Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Haruka Nanami is an aspiring pop song composer who dreams of one day writing songs for her idol, Hayato. To that end she enrolls in the prestigious Saotome Academy, a school for students looking to start careers in the pop music world as either idols or songwriters. There Haruka finds herself involved with a bevy of beautiful, talented boys, including one who has an uncanny resemblance to Hayato himself. Will Haruka succeed in the cut-throat world of popular culture? Will she even survive a school run by a madman and surrounded by handsome young men when romance is expressly prohibited?
Have you ever found yourself watching a movie or reading a book that is so awful that you just can't put it down? Welcome to the anime equivalent. Uta no Prince Sama adapts a visual novel/ dating sim for female gamers, and while the story is contrived and the characters shallow, it is almost impossible to stop watching, no matter how afraid of the protagonist's eyes you are.
Our story opens with Haruka Nanami almost missing the entrance exam to the school she desperately wants to attend – Saotome Academy, a high class establishment dedicated to turning out premier pop idols and composers. Haruka has a very specific reason for attending – when she was in a difficult place in her life, a song by the singer Hayato helped her to get through it. Now she wants to write songs – preferably for Hayato – to help other people. Of course the road to that goal will be full of blocks, like the aforementioned fact that she almost doesn't make it into the school in the first place. But because this is a reverse harem story, two of the six lovely men are able to help her – rich playboy Ren and nice guy Otoya. With each of the first few episodes, our cast expands to cover all of the recommended reverse harem staples – the loud, energetic guy (Syo), the cold guy (Masato), the weird guy (Natsuki), and the broody guy (Tokiya). None of these characters ever move beyond their set types, but they play their parts well enough that it doesn't really matter. It helps that the voice cast provides a fair amount of ear candy, and fans of specific actors will get to hear each one sing his own song as the show progresses, as well as all six singing the ending theme each episode. As is usual in the genre, while all of the guys are fond of Haruka, only one or two seem to be actually in love with her, and romance is never really in the offing. Partially this is due to the school's no-tolerance policy on dating, but it also allows the show to focus on the musical aspects without devolving into messy love geometry. That said, a little bit more of a romantic quality would have been nice and might have fleshed out some of the boys' personalities.
The mythical ritzy high school has become a staple of recent anime, and Uta no Prince Sama does nothing to buck that trend. Saotome Academy is ridiculously wealthy with palatial proportions for classrooms and dormitories and employs idols and actors as teachers. The school yard has not just one, but four hedge mazes, and the principal, Saotome himself, comes from the Skip Beat! school of eccentric. Voiced by the always-recognizable Norio Wakamoto, Saotome peppers his speech with English and is given to ludicrously elaborate entrances and displays. The students are clearly a bit weirded out by his proclivities, and he is, despite owing his existence to a clear stereotype he, one of the more memorable players, perhaps moreso than the heroine, who lacks personality in general.
Another memorable aspect of this show is the coloring. While it is fluidly animated and the characters are rarely, if ever, off-model, the colors look to have been selected by three year olds. Everyone's hair is a bright shade, never merely “pink” or “red” when it could be “screaming salmon” or “fire truck.” The school uniforms for the girls are an unfortunate combination of striped jackets with plaid skirts in clashing shades of blue, green, and yellowish, and the boys wear pants of kelly green, giving everyone a clownish look. And then there are Haruka's eyes. With her electric yellow irises and neon green pupils, it looks as though she is about to shoot lasers from them. The background effects can be equally bizarre, with a lot of psychedelic fireworks and stars. To add to the madness is an especially strange episode about a mystical prince who visits our heroine on a class trip.
For all of its oddness, however, Uta no Prince Sama is a compulsively enjoyable show, at least for those within its target audience. With its ensemble cast, there is always one character worth watching for, and while Haruka herself fades a bit into the background, the boys are, if nothing new, good at filling their assigned roles. Moments are unbearably cheesy, others unintentionally hilarious, but there is always something happening to hold your attention. While it doesn't seem right to apply the universal word “good” to a show with so limited a goal for its fanbase – in all honesty I cannot see it appealing to most males – or, for that matter, with so many cliches and ridiculous moments, it is still watchable in the most addictive of ways. Uta no Prince Sama is that special kind of good that is actually a bit bad; it revels in its derivitiveness and lovingly animates each dancer at a slightly different tempo in the boy band ending sequence. It aspires to be nothing more than what it is, a fun, fluffy, j-pop soaked reverse harem tale aimed squarely at the fangirls, and at that, it succeeds.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Ridiculous in all of its aspects makes this highly entertaining. Reverse harem tropes done fairly well and the insert songs and ending theme are catchy.
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