Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 18th 2012
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Medaka Kurokami is only a freshman, but she won the student council election by a 98% margin. That's no surprise to her long-suffering childhood friend Hitoyoshi. He knows that Medaka is perfect. Not just good or really good or great: perfect. She has no flaws. She can do everything—everything—better than everyone. She loves everyone and everything, no matter what they've done or how they think. She's always right and always comes out on top and always gets what she wants. And what she wants is Hitoyoshi to help her keep a campaign promise: To put out a suggestion box and fulfill any request that gets dropped into it. Hitoyoshi knows better than to argue. Plus he's madly in love with her. So once again Medaka gets what she wants.
Gainax is a well-known, idiosyncratic animation company. Nisioisin is a well-known, idiosyncratic writer of pop fiction. The two meet for the first time here in Medaka Box. It's an artistic pedigree that, good or bad, at the very least guarantees something interesting. Which just goes to show that pedigree means jack crap. Because Medaka Box is none of that. Not good. Not necessarily bad. Not interesting. Just…boring.
It turns out that the great Nisioisin/Gainax collaboration is just another mission-of-the-week comedy. Nothing more. The titular Medaka Box is Medaka's suggestion box. Every episode (actually half-episode in most cases) Medaka and the growing student council gets a request in the box. After which they go out to answer it. A few complications ensue. And then Medaka flawlessly resolves everything. Rewind. Replay. That's the show. Oh, there are little exceptions: Occasionally the helpee will join the student council at the end of the episode instead of disappearing forever. Once in a while Medaka will leave a request to Hitoyoshi or one of the other council members. In one extreme case—when an embittered opponent of Medaka's tries to recruit Hitoyoshi—there isn't even a request. But overall the series is formulaic in the extreme.
For a while the formula works okay. Nisioisin's self-referential humor takes the sting out of the worst of the clichés (and there are some doozies). His customary otaku-culture experimentation finds an outlet in Medaka, who takes the perfect-girl stereotype to such a preposterous extreme that perfection turns in on itself and becomes an imperfection in and of itself. He obviously has fun parsing the consequences of pure perfection, pointing out that a perfect girl makes a lousy romantic interest—she feels no need to be loved and loves universally, leaving no chance for an exclusive relationship—and that she commands just as much fear and resentment as respect and affection. Hitoyoshi helps too. His long friendship with Medaka puts a human face on her, and the fact that he's a punk tsundere in love with a girl who on the surface of things doesn't need him adds humor and a dash of pathos to the proceedings.
It isn't long though before the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Subsequent episodes are too busy recycling themselves to add anything new to the mix, so the series' opening charms get stretched very thin very quickly. While an interesting intellectual exercise, Medaka soon proves a very uninteresting character. Other characters refer to her as a monster, and while that may not be exactly true, she's certainly not a human. Perfection-inspired troubles notwithstanding, she's basically impossible to identify with. By the time episode six runs its course, we're rooting for Hitoyoshi to hook up with just about anyone else, even sadistic loli buddy Shiranui. For his part Hitoyoshi has an easier time of keeping us invested, but without any new developments to work with even he grows kind of tiresome. Ditto the humor, which with no new fodder must content itself with recycled character jokes and hyperactive weirdness.
What new material is added tends to do more bad than good. The new characters are frankly terrible. There's Hitoyoshi's shiny, princely rival Akune, whose induction into the main cast basically dooms the entire series. There's Nekomi, the school's devious judo captain. She's so devious that she has a devious accent and cackles after every sentence, which is good if you're afraid that your cringe muscles might be atrophying. The two extended stories (if stories that run one and a half or two episodes can really be called extended) are horrible wastes, both of them shoddy imitations of serious drama designed to introduce characters that we don't want around.
As for the folks at Gainax…their hearts are obviously not in this. The character designs are angular to the point of being crude, with wacky anime hair and rather feral eyes. They're neither attractive nor distinctive nor expressive. Just kind of…there. The settings are pretty much the same; they illustrate where something takes place but otherwise are just kind of…there. And so it is for just about everything. Sandbox Academy's uniform looks like every other supposedly cool fictional uniform; Medaka looks like every other busty schoolgirl; Akune looks like every other prince; Hitoyoshi looks like every other punk. Gainax can't even muster any enthusiasm for fan service: Loads of time is spent jiggling Medaka's ample bust and panning up and down her undressed body, but never once is it actually sexy.
And the situation doesn't improve when things start moving. Shouji Saeki and his crew put in the bare minimum of effort to avoid looking like total clods, which is to say far less than it takes to actually look good. Even the action scenes, usually Gainax's strong point, are curiously staid. The studio's customary ferocity bleeds into one of Hitoyoshi's early punches, and later there's a thrilling bit of bizarre water-skating action that betrays what the studio is capable of (and really highlights Medaka's monstrosity), but mostly Medaka Box looks like it could have been animated by just about anyone. Which is a travesty where Gainax is concerned.
That laxness is felt right down to Tatsuya Katou's score, which tinkles sweetly and capers madly without the slightest trace of enthusiasm. And who can blame the guy? With its half-episode stories and manic, ever-growing cast, Medaka Box is a busy series; but it's busy doing things we don't give a rat's rectum about. That's the cost of recycling the same story over and over again and populating it with characters that elicit as much sympathy as, well, rat rectums. The show won't suck your soul out or make you wish you were tied to a fencepost with a pitching machine firing fastballs at your genitals, but that's hardly a recommendation.
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C-
Music : C
+ Interesting twist on the “perfect girl” character type; Hitoyoshi is easy to like; occasional bit of action or humor that works.
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