Lovely Complex appears insubstantial and utterly forgettable at first glance. The heroine, Risa Koizumi
, begins developing romantic feelings toward classmate Atsushi Otani
; the twist, and titular "complex" of the story, lies in their heights--Risa is taller than the average girl, Atsushi is shorter than the average boy, and neither of them are terribly pleased about it. As premises go, it feels like a desperate attempt to create a source of uncertainty about their relationship, but it falls far short of providing an interesting hook.
Happily, as it turns out, the protagonists' height complexes are never a serious dramatic roadblock and the two seem to find a certain sardonic solidarity in their predicaments. Their shared insecurities are almost exclusively played for laughs, an area in which Lovely Complex excels. The story takes place in Osaka
, heart of the Kansai region and widely regarded as home to the most down-to-earth and humorous people in Japan; this is very much reflected in the cast of Lovely Complex and especially in the would-be couple, who are highly energetic, relentless in their ribbing, and immanently likeable.
Indeed, Risa and Atsushi play off each other so well, they're known as the class's comic duo, much to their chagrin. This image of the two is so ingrained in everyone's minds that when Risa realizes her feelings toward Atsushi, she finds herself struggling to overcome the niche of comedienne in her attempts to win him over.
As a love story, Lovely Complex doesn't veer far from certain stereotypes; a former girlfriend, childhood friend, playboy rival, and countless misunderstandings all appear and do their part to ensure that the relationship between Risa and Atsushi takes the requisite roundabout, bumpy path to its inevitable conclusion. Some of these characters get more screentime than others, but none of them ever hold on to the spotlight for very long. Nonetheless, they serve their purpose of stirring up drama well enough. Much of the supporting cast is similarly on the utilitarian side. Several are particularly well-characterized, but even the most boring are still somehow charming in their mundanity.
It's largely on the strength of the two main characters that the drama works, though, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's hard not to sympathize with Risa and Atsushi, whose quirkiness and enthusiasm makes their constant teasing and flights of fancy humorous. The trials Risa goes through to win Atsushi over--and the turmoil he feels as he struggles to see her as a romantic partner rather than a comedic one--are, for all the absurdity and wackiness, heartachingly human. Lovely Complex doesn't let the anguish overstay its welcome, however, as it switches expertly between comedy and drama (occasionally even layering the two atop each other) without undermining the melancholy or falling flat. It's an impressive feat.
Less impressive are the technical aspects. At best, the animation and art is serviceable; at worst, it's poor. Much of the humor in Lovely Complex relies on visual gags and these scenes are animated well enough. However, pans over still frames are very frequent and the quality of the art suffers noticeably at times. Given how bland much of it is to begin with, the result is less than flattering.
The voice acting is a little less spotty. Most of the supporting cast is unremarkable, but Saori Higashi
turns out a noteworthy performance as Risa's confidante, Nobuko Ishihara
. Again, though, the real focus is on the prospective lovers and Akemi Okamura
shines as Risa Koizumi; whether she's despondent, exuberant, or reserved, Okamura delivers. Akira Nagata as Atsushi Otani doesn't quite match his counterpart's performance--when things get tender and low-key, he doesn't entirely convince. Fortunately, most of his time is spent being brusque and boisterous, and in these areas he is excellent.
Lovely Complex has a number of hard-to-ignore flaws, but it manages to greatly entertain in spite of them. It's no mystery why: underneath all the imperfections are a couple of irresistible characters, dealing with relatable problems. Even when cliche after cliche rears its head, the underlying drama remains genuine. Combined with an energetic and ridiculous sense of humor, Lovely Complex ends up being incredibly enjoyable and a far stronger series than its individual components would suggest.