Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 30th 2008
Rin has a problem that most teenage boys wish they had: he's got multiple girls competing for his affection. Childhood friend Kaede shares the house with him and takes care of the chores, but who will do the housekeeping when she falls ill from overwork? Then there's quiet little Primula, who's so reserved that Rin isn't sure what to do to make her happy. Meanwhile, Rin's schoolmate Asa wonders if romance is in store for her ... or if she's not ready to commit to a boyfriend just yet. And Rin's overly friendly neighbor, Sia, is determined to win him over by going out on the perfect date! She's even wearing a special pair of panties for good luck, but what will Rin and Sia do when all their friends keep popping up in unexpected places?
Is this the part where Shuffle! suddenly gets better? Not a chance! After introducing the characters in Volume 1, the series must now go through the checklist of Rin's girls and feature an episode centered on each one. If you were waiting for some kind of dramatic revelation, well, keep on waiting, because the most dramatic thing that happens here is probably Primula picking out her first bra. If there are any rays of hope to be found here, it's that the occasional spots of comedy still shine, but Shuffle!'s focus on romance is slowly running the series into the ground.
Just look at the first episode on the disc, which is a classic example of the Nothing Ever Happens syndrome: Kaede gets sick, and then she gets better, end of plot. Along the way we learn more about her character, which turns to be disturbingly obsessive-compulsive—while lying sick in bed, she worries that she's not doing enough for Rin, despite already being a master chef, housekeeper, and student. Maybe this guilt complex is supposed to be endearing, but frankly it looks more like severe psychological imbalance. By comparison, Primula in the next episode is almost normal; her biggest concerns involve getting her stuffed toy fixed and getting a bra for her developing figure. Despite the sauciness of the latter plot point, this episode only breaks out the fanservice a couple of times, and the rest of it plays out as a typical relationship-building exercise.
More dull relationship-building can be found in the Asa episode, which also fits easily into a one-line description: some boy likes Asa, but Asa isn't sure if she wants to go out with boys. Once again, Rin gets involved somehow, and the episode's key moment is the tired old cliché of one person falling on top of another. Seriously, is this the best scenario people can come up with these days? Even something with comedy potential like Sia planning the perfect date and having everything go wrong ends up as more of a methodical exercise, where Rin and Sia keep running into people until they finally get their special moment in the episode's last two minutes. The whole "lucky panties" plot device seems like a pointless flourish just to sneak in some more fanservice.
Scattered throughout these episodes, however, are occasional comedy moments involving Rin's perverted best friend Midoriba, the legions of desperate boys who are jealous of Rin, and two eccentric fathers who seem to create hilarity just by existing. These comic relief characters help to keep the series from being a complete bore, but they don't appear nearly often enough.
Regardless of what happens (or doesn't happen) in the story, one will always find a certain level of visual polish: sharp linework, bright pastel colors, and frequent use of soft filters for sentimental effect. Character designs, too, are remarkably consistent and detailed—these animators have not missed a single hair on the girls' heads, which is just as well because a lot of the character variety comes from their hairstyles and colors. At the same time, however, the character designs fall into typical bishoujo conventions that make them rather forgettable in the larger scheme of things. And that's not the only shortcoming: the animation relies on a lot of "talking head" shots, typically taken from a direct frontal view or side view, which is about the most boring way possible to direct a dialogue scene. Frequent use of still frames, pans, and generic suburban backgrounds also reveal evidence of typical animation shortcuts.
The use of real (or real-sounding) instruments makes the soundtrack surprisingly listenable, with some of the more sentimental scenes punctuated by strings or solo piano. Most of the music comes in the form of light ballads or bouncy pop tracks, although it does get a bit tiresome hearing the same music over and over for certain situations. The theme songs, meanwhile, show absolutely no originality: a fast-paced techno-flavored number for the opening and a slow ballad for the ending make this identical to the theme song selection for just about every other anime.
Although the cast is predominantly female, one can still find a wide range of personalities among the voices. Listeners of the English dub will probably enjoy the down-to-earth performances of Sia and Asa, taking the edge off the high pitches of their Japanese counterparts; however, the sing-songy voice for Kareha just doesn't work (thankfully she's only a minor character). Meanwhile, Jerry Jewell as Rin gives the character quite a different sound from Tomokazu "Kyon" Sugita's darker tone, but his smart-mouthed personality still comes across. The dub tends to vary from the direct translation at times, but sometimes this works in its favor—English speakers will probably find the comedy lines more natural in their own language.
The disc is sparse on extras, with only trailers and textless credit sequences, but the case itself comes with a collage-like reversible cover and a small poster featuring the girls.
After eight episodes, it looks like Shuffle! has locked itself into a gentle lull where the male lead interacts with various girls in very boring ways (unless you like looking at anime cuties with bright hair through soft filters). Thankfully, it is not as painfully slow-paced as some other harem/bishoujo-game titles—the bursts of comedy help to break things up—but it seems content to grind the gears of plot without ever really going anywhere. Heck, it doesn't even capitalize on the naughty bits like wearing lucky panties or picking out a girl's first bra. Viewers may have to ask themselves just how patient they're willing to be to wait for the "it gets better" part.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D+
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Consistent visual quality, an enjoyable soundtrack and some good spots of comedy.
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