The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide

Nick Creamer

Rating: 1.5

I suppose a cute girls selling cute doujins anime was inevitable, really. Anime seems to get more self-conscious and self-referential every year, and there's already been a cute girl version of pretty much every other topic under the sun, so the more relevant question might actually be “how did it take this long?”

Denki-gai's formula doesn't really shake anything up - it adheres to mild-mannered slice-of-life form from start to finish. This first episode is peppered with slight physical gags, various reaction faces, and the barest hints of romance, with a tone vaguely similar to something like Servant x Service. There's a slight bit of a “this is what the doujin world is like” hook, but Denki-gai's points aren't ever that illuminating or sharp-edged. It exists in that floaty, only-mild-conflicts world many such shows do, and its adherence to genre form keeps it from being all that distinctive or (frankly) interesting. As has become common in anime comedies, the show will sometimes comment on its own classic-anime-scenario gags, but these tricks don't really lead to sharp punchlines. And the general unreality of the show's entire world (such as the employees of a doujinshi shop getting continuously flustered by porn) makes it hard to really buy into these characters as anything more than by-the-numbers constructions. This probably betrays my own genre biases, but all of this show's best moments made me wish I was simply watching Genshiken instead - that show understood how to celebrate nerd culture, and its characters felt like real people.

There were a couple moments I enjoyed, though. I laughed at the random middle-aged man getting all blustery over discovering a beloved “I'm a panda and you're a deer” manga - one of the show's few gags that it actually carried to an absurd conclusion, instead of simply letting peter out. And the episode's final stretch, when Umio went back to help Sensei finish her manuscript, actually felt energetic and “alive” in a way the rest of the episode really didn't - that one sequence contained at least a little conflict, momentum, and chemistry. Still, two nice moments do not a good episode make, and so I think this is where Denki-gai and I part ways.

Denki-gai is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 2

At this point, I know myself well enough to admit that "refreshing" anime are not my thing. There are a lot of them on the market, though, and they definitely have a viable audience in the west along with Japan, although it's presumably less lucrative here, which is why such shows get licensed less often. Anyway, I hear the words sawayaka and suzushii tossed around for these kinds of anime fairly often, but I'm not sure if, like moe, a more concrete term for the intent or phenomenon has been settled on. So I don't know the Japanese word for it, but I know this kind of show when I see it, and it's definitely not for me. Maybe getting into the specifics of what Denki-gai is and isn't will help you decide whether you feel the same way or this is right up your alley.

Denki-gai is one of those "refreshing" anime "comedies," rather than a real comedy with strong jokes or creative, wacky ideas. There's humor here, but it's very repetitive and thinly concentrated. The "day-in-the-workplace" setting also ties it to a more mellow place than the high-energy "going-home club" style anime comedies that also feature a mostly moe-girl-cast, giving Denki-gai its own private island even for slice-of-life anime. The show's foremost goal is not jokes, but maintaining its mellow, safe, "refreshing" tone. The idea is that maybe you've had a long, hard day at school or the office and just want a cool, comforting show filled with cute girls to soothe your soul before tackling the new day tomorrow. Sure, there are many shows like this, but often they'll switch to a focus on drama after a few episodes of character setup, and that puts them in a different category too. Denki-gai is for the audience that doesn't want that kind of investment or challenge, or at least, "not right now." It's just nice. It's just safe. It's just cute. There are laughs, but it's not going to be hyper or in-your-face or "too weird" with its comedy. It's gentle and it's fine and there are cute, friendly, non-threatening girls...there you go.

The reason I don't like "refreshing" anime like Denki-gai is because I know that A) nothing is going to happen and B) the nothing that does happen won't be actually funny, just sort of benignly cute. For the most part, I go to anime to be shocked, wildly entertained, made to think, that kind of thing, and Denki-gai and its family tree are actively trying to avoid that goal, so we're just never going to be right for each other. Still, if "refreshing" anime, (I should probably learn whatever the Japanese term for these shows is since this is very much a thing by this point,) is your bag, Denki-gai is a perfectly adequate, decent-looking, and properly-paced entry in that sub-genre. It puts me right to sleep, but then again, that's partially the goal too, (go to sleep after the credits,) so I guess it's doing its 9-to-5 well.

DENKI-GAI is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Theron Martin

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Workplace-based humor has become a staple even of otaku fare in recent years, so why not a series about the humorous travails of a bunch of colorful employees of a prominent doujin shop?

And that's really entirely what Denki-Gai is. Its first episode very briefly introduces us to its core cast of four girls and two guys, all of whom work at Umahone, a store that is apparently meant to be a take-off on the actual Comic Toranoana, a chain of doujin-specializing retailers based originally out of Akihabara. All of them are known only by their nickname and have some basic, defining character trait: Hiotan appears to be the airhead of the bunch, Sensei is a doujin creator herself who often suffers from sleep deprivation, boisterous Kameko always wears a hat, Sommelier is a tall, quiet guy who speaks to no one but Kameko directly but has an uncanny talent for picking the perfect doujin for any person who stands before him, and glasses-sporting Umio is the ordinary guy. (The sixth, Fu Girl, hasn't done enough yet to get a clear read on her quirk.) There's also a Manager and a Director, the latter of whom is, of course, keen on making films.

