When you have long black hair, an introverted and shy demeanour and the name Sawako which is so easily twisted to Sadako (or The Ring fame), I suppose you're bound to be teased throughout your school life. So it goes for Sawako Kuronuma, who fits this billing perfectly.
Oddly though, Sawako isn't a miserable, depressed girl however - Despite her loneliness, she still does her best to live up to the expectations of her classmates, even if she does so in what could be described as a naive fashion. In this sense, Sawako isn't so different to Kimi ni Todoke's male lead Shouta Kazehaya, apart from the simple fact that Kazehaya is far, far better at living up to any expectations, and is thus the centre of attention and the most popular boy in the class. For whatever reason, Sawako has caught Kazehaya's eye, and so this series (an attempt at a romance-based series from Production I.G. of all people) sets out to chart their burgeoning relationship.
In terms of this opening episode, we see Sawako finding a way at last to come out of her shell somewhat thanks to the guiding hand of Kazehaya (even though he doesn't particularly realise he's helping at all), while an end of school year "test of courage" proves to be the perfect occasion both for Sawako to gain popularity amongst her classmates by playing to her scary stereotype, and also for her to talk with Shouta and put their relationship on the right footing to kick off the series.
If this episode is anything to go by, you can expect very little in the way of darkness or depression from this series - Even Sawako's borderline bullying is laughed off inwardly by her generally cheerful demeanour, while her getting to know Kazehaya isn't fraught with difficulties and drama like so many other series, leaving them all but dating by the end of the first episode. If nothing else it makes for a refreshing change from a lot of other anime where the start of any actual relationship is the end-point for the series, whereas here it looks likely to become a staple part of the show pretty early on.
I'm not sure how this first episode compares to the manga in terms of either story or visuals, but in terms of the latter the way Sawako's character is handled is actually genuinely interesting - At times we get to see her outward appearance as others do, as a scary-looking and sounding girl, while her inward naivety and thoughts are often portrayed via an almost child-like representation of the character, which feels a little odd to start with but actually makes for an excellent visual device. Of course, inbetween those two polar opposites we have "normal" Sawaki, but it's nice to see a series making full use of its visual potential even if doesn't allow for the kind of beautiful animation shown by a series like, say, True Tears.
All things considered though, I actually rather liked this opening episode of Kimi ni Todoke - Sure, its visually functional rather than sumptuous, and its story thus far is rather light and fluffy with no real weight or depth to it, but it's given me a pair of lead characters who I can actually support and get behind, which is more than can be said for a lot of series that look to portray relationships at their core. White Album, I'm looking at you...