Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 23rd 2010
Episodes 1-5 streaming
It may be Nayu Hayama's first day at middle school, but there's at least one subject where she's already highly advanced: underwear. That's because her older stepbrother is in the business of designing such clothing, and so Nayu knows more about bras and panties than any normal human being ought to. This raises the suspicions of Nayu's classmates, who think she's some kind of pervert, but her honest attitude wins her at least two new friends—flat-chested Yako and busty Haruka. With some encouragement, Nayu decides that she wants to start an Underwear Club at school, to help other girls understand a subject that is usually only discussed in hushed tones or not at all. However, Nayu's good intentions may be all for naught when mischievous boys and prudish teachers look to sabotage her plans.
What is there to say about a show that dishes out a pantyshot before it even gets to the opening credits? That's the kind of forthrightness one can expect in Chu-Bra!, which also goes by the title of "If you people like schoolgirl panties so much, then here's a series about nothing but schoolgirls and their panties, and to hell with the story." Or rather, it's the underwear that is the story. As a result, we get something that is not only a skeevy fanservice festival, but also a semi-educational piece about young women's clothing, making it one of the strangest offerings in recent anime history. It's true that girls have plenty to learn about their bodies when puberty sets in, but does anyone seriously think they're going to learn it from a production like this?
In fact, the only thing that's gleaned from these first few episodes is that openly discussing one's undergarments and private parts is still not accepted in polite society, no matter how liberated and open-minded you fancy yourself to be. That's the culture clash that Nayu faces, and it's also the primary source of the series' supposed humor—oh look, here she is grabbing her friends' breasts, or flipping up their skirts, or chattering loudly about how to determine proper cup size. It may all be for the educational purposes of learning how to pick out the right size of underwear, but it's still crass, and really not that funny. In addition, the high quantities of fanservice—undressing scenes, upskirt shots, and boob jokes—quickly grow tiresome. In most other series, this kind of eye candy is something that supplements the main story, but here, it becomes the story itself, which is like having all icing and no cake.
Despite the embarrassing subject matter, however, Chu-Bra! does deserve some points for at least trying to develop a narrative. The first two episodes go nowhere, but the eventual formation of the Underwear Club, their first gathering, and the resulting fallout provide some semblance of a plot. Nayu also goes through a handful of emotional ups and downs in the process, and the flashbacks about her grandmother—from whom she learned an appreciation for the finer points of underwear—are actually quite heartfelt. (Less convincing are the relationships with her classmates, who were clearly chosen for their breast size and not for character dynamics.) In another parallel universe, this show may in fact be a touching coming-of-age tale—but here it chooses to appeal to the prurient interest, which pretty much seals its fate.
Now, if inappropriately dressed teenage girls are to be Chu-Bra!'s fate, then that must mean all the characters are attractive to look at, right? Well ... this one does offer various forms of eye candy—Nayu's got the glasses fetish covered, there's Yako for all the flat chest lovers, and Haruka for guys who like them big—but the simplified art style stops them from reaching their full fanservice potential. Sorry, but slapping some racy underwear on a cartoon kid with no curves doesn't automatically make her sexy. And it's not just in the weak character designs where artistic limitations are evident: the backgrounds look just like every other Japanese school of the last couple of decades, and the animation technique, although passable, is clearly geared toward cutting as many corners as possible. The series does pull off a handful of high-speed visual gags, but most of them are in the lowbrow cheap-shot category, like using metaphorical imagery for breasts, or having a character switch to chibi mode as she throws a fit.
Also, just in case anyone doesn't get their fill of bras and panties in each episode, there's also plenty to be found in the opening and ending sequences, which basically remind us what the show is about while also serving up a liberal dose of hyper bubblegum pop. The soundtrack, however, shows surprising restraint during the episodes themselves, with only a handful of comedy scenes resorting to peppy, high-speed tracks. If anything, it's the ballad instrumentals during the family and friendship scenes that leave a stronger impact; this poignant musical background helps the series maintain some kind of emotional core despite all the underwear shenanigans.
From the premise alone, Chu-Bra! sounds like one of those things that ought to send any discerning viewer into an apoplectic rage: this is the end of anime as we know it, and how did this ever get financed, and what on earth is wrong with society anyway. Yet there are moments when the show's earnest qualities soften that rage, moments when it seems as if it's not purposely trying to be tasteless—it simply doesn't know any better. Just like the main character, really. She's facing the everyday challenges of growing up, trying to understand her place in the world, trying to make sense of her changing heart, mind, and body ... all in the context of underwear. Underwear worn by plain, stereotypical characters. Between the ages of 13 and 15. And their clothes keep coming off, and they keep getting groped, and the camera keeps peeking up their skirts. Wait, you know what? It looks like that rage is justified after all.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Makes an effort to build a coming-of-age story and impart some useful facts, despite a questionable premise.
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