The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Elegant Yokai Apartment Life
How would you rate episode 1 of
Elegant Yokai Apartment Life ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I suppose it's a little unfair to demand this of a show that's likely going to be more or less a slice of life, but the first episode of Elegant Yokai Apartment Life mostly just left me wondering what the hook is supposed to be. The show's premise is “Inaba is a new high school student who is forced to move into a dorm a dorm where youkai live,” and this episode mostly just… restated that? Inaba is a new high schooler, he moves to an apartment, there are some youkai there. Cue credits.
Perhaps the more pertinent issue, then, is how Yokai Apartment Life fails to sell itself on either fantasy or slice of life terms. Judging by the finale's “I've found myself somewhere amazing” coda, you're likely supposed to find Inaba's spooky apartment to be its own reward. Unfortunately, Yokai Apartment Life lacks either the aesthetic chops or sense of dramatic intrigue necessary to really sell his new digs as a place worth exploring. The sequences intended to create a spooky tone are all too clumsily executed to evoke much tension, and all the yokai designs are simple, cartoonish things that don't inspire fear, wonder, or much of anything. This entire episode is also constructed around Inaba's very, very slow realization that he's surrounded by ghosts, a dramatic choice that left me simply wishing for the show to get on with it from the halfway point.
As a pure slice of life, things are just a teensy bit better. There's no real comedy to speak of in this episode, so the show's presumable slice of life appeal has to rest on the atmosphere (which, given the mediocre execution, is pretty sterile) and the characters. Inaba himself is a fairly bland everyman, and this episode unfortunately didn't give us any specific thread to invest in regarding him - his goal is simply to “become a businessman,” and if his time at a yokai apartment eventually instills him with some kind of interesting goal or thematic drive, that wasn't apparent here. It's likely his unhappy origins will eventually lead this into some kind of “found family” direction, but this episode didn't really take advantage of that. Fellows tenants Akine and Isshiki are slightly more interesting (and each of them smartly offer a character-specific direction to explore youkai from), but are still mostly just “pleasant.” No one really stole the show here, and most of the cast's conversations were strictly functional.
Overall, I'm left entirely indifferent to Elegant Yokai Apartment Life. The show isn't actively bad, but it's not really actively anything - it lacks the character writing, comedy, or atmosphere you generally associate with a slice of life, but doesn't have anything else going for it either. If you're looking for a very mellow breather with a slight supernatural bent, try… well, Flying Witch or Natsume's Book of Friends. There really isn't much to see here.
I feel like I've seen Elegant Yokai Apartment Life before, albeit without the yokai. Its initial setup has a lot in common with The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior: first-year high school guy moves into an apartment building in the hopes of living on his own, only to find out that he's surrounded by crazy neighbors. Even some of the supporting characters fit into similar roles, like the upperclassman love interest and the sketchy yet reliable writer guy. Adding a collection of ghosts to the mix does help to spice up the formula, but this is still a “quirky neighbors” comedy at heart.
As far as humor goes, this first episode didn't really blow me away. It has its moments, like the swift cut to the smoldering ruins of Yushi's high school dorm just as he starts celebrating his first chance at independence. For the most part, however, the timing and delivery just aren't sharp enough to venture into truly funny territory. It takes a little too long for Yushi to end up at the yokai apartment building, and most of the initial haunted house antics are too predictable to catch the viewer by surprise. The episode is mildly amusing throughout its running time, but I don't think this show has found its comedic voice just yet.
There's also room for improvement as far as the supernatural elements are concerned. Compared to a genre standard-bearer like Natsume Yujin-cho, the yokai designs in this episode don't really stand out; most of them are just generic, ghostly humanoids. By the same token, the atmosphere could stand to be stronger; I never really got that otherworldly feeling of entering a place full of spirits. If this series is going to make best use of its yokai characters, then it will need to pay more attention to how they're presented to the audience.
I wouldn't call Elegant Yokai Apartment Life a lost cause just yet; the show has potential despite getting off to an underwhelming start. Yushi makes for a perfectly decent protagonist, and our initial glimpses of his backstory imply that this series may be able to mix an emotional appeal in with all the comedy. The opening and ending sequences feature some colorful-looking characters who have yet to be introduced, and a fun supporting cast would go a long way towards giving this show more of a personality. The best option here might be to give this one another week to lay its cards on the table before making a final decision.
