his motorcycle turns into a weapon! We stan a man who is multidimensional.
When it comes to anime, I’ve watched quite a few age gap/age difference romance series, the most notable being The Ancient Magus’ Bride. It’s much more my speed and taste, primarily because I love faeries. It’s also doing something different with the concept of an age gap, and the relationship between the leads never felt romantic in a sexual or exploitative way, at least not yet. I suppose that’s why I decided to give Koikimo a second chance after bouncing off it very hard when it initially aired in Spring 2021: I was hoping that maybe the show would subvert its first episode, which… it kinda, sorta does? Let’s say that more definitively: it kinda, sorta does.
The bulk of Koikimo‘s first half is spent developing a relationship between co-leads twenty-seven-year-old Ryo Amakusa and… seventeen-year-old Ichika Arima. That’s a decade and an entire generation between them, which is why I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why this adult Japanese salaryman is interested in a kid outside of meta reasons: the plot demands it and because teenage girls are always, always sexualized. Quite frankly, Ryo’s immediate infatuation with Ichika is gross, off-putting, and definitely makes me wanna call 119. I definitely carried that with me as I watched this romance series develop because I couldn’t fathom how this “romance” would actually function, and if it would ultimately hold actual adult male Ryo accountable.
Initially, Ryo is a genuine creep: there’s no nice way to say it. He’s uncomfortably invested in Ichika from the moment he literally runs into her, and … basically stalks her. Every interaction up until the show leans heavily into the romance is tainted with Ryo actively trying to romantically engage Ichika, an actual high school student, and her responding with a realistic mix of confusion and distinct discomfort. Interestingly, this is paralleled by Ichika’s friend Kai Tamaru, a fellow coed who clearly is crushing on Ichika. Compared to Ryo, he’s more age-appropriate, having developed a crush on Ichika in a much more natural way. In a way, it’s a shame that Kai isn’t the actual love option, but then again, Koikimo is very much invested in Ichika x Ryo, not Ichika x Kai or even my favorite ship, Ichika x Otaku Culture, since the girl is an absolute geek.
That said, Ryo does not stay a creep forever, nor does he remain completely ignorant of his actions and behavior. In fact, Ryo frequently seems to be aware that he’s going too far, and even starts to understand that he’s making Ichika uncomfortable. Yet that never stops him, nor does Koikimo ever seem to really make that stick until the last few episodes where Ryo genuinely starts to consider the social backlash he’d receive for dating Ichika. Instead, every time you think Ryo’s going to do the right thing, or maybe, that some adult will intervene… it just doesn’t happen. In fact, almost everyone in this universe seems to be hardcore shipping Ryo x Ichika (only Ryo’s father seems to be responsibly pissed and aware that like… this is a very bad idea), which is really weird, to say the least.
There is a potential upswing in episode 10 when Koikimo became much more aware of its leads, and started to examine the social implications of Ryo dating seventeen-year-old Ichika. However, despite some pretty big emotional beats – which include Ryo having a confrontation with his friend Masuda, his coworker, and his father concerning his feelings for and relationship with Ichika – Koikimo plugs away, and never really circles back around to this issue until the end when things conclude in a typical romcom fashion.
While the jokes didn’t always land for me, in a strange way (well, maybe not that strange) the show actually does a really good job of writing individual moments that are really sweet. Standouts include Koikimo‘s Christmas episode, which has really good tension, a sweet episodic plot, and some good push and pull. And heck, I’ll even say that the confession is surprisingly affecting and tender … until you remember that Ichika is seventeen, upon which the whole thing kind of unravels and turns into a very discomfiting series of moments. In many ways, I wish that Koikimo had been about a late twenty-something-year-old man pursuing a college student from the start; it’s a shame because there are lots of tender moments here that would have worked well if not for the uncomfortable fact that Ichika is seventeen. I know I keep saying that, but I think it’s really, really important to remember that she’s a kid. Twenty is the age of majority there, and Ichika is three years away (well, more like two years, but still) from being a full-fledged adult.
That said, Koikimo isn’t as salacious as its premiere, nor is it as controversially polarizing as it might seem. It starts to grow out of relying on the gag of Ryo intensely pursuing Ichika within a few episodes, and even starts to develop their characters past their incredibly simplistic character traits. By the end of this series, I felt that it actually did have a degree of awareness about the inappropriateness of Ryo’s behavior. Still, while I won’t comment on the online backlash and discourse on this series, I will say this: I’m not wholly convinced that Koikimo is mature enough in its handling of the incredibly fraught issue of an adult man actively pursuing a teenage girl, in large part because it features a Happily Ever After ending, and not, say, a time skip to sometime in the future when Ichika is more age-appropriate. Koikimo feels aware, but it’s still sidestepping Japan’s very real issues surrounding female teenage autonomy, which is a shame because by episode 12, I was kind of in Koikimo‘s court with what I think it was trying to say ultimately, even if the plot never untangles itself enough to do anything more than bringing Ryo and Ichika together as a couple.
And before some of you go to type that comment about how I’m potentially overreacting and can’t separate fiction from reality: just… stop. Just take a minute and consider what I’m getting at. Miss me with your, “Well, the age of consent is 13 in Japan!” because that ignores the fact that prefectural laws set the age of consent closer to sixteen, with most being the age of eighteen. Stop trying to find reasons to sexualize actual, living, breathing teenage girls, and stop trying to lean on fiction to excuse the issue of Koikimo being a love story in a society where teenage girls are commodified. Yes, I know Koikimo is explicitly fiction: there’s nothing real about this series, other than the real manga and its fans. But Koikimo isn’t a story trapped within a bubble: this kind of thing happens all the time to actual teen girls both in Japan and all around the world.
I’m not saying that there is a problem with watching the show and liking it. I think there is a difference between liking a show and condoning what it represents: you can like something and still have your own, informed opinion. At the end of the day, this just wasn’t a series for me, and my opinion certainly isn’t the end all be all: media is subjective, problematic faves exist, and if this is yours, it’s neither my place nor my intent to judge you for it. If anything, I actually find the series more boring than controversial, having all the pizzazz of a 3 p.m. soap opera, but none of the charm. It’s not even really all that dramatic: all it has to offer are barebones, basic romcom elements with the twist of featuring a central relationship between an adult and a teenage girl, which… really isn’t a twist, at least when it comes to heterosexual relationships in manga and anime.
In the end, Koikimo is just fiction, even if I found it particularly distasteful and full of foibles. Yet being fiction doesn’t excuse a lot of Koikimo‘s worst issues, which is… putting it lightly in a lot of ways. I’ll say that I didn’t like Koikimo outside of a few moments, largely because it was boring, and also, because I personally could never get past the discomfort of the age gap. Once again, that’s a shame because the show has a lot of elements that make it a perfectly generic romcom that’s good filler for a leaner season. However, when combined with unfunny comedy, average animation, generic art, and uninspired sound design, Koikimo is just not good as it is, leaving much to be desired from what could have been a very smart, aware story.