The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Since I'm only writing this preview after having seen a full four episodes of the show, I guess my perspective on Anime-Gataris' premiere is that it buries the lede a little too much. While this first episode has solid comedic chops and a ridiculous twist ending, its pretty innocuous in its everyday slice-of-lifey introduction to a show that's grown to shine with its gleefully biting otaku references and observations. Introducing the light-novel-loving bookworm, the idol-obsessed playboy, and the baffling chuunibyou in snapshot is a good idea that lets us know we're in for more flavor than we're getting up-front, but most of this premiere's runtime is still spend with anime-newbie Minoa reacting with confusion to excellent fake series titles like Hero School and R:Zero. There's enough good gags in here to recommend giving the show a couple more episodes based on this first one alone, (I certainly did, and it does only get better!) but apart from the unexpected talking cat, it's a pretty straightforward school club comedy elevated by the cheeky specificity of its references. If you dig those dozens of otaku easter eggs though, you'll definitely love the way the show expands on its cast and premise in future episodes, so give it the ole three-episode test! (And if you don't know what that is, it's discussed in detail in episode three!)
SimulDub Preview: ADR Director Dave Trosko and his cast do an admirable job with this premiere, following the Japanese script closely from one tongue-twisting title to another. Alison Viktorin's take on Arisu stands out especially for plowing through all those Japanese acronyms with convincing enthusiasm and giving the character a more casually nerdy timbre than the more predictable (and less interesting) hyper-feminine ojou-sama sound I expected. Alejandro Saab also seems like he'll be a lot of fun as Kai, but we spend most of this episode listening to Dawn M. Bennett's Minoa, who does well despite sounding a little fake and over-enunciative in that English-dub-attempting-to-replicate-moe kind of way. (Sorry, that's probably just a pet peeve of mine.) There is one small tone change to the material that I actually prefer (but others might not), in that Minoa is more overtly weirded-out in English than she is in Japanese, where she only seemed angelically confused by Arisu's nerdiness. In the dub, her little dips into sarcasm and discomfort match her actions of not wanting to join the club a little better, less "doe-eyed anime ingenue who's overwhelmed by everything" and more "average high school girl who tries very hard to be nice but the facade cracks sometimes in the face of forceful nerds". Mind you, this difference is very slight, so you're getting pretty much the same experience either way.
If I had to define what we've gotten this season so far in one word, it would be “pleasant”. While I haven't seen any jaw-dropping standouts yet, I've consistently enjoyed many more premieres from this season than last. Anime-Gataris is another example of a basic setup that's entertainingly executed, though it might have a few more tricks up its sleeve than it lets on at first blush.
For 99% of this episode, what we see is absolutely what we get. A simple case of “I can't quite remember that show from years ago” puts the well-meaning Minoa in the sights of Kamiigusa, who is the show's resident “über-popular school beauty who's secretly an otaku”, and much of the episode has Minoa reacting with gentle befuddlement to Kamiigusa's hyper enthusiastic response at the notion of having someone, anyone, to talk about anime with. The one gag that got me to consistently laugh was Kamiigusa's tendency to summon her butler with a dramatic snap and have whatever oddly specific materials she needed available in an instant, from a mountain of “beginner anime” Blu-Rays to a variety platter of tuna cans for the stray cat the girls find in the abandoned anime club. Overall, this episode presents itself as a cute and harmless comedy, when you factor in the pleasing character designs and an appealingly bright color scheme, nothing much stands out as being more than pleasantly watchable.
That is until the stray cat stands up on its hind legs and starts speaking to Minoa, which tells us that Anime-Gataris might not be the simple slice-of-life show we assumed. A talking cat usually signifies some upcoming magical girl shenanigans to me, which would be in keeping with the mysterious beret that seems to signal some kind of awakening or memory in Minoa. Honestly, we'll have to wait until next week to see where this could go, but at least it signifies some kind of breach from an everyday hangout comedy. As is the case with many shows I've seen this week, I'm not exactly floored by Anime-Gataris' quality, but I'm certainly interested to see where it goes next.
Well, that was charming. In a season full of stunning premieres in a wide variety of genres, “just charming” probably won't be enough to keep me watching a show. But Anime-Gataris offers a perfectly likable premiere, and that's never a bad thing.
Anime-Gataris' narrative centers on Minoa, a girl who's not quite sure what her passion should be. Faintly remembering an anime that inspired her as a kid, she attracts the attention of Kamiigusa, the class ojou-sama who's secretly a huge anime fan. The two eventually talk each other into forming an anime club, and a firm friendship is established. In the background of all this comedy/slice of life stuff, it seems like some kind of supernatural conflict is brewing, capstoned by the reveal of a talking cat.
