Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 28th 2011
Sub.DVD - Part 1
Two years ago on Christmas Eve Junichi Tachibana got stood up for a date without explanation, an occurrence which dealt a heavy blow to his romantic aspirations. Now a second year high school student, Junichi begins the fall semester with casual encounters with several different girls; some he knows well, some he has just met, but all represent romantic possibilities of different natures and the hope of offsetting his past bad experience. In each of three four-episode arcs Junichi builds a romantic relationship with one of the girls, with the story resetting to the beginning each time for him to take a different approach, and make different connections, with the next prospect. The first arc focuses on Haruka Morishima, a beautiful and highly-sought-after but also flaky upperclassman whom Junichi resolutely tries to win over despite being initially (gently) rejected. The second focuses on Kaoru Tanamachi, a boisterous classmate who has been a friend for years but only now are both she and Junichi starting to see the potential for their friendship to upgrade. The third focuses on Sae Nakata, a classmate and friend of Junichi's first-year sister who is painfully shy and cripplingly soft-spoken. With Junichi's help and encouragement she gradually starts to open up to new possibilities – including, of course, love.
Someone who is relatively new to anime, or at least not cynical about its content, might look at this “alternate universes” premise as an intriguing opportunity to examine something that most people ponder at least occasionally throughout their lives: what might have happened if things had gone just a bit differently in developing romantic relationships, resulting in making an entirely different long-term connection than what actually happened. More jaded veteran fans will quickly recognize this for what it really is, however: a dating sim game done in anime form.
This is, in fact, an adaptation of a PS2 dating sim created by Enterbrain, which is nothing unusual for an anime industry which has turned to dating sims or dating sim-like visual novels many times in the past decade for source material. However, this one differs from most of its predecessors in the way it structures its story. Instead of trying to integrate all of the various romantic threads into one main storyline with one of the ultimate “good endings” chosen for the resolution (and other choices sometimes explored in attendant OVAs), this adaptation simply resets the story and starts over again in a different direction each time it shifts to a different girl, just like a dating sim player who backtracks to a saved position and makes an alternate choice to go down a different path. The same characters and highlight events are always present, but the degree to which each girl is in the foreground or background differs dramatically from arc to arc and some scenes which do repeat happen from different perspectives. The most interesting aspect of the series so far is watching how background events and supporting character behavior performed by the girls who have been – or will be – the focus of an arc (and the opener shows exactly which girls will be and in what order) helps flesh out their characters and show what direction they go without Junichi's romantic interest. Watching how differently the “good ending” plays out in each case is also fun, and limiting each arc to four episodes mostly avoids stretching out a romantic progression just to fill space. The downside is a sense of structural artificiality not usually found in adaptations which do convert everything into one storyline.
The bigger problem, though, is that the series intermingles its well-constructed and involving scenes with broad swaths of dreadfully dull content peppered lightly with humor and the odd bit of cuteness and/or sexiness – in other words, pretty much the same structure as most dating sims. The writer and producers apparently recognized that this was a weakness and so pulled some gimmicks to try to alleviate the tedium, such as by setting the last (and weakest) of the arcs to sometimes-comical narration, but even those assists only go so far when most of an episode involves trying to coach an extremely soft-spoken girl to be ready for a job interview as a waitress. None of the arcs even have much of a sense of conflict or tension, as Junichi has no romantic rivals in any of these cases. The second arc, which focuses on Junichi and Kaoru trying to overcome just seeing each other as friends, offers the most meat, but even then the pickings are quite lean. The lightly funny and sexy moments do help, but sometimes not enough.
Mostly bland and shallow characters do not help, either. Junichi is a standard nice guy whose defining characteristics are acrophobia, a penchant for role-playing when interacting with his love interests, and an odd predilection for kissing girls in irregular places, none of which promote any depth. Haruka is cheerful and quite flaky, but her idea of depth is her concern over whether or not she can date a younger guy. (She does get the most satisfying conclusion, though.) Kaoru is a more stable cheerful type and does show a bit more depth when she does not take well to her long-single mother starting to date again. Sae, though, is just the typical shy girl who takes being soft-spoken to an improbable extreme. None of the supporting cast members stand out, either; Junichi's best friend Masayoshi and sister Maya are composite “best friend” and “little sister” types, respectively, and the other three upcoming love interests have done only enough to stake a presence.
While the writing may falter, AIC's artistic effort does not. These arcs' most impactful moments often lean heavily on the aristry, such as Junichi and Sae's entrance into the Couple's Contest in episode 12, the stunningly sexy dress Sae wears later in the same episode, or Haruka in her bikini in the first arc, and those work beautifully. Character designs favor more realistic looks, which means that most of the girls are pretty moreso than cute and Sae is the only girl who is even moderately moe. They are not all stunning beauties, either; Kaoru is attractive but not in a head-turning way, and the same could be said for a couple of the upcoming prospects, too. Each girl has her own completely distinct look and style of casual dress, though, and Junichi, in a rare development for lead males in romantic anime, clearly has some preppy fashion sense of his own. All are pleasingly-drawn and consistently on-model as they wander around in well-rendered settings. The animation is also surprisingly good for a series of this type, too. Sentai gave the series a TV-PG rating, but fan service moments are just racy enough to make that questionably low. In fact, it is a credit to AIC's artistry and scene crafting that the (for this genre) relatively sedate fan service, such as one scene where Junichi kisses Kaoru's navel, can be so enticing.
The musical score sounds like it was constructed from a dating sim's background tracks and thus is so innocuous that its presence can easily be ignored. The light and romantic “i Love You” serves as the opener for all three arcs, while each arc gets its own closer sung by the seiyuu for the featured girl. Of them, Sae's theme is by far the catchiest. Voice acting performances are what one would expect for roles like this, though the ultra-soft tone that Hiromi Konno uses for Sae is overdone.
Sentai Filmworks has printed each arc on a different disk, with all three disks coming in the same flip case. They have only clean opener and closers for Extras. They do not provide a dub for this one, either.
In many respects Amagami SS resembles another Enterbrain PS2 dating sim game which preceded it: KimiKiss. This one does not have anywhere near the same degree of romantic entanglements – in fact, its format entirely avoids them in favor of a laser focus on its romantic targets – but the feel of it, the way the relationships play out, and the way it looks are all very similar, enough so that a viewer who likes one of these will probably like the other. The converse is also true. While these first three arcs do have their entertainment value, the series does not have enough (or raucous enough) humor, drama, or pronounced fan service elements to hold the interest of those not taken in quickly by the romantic developments.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Contrasts between arcs are interesting, feature scenes deliver some great character and clothing designs.
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