Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 23rd 2012
In many ways, Funco is a typical middle school student ... except she's also a gun. Specifically, the Belgian-made FNC assault rifle. Funco's classmates are also personified versions of famous assault rifles: hot-headed Ichiroku (the United States' M16A4), clumsy, soft-spoken Eru (England's L85A2), and sharp-shooting Sig (Switzerland's SG550). True to their namesakes, these girls' personalities reflect their performance as firearms, and when they're not taking regular classes at school, they're also training their marksmanship skills. Funco and her friends' first test is to outwit the (literally) higher-caliber students who attend the high school division. But their combat training suddenly gets a lot more serious when a couple of outsiders show up and threaten to take over the school's social structure. Can Funco and her fellow rifles prove that teamwork triumphs over sheer firepower?
With an all-schoolgirl cast and a palette of bright, non-threatening colors, it's easy to peg Upotte!! as yet another "cute girls doing cute things" anime such as K-ON!. But in terms of content, it's a closer cousin to Hetalia, with its anthropomorphic characters and doses of trivia in each episode. And just like Hetalia, the show's entertainment value is a mixed bag: one might learn a few things about the history and mechanics of guns, and the goofy characters help to make the information stick, but Upotte!! makes too many desperate attempts to be funny and falls short when it tries to be serious.
What is most disappointing, though, is that Upotte!! fails to capitalize on its strange premise right away. Instead, it begins in the most generic way possible: here's a school, here are some schoolgirls, and here is their new teacher who is weirded out by the fact that they're all guns. The series also makes a poor first impression by digging into juvenile, fanservice-driven humor: the construction of the FNC provides an excuse to comment on Funco's panties, and her sudden attraction to the newly arrived teacher is more disturbing (with lots of suggestive metaphors) than it is cute or amusing. The surprising number of bathtime scenes may raise a few eyebrows too. Meanwhile, the characters' personalities are too weak to pull off any good classroom humor: you can't just sketch up some cute girls, assign a quirk or two to them, and expect instant hilarity when they interact. The early episodes try to get away with this, and feel uninspired as a result. Even the sudden outbreak of girl-on-girl crushes in Episode 6 feels more like an attention-grabbing contrivance than a legitimate plot development.
Although it fails at comedy, the series does show promise in other areas. The gun trivia segments, with their clearly-drawn diagrams and thorough explanations, actually have interesting things to say about military history and how rifle design has evolved over the past several decades. This information becomes even easier to remember when they're mapped onto the cast of characters and their personalities. Sig, for example, often shows off her skill at long-distance shooting because that's what the rifle is renowned for. Eru, with her beleaguered history as the often-defective L85, is shy and insecure—but eventually becomes the most endearing character as she learns to overcome her disadvantages in combat.
In fact, combat exercises—the middle-versus-high-school matchup in Episode 2 and the 2-on-2 tournament in Episodes 4-6—are where the series shines best. These are straight-up, fast-paced action segments, complex enough to show real-life military tactics at work as the girls fight their way through different situations. However, the end of the tournament in Episode 6 becomes overly melodramatic when it tries to teach the value of friendship. Given that the series is mostly lighthearted or informative, these sudden attempts at drama fail to be convincing.
Like the inconsistent storytelling, the visuals are all over the place when it comes to quality. Some of the highlights include vivid, brightly colored backgrounds during gunfights, and of course accurately drawn firearms when they come into play. But for all the careful detail that goes into the guns, the same can't be said for the girls themselves: they immediately violate a basic rule of character design by all having similar silhouettes. Funco and her friends are about the same height, which makes sense given that they're all middle-schoolers, but then they make things even more confusing by also having similar haircuts, face shapes, and body types. This might help sell a lot of figurines, but it sure doesn't help in telling characters apart. The high-schoolers and other side characters have more distinctive features, but there's no escaping the dull homogeneity of the main cast. The animation itself also goes for middle-of-the-road mediocrity: dramatic moments in battle are plagued by shortcuts like slow motion, or characters sliding across the background—whatever it takes to cut down the framerate. Things look even worse during slice-of-life scenes, where characters often stand completely still aside from flapping their mouths, and school interiors are rendered with a minimum of detail.
Although the animation isn't flashy enough to make the action scenes pop, the soundtrack almost makes up for it—there's some surprisingly effective music here, like martial strings-and-brass themes for combat highlights and a jazz groove that starts up whenever the girls are on the move. But Funco's regular school activities are set to a far less inspiring tune: the usual repertoire of tinkly, chirpy sounds that are supposed to represent daily life. The super-squeaky theme songs are also sure to set a few ears on edge, and sensitive listeners should consider themselves warned: if you can't stand the singing, the voice acting is going to be like that too.
The one thing viewers can be sure about in Upotte!! is that it isn't trying to make some kind of statement about the dangers of gun violence and its impact on innocent youth. Rather, it's just a goofy, gimmick-driven series where the "girls with guns" concept is pushed to the point where the girls are guns. Sadly, the antics that come out of this bizarre twist are either unfunny, or worse yet, in poor taste. Let's face it—slice-of-life school tales have been done to death from both comedic and dramatic angles, and this series has nothing new to add to that genre. Still, there's some useful trivia in here for those with an interest in military history and gun mechanics, and the combat scenes provide some excitement despite the so-so animation. But occasional highlights like that are not enough to make Upotte!! satisfying as a whole.
Overall : C
Story : C+
Animation : D
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Does a good job of sharing trivia about guns and military history, and stirs up some excitement when the girls are on the battlefield.
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