KoiChoco ended up being like a sandwich with a delicious filling on slightly stale bread.
I’m going away from KoiChoco with a mostly positive feeling, though the conclusion doesn’t show off the series at its best. The concluding episode (there will be a bonus BD ep, which looks like a beach/service episode) was better than the one that preceded it, but it doesn't really stack up as the conclusion I really felt the show deserved. There were some really interesting things happening in the middle of the run, most of which sort of got lost in the stampede to get things done on-time with the pre-ordained results.
As much as any show in recent memory (well, perhaps not as much as Sakamichi no Apollon), KoiChoco is one that really would have been well-served with a second cour. This was a series with a really, really big story – in fact, it was the plot that had me hooked into the show long before I became attached to the characters. The title really was truth-in-advertising as you had three separate threads that all needed telling, though in the end “Chocolate” ended up being a subset of “Love”. I think both the romance and politics plotlines ended up being hurt by the rushed nature of the adaptation, and neither ended as satisfyingly as they should have.
Let’s start with “Love” as for me that’s the more clear-cut analysis. In reflecting on KoiChoco, it seems to me that a Chisato route was certainly possible – but it would have required two cours to do adequately. Whereas a Satsuki route (or Hazuki, though that was never going to happen) would have been a better choice for one cour. My reasoning is simple: Chisato’s story is far, far too complicated to properly develop in 12 episodes while trying to also spin a very complex tale able politics and cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Because of all the baggage between Chisato and Yuuki, their “romance” ended up feeling more dysfunctional (and a bit disturbing) than anything else. We never had time to properly explore her traumas, how she was dealing with them, and the complicated healing process that would have to occur for her to end up romantically linked with Yuuki in a healthy way. Instead, it all just sort of happened in the last three episodes. The net effect on the audience (or this part of it, at least) is indifference at best, and possibly some real discomfort with the results at worst.
With Satsuki, it would have been possible to do a very convincing route in one cour – in fact, it seemed as if that was exactly what KoiChoco was doing for about eight episodes. Her relationship with Yuuki is much more straightforward, without all the heavy lifting of the traumatic Chisato story. They meet through politics, initially rivals but honorable ones, and a spark forms. There’s the issue of the support for financial aid students, but it would have been fascinating to watch the process of the two of them trying to work that out (which was sadly glossed over in the end). Plus, not unimportantly, there was a real romantic chemistry between the two of them – and Hazuki’s presence makes the relationship even more interesting. I think that story would have worked better in the context of what the anime seemed to be trying to do, but what we got was something like two series awkwardly cobbled together, the latter being extremely rushed in order to get it finished in time.
Of course I see some viewers dismissing these criticisms as simple sour grapes over which girl “won” and which lost, but for me – and indeed for most who agree with me, I suspect – it’s not about that. I won’t deny that Chisato as presented in the anime didn't come off as an especially appealing character or that I would have preferred a Satsuki end, that’s not a problem for me in itself – I simply think the anime was ill-served by the direction the series went. If they were going for a Chisato route I think some things needed to be done differently in the first eight or nine episodes – and if they had, we might have missed out on some of the most charming parts of the anime. Why not go the Satsuki route, which fit so much better with a one-cour adaptation, and have the best of both worlds?
The “Elections” part of the story was undoubtedly the highlight of KoiChoco for me – but here again, I don’t think it got the ending it deserved. Unlike most anime that touch on school politics, KoiChoco treated the political game as an end in and of itself. It was clear from the beginning that there was a real love for the topic in the writing, and a lot of little details were just right. Of course I’ve never heard of a high school remotely like this in real life – the money, the student autonomy, the Byzantine power struggled – but once you suspended your disbelief, it made a great vehicle for exploring the world of real-world electioneering. As a neophyte, Yuuki was a good stand-in for the audience, and having his eyes opened to the world of polling, stalking horse candidacies and backroom power-brokering was fascinating.
Perhaps the most interesting element of this storyline was the very real policy question at the heart of the campaign – what to do with the financial aid students, and about the clubs. Satsuki could have been cast as the villain for wanting to shut clubs down but it was made clear that there were some genuinely frivolous examples out there, and she wanted to use the money for a good purpose – one which Yuuki, through the presence of Aomi, came to support himself. Here again we saw an interesting lesson in real world politics, as Mouri argued that Yuuki would be foolish to take up the cause of a small minority before the election and possibly cost himself votes, where if he kept his mouth shut and won the election he might be able to help those students. It’s an interesting dilemma, especially considering the divide between Satsuki and Yuuki, and it’s what I was hoping the final episode would focus on.
Rather than that, though, what we got was a spy thriller ending – one that was rather exciting for a while, though ultimately a disappointment. I did like seeing so much explained – such as Shiohama’s crossdressing (yet another subterfuge, this time for more club funds) though we were left with some unsolved mysteries, like the moheji mask. The players ended up filling the roles more or less as I expected. Oosawa was behind Chisato’s kidnapping in an attempt to blackmail Yuuki and help Moheji win (the deal between the Katahira Faction and General Affairs that Kana almost paid with her life for uncovering) and Mouri ended up being one of the good guys after all when he learned of the truth. Yuuki rescued Chisato with Mouri’s help and showed up at the last possible moment, hijacked the microphone and made an inspiring speech to the students. Thus persuaded, they dismissed the scandal story that Oosawa had planted, and voted him President – Satsuki ends up as his Veep (and a member of the Food Club - I would have been happier with an ending where she won the election.). Presumably a decision was reached between the two of them to help the financial aid students without dissolving the clubs, but those details are sadly absent.
KoiChoco, then, ends up being quite an odd series for me. It had the same slow start that romance VNs usually have, and the first couple of eps left me fairly indifferent. Once Chisato stepped to the forefront and everything began a headlong rush to the conclusion, the flaws in structure really began to assert themselves. But for about half its run, this was a really good show – charming, good-natured, smart, funny and genuinely interesting. The plot was compelling and well laid-out, and the character development surrounding Yuuki, The Shinonome Sisters and Mifuyu was excellent. As a character-first viewer it’s very rare that a show can keep me hooked in mostly with plot, but KoiChoco did – and the character side eventually almost caught up. AIC and veteran writer Takayama Katsuhiko did a lot of things right here, and delivered more good content over the course of 12 episodes than a vast majority of anime are able to. It’s just a shame that some unwise choices led to a somewhat indifferent conclusion, but that doesn’t negate all the good things KoiChoco was able to accomplish.