The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide Action Heroine Cheer Fruits
How would you rate episode 1 of
Action Heroine Cheer Fruits ?
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How was the first episode?
It sure is nice to watch a show that has its heart so securely in the right place. Even if its execution was middling and its characters not terribly dynamic, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits' first episode was so genuinely good-natured and sensitive to the feelings of its cast that I was still left with a smile. Shows that care about people are a very fine thing.
Action Heroine Cheer Fruits' premise is somewhat similar to last season's Sakura Quest, in that it focuses on “hometown heroes” designed to spur interest in their various cities. Apparently Hinano City is one such city in need of renewal, but the actual larger context of this story stays firmly in the background. Instead, this episode is a story about Mikan, her little sister, and her friend Akagi, all of whom love the TV sentai hero Kamidaio. But when a scheduling issue prevents Kamidaio from visiting their town in person, Mikan ends up promising her sister a Kamidaio performance that she's really not sure she can provide.
Shows about the influence a good hero can have on a child have a great inherent appeal for me, and this episode did a wonderful job of underlining that relationship. The moment where Mikan had to explain to her sister that they wouldn't actually get to see Kamidaio was appropriately brutal, and her sister's own concern for Mikan during the ultimate performance was a great illustration of their mutual love. This episode's greatest strength was that the feelings of all of its characters seemed well-observed and dramatically respected at basically all times. From the awkward friendship developing between Akagi and Mikan to moments like Mikan's sister actually feeling embarrassed of Mikan's performance, these characters' charming feelings were treated with consistence grace.
As far as execution goes, Cheer Fruits' visuals are pretty middling - there are some nice silly faces and some pretty color work, but not all that much inventive direction or animation to speak of. The episode is also somewhat sabotaged by its own success - this is a very satisfying standalone vignette, but it doesn't offer that much of a hook to keep watching. Still, I was charmed and entertained by Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, and I hope it holds together.
I'm definitely not alone in expecting next-to-nothing from a show called Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, but what do you know—it was really cute, and you should totally check it out! These moe-girls-gather-to-save-their-rural-town-through-wacky-hijinks shows are fast becoming commonplace, but Cheer Fruits trounces much of its competition just by committing to a basic rule that too many anime neglect: show don't tell.
This old screenwriting truism probably gets cited too often, and it isn't the end-all-be-all of good storytelling, but it is still a truism for a reason. We never get an exposition dump telling us that "action heroines" are the preferred method for promoting tourism in Japan these days, and we don't get an "as you know" breakdown of all the girls' relationships to one another as they trade their opinions on the action heroine boom. Instead, the episode unfolds organically from one adorable scene to the next, always staying focused on the emotions and motivations of its three leads. Mikan wants to make her heroine-loving sister happy, An is obsessed with her favorite heroine Kamidaio, and the stuffy student council president only sees heroines as a means to the responsible end of rejuvenating their town, but we only get bits and pieces of that information when it can drive the story forward or make the cast sparkle.
And sparkle they do! Mikan's valiant effort to put on a Kamidaio show for her sister is immediately endearing, never oversold with cheesy monologues or long pans over the quiet town, but delivered through clever gags and smart montages of preparation for the big event. Even Mikan's little sister gets to engage with this story as more than a plot device to set up the future Cheer Fruits, giving her one of the best moments in the episode when she cheers on her sister in the bad guy role, despite being slightly embarrassed by the substitute Kamidaio show that was put together just to try and comfort her.
Ending the whole ramshackle action heroine performance with disastrous property damage is just the icing on the cake, concluding a premiere that delivered cuteness, comedy, and even some unexpected dramatic twists with style. It just goes to show that no matter how basic the premise or predictable the art style might seem on the surface, any anime can shine if the story is told well. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm looking forward to seeing more Action Heroine Cheer Fruits!
