I wasn’t sure what to make of this series after lounging through the first few minutes. The opening moments shared with the main characters seemed to me a tad bland; like something we’ve seen before. The set-up seems familiar: a lonely secondary school student lost in his thoughts while lying on top of one-tree hill and staring at the blue sky; a pair of girls, opposite from one another aside from their mutual attraction for the boy; a few hints of repressed love, lust or desire; and we’re off on another madcap topsy-turvy adventure through painful teen-angst with one mistake after another forcing characters into zany situations any rational human being would rather take in their stride than torment themselves over for more than an eyeblink.
Or so I thought. In actuality, Rumbling Hearts has a less stupifying and more sobering ambition than my initial kneejerk reaction led me to expect. Within short enough time (a couple of episodes) we’re already out of high school and on a slow-moving, flashbacking path through misfortune, trauma, self-destruction, falling to temptation, resentment, anger, loss and suffering . . . not what I expected after doing a double take early-on when the younger sister of one of the aforementioned girls whispered into the boy’s ear that she wasn’t to catch him eating out her sibling (or, alternatively–depending on how you watch this, i.e. with original Japanese and subtitles or with the English language dub–with his hands down her pants).
The melodrama is revealed only quite slowly, but with a sense of purpose and the necessary high notes when required–you do feel that there is a pretty bold and daring story that’s going to be told over the rest of the series. The flashback structure helps, I think, since it complicates what might have otherwise been a dead spot in the plot. Without giving too much away, there’s a terrible accident that occurs, you see, after which one of the characters is beset by grief and burdened with guilt. While we can empathise with these moments quite clearly, it’s still hard to remain alert as a viewer when the lively characters you’ve shared the past several hours with are sudddenly converted to morose zombies who fail to do much beside sleep, drink themselves to a stupor, pass out, sleep some more, wake up, acknowledge the passing of another day through bloodshot eyes and dark rings, then hit the sack again, perhaps with what can only be interpreted by now as a contemptuous sigh against the harshness of reality. With flashbacks, no way do we have to sit through all that crap. (Hey, we didn’t fork out thirty bucks for this DVD just to watch some poor so-and-so get sideswiped by the shock and tedium of a deadened variety of real life. Hell no, that’s what Second Life is for. We want colour and vigour, tumult and spirit, novelty and dare I say insanity, or at the very least a few moments of gratitious violence and sex. ‘Fan service’ is a different matter; no comment.) No, thankfully those moments that are better off for having been lost in time and continuity can all be communicated with a few simple montages, a pang linked to memory at the critical moment, the sudden elimination of sound, a washed-out colour scheme, a frozen frame; just some of the techniques applied here.
By the time the five episodes found on the first DVD in the series were finished I was good and ready for more. These high-drama affairs about difficult relationships, when they’re able to get across the care that’s gone into making them, have a way of creeping up on you and drawing you into that conflict of ‘just one more episode’ versus ‘I’ve got to work tomorrow’. They’re not always high on the list of things we like to quote to people when asked for our favourites, but we probably remember them fondly anyways, even if it’s in a somewhat self-disparaging manner.