The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Futaba Ooki is worried about her new high school life. Having been separated from her close friends and enrolled in a school all by herself, she's not sure she'll be able to adapt and find her own place in this unfamiliar world. But Futaba's classmate Hikari doesn't seem to have any such worries - blessed with a perpetual broad grin and an endless spirit of curiosity, she sees wonder and magic in everything around her. While Futaba frets over her lost friends and panics over her class introduction, Hikari reaches out to her, bringing the same enthusiasm to her peers that she does to her love of her seaside home. In a world brimming with mystery set by the azure sea, it seems like Hikari will be Futaba's guide into a high school life full of wonder and new treasures. Amanchu! is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
It's funny that I happened to watch The Morose Mononokean right before Amanchu!, because under the surface, I think they're polar opposites. While Mononokean has genuinely cute and witty underpinnings but a dearth of style, Amanchu! overflows with distinctive style that can only barely conceal its extremely forced and artificial level of charm. (Also, Morose Mononokean has the season's cutest mascot creature while Amanchu's is so unbelievably ugly that it comes back around to being cute again. Cugely, I guess?)
It probably doesn't help that characters like Hikari (ugh, she's literally named shining light) are my absolute kryptonite. The wonderful wacky too-random space cadet girl who automatically brightens everyone's lives by being so incredibly out-of-touch with reality is an obnoxious cliché that doesn't resemble any kind of human that actually exists. Have you ever met anyone who tries to act like that in real life? They're insufferable, and you spend your whole time around them wondering how they really feel and think at any given time, while they try way too hard to demand your attention with phony eccentricity. I know Amanchu! is going for super-mellow relaxing idealism, and I don't think that all cartoon characters should act realistically, but I personally find iyashikei, especially when it's nature-based like Amanchu! clearly aims to be, works better when it has some basis in real-world nature and the personalities of relatable backwoods folk. Last season's Flying Witch was a great example of this, but Amanchu!, which bludgeons the audience with cutesy catchphrases, platitudes about simple life, and approximately twenty million instances of the phrase "Just let go and have fun!" ...well, it's trying too hard.
The episode is still extremely pleasant to look at thanks to its sherbet-like color design and delicate animation. And even though it can be annoying, it never goes far enough to actively repel the audience thanks to its relaxing setting and tone, but as far as healing anime goes, this is all icing and no cake. Cuteness can't be forced, and Amanchu! needs to back off on the schmaltz a little before I can truly feel the magical wonder of its seaside setting.
So this is ostensibly going to be a series about scuba diving, but given the way the first episode plays out this could be much more than just a “cute girls do scuba diving” series. That's probably not going to be enough to get me to watch it, as scuba diving holds no interest for me and I am not crazy about some of the artistic style elements in play here, but it's just different enough that it might be worth checking out.
The scuba diving aspect is introduced early on (one of the two main girls apparently lives with her grandmother, who runs a scuba diving shop), but then it is mostly set aside for the rest of the episode, which focuses much more on introducing its two leads. The writing takes most of the episode to firmly establish the girls: Hikari is a relentlessly upbeat and outgoing type who marches to her own drum (or, more literally, whistle), while Futaba, who has apparently moved to the coastal town from the big city, is the more shy and socially awkward type (which seems an improbable combination with how pretty she looks) who is having trouble with having to move away from her middle school friends. Hikari is just the right kind of person to shake her out of her reserved and isolated nature, which will no doubt be one of the ongoing themes of the series, and there are more than faint hints of a possible yuri connection, too.
The smoothness and grace with which the characters are established and their initial association made makes for a somewhat odd mix with the more goofy spirit that the visuals takes. The series cuts away from its more ordinary artistry for superdeformed or otherwise skewed renditions of its characters so frequently that it is almost more the visual norm for the series. The school uniform for the girls, which more of a flowing dress with an ankle-length skirt, is also distinctive and unusual, and not necessarily in a good way, while base character designs seem to be a little more angular and rougher, with the girls having more prominent hips. It's part of the visual aesthetic about the series that I don't particularly care for, though it isn't necessarily bad.
Overall, the spirit of Hikari is so extreme and effervescent in its quirkiness that it's infectious. Even if her behavior would otherwise be annoying, here it makes her instantly likable, and with her serving as an ideal foil for Futaba, that relationship should carry the series regardless of how much it actually ends up focusing on the scuba diving.
I love the ocean. I love cats. This show has both of them. I do not love it. That makes me rather sad, actually – Amanchu has many things going for it that ought to make it much more interesting to me than it is. The idea of a show about scuba diving is a fun one, and scenes underwater have a huge amount of potential as far as visuals go, something this first episode proves that it can do well when it wants to. While we do get one scene of Hikari simply lying on the ocean floor (she must have weights in her wetsuit), most of the beauty in the animation goes to Futaba's long hair – we get multiple scenes of strands blowing gracefully in the breeze as she walks or rides her scooter. It is remarkably pretty, as is the breaking of a large wave against the rocks and the glitter of water left in the air.
