The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches
How would you rate episode 1 of
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches ?
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is certainly not the first body-switch story of its kind, nor is it likely to be the last. But like the most successful ones that have come before it, it tries to do something meaningful with its premise. That is, you can never actually know what it's like to be someone until you've lived their life. It may be the most simplistic reading of the show, but it's also one that the first episode executes gracefully, and with minimal fuss.
As it turns out, Yamada, a high school delinquent who can't be bothered to try very hard in school, has a very strange power. When he kisses someone, he switches bodies with them. And really, it's anyone he kisses, whether they're a man or a woman. We find this out in a scene where the sole member of the Supernatural Research Club, a guy, decides to test his body-swap hypothesis on Yamada. The latter protests—after all, in his mind, two dudes kissing is weird, but this episode presents it in such a straightforward way that it works without being too condescending or offensive.
There's also the matter-of-factness of it all. Previous body switch shows have made far too much noise over the gender differences. And yes, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches also pulls the requisite "I should play with my boobs!" scene, and the obligatory, "What's this thing between my legs???" scene, but it doesn't drag it out any longer than necessary, and the characters find more useful things to do with their newfound ability. They even go so far as to help each other out immediately, a refreshingly pragmatic response that's a nice break from all the usual mischief that occurs in scenarios such as this one.
For the time being, the show is fairly standard. There is nothing that particularly stands out in the positive, nor the negative, but that's not always a bad thing. It's remarkable enough that this first episode manages to feel as entertaining and fresh as it does, despite using a well-tread premise. It already seems like it has the potential to hit with a wide demographic, and that it'll take its time to delve into both the serious and the light-hearted. I'm definitely on board for the next episode.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Ryū Yamada is a loudmouthed delinquent, nearly failing his classes and something of a pariah at his new high school. Urara Shiraishi is a demure honor student, Yamada's opposite in some ways, but equally isolated. Normally, these two would have nothing to do with each other - but when Shiraishi's icy glare causes Yamada to stumble into her on the school steps, they find themselves somehow trapped in each other's bodies.
With all that established in the first few minutes, the rest of this episode rushes busily through a compressed set of conflicts - Yamada somewhat accidentally helping Shiraishi deal with a trio of bullies, Yamada and Shiraishi discovering that the secret to their switch wasn't the fall, but the kiss that accompanied it, and Yamada and Shiraishi ultimately being found out by their classmate Miyamura. In exchange for giving them a room to mess with their weird power, Miyamura asks that they join the Supernatural Studies Club, and after a brief bit of experimentation that confirms Yamada can also switch with Miyamura's body, that's where this episode leaves us.
Yamada-kun felt like a pretty neutral production. The characters don't quite pop yet, and this episode seemed to rush through a bit too much material, but the fairly routine premise is nicely elevated by a few details of the show's execution. Though the backgrounds and designs aren't that special, the animation takes care to convey the very different body language of Yamada, Shiraishi, and Miyamura, which lends a solid inherent comedy to all the body-swapping shenanigans. The characters’ diverse expressions are also quite good, making Yamada himself seem inherently likable as we come to know his odd mix of bluster and timidity. The conceit also lets the voice actors really have some fun, with Saori Hayami's Yamada-in-Shiraishi's-body impression being particularly entertaining. The visuals and writing aren't outstanding, and the show feels like it's still lacking a hook (my first reaction to Miyamura offering them a room was thinking “why would they even need that?”), but overall this was a perfectly reasonable first episode.
Review: The source manga for the series runs in a shonen magazine but is penned by a female manga-ka, which may explain why its anime adaptation feels like it has a roughly even split between shonen and shojo-style elements in both its artistry and storytelling. That is not the only thing that is a bit surprising about the first episode, as its name and basic description imply much more of a dedicated harem-like set-up than what is showing so far.
The story centers around two characters. Ryū Yamada is a delinquent who went to an entirely separate high school in an effort to distance himself from the reputation he built up in middle school, but to no avail. Pretty, blond-haired Urara Shiraishi is his total opposite: a dedicated, properly-behaved honor student. An incident with them falling together on a staircase results in a body swap, which Ryu handles far less gracefully than Urara does. After some trial and error and misadventures as the opposite genders (including Ryu discovering that Urara is being heavily bullied by other girls), they eventually figure out that the key to the body-swap is them kissing. Toranosuke Miyamura, the Student Council Vice-President, soon figures out what they are capable of doing and offers the clubroom of the defunct Supernatural Studies Club for their “swapping” on the condition that they join the club and occasionally do tasks for the Student council. They then discover that Ryu can body-swap by kissing other people, too, including Toranosuke. As the episode ends, another girl arrives on the scene and expresses interest in the club, too.
