Amagami is Japanese for a gentle or playful bite, the sort of thing a kitten or puppy would do to a sibling or parent. If you want to know the reason for that, you will need to keep watching right to the second of the two OVA episodes, but this is a series that rewards patient viewing in more ways than one.
Dating sim games are hugely popular in Japan, and are therefore ideal material for adapting to anime series. The obvious way to do that is with harem anime, but that is not always the case. The main problem that has to be overcome is what do you do with a concept that relies on a player following different paths through a game to end up with a variety of potential different girls? How do you turn that into an anime series? In the case of Clannad, the approach is to choose one of the girls to focus on, with the others becoming secondary characters. For Photo Kano, a big chunk of the series is given over to the favourite girl, with alternative timelines branching off after that. Although both approaches can work, the Clannad approach can leave fans of the other girls feeling cheated, and the Photo Kano approach can leave the series feeling a little disjointed. Amagami SS takes a far more literal approach to adapting the material, basically showing us six mini-series of four episodes each, but there is of course a lot more to it than that.
The main character is Junichi Tachibana and, unlike many series where one guy is the focus of the attentions of many girls, there is nothing much to explain why he would be such a catch. He’s clearly a nice chap, but there’s nothing remarkable about him, and the series lacks a hook such as the photography in Photo Kano, to bring the main character into the life of the various girls. With a couple of notable exceptions, this isn’t really one of those series where the guy solves all the girls’ problems either, like Clannad, but the straightforward approach actually makes for quite a refreshing change. We are simply seeing the different paths his life could have taken, each one leading to a relationship with a different girl, often dependent on the choices he makes (for example, volunteering to help with the school festival).
The girls are of course a mixed bunch, trying to tick all the boxes of the kinds of characters the viewers might want to watch, ranging from quiet and shy to popular girl or tsundere. If you don’t like one of them much it doesn’t really matter, because it’s not long before you’re into a new story arc. My personal favourite, and the only character arc my wife enjoyed watching out of this whole series (she doesn’t have much tolerance for anime without dubs), was Sae Nakata, who is a shy, quiet friend of Junichi’s sister, and he helps her to build her confidence enough to get a job and enter a competition. It’s the most heart-warming of the story arcs, and also the most entertaining. I also particularly enjoyed the complexity of the relationship between Junichi and old friend Rihoko Sakurai, which is a brave part of the series because it doesn’t play out quite how you might expect. The final arc is a brave one too, because Tsukasa Ayatsuji is hard to warm to, but she is one of those girls who hides her true personality. Junichi falls in love with the real girl behind the facade.
The series is divided into four-episode story arcs, making a total of 24 episodes with six different girls. This was an absolute gift for a fan of soppy romances like me, but also there’s more to it than that, because the various different girls also make appearances in the other arcs, and it’s fascinating seeing the same events play out in different ways, depending on the choices Junichi makes. The series also hangs together very well thanks to a central mystery. Two years ago Junichi was stood up at Christmas, and his sadness at that horrible memory has led him to be wary of attempting to get too close to another girl and also has tainted his enjoyment of Christmas. But why was he stood up? The first OVA episode eventually tackles that, and introduces a seventh love match for Junichi. I won’t spoil the story, but it’s a huge amount of fun, by far my favourite episode of the series. Meanwhile, Junichi’s personal issues concerning Christmas are really the glue that holds the series together, and every four episodes we see him overcome those issues in different ways. The final OVA episode centres on Junichi’s little sister, but don’t worry because it’s not what you might think. Instead, it’s about her worries about her big brother, and how she learns that he’s not quite the person she thought he was. It’s also really funny, and a great way to end the series.
Amagami SS has a second season, which apparently revisits all six of the main relationships. I will write about that in a future article. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Amagami SS+ Plus