The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior

Apr 6th 2014

Hope Chapman

Rating: 2.5

Review:
Gentlemen, take note: don't be an Usa. Who is Usa? Usa is the protagonist of this springtime romance offering with a really long title from Brains' Base. He's just an ordinary high school student (aren't they all) who wants to make the most of his youth, meet cool friends and get a wonderful girlfriend. Unfortunately, he's starting the year off in a hostel filled with weirdos instead. I don't feel too bad for Usa though, because I would say he's just as bad as his weirdo housemates. Frankly, Usa is a little creepy. At least his quirky landlady, pervy roommate, and the strange girls living in the ladies' end of the building are honest about all their idiosyncrasies. Usa seems to be wholly unaware that his "love at first sight" stalking of classmate Ritsu is getting out of hand. He stares at her from the shadows and fantasizes about dating her several times a day. He mourns the parts of her personality he doesn't like and hopes he can change them if she becomes his girlfriend, despite having barely gotten to know her at all. It's clear she's a nice girl who simply hasn't noticed him, preoccupied with reading her favorite books and y'know, living her life, but he's disappointed that the lack of attention she's given the few words they exchanged means she's a cold fish and not the ideal high school girlfriend he's been dreaming of. Yeah, Usa's a wormy little tool when you really think about it.

There's a standard Takahashi-influenced formula at the core of Kawai Complex, so there's sure to be plentiful "will they or won't they" romcom hijinks in coming episodes, and you're either on board for that or you're not. Aside from the unique visuals, there's nothing else unique to comment on, it's just a competent re-iteration of a familiar, soul-soothing formula for romantic anime fans who also like some mild naughty humor in their schmaltz. Give it a test drive and if you like the characters, the presentation is pleasant enough to compensate for all the nothing they might get up to for the next several episodes.

On the note of those unique visuals, the production design here isn't bad, it's clear a lot of work went into the backgrounds and art design, but I'm not really a fan either. It reminds me too much of walking through Artist's Alley at a con and seeing people gravitate toward color-crazy bloom-intensive prints regardless of the quality of the painting underneath. It's overworked chintz masquerading as luxury, the Las Vegas of anime art design so to speak. Everything's weirdly oversaturated, and light sources don't make sense and are constantly changing. It doesn't look terrible by any means, but most of the self-indulgent splendor adds nothing to the otherwise standard romcom tonally. It's like if a Shinkai movie were operating under Shaft visual logic, and it's definitely a love it or hate it sort of thing.

Despite a handful of lame, tasteless jokes, Kawai Complex Guide is a pretty inoffensive little romcom with an attractive and okay cast, so it might be worth a look if the previews appeal to you. Just don't be an Usa. He's a little more "nice guy" than nice guy.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior
is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Usa's parents have to move for work, and he seizes that opportunity to live on his own and make up for his terrible middle school years. (And after the phone call he has with his mother, who can blame him?) He moves into Kawai Complex, a boarding house run by the adorable Sumiko-san, only to find out that he will be sharing a room, more or less, with Shiro, a not-so-closet pervert. This is nearly a deal breaker for Usa, but then he finds out that the girl he started crushing on in the library, Ritsu, is also a boarder. Maybe he can deal with the less savory tenants after all?

If the premise of this show is fairly unremarkable, seeming a bit like a Maison Ikkoku knock-off, the execution of it is fine. Kawai Complex has just enough wackiness to balance out the fact that Shiro is totally creepy and that Mayumi is really annoying, and Ritsu's character looks like it has potential. In fact, I'm hoping that they'll go into her living her books as the opening theme implies, which could certainly add some fun to the show. The fact that Sumiko is a perfectly normal and motherly figure is a point in the show's favor, as she serves, at least in this episode, to balance out the crazier members of the cast, specifically calling them out when they misbehave or do something foolish. That other characters appear to recognize each others' flaws is also a plus, and drastically reduces the annoying factor of some overused types, such as Perpetually Drunk Busty Woman or Creepy Pervert. Usa himself has some appeal in the way he sees himself as utterly sane and normal, even when some of his actions in attempting to see Ritsu would indicate otherwise. In other words, Kawai Complex has a sense of humor about itself that makes it more fun to watch than it might otherwise have been.

The visuals are a mixed bag here, with a lot of characters on still or bright backgrounds, and for some reasons there are a lot of polka dots in use. This episode also has a surprising amount of text written in bright colors against the background, which probably worked better when there weren't translators trying to squeeze subtitles in against them. There's something appealing about how the characters look, which alleviates some of the background issues, and Ritsu's subtle changes of expression work very well with her character.

My one major issue here is probably unique to me, but I have to wonder – is it intentionally “manors” in the title, as in “large houses?” Or should it have been “manners,” as in proper behavior? The Complex certainly could be classified as a “manor,” but the show looks more about manners...regardless, Kawai Complex looks to take an anime staple, that of disparate people living together in a boarding house of some kind, and does good things with it. It's worth a watch.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3

Review:
At first blush, The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is deceptively laid-back and charming. It starts with a soft, lilting piano score, which accompanies a scene of a boy walking to the library. His eyes are bright, his hair is tousled, and amidst the hazy backgrounds and rays of late-afternoon sun, he spots a beautiful girl. Immediately, he's smitten. With everything together, it feels like the set-up for a Makoto Shinkai movie, one that will involve teenage love and childhood promises, but inevitably end in heartbreak.

