Tada Never Falls in Love (多田くんは恋をしない) is an original romantic comedy anime from the studio Doga Kabo that aired in the Spring 2018 simulcast season, and it quickly went on to become one my favourite serials for the entire year. If there’s anything that this series did right, it was depicting the ways that victims of sudden loss and tragedy can become emotionally stagnant in their development of building healthy, nurturing relationships, or simply becoming incapable of recognising those relationships in their lives due to a terrible fear of abandonment. As someone who has struggled with this for nearly a decade, it hit me in the heart with full force sporadically throughout the thirteen-episodes. Yet, in spite of this dark theme, the show never stops being light-hearted and jovial; a wonderful contrast to the main character’s seemingly dispassionate persona.
Tada Never Falls in Love is about an aspiring photographer and second-year high-schooler named Mitsuyoshi Tada. One beautiful spring day while he’s out-and-about, trying to find that perfect spring shot, he stumbles into a lost foreigner named Teresa Wagner. In an effort to help her locate her companion, he takes her back to his family’s café so she can call her friend. This one moment of pure kindness shall end up changing Tada’s near-future in charmingly unexpected ways, particularly where his heart is concerned.
When you’re young, especially when you’re a child, your brain is extremely susceptible to an array of influences. For victims of abuse, the emotional development of those individuals can stop all together in an effort to protect them. This is one of the reasons that so many people who were abused as kids have varying levels of emotional capacities and understandings, even the ability (or inability) to empathise. Brains are powerful fucking things. If it can create this wall to save itself from intentional agony, what’s to stop it from doing the same thing from the unexpected heartache of loss? After all, isn’t loss just another form of abuse? The impact of which we as individuals inflict upon ourselves in drastically diverse ways, depending on the person and the severity of that loss?
While watching Tada Never Falls in Love, these were some of the thoughts that came to my mind as I learned about his past and the reasons behind his reserved nature. The series, regardless of being a romantic comedy, is in essence a story about the bonds that is shared between different people in our lives, and how sometimes the unhappiness or the loneliness that lies subtly beneath the surface is entirely of our own-doing; more often than not out of a psychological response.
In the show, we learn early on that Tada resides with his grandfather because his parents pass away suddenly when he was a child. There was some underlying unpleasantness prior to that loss that creates a vortex inside of Tada that is laced with guilt and anger and strong feelings of dereliction. As the years went by with him getting older, rather than confront those emotions, he allowed that vortex to slowly dissipate into a small, dark corner inside of himself, where he simply ignored its existence. Never confronting his guilt or his strong sense of abandonment, Tada merely shrank into himself, becoming a loner that never needed to rely on anyone else around him, especially in an emotional capacity. Up went the subconscious, steel walls to help prevent him from feeling any sort of agony that comes from losing loved ones. However, this also cuts off his aptitude to build or recognise long-lived, nurturing relationships, and the compassion that others had grown to have for him.
One of the ways that we can recognise Tada’s loneliness and fears of attachment is through his personality. He’s an aloof, quiet guy that keeps his interactions with everyone rather generalised and singular, including his family and his selfie-obsessed best friend, Kaoru Ijūin. Rarely will you find him delving into serious subjects or sharing too many details when asked directly about something personal. Additionally, he tends to avoid scenarios where an emotional bond can be created. When he shares an evening with Teresa doing a touristy event, the desire to reach out to her is evident in the ways that he looks at her and admires her enthusiasm and excitement. Yet, that underlying web of loss and grief that Tada is ensnared in, never allows him to confidently act on those desires. Thus, his yearning is left in limbo where it can be “safe” and guarded.
The second way to spot his inherent emotional isolation is through his photographs. Tada and his friends are all a part of the photography club at their local high school. When they learn of a competition coming up, they decide to take a trip to obtain the best shots possible. In one of Tada’s photos, he manages to take a breath-taking panorama of the stars and galaxy. Upon a first glance, the colours of the stars and the contrast of blues and purples to the night sky is phenomenal and so exquisite. But what makes it so stunningly masterful is how heart-breakingly lonely it is. It’s empty space, filled with beauty, but at a distance. This indicates Tada’s desire for wanting to have a strong presence of family in his life but never being able to grasp it due to the insurmountable burden of grief and guilt.
The theme of how suddenly life can change goes beyond the confines of our main character. Through artistically astounding animation that’s mostly done in gorgeous watercolours aesthetics, we see it in the scenic portrayals of the season in nearly every episode. On some days everything is vibrantly green with hints of yellows and splashes of red or pinks, then later the rain comes down, washing away the vibrancy in swathes of more dark and muted tones. Occasionally, there’ll be leaves falling to the ground or floating away in the local river as well, highlighting the chance at having a fresh slate to start anew. Cherry blossoms, which are practically mandatory in all Japanese anime, also signify the impermanence of youth and life, and how suddenly death—or in this case the wilting and falling of petals—can take place. Crushed petals are a bittersweet symbolism for memories as they are remnants of something beautiful to hold dearly in the heart, even though the moment in reality eventually withers away with time.
All of these elements are excellently exhibited, but it’s not for people who are searching for more blatant and upfront discussions on the topic. Everything is rather reserved and moulded in a manner as to be deduced and experienced with emotion as you watch. As I mentioned before, the tone of the series does have a veil of melancholy to it, yet the vast majority is quite carefree. There is plenty of humour that ranges from big, fluffy kitties who attack blond-haired boys that live for selfie-taking, to the dense club president that doesn’t realise his lady-love is literally right in front of him, to kitties falling in love in the night of blooming flowers. The camaraderie is rich with warmth and youthful effervescence that can occasionally smother more of the serious undertones. To me they come off as allegoric; a parallel to the duality and, oft times, density of Tada’s appreciation of the loved ones that surround him. To others, they may be clichés and a digression from plot elements. This is going to be wholly subjective. In the grand scheme, however, they definitely don’t do a great misjustice to the series as a whole.
Overall, Tada Never Falls in Love is a series that I know I can take comfort in re-watching time and time again. The solidarity of the friendships, the visually vibrant and pleasant animation styles, the charmingly whimsical opening songs and the cute kitties—amongst everything else I’ve prattled about—makes it the type of anime that I positively swoon over. Maybe it’s the relatability that I felt in Tada’s grief and longing. Or the warmth of nostalgia that wraps around me with the exchanges everyone has with each other. Hell, it could even be the serenely delightful musical score. Whatever the reason, I loved this series and I highly recommend it to people who fancy feel-good romantic comedies and slice-of-life type narratives, as well as to those who enjoy beautiful animation quality.