Koi wa Ameagari no You ni and Slow Start are two anime series in the current Winter 2018 season which feature or at least partially revolve around age-gap relationships. Yet the widespread perception of these two potential couples are quite different.
Even though Kondou Masami and Enami Kiyose are both likable characters, very few individuals want Masami to actually start dating high school student Tachibana Akira whereas most viewers sincerely wish for Kiyose to get together with high school student Tokura Eiko.
Unfortunately, I lack empirical data to quantify and support these statements. However, I must stress that almost 100% of the content creators (on both aniTwitter and WordPress) who had something to say about Koi wa Ameagari no You ni have mentioned how creepy the series could potentially be, have dropped the series because of the age-gap relationship, or have threatened to drop the series if they do end up getting together.
Meanwhile, I have only heard advocates when it comes to Kiyose and Eiko. The numbers are much smaller, admittedly, since the potential relationship was truly spelled out only in the latest episode (it has, however, been hinted at as early as in episode 2 when Eiko expressed interest in learning about the sort of ice cream Kiyose would buy, but that was also too ambiguous since Hana, Tama-chan, and Kamuri were also curious) which means there has simply been less time for anime-only viewers to take notice and provide their thoughts on this particular development.
So what are the differences? What makes viewers reject one particular age-gap relationship while embracing the other?
If it’s due to the usual deal-breakers when it comes to age-gap pairings, then both “couples” would qualify as being “guilty.” Firstly, both older individuals hold positions of power over the younger individuals. Akira, for instance, works at the family restaurant in which Masami manages (in other words, he is her boss) while Kiyose is Eiko’s homeroom teacher. In other words, the potential relationships could be considered imbalanced and the older individuals could be accused of taking advantage of the younger individuals should the couples actually become official.
Yet the age difference, which is undoubtedly the defining trait when it comes to age-gap relationships, between Masami and Akira is more pronounced compared to that between Kiyose and Eiko. The viewers are bluntly told that Akira is seventeen while Masami is forty-five, which means there is a considerable age difference of twenty-eight years. As for Kiyose, her age is kept more vague (I’m guessing that she’s either in her mid-twenties or late-twenties) while Eiko is a high school freshman (so she’s probably 15 years old). The bottom line is that there is simply less of a focus on the age difference between Kiyose and Eiko as seen in the vagueness and disinterest the series displays in accentuating such details.
On that note, Slow Start also puts less emphasis on understanding the older individual and on the consequences of age-gap relationships compared to that of Koi wa Ameagari no You ni.
In the latter, viewers are privy to the thoughts inside Masami’s head from the very first episode. In the former, however, Kiyose largely remains sidelined as a character until episode 7, which is when the viewers finally get to briefly see things from her perspective (right before the narrative switches to Eiko explaining what happened the previous night). Compared to Masami, in other words, Kiyose is more of an enigma since the viewers rarely get any insight into her headspace.
In regards to the emphasis on the age-gap relationships, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni puts the will-they-or-won’t-they situation front-and-center, which makes sense since this is what the series revolves around and is about. On the other hand, Slow Start, as stated earlier, has largely left this particular pairing on the sidelines until episode 7. There were a few instances in which Eiko’s crush was put on display, of course, but the series has largely been about Hana and her interactions with her friends, classmates, and relatives.
Be that as it may, the interactions between Kiyose and Eiko during episode 7, in which Kiyose wakes up after a hangover only to learn that Eiko has been taking care of her since last night, are treated seriously. There’s no soundtrack playing in the background (for the most part) to distract the viewer as a flustered adult converses with a cheeky high school student who’s clearly drawn to said older individual. It’s also rather realistic in that sense since there is no background music playing in real life should one opt to not reach for a phone or a computer (or even a Walkman or iPod). Plus, the sounds of their earnest words already do a sufficient job at filling the air and setting the tone.
