The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Angel's 3Piece ?
What is this?
Kyo Nukui knows he's a shut-in, but he's come to terms with that. Sitting alone in his dark bedroom, he finds happiness in writing rock songs for the internet, sending them out and enjoying the small glimmers of connection they bring. But when a mysterious stranger emails Kyo and asks to meet in person, Kyo's life is going to take a strange turn. As it turns out, Kyo's admirer is actually a trio of elementary school girls - and now they want his help to put on their very own rock show! Angel's 3Piece! is based on a series of light novels and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Mondays at 8:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Let's get what Angel 3Piece! does right out of the way first: The first twenty or so minutes of this episode are well animated and visually interesting, and the script does a surprisingly good job of presenting us a nuanced take on a character who is obviously suffering from some severe social anxieties. Kyou is a man with a passion for music and a desire to share it with the world, but he is also deeply lonely, and his life as a shut in is becoming unbearable. Welcome to the NHK is one of the all-time greats when it comes to taking these kinds of issue seriously (well, seriously enough in any case), and I saw shades of that story here. The episode even did a respectable job of playing up the awkwardness of having Kyou's supposedly adult online friend turn out to be a trio of elementary school-girls, highlighting his fears regarding how bad it would look even being seen alone with them. Though the moe runs ridiculously strong throughout, it is easy to see how Angel 3Piece! could serve as a sort of anime analogue to movies like School of Rock, where this disenfranchised adult becomes a mentor to Nozomi, Sora, and Jun, helping them realize their potential as musicians. Fun and heartwarming “Getting the band together” stories are some of my all-time favorites, and for one all-too-brief moment Angel 3Piece! looks like it might be one of those shows.
Then the episode ends, and Angel 3Piece! reveals its true intentions in one of the most whiplash inducing tonal shifts I've seen in a long time. Look, I'm not naïve, and from the moment I saw that this premiere was titled “Heart Throbbing for Elementary School Kids!” I had my reservations, but 90% percent of the episode seemed well-meaning enough that I was willing to look past it. The sub-market of adorable little girls has been a popular and profitable one in the industry for a long time now, and though the often lascivious turns those properties take are most definitely not for me, I try to give shows the benefit of the doubt when I can. There are plenty of series like Angel 3Piece! that have managed to have fanservice remain a purely aesthetic factor. Unfortunately, this is not one of those shows, and when the final line of the episode turned out to be Nozomi offering her body as payment for Kyou's educational services, the entire focus of the show shifted. Just in case there was any ambiguity to be had, the post-credits gag explicitly confirms how Kyou feels about these girls.
Even if episode two somehow tries to walk it back as just a joke or a misunderstanding, and even if the rest of the series played this tension more for laughs than as an actual plot point, the damage has already been done. The series has taken its relatable, nuanced main character and, with little to no warning for the audience, turned him in to a character that is incredibly difficult to root for. What's worse, he is being put into a position to take advantage of these girls’ need for a teacher and parental-figure and use it for sexual gain. To go from telling a surprisingly compelling story about social anxiety and transforming so suddenly it into shameless pandering strikes me as almost mean spirited, as if the show itself thinks it absurd that anyone would expect things to turn out differently.
There is an audience out there for Angel 3Piece, and if they are willing to accept the show it eventually reveals itself to be, they will find a good-looking and well produced series, one that will probably contain some entertaining musical performances and some decent gags to boot. I expect there will be a great many who, like me, will look back with regret at the moment when Kyou wondered if he should hit the *ESCAPE* button on the RPG styled menu of his life when he had the chance. It might be too late for him, but for anyone who isn't keen on what Angel 3Piece! is set to offer up, this is the perfect opportunity to jump ship.
The first half of Angel's 3Piece! really had me going for a while there. Its opening scenes focused on the idle details of protagonist Kyo Nukui's bedroom, demonstrating the walls of his shut-in lifestyle one shot at a time. Instead of going to school, Kyo sits in his room composing rock songs for the internet. His conversations with the illustrator who accompanies his work felt natural, and I liked the way the show visually portrayed our inherent perceptions of the “voices” we hear through text and email. The show's portrayal of Kyo's anxiety was also solid, focusing on crucial lived details like writing an email and then sitting on it for hours, or missing what someone says to you, laughing it off, and then stressing about whatever they said later on.
Then the second half arrived, and, well. If I tell you this is based on a light novel by the original creator of Ro-Kyu-Bu!, and that this first episode was actually titled “Heart Throbbing for Elementary School Kids!”, would that give it away?
Yep, as it turns out, Sagu Aoyama's followup to “skeevy, romantically framed ‘high school boy teaches little girls basketball’” is “skeevy, romantically framed ‘high school boy teaches little girls rock songs.’” The second half of this episode opens with three tiny girls asking Kyo for help with their music, framing their request through “if you run away, we'll scream and say you did weird things to us.” It ends on that same girl saying “if you help me out, I'll let you touch me a little.” The space in between those deeply fatiguing lines is a mix of classic rock instrument fanservice and little girl fanservice, complete with all the closeups on knees and lips and frilly dresses that entails.
