Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
High school student Eita Kaido became disillusioned about love when his parents split up and abandoned him during his middle school years in order to remarry to others. Because of that and a desire to help cure a lingering injury that his perky childhood friend Chiwa suffers from, Eita devotes himself fully to his studies in an effort to win a scholarship to medical school, so he has no time for romantic hijinks. Romance is forced upon him, though, when Masuzu Natsukawa, a silver-haired beauty who has recently returned to Japan from a long stint in Sweden, draws a seat next to his and, a few days later, openly confesses her love for him in a dramatic display. Eita quickly discovers that the confession isn't honest; Masuzu professes to be as “anti-love” as he is and claims to just be seeking a fake boyfriend to discourage all of the unwanted love confessions she keeps getting. A bit of blackmail (Masuzu has obtained Eita's middle school journal, which details some now-embarrassing delusions by the former “Burning Fighting Fighter”) forces Eita to cooperate, but his new “romantic” status doesn't sit well with Chiwa, and later a delusional third girl who claims to be Eita's ex also enters the picture. In order to deflect the girls who are shaping up to be potential rivals, Masuzu creates a club whose stated goal is to help maidens achieve desired popularity, though in reality it is a tool for her to attempt to embarrass them. As Masuzu soon discovers, however, even her best-laid plans don't always pan out the way she expects, and she has family problems of her own to contend with.
The “fake boyfriend/fiancé” routine is one of the most time-tested and time-worn of all romantic comedy gimmicks across all media formats, but it keeps popping up periodically because it provides a convenient way to hook up characters who would otherwise be difficult to maneuver into a convincing mutual romance. In the case of this light novel adaptation, it also provides the thin justification needed to start building a harem around male lead Eita; by the end of episode 6 that harem already consists of three girls, though the final scene of that episode suggests that the fourth girl who has been shown in the opener animation since the beginning might finally be getting involved. Given how retread both of these concepts are, the series commonly abbreviated as Oreshura has its work cut out for it in attempting to distinguish itself as worthy of attention. Though hardly a spectacular success, so far the series has done just enough to carve out its own distinctive niche in a crowded genre.
The series has yet to rely on the fan service crutch so common in harem series – in fact, it's been relatively clean so far, and none of the girls even have physiques which overly emphasize their sex appeal – so the writing has had to actually carry the entire weight in making the series appealing. It has done so through a seemingly contradictory mix of humor and sincerity. Though hardly pervasive or raucous, the humor does have its moments and seems to aim higher than just run-of-the-mill slapstick, such as in Masuzu's proposal for a crusade against the oppressive hall monitors or the scenes where Masuzu reads delusional excerpts from Eita's journal as if they were gospel while Eita flips out. (This joke is starting to wear thin by episode 6, however.) Even the common shtick about all his fellow male students giving Eita dark, envious looks for having seemingly won the class's biggest prize as a seat neighbor (and later girlfriend) is done in a sufficiently restrained fashion that it has a fresher feel. The periodic references to the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manga, which seem strange coming from Masuzu, are also good for a chuckle or two.
The occasional bouts of sincerity also help. Although she can be annoyingly childish, Chiwa backs up her stereotypical earnestness with a deep-seeded drive borne partly of her misfortunate circumstances, and the way Eita remade himself in response to that feels completely honest; while he may not seriously see her as a romantic interest, he clearly cares far more deeply than he would probably ever admit, something which isn't lost on Masuzu. Eita's pride-be-damned attitude when forced into action also helps partly justify why the girls get drawn to him, and Masuzu's as-yet-undefined family problems suggest another layer of depth to her own situation.
Of course, this is still a harem series, and it does not make enough of an effort to avoid typical harem pitfalls. For all the sincerity that underlies their actions, Chiwa and Masuzu are still essentially dueling over Eita, and the addition of the third girl only adds a “rescue the pathetic loser” twist. For all of her somewhat cynical mischief, Masuzu is still clearly starting to feel genuinely about Eita. Amongst other faults, the situation with Eita's parents strains credibility a little too much and the scenes where Eita must struggle against stronger aggressive forces while trying to make a point are overplayed.
The artistic effort comes courtesy of A-1 Pictures and director Kanta Kamei, whose other directorial efforts are the acclaimed Bunny Drop and the Tales of Vesparia movie. Though distinctive within the setting, the character designs mostly follow typical romantic comedy designs styles, with the significant exception being Masuzu's full head of silvery hair, which just looks weird rather than dreamy. What stands out the most about the series, though, is the coloring, which is uniformly pale and subdued to the point of seeming washed out. Background art and animation are both respectable, but the odd coloring effect limits what appeal the series can muster on appearances. Also look for regular doses of special visual effects accompanying Masuzu's readings of Eita's journal.
Although the musical score by Masatomo Ota (who is doing his first full anime soundtrack effort here) has a nice touch with some of its gentler numbers, it is largely innocuous and goes silent for significant portions of many episodes. It only really sticks out in the rock guitar-themed numbers which back up Masuzu's journal readings. The cutesy opener and more J-pop closer are pleasant enough but quite forgettable. The Japanese voice work, while decent, is also very typical.
At its halfway point Oreshura is a series that is being pulled in opposite directions by its core elements. Its harem elements threaten triteness, while the more serious underlying subtext beneath character motivations promises depth, and a bad tendency to overplay some content only aggravates the problem. How the series integrates in the final harem girl could go a long way towards determining whether the series flounders or shines in the end.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Some very funny content, a surprising degree of sincerity, manages fine without significant fan service.
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