Anime-Gataris' strongest feature is likely its fond but relatively true-to-life depiction of the dedicated anime fan. Kamiigusa's interrogation of Minoa on her various media interests felt like a conversation I've heard many times before, and like Minoa, I found her passion consistently endearing. The scene where Kamiigusa first notices Minoa was another highlight, as I could personally relate to that palpable sense of “how can I possibly let this person know I am an expert on this topic.” The two girls also have a generally strong rapport, and though the humor was a bit hit-or-miss, the fandom-specific material always felt well-observed and gracefully articulated. Above all else, Anime-Gataris established and maintained an inviting atmosphere throughout, selling its prospective club as a place it'll be consistently rewarding to visit.
As far as the supernatural inklings go, I actually enjoyed how much this episode downplayed its ultimate twist. “Monsters are invading and our club will have to suddenly become supernatural defenders of humanity” feels a lot less interesting to me than “monsters are invading but we still have to pick a show to watch for our Friday meeting.” Many of the jokes in this episode were too overplayed to land well, but a show where the protagonists are kinda just irrelevant to the supernatural action feels like a rich comic vein to be mined.
Still, that's more “this show could turn out to be funny” than “this show is already funny.” Splitting the difference between comic winners and duds, this episode succeeded more on its generally charming atmosphere than its laugh-out-loud moments. If you're looking for a low-key comedy with an inviting tone, it's probably worth a shot.
While I still think that Blend-S is this season's successor to last season's Gamers! in terms of being a raucous comedy, Anime-Gataris looks to be the spiritual successor in terms of content, with the focus shifting from gaming to anime and the protagonist being female rather than male. This impression is largely based on its similar portrayal of the honest passion that the hobby can induce in its hobbyists and hints that different approaches to the hobby will be explored.
The seemingly-perfect rich girl who's secretly an otaku has been a thing in anime at least since 2008's Secret of Nogizaka Haruka, but I like this series' Arisu Kamiigusa better than any previous effort except perhaps Karen Tendo from Gamers! That's primarily because she doesn't seem to be trying to keep her interest a secret to preserve her image; it's just that no one else has dared to broach the subject with her because she comes across as unapproachable. I also liked that Minoa is more overwhelmed by Arisu's intensity than put off by her interest, and that she actually respects both the passion that Arisu puts into her hobby and the way she sees talking about anime as making Arisu more accessible. Since they have to restart the club rather than join an established one, all that's left to do is collect the other members who make their debuts in this episode but haven't connected with the lead duo yet.
Or that's what I was going to say until the talking cat and the magical beret popped up. Where the heck do those fit into all of this? Even though I suspected that the cat would wind up talking from the first moment it appeared, what story implications that has are beyond me, since nothing else about the series gives any suggestion of supernatural elements. I question whether the premise even needs them, but maybe this is going in a slightly different direction than was initially apparent. Whatever the case may be, even merely average technical merits don't dampen the potential this first episode shows.
Anime-Gataris feels like it might be the anime successor to last season's Gamers in the way it handles its characters and material. Similar to that other show, this one focuses on a group of high schoolers with a niche hobby that's often denigrated by their peers—in this case, a love of anime. Protagonist Minoa isn't actually into anime at fist, but she makes the critical mistake of mentioning it within earshot of two closet fans—bookish Koenji and wealthy Kamiigusa. That's one of the best little moments in this episode, the quiet interest that both girls show when they realize what Minoa is talking about. It's a nice little bit of realism as they try not to indicate that they noticed while every fiber of their beings are clearly desperately paying attention—suddenly Minoa is a lot more interesting to them and they have to decide what to do about it.
Koenji arguably knows that it's going to be harder than it appears at first, because moments before, Minoa was asking her about the book she's reading. We recognize it as a light novel from its overly complicated title, but Minoa just thinks it sounds like a really hard book, which indicates that she's really not part of the fandom. That may be why Kamiigusa is the one who pursues Minoa thinking she's a fellow fan—Koenji realizes that Minoa may only be expressing a passing interest. Of course, Kamiigusa is also just the stronger personality of the two, and wouldn't you be if you had an army of ninja maids and a butler who appeared with a snap of your fingers to do your every bidding?
Where this episode really succeeds is in Minoa herself. She may be trying to find that one random series from her childhood, and she clearly tries not to judge people for what they enjoy, but she's obviously weirded out by Kamiigusa's overwhelming enthusiasm and can't figure out how to respond to it. She has the same reaction to the otaku guy she meets who casts the “hasta la pasta” spell on his so-called grimoire so that she can pick it up and hand it to him; these people are far outside of her realm of understanding. Watching her attempt to integrate into their group as a mostly-unwilling member of Kamiigusa's revived anime club should be entertaining, provided that it isn't used as a snide way to jab at people for being weird nerds.
This bears keeping an eye on for a few episodes, and I'm really curious about that weird talking cat and his magical raspberry beret. I have a feeling that we've only covered about half of what this series will really be.
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