Looking at the early descriptions for Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, I had assumed that the heroines popping up all over Japan were literal magical girls, using their powers to fight crime and beat up monsters. When I actually sat down to watch it and discovered that the premise actually revolved around heroic mascots that performed shows for audiences and represented different Japanese cities, I immediately became more interested. Instead of being another superhero show, which I wouldn't have necessarily minded, AHCF really seems to focus on a few kids trying to use their talents in performance and stage craft to do something good for their town. It's a quieter story than I was expecting, and I enjoyed it all the more because of it.
It helps that Akagi and Mikan make for a great pair of leading ladies to root for, even if their overeager showboat/socially reserved straight woman routine is a bit formulaic. These girls are decent and hardworking kids who go exceedingly far out of their way to make a little girl happy, and watching them grow into their roles in shape together their Kamidaio homage was genuinely heartwarming. I did feel that there was an over reliance on the slide-show montages, especially since a lot of it had to do with the girls' emotions developing as the project came together, and not necessarily with the more interesting question of how they were able to put together such an elaborate production with so little time and resources. That last part, combined with Akagi's almost unbelievable proficiency in parkour and heroic gymnastics, could strain credulity for some, but it managed to work for me.
Action Heroine Cheer Fruits wasn't a show I was looking forward to at all, and it really managed to surprise me with how charming and likeable it turned out to be. It's animation aesthetics aren't anything special, so anybody looking for a visual treat might be disappointed, but the writing and performances make up for it. This isn't a show that will blow anyone away, but I think it will be a quietly successful comedy that a lot of people end up sticking with. It's one thing to imitate a performance, but it will be truly interesting to see these girls create something wholly original and unique. It's not going to set the world on fire or anything, but thanks to its crisp storytelling and charming atmosphere, I'm eager to see what happens next in Action Heroine Cheer Fruits!
If the quality of Made in Abyss was the first big surprise of the season then the potential appeal of this series is the second. Based on the title and silly premise, I wasn't expecting much going into this debut, and honestly, the first few minutes aren't that impressive, either. By the end, though, I loved what the episode had done here.
In some senses the concept here is somewhat similar to Sakura Quest or Locodol: to promote local towns whose economies have been suffering due to aging populations and shifts towards the big cities, each town is setting up an action heroine to represent them. This one splits off in a different direction because the two girls don't go into the process intending to promote the town like that. Instead, they're just trying to put on a show for the little sister of one of them and things just happen from there. Watching the end result of the effort they put in to setting up the show, down even to choreographing the moves just like it was done in a televised show, was a surprising delight, as it found exactly the right balance of looking like an amateur production and yet still being something that the girls took quite seriously. The reactions of the little sister, who picked up on what was actually happening, and how they changed over the course of the show, sealed the deal. In fact, in some ways the whole thing had a lot more charm exactly because it was clearly an amateur effort. That's complemented earlier in the episode by viewers being able to see the wires that the characters are using to jump around in the TV show version, which I also thought was a nice touch. So was how the collapse of the tower and the video of their performance being posted online for streaming commentary played into this at the end.
The technical merits for the episode aren't spectacular, but the bright and warm coloring and soft character designs combined with relatively good animation to make for an appealing enough look and the girls are all suitably attractive. The one potential downside note is the brief appearance of the oujo-sama character, and I'm not at all clear what direction and ongoing tone the story is going to take going forward. Taken on its own, though, the first episode is plenty cute and quaint enough to be worth a look.
All right, that was much more entertaining than I expected it to be. Judging by the basic premise and the opening scene, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits looks like it's going to be the latest in a long line of titles trying to cash in on the “zero to idol” formula of Love Live and other big-name franchises. However, something important happens over the course of this episode: the show's attempts at being cute and charming actually feel genuine instead of coming across as shallow or calculated. It's a nice little story that benefits from keeping one foot grounded in reality.
