The Winter 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dagashi Kashi ?
Community score: 3.8
What is this?
Kokonotsu Shikada is really tired of his friends calling him "Coconuts" all the time. The only thing that annoys him more is his father's insistence that he give up on drawing manga and take up the family business, a Japanese snacks (or dagashi) store, instead. It doesn't help poor Kokonotsu's case that he's already a far more competent shop owner than his dad, but just when their generational head-butting has reached a fever pitch, another candy fanatic comes bursting into his life. City-slicker Hotaru Shidare is the heir to a world-famous sweets company, and she's absolutely obsessed with all things sugar and sodium. She immediately takes a shine to Kokonotsu, and even though she's totally coconuts herself, Kokonotsu can't help but notice her resemblance to the heroine he's been drawing for so many years. That just leaves one last little problem: Saya Endou, a cafe waitress who also has a downright scary romantic fixation on Kokonotsu. Dagashi Kashi is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Funimation, Mondays at 5:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Review: Dagashi Kashi is basically an example of taking a common concept – the hyper girl on a mission who attaches herself to a more laid-back boy – and putting it into a slightly offbeat situation and far less typical artistic style. The result is a first episode which is just eccentric enough to stick out but hardly anything groundbreaking.
Grounding the episode in the normal realm is the fledgling romance which may or may not be afoot between Kokonotsu and Saya, the girl who helps runs her family's café in his small town. She doesn't want to admit how much she like him and he's oblivious. Kokonotsu suffering through his father's efforts to get him to continue the long-standing tradition of the family snack shop is also not so unusual, nor is the ridiculousness that someone like Kokonotsu's father is well-known enough to be recruited. What puts it in a slightly different realm is the manic energy of Hotaru. That isn't so abnormal, either, but it's the way she uses it. She's a walking assemblage of weirdness, one possessed of enough bizarre little quirks to stock the entire cast of a comedy series. One minute she might be describing her mission like a fantasy video game quest; the next she acts like she's doing a commercial for one of her family company's products. As often as not she makes very little sense, which other characters comment on repeatedly, but that doesn't stop her.
The problem that I could see with this series for non-Japanese viewers is that it has already thrown out a number of food-related references that would, at best, be obscure in the West, and given the premise of the series, I have no doubt that will be a regular feature. If too much of the humor goes over the viewer's head then it hurts the entertainment value. The rather different artistic style also has the potential to either draw in viewers or repel them, especially the way eyes are drawn; the normal look for most cast members is to be glaring wide-eyed, and that can be disconcerting. Hotartu's almost lopsided build isn't as sexy as it tries to be, but some of the character expressions are classics.
Clearly this was made by people having fun with the content and character, but whether this works or not is going to be very hit-or-miss. I did get a few laughs and chuckles out of it, but there is more conventional anime fare out there that's funnier.
It's a weird position to find yourself in, recommending a comedy you didn't actually find funny. But here we are. Dagashi Kashi never comes close to being laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it is exceptionally pleasant, inviting, and unique. Sometimes that's enough, especially in a lax and barren season like this one. (Okay, I promise I'm done mentioning how disappointing Winter 2016 has been. On the plus side, I'll bet we're in for one hell of a Spring season!)
Unlike most anime comedies, Dagashi Kashi is driven more by the artistry of its gags than the jokes themselves. Hotaru may be the girl of Kokonotsu's dreams (she's "very attractive" in his words), but she has a face tailored for comedic expression, along with everyone else in the show. I'm beginning to wonder if this "frog-eyed and cat-mouthed" style of ugly-cute character design (cugely?) will gain more and more ground in anime because of how well it worked for Haikyu!!. In that beloved volleyball anime, the boys' faces are able to swing wildly between dozens of different over-the-top reactions from goofiness to intensity, while still retaining a weird kind of sexual appeal for fangirls. Dagashi Kashi pulls the exact same clever trick with its female cast. Even when the jokes themselves aren't funny (they're basically all dad jokes revolving around convenience store snacks), the animators are having fun giving them life in a variety of different ways from wacky faces to art style changeups to impromptu slapstick, and the title card breaks between each segment give away the cast's fanservice appeal on the side.
Of course, the mostly-funny-yet-weirdly-attractive character designs and above-par animation are the only things Dagashi Kashi has in common with Haikyu!! The show's source manga is an odd creation, like a 4-koma series whose fluffy setups and punchlines last about a dozen pages instead of four panels. So even though there's already a love triangle burning at the heart of this series inside of one episode, it's best not to expect much ongoing story out of this crispy little confection. Dagashi Kashi is a confident bite of light-hearted escapism, so if you've enjoyed solid 4-koma gag series in the past, just consider this the king-size version of that sweet-n'-simple taste.
Warning: do not watch this show while hungry, especially if you live near an Asian market that carries dagashi, Japanese snack foods. All of the munchies featured in this episode appear to be real (I can only personally speak to one of them existing) and you will walk away wanting to sample them – even if heroine Hotaru is clearly wrong and the most sumptuous way to eat fries is with gravy and cheese curd. It's also nice that, despite its silly plot and irritating contrivances, Dagashi Kashi is also fun, making its tropes work for it in a way that comes off as funny rather than “deliberately quirky.”