So why is it that both Futaba and Hikari spend so much time in this episode suffering from muppet face? It's especially bad with Hikari, who looks like someone cut the head off of a Sesame Street character and stuck it on a shapely body. That the body spends a little over half the episode wearing one of the oddest school uniforms I've seen makes it even weirder. Girls' uniforms in Amanchu appear to be inspired by late Edwardian fashion with long tight skirts, high waists, and a flare-out at the bottom with an uneven hemline; they also appear to require a lacy petticoat as part of the outfit. All I could think of were hobble skirts, because wow, are they tight. This does give us an opportunity to see that each girl does have a different body type, but it still stands out as impractical and odd. (The eye-searing lilac shade doesn't help.) Hikari's grandmother has hair like a 1980s rocker, which is another odd touch in a show with such beautiful backgrounds and nature scenes, creating a jarring visual contradiction.
Hikari herself is a problem in general, being the most annoying character thus far this season. She's doubtless supposed to evoke a sense of “childlike wonder;” it unfortunately comes off as “annoying toddler in a sixteen-year-old body.” Futaba has much more promise as a character. She's clearly missing her friends now that she's moved to this new town, and her constant checking of her cell for texts indicates that they may not miss her quite as much as she does them. Futaba looks as though she feels abandoned and betrayed, which becomes even more understandable when we factor in that she's apparently very shy and anxious. The panic she feels when she has to stand up and introduce herself to the class is very familiar and real, as is the fact that it takes her a few moments to actually get words to come out of her mouth as her face turns redder and redder. Her moments are the most striking in the episode, and watching her become comfortable in her new surroundings might make putting up with Hikari bearable.
Or maybe not. This isn't so much a slow episode as one which just lacks a lot of interest despite hitting several good points. Hikari and the muppet faces are really enough to make me not want to see more, which is a shame because I'm sure the undersea scenes will be fantastic. If she tones down later on, I might be tempted to come back.
Between the laid-back pace, the music, and the seaside setting, the first episode of Amanchu reminds me a lot of Aria. It turns out that's not a coincidence; both shows are based on manga by Kozue Amano, and both anime adaptations have Junichi Sato on board as a director. If you enjoyed watching impossibly pleasant people row gondolas around a sci-fi version of Venice, then you'll probably enjoy watching impossibly pleasant people go scuba diving in modern-day Japan. If, on the other hand, Aria's leisurely pace and lack of conflict bored you to tears, you'll probably have the same reaction to Amanchu.
Protagonists Hikari and Futaba balance one another out pretty neatly. Hikari is friendly to a fault and doesn't seem to think too hard before she acts, while Futaba spends so much time thinking that she hardly talks at all. I can only assume that the majority of the series will involve Hikari instigating a variety of mild adventures while Futaba reflects on the significance of whatever's going on. It's a typical way to run a slice of life series, but the format is used so frequently because it has a tendency to work well. For the time being, Amanchu seems to be following the playbook as well as can be expected.
The show looks pretty good, and this episode benefits from strong background art that helps create an immersive atmosphere. The characters’ pastel purple school uniforms are a little unusual, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm a little concerned by how often Amanchu resorts to comedic, simplified faces for its characters, as it seems to be going for visual humor in moments where it's not necessary to do so. While I like Hikari's big goofy smile, it does occasionally feel like the show is trying too hard to squeeze in a few extra laughs.
One of the consequences of moving at such a leisurely pace is that this episode runs out of screen time before it can do anything beyond introducing its characters to one another. This makes it come across as more generic than it may end up being, but the good news is that it hasn't really put a foot wrong so far. I can see it gradually evolving into a thoughtful slice of life series, though its lack of urgency will limit its ability to win over anyone who isn't already a fan of the genre.
Amanchu! arrives bearing a lofty pedigree. Based on a manga by the creator of Aria and helmed by the director of Princess Tutu, it's definitely one of the more highly anticipated shows of the season. And based on this first episode, it seems fans of the mangaka's earlier work are likely to find plenty to love here. Amanchu! embodies the same simultaneously flippant and graceful style of slice of life that Aria exemplified, finding magic in the world around you and humor in absolutely everything.
Amanchu!’s setting is somewhat more mundane than Aria - instead of a Venetian city on Mars, this one seems to take place in a more mundane seaside town, and focuses on girls attending a presumably mundane high school. But the setting seems to be one of the only things separating the two shows. Like Aria, Amanchu! takes its time to move through narrative events, letting the whisper of the sea breeze guide its tempo. Like Aria, the designs here are a mix of lithe, elegant standard characters and dorky, endearing silly faces, with a specific signature face already assigned to each of the two leads. And like Aria, the focus is clearly on enjoying both the people and the world around you, letting your anxieties and regrets be washed away by a tide of earnest wonder and positive feelings.
All of that should hopefully make it very clear whether or not Amanchu! is your kind of show. Very few tangible events take place in this episode - the first half establishes the personalities of Futaba and Hikari largely through inference, as they each react to the sea in their own way, and the second half barely gets through class introductions. But narrative momentum is not what Amanchu! is going for - it is even more dedicated than last season's Flying Witch to capturing a mood and a moment, conveying the beauty of the sea in the first half and the insecurity of Futaba's first day in the second.
The show's execution is solidly up to the task of achieving those goals. Amanchu! shares Aria's soft and whimsical guitar melodies, and its animation and background art significantly improve on its spiritual ancestor. Futaba's insecurity about losing the few friends who'd already connected with her is understandable and smartly portrayed, and Hikari's enthusiasm is infectious as well. I personally wasn't blown away by this first episode, but that's more reflective of the fact that this genre space isn't exactly my thing than any failing of the show itself. If you're looking for a polished slice of life more focused on atmosphere than comedy, Amanchu! is a very solid expression of its genre.
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