For one thing, I appreciate the motivation behind Mikan and An's attempt to replicate a big-budget hero stage show. They don't display any ambition to become professionals, nor do they lean on a vague, corny line like “I want to inspire everybody.” Their efforts are essentially just a hasty (and slightly desperate) attempt at following through on Mikan's promise to let her little sister see the real Kamidaio Show. Even at the end of the episode, they're still thinking small; they're embarrassed to find a video of their performance online, and their main priority is escaping punishment for breaking a local landmark. Having the inciting incident be a one-off attempt to cheer up a little kid is a refreshing change of pace after so many stories about aiming for the top.
The performance itself is also charming in its slapdash, cardboard-box style. If you've ever tried to replicate an action movie or stage play in your backyard as young kid or teenager, it will likely hit the nostalgia button pretty hard. The frequent cuts to Mikan's ordeal inside the monster costume add to the scene's comedic appeal, and the reactions from the audience of little kids are pretty believable. The kids aren't so much impressed by the production as they are excited about the prospect of accidental injuries, and Mikan's sister seems mainly concerned about seeing her get through the ordeal without becoming too much of an embarrassment. Again, it comes down to creating the impression that these are real, imperfect people instead of tailor-made fictional idols.
There's no guarantee that Action Heroine Cheer Fruits will continue to exceed expectations over the course of the season, but at least it's off to a surprisingly good start. The “help revive the town” side of the narrative reminds me a bit of Sakura Quest, and that series has certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of its silly-sounding premise. The fact that this appears to be an original production instead of an adaptation of a larger franchise is also encouraging to me, as it means there might be less pressure on the writing to sell merchandise or promote a smartphone game. I'm cautiously optimistic about this series, which is already several steps up from what I expected going in.
No one is more surprised by my rating for this show than me. Action Heroine Cheer Fruits' first episode is a charming, entertaining, and fun story about a couple of girls doing their best to make a little kid happy, and apart from some crazy stunts, it's amazingly realistic in its details. There's no elaborate costuming like we usually see in school play stories, no awesome props, and the girls are only able to do stunts that because An is a rhythmic gymnast (and apparently a really good one, judging by the rival who comes to see her) and Mikan is a cheerleader. They practice rather than train, and when the show goes on, Mikan's villain is wearing a cardboard box painted purple and An's Kamidaio comes riding in on her bicycle in her school gym suit. Everything about it screams, “Made by Two Teenagers with No Adult Supervision,” and that grounds the episode in a way that adds to its charm.
Another nice touch is the reaction of Mikan's sister – rather than be thrilled that her big sis is doing something so great for her, she's clearly embarrassed by the production and disappointed that Mikan and An are performing themselves rather than having produced the actual Kamidaio. We see her peeking in Mikan's bedroom one night while Mikan is patching herself up from rehearsal, and it's obvious from the expression on her face that she's figured out what's really going on – and she's not happy. When the other little kids An invited to the show (Mikan originally just wanted to perform for her sister) start laughing at Mikan's cardboard box baddy, her sister looks like she wants the ground to open up beneath her; it isn't until An actually kicks Mikan that she realizes how hard her big sister has worked for her.
That's what seems to set this episode apart from series like Locodol or any of the similar local idol shows – Mikan and An aren't trying to be real action heroines. Sure An's a fan, but it's not her life goal, just something she's into. They're just having fun and trying to make a little girl feel better about not getting to see her heroine perform. They don't hope for or expect anything beyond cheering up Mikan's sister to come of their performance, and when they discover that they've been put online, they're embarrassed, not thrilled, to get the notice. (The comments we see scroll past on the video range from “chubby” to “don't I know those uniforms?”, so we're not seeing tons of internet praise.) When they're asked to become real action heroines, it's by no means certain that they'll both be thrilled to accept.
Apart from some clunky CG when the tower collapses (and it had to have been unsafe long before An got to it), the animation is pretty good, and there's only a little vaguely awkward fanservice, which is mostly vaguely awkward because the underwear An briefly flashes is so bright white that it almost looks like a censorship beam. I'm worried that this will veer into more cliché mascot/local idol territory as it goes on, but right now this is my best surprise of the season – a show I never expected to like that hit all the right notes.
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