A rom-com that’s only sometimes romantic and very rarely actually comedic, but amusing and fluffy with a few sparks of genuine creativity.
On the morning of her 16th birthday, Kobeni Yonomori goes downstairs to cook breakfast and finds a fiancé waiting for her in the living room. Hakuya Mitsumine is the quiet, serious boy her grandfather picked out to be her future husband and now he’s come to live with her family! Joining Kobeni and her surprise spouse are Hakuya’s little sister, Mashiro, and Kobeni’s siscon onee-sama, Benio. At first, Kobeni isn’t really sure about how she feels about this new status quo in her life, but as she spends more time with her mysterious fiancé she may find there’s more than marriage in her future.
The Good and the Bad
As a romantic comedy, Engaged to the Unidentified is a strange case. Dogakobo is one the few studios who I’ve seen do 4-koma manga adaptations consistently well, but Engaged to the Unidentified kind of waffles between 4-koma structure and longer dramatic scenes. And, in all honesty, Engaged to the Unidentified isn’t very funny. There are a handful of good jokes scattered throughout the 12-episode run—like the recurring joke about Hakuya’s stick house collapsing or Mayura’s demure humor — but no joke commanded more than a passing smile from me until episode 7. In some ways, this reflects pretty badly on the general quality of the show’s comedy writing, as the voice acting throughout the show is very good. In particular, Eriko Matsui turns in a phenomenal performance as Benio, but her seemingly limitless range of expression is wasted on Benio’s tiresome siscon and lolicon behaviors. The rest of the voice cast performs solidly too, but there simply aren’t many funny jokes in Engaged to the Unidentified.
Likewise, Kobeni and Hakuya’s romance is fairly limited — usually confined to one or two scenes an episode — but, happily, these moments work much better than the show’s attempts at comedy. As a straightforward romance (with only a fake at introducing a love triangle), their relationship grows naturally and in small ways. Hakuya is especially impressive, as the core of his character is based around an unwavering, unthreatening, and (importantly) non-manipulative loyalty to Kobeni. The simplicity of his expressions of love towards Kobeni make them entirely adorable and the consistency of his actions in following up his words makes it clear in multiple ways that he is truly devoted to her. And so, as Kobeni gradually adjusts to this new status quo, her feelings towards Hakuya become more and more like feelings of love. I really appreciate Engaged to the Unidentified for taking this route through romance — the slow process of falling in love. Rather than giving Kobeni one big flag event, it’s through her daily interactions with Hakuya and his steady, non-pressuring presence that she comes to fall in love with him. It’s not really all that glamorous, but it’s a much more genuine (and realistic, I think) portrayal of how people come to love each other. Hakuya and Kobeni’s final scene together on the mountain, where she gentle chastises him for hiding things from her — “Understood?” “Understood.” — is a powerful, beautiful moment of understanding between the two of them. Again, it’s not flashy, but incredibly romantic in a very mundane way. It’s one of the truly special moments in the show.
I’d be remiss to forget mentioning Mashiro in all this, as she is unquestionably the series’ standout character. A pipsqueak of a ten year-old kid trying to be a grown-up in order to look after her spacey brother, Mashiro’s energy is irrepressible and infectious. The contrast between her adult affectations and childish nature is endearing and humorous. Mashiro also plays an essential role as Kobeni and Hakuya’s relationship coach, and seeing her gradually grow to love Kobeni is a touching arc on its own.
With all that in mind, the way the show’s narrative plays out suddenly makes sense. While, on the surface, the lack of impact in the comedy and the infrequent occurrence of the romantic scenes seems to leave nothing else for the show to be, what remains are slices of an odd family’s life — the perfect stage for Kobeni and Hakuya’s commonplace romance. And this is the key to why Engaged to the Unidentified still works. The scattershot romantic scenes and jokes that don’t make you laugh place the audience into the world of this family and let you live along with them, rather than attempting to entertain you with their antics. At least, that’s mostly true…
Engaged to the Unidentified really struggles when it tries to do comedy for comedy’s sake, a flaw most evident with Benio’s character. Obsessed with her sister to an unhealthy degree and later adding Mashiro to her “little sister collection,” Benio intrudes on the narrative and romance to an unnatural degree. If most of the comedy is merely amusing because of its mundanity, Benio’s “comedy” moments are usually plain unfunny because they feel like the show screaming, “Hey, look how insane and obsessive Benio is! Isn’t she freaking hilarious!?!” And the answer is that, no, she’s not funny. It’s uncomfortable to watch how she repeatedly violates Mashiro’s personal boundaries and deliberately intrudes on Kobeni’s life and selfishly interferes with her relationship with Hakuya. The moment in episode 9 when Benio deliberately smashes into Hakuya made me legitimately angry. It was about the farthest thing from funny possible. While most of Benio’s antics are less infuriating than that one, she’s still an unwelcome presence in many scenes.
Narratively, there’s not too much to say about a show as slice-of-life oriented as Engaged to the Unidentified is, although some of the dramatic beats feel a bit inorganic. Things like Konoha’s sudden proposal to Hakuya and Kobeni’s flashback in the final episode work on a character level, but come a bit out of nowhere. In the middle of the experience the moments usually work decently, but are just a tab too clumsy to have maximum impact. For a show as lighthearted as Engaged to the Unidentified, such stumbles don’t matter too much, but they’re issues that can throw off a viewer’s engagement.
For most of the series, Dogakobo’s work on the visuals are pretty standard 4-koma fare: cutesy backgrounds backing up jokes, lots of great reaction faces, fairly limited animation, and functional camera work. However, starting in episode 8, Engaged to the Unidentified suddenly starts to show a lot more cinematic creativity. Scattered in with the show’s established patterns comes a sprinkling of creative shot framing, dynamic lighting, and more effectively and artistically used animation. With the limited credits on the Sentai release, it’s tough to tell if the difference was due to a change in staff or simply a better production schedule, but it’s definitely noticeable and adds a lot of fun style to final third of the show.
Overall, Engaged to the Unidentified’s soundtrack is probably one of the show’s weakest elements — it’s infrequently used, leaving many scenes accompanied only by dialogue and sound effects, and few of the songs have much to make them stand out. One or two of the piano tunes are reasonably catchy, but they’re an anomaly in a mostly bland selection. Fortunately, the show’s two theme songs are top-tier offerings. The opening song, “Tomadoi→Recipe” by the three lead voice actresses as Mikakuning!, is one of my all time favorite openings, featuring crunchy pop guitars, energetic vocals, and an incredibly varied and engaging drum track. The ending song, “Mashiro World” by Mikakuning!, isn’t quite as memorable as the opening, but boasts a great chorus and funny lyrics.
Clean versions of the opening and ending song are included on the first disc.
Engaged to the Unidentified ends up feeling a bit unremarkable due to its lack of big laughs, grandiose romance, or flashy animation, but it’s an amusing, comfortable watch nonetheless. Kobeni and Hakuya’s simple romance is a bit of a rarity in a marketplace inundated with Big Emotions, but it has a charm of its own. Sentai Filmworks’ release of Engaged to the Unidentified is a solid pick-up for rom-com fans, but for others it’s of note only for the uniqueness of the romance.
Final Grade: B
This review was initially published on The Otaku Review. The original article can be read here.