Except... aesthetics aside, Kawai Complex (KawaiCom? BokuMinnaKa?) isn't much like that at all. Bright, shimmery eyes aside, the cast of characters includes a masochistic pervert, an aloof girl (who is not okay with guys stepping even a foot into the "Girls Only" part of the rented housing complex), and a drunk. If anything, it's a lot more reminiscent of shonen romcoms like Love Hina, wrapped in the fluffy clouds and dramatic lighting effects of more serious shows.

It's hard to say for sure after just one episode, but the weakest part of Kawai Complex seems to be its characters. Main character Usa is impossibly boring, and brings nothing to the table except a set of washed-up stereotypes—he lives away from his parents, bases his infatuations on first impressions, and perpetually plays the victim. He's the anime "nice guy," not realizing that it takes a lot more to woo a lady than just staring at her and wondering why she isn't more talkative. The rest of the characters are one-dimensional clichés, from the aggressive lush who makes poor relationship decisions, to the shameless pervert who has nothing else going for him in life. Even leading lady Ritsu is little more than a cardboard cutout with a pretty face, borrowed from past romcoms. She seems awfully icy, but underneath that cold exterior lies a girl just waiting for love.

The disparity between the series' atmosphere and its tired premise is the weirdest thing about the show. It presents itself like a much more nostalgic and introspective show, but it's anything but. It's a bait-and-switch, using puffy clouds and pastels to lure in suckers like me who now associate such dreamscapes with slice-of-life romances.

It's not that the "switch" is necessarily bad, but it's not much of anything. There's nothing about the first episode that really stands out. It's neither good nor bad. Yes, it relies too much on clichés and been-there-done-that plot devices, but nothing's used so egregiously that one might be immediately turned off. And yes, the characters have the personalities of stale chips, but they're not wholly dislikeable. They just… kind of exist, populating the old-timey walls of their hostel/manor-turned-housing-complex with flushing faces and watery eyes. I suppose it's entirely possible that the series will become much more interesting as the characters develop, but I'm not holding my breath.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.


Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 3

Review: A normal guy, the girl he likes, and a tenement building full of wacky neighbors… Where have I heard this one before? The long arm of Rumiko Takahashi reaches yet again into the present-day world of anime romance. Not that I mind. Of course actual creativity would be better, but if you're going to take your cues from somewhere, Maison Ikkoku is definitely the way to go. After what he describes as an awful middle-school experience, Usa Kazunari is glad to move into his own place to attend high-school. He wants peace and quiet, and maybe a chance to make a nice girlfriend—like that girl he sees reading quietly in library. Naturally, she just happens to be a tenant at Usa's new apartment complex. Heaven for Usa, though it comes with the Hell that is his mega-perv roommate.

With its languid pace, adorable puppy love, and lovely artwork, Kawai is youth romance at its most idealized: pure, innocent, and never less than radiant. It benefits greatly from two huggable leads—awkward Usa with his big romantic's heart and taciturn Ritsu, whose delicately rendered features and shimmering purple eyes do all her talking for her—as well as from the built-in romance of their gorgeous old tenement building. The comedy half of the show's romantic-comedy label is less earned, though the series does dig up a couple of chuckles with its drunken SD pratfalls and Usa's tsukkomi retorts. Unfortunately Kawai borrows not only Maison’s premise and overall romanticism but also its love of irritatingly antic supporting players, and its humor suffers accordingly. Sometimes Usa's neighbors are fun, but more often their hijinks are sandpaper on your nerve endings. That's especially true of Shirosaki, the pervo roommate, whose clueless-torment shtick wears out its welcome very quickly.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Theron Martin

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:
Usa had a pretty crappy middle school experience, so he is looking forward to a much better high school life. All he wants is one that is peaceful and might involve a gentle, intelligent girlfriend. One that he has his eye on is Ritsu Kawai, a quiet, rather cute short-haired girl he sees reading in the library; in fact, nearly anywhere she goes her face is stuck in a book. He also gets to live alone thanks to an arrangement with his parents, but his room at his boarding house turns out to be a split room with a pervert he met on the way there, one who is actually quite the masochist. Just as he's about to flee the place, though, he discovers that Ritsu also lives there, albeit on the girls-only side of the house. (And that principle is strictly-enforced, with weapons laying around handy for the girls to beat senseless any male who strays.) While he tries to get to know Ritsu better, getting her attention is rather hard. He has even more trouble with a drunk lady he encounters who also turns out to be one of the boarding house tenants, one who is apparently both a bad judge of men and a very bad, shameless drunk. But helping to deal with her does seem to win him some points with Ritsu.

If that description does not sound ambitious then the series is no more so in execution. However, that does not prevent the first episode from being very, very funny. This is a classic sitcom-type format: a boarding house where some oddball characters gather and interact. Romance may be in the air (at least if Usa has his way), but this is more about playing out the eccentricities of the characters and the kinds of interactions they generate; for instance, because Kinosaki (the pervert, and practically a dead ringer visually for Bleach’s Kisuke Urahara) is a masochist, the old landlady Sumiko has to address him as “you filthy pig” just to get him to run an errand for her. Usa more often than not plays the straight man in this, as every such configuration needs one, which effectively gives him somewhat of a Kyon-type role. But this one does not seem inclined to bring supernatural elements into the picture, nor does it need to. The humor works quite well enough as is.

The technical merits on the series are not great, as too often the character animation stands out too starkly against the backgrounds and character designs are not the prettiest, but they are not bad enough to be a distraction, either. While the behavior of Mayumi (the drunk) does get raunchy, that is the closest the episode ever gets to fan service, so it is a relatively clean affair, too. If you're looking for a basic, straightforward comedy series with a touch of heart that doesn't require a tolerance of fan service then you could do a whole lot worse than this one.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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