The biggest issue here is Hotaru herself, a manic snack fiend (and pixie dream girl) who for some reason desperately wants hero Kokonatsu's snack shop running father to come work for her family's snack producing company. This necessitates Kokonatsu giving up his mangaka dreams and agreeing to run the shop in his dad's stead, something he is understandably reluctant to do, especially since it looks like he has more talent than the average aspiring mangaka character in this kind of show. Most of the two-part episode (it's divided into two named halves) is spent watching Hotaru flit around like a caffeinated will o' the wisp wreaking havoc on people's mental stability. It largely works, particularly in the second half, which has her interacting with Kokonatu's crush and proving herself to be crazy in all areas, not just those pertaining to snack foods.
There's not a lot of call for spectacular art or animation in this episode, but it still does look nice, with the shine and gloss of a magazine over serviceable character designs and backgrounds that give a good sense of place. Hotaru stands out like a sore thumb visually as well as by her actions, which is a decent trick, and it is kind of refreshing not to see the ol' walked-in-on-in-the-shower scene used for “comic” violence for a change. Really the most remarkable thing about this episode is that it works so well, tired use of a specific type of heroine and all. It's just different enough and takes itself lightly enough to make it airy and funny. I feel like it will wear with length of use, but until that point, this looks like it could be breezy fun.
So Dagashi Kashi was one of the most generally anticipated shows of this season, and as far as I know, that anticipation was based almost entirely around one thing - the appeal of its crazy-eyed heroine Hotaru, whose lust for candy and snacks knows no bounds. That wouldn't seem like much of a premise to base an entire show around, but as far as gag comedies centered on one crazy character go, Dagashi Kashi actually presents a pretty reasonable first episode.
Hotaru herself is the clear centerpiece of the show, in contrast to the milquetoast male lead Kokonotsu and his textbook childhood friend Saya. When the show leans into the actual interpersonal dramas of these characters, it sags; the relationship between Saya and Kokonotsu is obvious “she likes him, he's oblivious” stuff, and none of the characters here seem textured enough to sustain actual relationship drama. If Dagashi Kashi ends up actually caring about its own romance, it will probably not end that well.
Fortunately, this first episode has very little of that. Instead, it dedicates most of its running time to letting Hotaru do what she does best: pine breathily after cheap dime-store snacks. Hotaru's charisma is sold through her wild-eyed design and solid expression work, and the show generally doesn't oversell its jokes. Gag comedies can often stretch single, simple punchlines into full minutes of running time, but Dagashi Kashi gets its hits in and moves on, letting fun expressions fill the gaps between full jokes. It's unclear how long Hotaru's ridiculous faces and the show's very simple premise can keep the show entertaining, but so far, Dagashi Kashi is a reasonably successful light comedy that almost never gets abrasive in its execution, letting atmosphere and character appeal do the heavy lifting.
Speaking of atmosphere, the final noteworthy thing about this show is that it possesses a surprisingly strong sense of place. Solid backgrounds, well-chosen incidental shots, and engaging music work together to nicely evoke the sensation of a country town, which inherently grounds the show's comedy in an overall feeling of warmth and personality. Dagashi Kashi is a more low-key comedy than you might expect, and that definitely works to its benefit. Its overall visual design is crisp and appealing, and its light gags contribute to the atmosphere just as much as anything else. It still seems improbable that Hotaru's candy thirst can justify an entire series, but this was a perfectly reasonable first episode.
If Dagashi Kashi were live-action, it would be roundly mocked – and maybe not entirely unfairly so – for clinging so hard to the now-tired cliché everyone loves to hate, the dreaded manic pixie dream girl.
Make no mistake, on the surface, that's pretty much what this is. This entire show is built around its lead character, already enormously popular already online and it isn't tough to see why: she's a lavender-haired girl with passionate eyes, more calculated quirk than a gift shop for twee college students and built-in fanservice. Thankfully her character writing is a little better than your average half-assed Fox Searchlight comedy, and in general the vibe Dagashi Kashi peddles is “glossy, carefree romantic comedy anime”, a genre I've always had a secret soft spot for. This seems like a shamelessly entertaining one of those, which means I'll be watching. The main character's nickname is Coconuts. What's not to like?
Don't get me wrong – this thing isn't going to win any writing awards anytime soon, at least not based on what I saw in this lighter-than-a-feather first episode. What I did get were a few funny jokes, enough weirdness from the main girl to help the show stand apart a little, and a handful of supporting cast members with pretty strong personalities (I like that the hero's friend is dressed like he just left the party at the end of Sixteen Candles). The second love interest, Saya (she doesn't like sweet things, but she sure is sweet on Coconuts!), gives the show the extra boost of character it needs. I found Hotaru amusing enough in small doses, but Saya is the extra bit of character alchemy this thing needed to make it into “binge-watch-on-a-lazy-Sunday” territory. There's a slight tension to the character interaction between all of these people that it feels like – or at least I hope – the relationships might take some unexpected twists and turns, and maybe there's a little heartbreak, or a few nice observations on love. The jokes may be clumsy, but I got a sense that there's some fun, sitcommy relationship stuff to be had here.
I mentioned gloss – Dagashi Kashi is swimming in it. I love shows that look like this, all soft lines, bold colors, a soft, shimmering plasticity to the visuals that's enhanced by crisp draftsmanship and careful attention to character consistency. The show is themed around candy, and that's no mistake – this is the anime equivalent of a box of Gobstoppers with a Gravure idol on the cover. Indulge or don't.
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