Bokura ga Ita (We Were There) is one of those shows that has a natural tendency to fly under the radar. It neither looks nor sounds like anything special, and while the bulk of other romantic dramas tend to lean on sweepingly dramatic scenes and/or an outrageously quirky cast to carry the narrative, Bokura ga Ita is, on the surface at least, fairly plain in comparison. There aren’t really any major surprises to be had, and both the story and its characters are slow and steady in developing. That’s the beauty of the series though – for all that it’s still an orchestrated drama anime, it feels remarkably true to life, and better still, true to itself.
While things are gradually changing, many anime viewers are no doubt very well-acquainted with romance shows that begin with the crush and end with the confession; a long, drawn-out story (often filled with much blushing and tsundere posturing) that eventually concludes on the mutual understanding that two people are now In Love and can therefore Officially Date. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this model, although the time-honoured ‘will he/she, won’t he/she finally say it’ dynamic does get tiresome after a while. Bokura ga Ita takes a different tack almost immediately with the declaration taking place in episode two, which leaves the rest of the series to focus primarily on the development of an already-established romantic relationship rather than the build-up to the beginning of one. There are of course starts and stops as our main couple deal with the inevitable obstacles along the way, but this is basically a show about a couple interacting with one another instead of dancing around the whole dating issue.
This means that Bokura ga Ita has a very minimalist plot. It has neither a large cast like Honey and Clover nor a psychological bent like Kare Kano, and little in the way of either major comedy or melodrama as with Toradora! or Kimi no Todoke respectively. The fanservice is nonexistent, so needless to say, you shouldn’t go into this expecting any panty shots either. Thankfully, what this anime does have is a remarkably firm grasp on how adolescence actually works. Can anyone name me, say, five high school anime shows that take the time to really deal with the likes of sex, death, and relationship abuse? Go ahead, I’ll wait while you Google that. Bokura ga Ita is far from flashy, but it has more authenticity to it than the vast majority of other romance anime out there, and none of its themes are presented for shock value either. If the admittedly incredibly slow pacing can be a little frustrating at times, the show makes up for it with its subtle and multilayered approach to its storytelling.
If that sounds vaguely depressing, try not to be too alarmed. For all its realism and sometimes slightly dark subject matter, Bokura ga Ita isn’t lacking in its joyous, funny, or occasionally sillier moments. The comedy is a joy to experience, because it not only helps to balance the series out but also feels like it’s occurring naturally. These scenes are for the most part short-lived and small in scale, but they had me genuinely laughing out loud to myself anyway, or even occasionally gasping at their audacity, and none of them come across as forced or cheap. While Bokura ga Ita isn’t what I’d call a particularly light-hearted anime, it does know how to have fun and it won’t leave you feeling miserable or cynical – merely thoughtful.
In terms of visual style, Bokura ga Ita doesn’t worry itself with being fancy. Muted colours and a marked lack of movement and detail, especially in comparison to a lot of the other titles to have been released around the same time, don’t make for a big splash, although this is well in keeping with the overall tone of the series. The character designs aren’t ugly, but since the real meat of the piece lies in the internal rather than the external drama, it’s easy to tell that the visuals aren’t Bokura ga Ita’s main concern. Actually, I have more of an issue with the sound – both the OP and ED are dull, overly cutesy affairs that, while not offensively bad, certainly don’t warrant a second listen. The insert songs are about as unmemorable, making me wish that more effort had gone into the show’s musical choices.
Still, if that’s the worst I can say of it, then Bokura ga Ita a rare drama indeed. At 26 episodes in length it’s a little too stretched out, and it won’t be winning any awards for production values, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a halfhearted attempt. For its surprisingly realistic depiction of teenage romance, and for including those factors that so many anime set in high school either treat as a joke or shy away from completely, Bokura ga Ita has my utmost respect.
Question of the post: What do you think of Bokura ga Ita, and how does it stack up against other anime high school romance titles you’ve seen?