Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Mayu Morita is a quiet, shy girl with some social issues. Her best friend is Miki, an outspoken chatterbox prone to frequent crushes, and the two often can be found with Chihiro and shy Hana. Together the four girls go to festivals, experience school life, and sleepovers. The biggest issue they have? The way that Morita's inability to communicate easily scares Hana and generally makes people misunderstand her...and Mom's advice doesn't often help.
The slice-of-life genre in anime is rarely so condensed down to its essence as with the three-minute episode. There is no room for anything but the bare essentials of the protagonists' day-to-day lives, and its success largely rests on whether or not the audience can a) relate to the situation or b) find some humor in it. Morita-san wa Mukuchi, which aired during both the summer and fall of 2011, isn't hugely successful on either front, but it is by turns sweet, humorous, and occasionally endearing, all of which make for a pleasant, low-key viewing experience.
The basic plot of the show is that Mayu Morita, a high school student, is very quiet. She has a difficult time speaking to people and also has a tendency to grossly over-think a situation, leading her to rarely interact with people outside of her group of friends. That group is spearheaded by Miki Murakoshi, who has pretty much the opposite problem – she very rarely shuts her mouth. Their “opposites attract” friendship works well for both girls and allows them to be part of a larger group that includes Chihiro and Hana. These four form the main cast, although Mayu's mother and two boys from class, Koichi Ono and Takashi Kukobo, also show up relatively often. Each episode zeroes in on a moment in Mayu's life, from her inability to talk to people to it being hot outside. Nothing is particularly grandiose or important in the scheme of things, but each episode does hold your attention for its full three minutes.
One recurring joke is that Mayu has a blank look to her stare, with an implication that she focuses so intently that it makes people uncomfortable. This is referenced several times throughout the series, most notably in episodes one, three, and twenty. Several others, such as episodes four and eighteen, make her social ineptitude the fodder for jokes. While there is no sense of outright cruelty or viciousness to this, some viewers may find themselves a bit uneasy with the treatment that her behavior gets. There are a variety of reasons why someone could have the interpersonal problems that Mayu has, and very few of them are things that we should feel good about laughing at. While this could be a case of reading way too much into the story, the fact that script writer Ryou Karasuma is also the individual behind Recorder and Randsell, a show that pokes fun at precocious puberty, it feels that there may be some validity to any concerns.
Watched in short bursts, no more than one or two episodes at a time, Morita-san wa Mukuchi is, all concerns aside, charming. While plots are small and rarely referenced in later episodes, each one gives a feel for the characters and their personalities while still delivering, if not laughs, than at least smiles. Episode four, “Girls Can Be Lazy, Too,” is a particularly amusing one, where the main four try to cope with the hot weather. Chihiro's suggestion that they solicit money for allowing men to fan under their skirts is amusing for the very idea, but also gives a nod to the sexualization of high school girls. Episode seventeen, “New Seats are the Luck of the Draw,” is also fun, as it pokes fun at the convention of having students change their seats and how that often is treated in anime and manga. (Rest assured, it is vastly better than the infamous episode of a similar nature in To Heart.) Other episodes handle more serious issues, such as twelve, where Mayu's parents aren't getting along, or twenty-three, when Miki doesn't show up to school and the girls panic. Even these, however, are handled with a light touch that makes them little drops of sweetness on the anime landscape.
The animation for this series is a combination of fluid and simple. Based on a four-panel manga by Tae Sano with very plain art and little going on in the background, the anime doesn't do much to go beyond the original's scope. Shortcuts, such as a lack of complex backgrounds and background characters or people simply not moving when they aren't speaking, could be a detraction in a show with longer episodes, but here don't really bring down the established tone. Even the opening themes rely more on characters simply popping up and posing than moving around, so if you're looking for a visual treat, this is not the place to get it. Voices are nothing terribly remarkable with everyone sounding right for their characters, although fans of Kana Hanzawa, contemporarily of Bodacious Space Pirates and Inu x Boku S.S., shouldn't expect to hear her too much – despite being the title character, Mayu rarely speaks. Music is fairly unremarkable, with most of the background tunes being standard plinky fare and the opening themes (switching at episode fourteen) cute pop songs. It should be noted that the first is a bit catchier, largely because of the off-key cat noises featured in the second.
Morita-san wa Mukuchi is nothing big, grand, or exciting, but it also doesn't want to be. While it is a bit too neat to accurately portray high school girls, it does provide a nice little rest for your senses, the kind of show you watch an episode of when you're writing a paper or in between grueling or annoying tasks. Despite some misgivings about the reasons behind Mayu's silence, this is a harmless bit of entertainment for when you just need the world to stop.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C
+ Generally harmless and charming. Watched in 3-6 minute chunks, a pleasant experience.
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