A fair amount of the episode involves pretty standard body-swap antics, including Ryu being shown checking out Urara's womanly features but Urara also having been implied to have done the same. (And she does peek when Toranosuke checks out Ryu's junk while in Ryu's body and is clearly more at ease with the kissing than Ryu is, so Ryu is actually much more of a prude than she is.) The visuals and animation put a lot of effort into showing how each of them expresses the characteristics of his/her own gender while in the other gender's body; this is particularly noticeable in the way Ryu stands when in Urara's body. (Supposedly the original manga-ka studied this extensively before beginning the story.) Less expected is that there is actually some chemistry between the two, and Ryu's good side comes out in his desire to help Urara with her bullying problem despite her insistence that he would only make things worse; that the more initiative-taking Ryu is going to help her with that while in Urara's body, while Urara helps him with make-up tests, seems likely. Ryu and Toranosuke actually going through with testing the Body Transfer also adds an amusing twist onto the premise, too. The artistic effort is pretty good, with visually pleasing character designs for both genders and only a couple of touches of fan service, but the latter are both mild and contextual. (Ryu, who's not used to wearing a skirt, accidentally panty-flashes when he kicks someone as Urara, for instance.)
The opener and closer feature six other girls, and the title suggests that they will all have unusual powers, as well, but the more prominent featuring of Urara in both indicates that she will still have a prominent role throughout. I hope that remains, as these two could make a neat couple. So far the story has promise, too.
Yamada-kun deliberately came to a high school where no one knew him, hoping that somehow things would be different from middle school. Unfortunately for him, he's (still ?) known as the school's biggest delinquent, cutting most of his classes and getting failing grades. His apparent polar opposite is Urara Shiraishi, the perfect student with perfect grades and a penchant for studying. Their worlds (and bodies) collide when one day Yamada slips on the stairs and falls on Shiraishi, accidentally kissing her in the process...and causing them to change bodies.
Based on the manga of the same name by Miki Yoshikawa, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches moves a lot faster than its original. In part this is a good thing, as the plot gets going immediately and keeps the action moving at a good clip. On the downside, a lot of the development of both characters is lost, making this feel a bit more superficial than it needs to. Mind, I just read the manga recently, so that may be influencing my view, and we do technically get all of the needed information for the story to both progress and make sense. However the level of the bullying Shiraishi undergoes and how that influences her personality is lost, as is the chance for us to fully see that Yamada isn't the thug everyone believes him to be. If that's something that you feel would enhance the story, I'd recommend checking out the manga. But in all fairness the anime can stand on its own and retains a lot of the visuals that make the original so much fun. Once you get past the fact that Miyamura looks like an escapee from Fairy Tail (Yoshikawa was Hiro Mashima's assistant), the body language between Yamada and Shiraishi is terrific, with posture, facial expressions, and mode of both sitting and walking telling us who's in which body without them having to open their mouths. But when they do...Saori Hayami is fabulous as Shiraishi, playing both regular girl Shiraishi and Yamada in Shiraishi's body excellently, achieving a clear difference in character that Yamada's voice actor, Ryota Ohsaka, can't quite match. (Although he's very good too.) This is a case where the vocal component really adds to the character, something very much needed since so much was cut out.
For a body-swapping story, this episode is also fairly clean. There are a few scenes of both characters checking out their new bodies, with the Shiraishi body scene being more fanservicey, and one panty shot when Yamada executes a roundhouse kick in Shiraishi's body, but other than that, this is fairly tame. There's even less kissing than in the manga. There's also a goodhearted quality to the show, with Shiraishi and Yamada swapping bodies in order to help each other rather than out of simple curiosity; it will be interesting to see how that changes as more characters and changes are added to the mix.
I enjoyed Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches' first episode. It's fun and fairly fluffy, full of pastels and everyday drama along with some fanservice and humor. I'm honestly not sure I would have liked it as much without the background information I have from the book, but this looks like a nice brain break before you start the week. If you just want something light and a little silly that still has a clear heart, this might turn out to be a good place to find it.
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