Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Three Leaves, Three Colors
Yoko Nishikawa grew up in the lap of luxury, the pampered daughter of a wealthy business owner. But when her father's company went bankrupt, Yoko found herself falling on hard times, and now she spends her lunch periods eating cheap bread crusts alone. Yoko's above-it-all attitude isolates her from most of her normal classmates, but fortunately, Teru Hayama and Futaba Odogiri aren't particularly normal themselves. Together, the three of them are the three leaves, a strange trio making the most of their high school days.
Animation studio Doga Kobo have established a firm reputation based on two studio staples: slice of life shows and lively character animation. From GJ-bu to Engaged to the Unidentified, Love Lab to New Game!, these reliable qualities have made Doga Kobo a consistent slice of life star, even as individual studio creators have come and gone. Slotting right into their genre wheelhouse, Three Leaves, Three Colors is a sturdy articulation of what Doga Kobo do best. It's not the best slice of life around, but if you're looking for a charming and visually pleasing time, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Three Leaves, Three Colors' premise offers a very mild twist on its general “girls having fun at school” genre space. The first protagonist we meet, Yoko Nishikawa, actually used to be very wealthy—but when her father's company went bankrupt, she was reduced to living alone on a meager stipend. Yoko's haughty attitude from her ojousama days isolates her from her classmates, while her lack of understanding of the frugal life means she now subsists on bread crusts and mayonnaise. As the series starts, Yoko is living a truly impoverished life.
Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes for co-heroines Futaba and Hayama to stumble into her life. Joining Yoko at her secret lunch spot, the trio become fast friends and soon engage in all manner of episodic escapades. The cast soon expands to include Yoko's former butler and maid, Hayama's tsundere rival, Futaba's eating-competition nemesis, and a variety of other quirky characters, all with their own stories to tell. School drama staples like the festival, the beach episode, and the Christmas party all come and go, with Three Leaves, Three Colors offering predictable but generally charming takes on each in turn.
Slice of life shows generally live and die based on a few core qualities: the charm of their characters, the warmth of their setting, and the strength of their humor. On the first point, Three Leaves, Three Colors is an overall success. First heroine Yoko Nishikawa actually feels like the weakest member of the trio—her behavior hews pretty closely to default reactions, with only the disconnect of her former status as a rich girl giving her much punch. By contrast, Hayama's mixture of class rep respectability and underlying devilishness adds a welcome jolt of spice to the show's composition. And Futaba is something special.
Futaba's initial gimmick is “I sure love to eat food.” She's boisterous and brash, and much of the show's more charismatic animation is dedicated to her over-the-top eating and silly reactions. On top of that, Futaba's voice actor Mai Kanazawa is undeniably Three Leaves' secret weapon. Generally speaking in a squawking tone that falls somewhere between a dying bird and a faulty lawnmower, Kanazawa's voice is basically never “cute” or “melodious,” but it's always hilarious. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that Three Leaves' creators understand how central Futaba is to the show's comic appeal. Hearing Kanazawa shout at Hayama to come outside and play, or hum a tune that's presumably supposed to sound like how a guitar plays, is one of the greatest pleasures to be found in Three Leaves. Kanazawa has a strange gift, and the fact that she hasn't gotten any major work since this show is both terribly disappointing and oddly unsurprising.
On the atmospheric front, I wasn't entirely sold on Three Leaves' aesthetic choices. The show is very well-animated and has excellent character art, but its tendency toward oversaturated lighting and extremely bright primary colors felt a little off-putting to me. In a show theoretically designed to create a soothing atmosphere, such loud color choices felt naturally abrasive. That palette is clearly an intentional choice though, so your mileage may vary. The show actually does create a more concrete sense of place as it continues, with former maid Sonobe's cake shop offering that strong sense of “home base” that slice of life tends to require.
As far as comedy goes, Three Leaves, Three Colors is hit or miss. Not all slice of life shows need snappy comedy (K-ON! focuses more on a warm atmosphere, for example), but Three Leaves prioritizes comic bits, and the results aren't always satisfying. The show leans heavily on each of the leads' main gimmicks (former rich girl, light/dark side, big eater), and it isn't above things like stale tsundere routines and overplayed reactions. On the bright side, Three Leaves also has a welcome absurdist streak, with some gags ending in strange anticlimaxes or pure visual madness. It's an uneven mix that didn't always keep me interested, and the fact that so many episodes' narratives were such cliches (school festival haunted house, helping out at a beach hut, planning a Christmas party) didn't help either.
I'd frankly have preferred if the show cut back on the comedy to let more moments breathe. There are some occasional standout moments where the direction steps away from sitcom standards and the girls simply enjoy an experience together, but the overall trend is talking heads making mild jokes. From its generally simple jokes and characters to its bubbly, inoffensive soundtrack and relatively constrained aesthetic, Three Leaves is a successful but unremarkable slice of life in almost all respects.
Funimation's Three Leaves release is a pretty bare-bones affair. The show comes in a standard slipcase and blu-ray case housing both DVDs and blu-ray discs. There are no physical or noteworthy digital extras, but the show does come with a full dub. The dub is a generally solid take on the show, and I particularly liked Tabitha Ray's slightly nasally take on Hayama. That said, the dub also sands off the eccentricity of each character's tone, with Futaba in particular now sounding like a normal girl instead of Kanazawa's gremlin-creature interpretation, and Sonobe losing a bit of her otherworldly deadpan. Overall I prefer the original cast, but either track is a fine take on the material.
In the end, Three Leaves, Three Colors is a generally comfy and rewarding slice of life, a fine show for any genre enthusiasts. Its writing, structure, and execution are a little too routine for a strong recommendation, but I enjoyed my time with these very silly characters. If you're looking for a breezy vacation with a likable cast, Three Leaves is a fine choice.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Generally well-animated and relatively charming slice of life with some welcome dashes of absurdism
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