Although day-to-day activities like shrink-wrapping special editions, security-taping adult content, and dealing with a content inspector happen throughout the episode, it is primarily broken into two general mini-stories. The first and funnier one involves various contemplations on what it means to be an ero book lover, including the spit-takingly funny scene where Sommelier reveals exactly how keen his talent is for pegging fetishes that people, in some cases, didn't even know they had. (I really don't want to know what the one about the panda and the deer was about, though!) The second story, which involves Umio discovering that Sensei is actually his favorite doujin artist under a pen name and then helping her meet a deadline for an upcoming comic show, is tamer and more sincere but still has its funny moments, too.

Despite the sometimes-racy subject matter, the fan service quotient is actually low, restrained, and gives both genders some love. The artistry runs more simplistic in its character designs but compensates with a hefty amount of background detail. Overall, it isn't a bold or dazzling technical accomplishment but doesn't get dragged down by artistic and technical merits, either. Its humor is not consistently on the level of last season's Nozaki-kun, but it has plenty enough funny moments to be more than mildly entertaining.

Denki-Gai is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Zac Bertschy

Rating: 2

Welcome to Comic Umanohone, a doujinshi shop in Denki-gai, "the city of dreams". The staff is composed of 4 cute lil' slice-of-life anime girls, a couple dudes and Umio, a friendly milquetoast. In this first episode, only two of the girls are given enough focus to establish their characters: "Sensei", an aspiring mangaka who draws her own modestly popular doujinshi and struggles with "baby mode" where she loses her cool, and Hiotan, well-meaning genki blockhead with a heart of gold and a penchant for making things awkward. Together they have gently comic "adventures" that stretch the meaning of the term "adventure".

So this is "cute girls work in an otaku store" slice-of-life (we need a shorthand term for this - life slice? Slife? Slife works, let's call it that), and it's as run-of-the-mill as they come. There's nothing remarkable about it, good or bad; it just sort of "is". I was surprised to find that the manga it's based on isn't a 4-koma, since the show is adapted in the usual 4-koma "here's a vignette with a mild punchline, and then another, and another" fashion. It isn't particularly exciting, but there's nothing objectionable in here either. Umio's a fan of Sensei's work so he winds up helping her pull an all-nighter to get her doujinshi ready for the big comic market the next day. Hiotan has a run-in with an "Ero Manga G-Man" who shows up to make sure the porn comics can't be flipped through by youngsters in the store. There are at least 4 scenes where they're shrinkwrapping and otherwise preparing books in the back room to be stocked on the store shelves. At one point the shrinkwrap machine malfunctions. It's as exciting as this show ever gets, which is surely the point.
There is one thing in Denki-Gai that made me laugh out loud: in the opening credits, there's a shot of Hiotan that's straight from the corny 1980s sitcom opening credits playbook (which I insist is a real thing). Specifically, the "just about to take a bite of something, then oh, there's a camera here watching me! Ha ha ha!" moment.

It's straight out of the 80s!

I love it.

That moment aside, shows like this are a dime a dozen, so whether or not you want to spend 22 minutes with this particular crop of adorable awkward girls having Diet Caffeine-Free Adventures with Mild Comedy depends entirely on how compelling you find the setting. Personally, this particular formula applied to girls who shrinkwrap comics in the back room didn't do it for me; in terms of pacing and "comedy" I was reminded most of Servant x Service, which put me right to sleep, although the whole "comic store" angle made this one about 5% more interesting so it did ward off the sleepies. Still, it didn't grab me; let me know when it's 4 moe girls having Easy Listening mishaps while, I dunno, working in a tattoo parlor or something.

DENKI-GAI is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

People often romanticize working in bookstores, equating it with being surrounded by magical tomes full of worlds to escape into at any moment and the unexplainable bliss of being able to help others to find their next favorite book. Those who work at Umanohone, the fictional doujinshi shop that is at the center of Denki-Gai, know that it's also about shrink-wrapping tons of ero-manga and having awkward conversations about what your favorite genre of hentai is. The first half of this episode, which focuses on things of that nature, is much stronger than the second half, which goes back to the old tried-and-true tale of a would-be manga creator who struggles with her deadline before going to a show. It's stale and kind of dull, with inexplicable rolling around on the floor as a sign of mental anguish and the usual manic working and nervous excitement at selling one's creation. The highlight of this part is that we see Sensei and her assistants Umio and Hiotan using a computer to fill in black space, which not only means we can't have the old ink spilling gag, but also is a nice update of the scenario.

In the first part, however, we get much more interesting material. A motley crew of maybe-otakus works together at Umanohone, which I assume to be a parody of Toranoana, a chain of doujinshi shops in Japan. There's easily embarrassed Hiotan, semi-cool Umio, sleepy Sensei, and, among others, Sommelier. This does not mean that his day job is as a wine expert, but rather that he is a manga sommelier, able to discern precisely what your weird manga fetish is, and to get it right every time. This is one of the funniest parts of the episode, with Sommelier whipping out genres like “short shorts,” “geriatric sisters,” and “panda and deer.” (Is it a romance? A survival story? We'll never know...) He even gets the government representative who visits the store early on to admit that everyone loves and needs ero manga in their lives, which may be one of the better declarations ever made in anime and also wins points for not making it a gendered statement. This half of the episode also features a shounen ai magazine called “BLO,” which made me giggle.

The art and animation are both very simple for this show, which works better for the more exciting first half than the second. Characters can be unrecognizable when seen from a distance, but since most of the gags are spoken rather than seen, this almost works. Really this main issue here is that the second half is so generic. Hopefully as the show goes on, we'll see less of that and more of the weird confessions of the crew at Umanohone.

Denki-Gai is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

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