Wording is everything when making wishes. The last thing you want to do is get caught up in some weird business due to some tiny technicality… which is exactly what happens to high schooler Chiyomi when she, distraught with the stress of her current life, longs for the simplicity of childhood and wishes to be “little again”. Lo and behold, when she wakes up she’s only 15cm tall.
As I’ve said before, if there’s one thing that can rope me into an otherwise unremarkable YA romance it’s a fun and interesting supernatural element (or it not being straight. Ideally, both!). The tale of a relatable-yet-flighty teen girl being in love with her now-distant childhood friend has been told approximately a squillion times, but the magical shrinkage? That was enough to catch my eye and give it a bit of pep and intrigue. Unfortunately, My Little Lover doesn’t carry itself too strongly on the merit of its magic element or its character relationships, and while there are certainly some good points in this show I… kind of only made myself finish watching it because I got more than halfway through and knew it could make a blog post. So here that blog post is! Click on through for frustrating teenagers, cool grandmas, and hilarious and bizarre sexy saxophone music.
So, our hero is Chiyomi, who was once best friends with her neighbour Minami, and when they were little they promised to love each other forever or something of that nature. Aww, cute! Alas, Chiyomi has held onto this puppy love where Minami hasn’t, plus the childhood friends drifted apart after Minami’s father left his family. The two have a rocky relationship at best, not helped by instances like, well, um, running into each other on the way through their shared gate and ending up kissing by mistake. It’s an awkward moment, but nowhere near as awkward as the actors’ positioning and the use of slow motion.
Anyway, despite having a successful gig as an online writer (username Michaela Moon Rabbit, which, I’m not going to lie, is an insanely cool username for an online teen fantasy author) and a prominent role in her school’s dance club (where does she find time for all this? Isn’t the Japanese school system meant to be so rigorous kids barely have any free time outside of studying?), is down in the dumps and feeling unfulfilled. After a fight with her parents and an unhappy run-in with Minami, she runs and hides in the park where they hung out as kids and wishes dearly that everything could go back to being that simple and fun. And there you have it—she wakes up magically shrunken down to doll-size. When she’s declared missing, Minami thinks to check their special secret hidey-hole from when they were little, and is the first one to find the now-teensy Chiyomi.
Now, here’s where things took a train to Stupid Town, for me: I know that it’s a natural instinct for protagonists, especially when they’re young people, to leap to the “we can’t tell our parents!” dilemma when they come across something magical. Sometimes, this is a valid concern—your parents might call the cops and get your new alien friend carted away by the cruel government, or they might not believe you and thus not be able/willing to give you the help you need, forcing you to fend for yourself. Chiyomi decides that her family can’t know she’s been shrunk, and thus must hide out at Minami’s house because he’s the only one who knows her secret. Which… is pretty blatantly just an excuse for drama and for the two to live together.
Listen, it’s not like we’re dealing with psychic powers or some other kind of invisible supernatural element—if Minami just set Chiyomi down on a table in front of her family, well, she’s there, with her very visible magical ailment. It’s not as if they run the risk of the adults not believing her about it. Also, as far as she and Minami know, Chiyomi being shrunk wasn’t due to some nefarious force that’s threatening her family or anything, so Chiyomi’s not keeping them out of the loop to protect them. She just… is, insisting that it must be this way, and setting up an elaborate lie about running away to Tokyo. Maybe I’m coming at this from the wrong angle, but wouldn’t honesty be easier than building a tiny set on Minami’s desk and filming fake video messages from the fake dance studio? Then her parents and friends wouldn’t be worried, and Minami wouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of harbouring a schoolgirl elf all on his own.
Scrap that, I’m definitely coming at that from the wrong angle: Minami needs to hide Chiyomi because that lapse in logic steers the plot where it needs to go, i.e. along the road of the two old friends growing close again and realising their true feelings for one another. After being forced to share a stressful supernatural secret and cohabit. Romance!
From here, the show plods off in all sorts of directions, exploring the relationships between other characters, including the main characters’ parents, and the theme of choosing your own destiny and finding closure in love. Or something of that nature. Honestly, it’s all a bit of a blur, which is ironic because not an awful lot happens—even Minami’s grandmother (who is by far the best character in the show) discovering Chiyomi doesn’t present much conflict since Grandma simply assumes Chiyomi is the One-Inch Princess, a character from stories she told Chiyomi and Minami as children. Most of the excitement comes in the form of side characters being revealed to harbour feelings for one another, including Chiyomi’s best male friend having a crush on her, and Chiyomi’s little sister having a crush on Minami. Because girls and boys can never just be friends, I guess?
Interestingly, the aspect the show I was most prepared to loathe became one of the aspects that was the most interesting, and her name is Sayori. Sayori is introduced as the “she wears short skirts” to Chiyomi’s “I wear t-shirts”, the girl who is Smart and Pretty and Perfect At Everything in contrast to the Relatable, Messy and Average protagonist (though again, Chiyomi somehow has time to pursue talents in dance and published creative writing, so I’m not really buying the idea that she’s some sort of everyman ditz with nothing going for her). Or at least, we’re shown that Sayori’s smart and confident, and clearly has some sort of crush on Minami, which she’s sure enough of herself to actually pursue rather than pining for the past like Chiyomi does… soooo naturally Sayori is nicknamed “Pheromone” (by Chiyomi’s friends, who are clearly Good and Cool people) and the show takes every opportunity to remind us that she’s clearly definitely A Terrible Slut by playing sexy saxophone music in the background whenever she appears. I sincerely wish I was making that up.
Eventually, though, Sayori is allowed to develop beyond being a cardboard cut-out of The Bitchy Romantic Rival (she even accepts her “defeat” with an amazing amount of grace and maturity) and actually gets to have problems, flaws, and an emotional storyline of her own that contributes to theme of ambition and complicated family relationships. It’s still done clunkily as hell, but at least the show made the effort. Many of the other side characters remain caricatures, sometimes even when the show tries to show us their backstory or their true feelings, which I’m not sure is the fault of the writing or the acting or me just not being able to get invested in anybody because I was too annoyed and aware that the entire show could have ended in half an hour with some actual gosh darned communication.
This is allegedly based on a 1980s shoujo manga, so maybe I should have expected a certain amount of the dramatique. That said, the triple whammy of Sudden Tragic Coma-Inducing Car Accident, Magical First Kiss, and “We Got Married Right After Graduation!” in the last episode gave me a bit of a romantic soap opera overdose in one fell swoop. And why indeed does a kiss save the day? What magic inflicted Chiyomi with her tiny size in the first place? And why, given that the whole debacle was based around her wanting to be “little” again, was the cure not somehow connected to her maturing and accepting young adulthood? That seemed like the natural theme, given that starting point, but neither Chiyomi nor Minami really seem to have grown much by the end of the series, apart from finally admitting their feelings for each other. I guess two teenagers getting married was a more important endgame than strong character development?
I don’t know what to tell you all. I sure did watch this show. I have already forgotten most of it, apart from a few genuinely baffling scenes that will probably haunt the early hours of my mornings for a few months. I know that stupid sax music will…