In spite of its relatively solid first half, Angel's 3Piece!’s premiere ultimately prioritizes lolicon fetishism over basically all else. Its three female leads don't act like actual young girls - they act like the receptive archetypes you expect in the genre, alternately fawning over and blushing bashfully at their new teacher. The show's visual framing and dialogue are too relentlessly focused on pursuing that central goal to offer convincing drama or a hook beyond “if you're into this, we are not pulling punches.” Given its generally middling production values, I also couldn't really enjoy this episode's song performance for its own sake. And frankly, even as an unabashedly lolicon-oriented harem, this just didn't seem all that thrilling - all three of Kyo's new friends felt totally unreal as characters, so there wasn't really anything to invest in there. If the end of Eromanga-sensei has left a little sister-sized hole in your heart, maybe check this one out. Otherwise, hard pass.
I don't think that I've ever seen the bottom fall out of a debut episode as unexpectedly fast and hard as it does with the very last line of this episode.
Admittedly, I was more than a little leery of this one based on the described premise, as these days you have to look suspiciously at any anime featuring a trio of elementary school girls that's not aimed at elementary school students, especially when a high school-aged hikkikimori boy is the other main character. Throughout most of the episode, though, it was looking like a potential positive surprise. They were handling the hikkikimori nature of Kyo pretty seriously and showing a surprising amount of attention to detail on musical matters; there's a knock-off of a Jimi Hendrix concert poster on the wall in Kyo's room, for instance. In fact, the first half of the episode plays quite seriously, though we don't get any explanation on why Kyo is a shut-in. The mood lightens a bit once the three girls appear, as they all have pretty standard cutesy affectations, and the whole business with their basement practice room was fun; I'm sure there are a number of musical allusions there that I just don't recognize. The performance number they do for Kyo was pretty strong, too, although trying to sing in the kiddified voices leaves the vocals a bit on the weak side.
There's definitely nothing wrong with this episode on a technical front. The opening scenes prove right away that it's going to be much more ambitious than the normal music series when it comes to its animation, as you actually get to see finger movements and such in detail. The climactic performance by the girls is not quite on the level of Haruhi Suzumiya's performance with ENOZ from her series, but it's not much short of that, and if the vibe in that scene is a little weird because of how young the girls are, well, that can be overlooked. The rest of the first episode looks sharp, too, and it's got a pretty strong closer.
But that last line. . . Oooh, does the episode go in a wrong, wrong, wrong directions with that! Maybe – just maybe – the creative staff is teasing us with the way it's worded, but in retrospect there's enough evidence earlier in the episode to strongly suggest that it was meant the way most people are going to take it. Precocious Nozomi (the brunette) does throw out the too-canny-for-her-age threat earlier that they'll act like Kyo was up to no good if he doesn't cooperate, and a few of the camera shots seemed innocent at the time but, when taken together with that last line, now imply something vastly more skeevy.
At least the first episode does leave a path for the series to dig itself out of that hole. Kyo acknowledged earlier that being seen in the company of the girls could have bad repercussions, so maybe the series can handle this seriously by having him strongly refute Nozomi's proposal and portray making such offers as a learning moment. There's also a girl his age who's apparently at least concerned about him. But I'm dubious that could work. Pandora's Box has been opened by ending the episode on that line, after all.
And to be clear about my rating, this episode would have gotten at least a 3, and maybe a 3.5, if Nozomi had said just about anything else in the last line.
Angel's 3 Piece seems to have a bit of an issue deciding how to present its main storyline. The start of the episode is fairly impressive, particularly in how it handes Kyo's anxiety disorder. He's not staying home from school for any reason other than the fact that dealing with people makes him anxious to the point where he keeps track of how many people he interacts with in person in a day (a trick for motivating yourself by seeing how well you're doing) and needs to keep his headphones in and music up in order to deal with the clerk at the convenience store. Those are recognizable coping mechanisms, and along with the fact that he gets so worked up over replying to an email work to give a surprisingly realistic picture of someone coping with extreme anxiety.
And then he goes to meet Jun Goto, who turns out to be an adorable little girl with a so-cute speech affectation (unyu!) and two friends who are equally as adorable and quirky and just want their favorite internet musician to help them put on a concert at a church with antique instruments. So cute. So harmless. Such a neat hidden space underneath the statue of a saint (?) with pieces from the 1950s that Kyo has only read about. Of course he'll help out, especially since one of the elementary girls offers to pay him with her body!
Wait. What was that? What just happened in the otherwise mind-numbingly dull moe section of this show?
The problem, as I see it, is not so much that the proposition happens. If you're looking for it, you can spot the signs that this is going to have loli romance elements from the moment the little girls come in – scenes shot so that you see Kyo framed between their bare legs, the focus on the spread legs of the drummer, the camera lingering on their lips…it is there, it's just that the story isn't encouraging us to focus on it. The real issue is that the show continues this to confirm that Kyo is in fact turned on by the suggestion, taking this firmly into territory that some viewers will find creepy. On the plus side, you know what you're getting into, but the drawback is that you don't learn until after you've watched the entire episode. Even more at issue is the fact that the first half of the show is devoted to Kyo's anxiety and the girl at school who defends him from their classmates, so the shift is abrupt, making it feel like this is somehow two separate shows someone glued together.
Angel's 3Piece gets credit for its early portion and a decently catchy insert song. But it goes so far off the rails from that anxiety plotline and so rapidly into loli territory that it basically negates the whole first part. Even without the uncomfortable factor, that's just not a great way to introduce a series.
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