However, the situation between Masami and Akira is treated just as seriously but in a different way. Since the viewers are granted access to his thoughts, the viewers can see Masami struggling to answer Akira’s feelings in a responsible and careful manner. He considers and attempts to spell out to Akira the implications and results that would occur should they actually start going out with one another. While the moments in Kiyose’s apartment during episode 7 of Slow Start were very solemn in general, the series does not consider or verbalize the inherent obstacles associated with age-gap relationships. The what-ifs are constantly discussed inside the setting and within the fandom for Koi wa Ameagari no You ni, but discussion in regards to Kiyose and Eiko largely remains hopeful and wishful thinking. The anime-only viewers are still not sure this relationship is feasible and will actually occur, but the ones who support the ship have already been won over and, like the series itself, aren’t really considering the potential consequences.
This difference in treatment is likely due to how modern yuri anime series are portrayed. They are either overly blunt in presenting their sexual thematics while hoping their core audience accepts the racy elements or they feature mostly female characters focusing on one particular activity (hence the tongue-in-cheek term, “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” shows) while many instances of subtext occur again and again. Yuri fans who watch CGDCT shows are aware that these shipping moments will likely result in nothing canon by the end yet will still savour such occasions despite the ambiguity and uncertainty. There are even some yuri fans who consider such shows to not even be truly yuri since the ships are often not finalized.
In any case, Slow Start, which is published in Manga Time Kirara which is famous for publishing “soft yuri” series, subverts this trend with the presentation of episode 7. It’s not just a cute moment between two females. It’s actually serious. And that’s exciting.
In regards to the ambiguity that is inherent in many yuri series, the matter of physical contact easily comes to mind. Having friends hold hands or tenderly touch each other’s faces or hair is rather common in such shows. Said instances also toe the line between friendship and romantic relationship where people who hold different interpretations will ultimately clash and never budge. What’s worth noting, however, is that Eiko confesses that Kiyose turned down her offer in regards to becoming friends after Eiko graduates and that Kiyose doesn’t hesitate to touch Eiko’s lips, face, shoulder, and hair. Given Kiyose’s rejection in regards to remaining friends with Eiko, this presents a rather interesting situation.
With that being said, the situation in Slow Start remains a relatively simple one (on Eiko’s end, at least). Eiko was initially drawn to the cool and aloof image Kiyose presents and is delighted to learn that Kiyose has other sides she keeps hidden. Eiko’s attraction to Kiyose starts off, in short, as a crush. Kiyose’s feelings on the matter, however, remains more difficult to read, but she continues to send some mixed signals.
That isn’t the case with Koi wa Ameagari no You ni since it’s heavily implied that Akira is using Masami as a crutch to cope with the fact that she can no longer freely run due to an injury on her Achilles heel. She, however, seems to avoid considering the implications or the timing of her fixation on Masami since she just claims she simply likes him (upon being questioned by Masami). Furthermore, the viewers are never allowed a peek into her inner thoughts and have no choice but to guess at what she’s thinking which may mean she herself is choosing not to think things through. Meanwhile, Masami is shown, through his internal monologue, that he is insecure about his position in life, his age, his missed opportunities in his youth, and so on. There are so many conflicting feelings in his heart and mind that he is unable to properly turn Akira down even as he attempts to present himself as a responsible adult (as of episode 6).
Both Akira and Masami are characterized far more deeply in comparison to Kiyose and Eiko, which means their flaws are put on full display. As such, said imperfections could be said to provide excuses and justifications regarding why they could potentially end up together in addition to explaining why they act in particular ways.
And yet, Akira and Masami do not need actually need to get together. As a series which would fall within the confines of a genre in which the “boy” usually ends up “getting” the girl, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni does not need to resort to such means. The “threat” of the relationship is already enough to get both characters considering all sorts of things in their lives, which provides a reflective journey in and of itself where the destination is ultimately not important and likely unwanted.
Perhaps the age-gap relationship between Akira and Masami won’t come to fruition. But the jury is still out when it comes to Kiyose and Eiko. As with all seasonal shows, we can only wait and see.