Have you ever heard the old saw that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is? Poor Yushi Inaba is about to find out the truth of that when his dorm burns down and he ends up taking a room in an apartment building primarily for yokai and those who are somehow involved with them. Of course, taking housing advice from a ghost child probably wasn't his smartest move, but in his defense, he was desperate to move out of his uncle's house, and there's that other saying about any port in a storm…
Elegant Yokai Apartment Life doesn't waste any time setting up its premise of an ordinary high school boy living in extraordinary circumstances, but it does so without making it feel rushed or overly condensed. When Yushi tells his almost-definitely-a-yokai friend that he's glad he can move out of his uncle's house, we immediately get a shot of his cousin Erika, letting us know precisely why he's so eager to leave. We don't know the specifics until later in the episode, when it turns out that she resents her orphaned cousin's presence in her home, and that really works. It gives us a hint and a reason to keep watching, small though it may be, and when the truth is revealed, the episode still takes its time without truly spelling it out – Yushi's aunt seems okay with him staying, his uncle coldly ambivalent, and Erika actively irritated. Living with this family dynamic when you've already lost your parents can't be easy, and Yushi's need to get out begins to read more like desperation, which certainly gives him a solid reason to stay at a place that thus far scares the crap out of him.
While we've really only met two residents formally thus far (three if you count the ghost boy and his ghost dog), it's looking like this will be a more character-driven story, focusing on Yushi finding a place he can call home after three years of living without one. Already his new exorcist friend has shown him more warmth and respect than his actual family, immediately pulling out the memorials for his parents and lighting incense for them, and his favorite author, who I'm 80% sure is some sort of kitsune, appears genuinely concerned for his well-being even as he offers no placid reassurances about living with yokai – if he can do it, great, if not, he'll help him pack. I am a little concerned that there are so many characters being introduced in the theme songs, but with any luck they'll mostly be background flavor. (And if I'm really lucky, Busty Beer Drinking Lady won't be a main character, because she already annoys me.)
It's tempting to compare this to Inu x Boku Secret Service in its setup, and the theme of someone finding a place and people to belong with does seem potentially similar. Elegant Yokai Apartment Life's first episode looks like it could strike a balance between humor and pathos, to say nothing of folklore, and that sounds like a good combination to me. This isn't perfect (there are some seriously weird shots of Yushi sitting on the ground among other visual glitches), but I'm definitely looking forward to giving it a second episode.
In many ways, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life offers a refreshing change of pace in comparison to what we've gotten from the season so far. So many of the new premieres, even the good ones, seem determined to throw as much action and exposition and setup at the screen at once, it can be a little overwhelming. Apartment Life serves as a counterpoint to those series, giving us a first episode that takes its time to set up its characters and world, slowly introducing us to the spooky new digs our hero Yushi has procured, as both he and the audience soak in the fact that this seemingly perfect abode is actually filled to the brim with otherworldly spirits.
It's the kind of low-key, gently comedic setup that has fueled hundreds of episodes of sitcoms past, and Elegant Yokai Apartment Life seems geared to settle into that traditional mode fairly quickly. Yushi himself serves as our stalwart straight man, a good kid with promising prospects who just wants to move out of his aunt and uncle's house and live on his own as he goes into high school. Mischievous author Isshiki Reimei serves as a charming comic foil, and the young exorcist Akine rounds out the cast nicely as well. Both of these two are very solidly cast the archetypical mold of Sitcom Roommates, but they work well in their roles and I can see their rapport with Yushi becoming charming and endearing as the series progresses. While none of the gags here are necessarily hilarious, there aren't any groaners either. This kind of fish-out-of-water comedy is pretty easy to get right, especially when Japanese media has such a storied history of pairing the supernatural with the mundane in the quest for yuks.
Really, the biggest factor that might turn people away from this show would be its modest ambitions. Both artistically and in regard to its script, Apartment Life is content to be merely average. The animation and art design is just passable enough to keep the show going from scene to scene, which is perfectly fine, though one would hope for a bit more imagination and artistic flourish when so many fantastical elements are involved. The designs of the ghosts, ghouls, and miscellaneous yokai are all surprisingly basic and predictable takes on creatures that can literally take on any form the imagination can conjure. I'm not necessarily expecting Ghibli level work for a television series like this, especially when it's obviously being made on a budget, but a bit more polish and inventiveness when it comes to these supernatural scenarios would only help this otherwise average comedy stand out that much more.
The premise for this series is classic: a young man who's never believed in the supernatural suddenly quite squarely finds himself living amongst them, and even the (apparent) humans that he lives with have some degree or another of association with the supernatural themselves. (Of the humans that he has encountered so far, one is an exorcist-in-training and another is a writer who probably uses the supernatural inhabitants as fodder for his books. The opener and Next Episode preview indicate that more will be appearing shortly.) His personal situation dictates that moving anywhere else isn't a realistic option, either, so he's just going to have to put up with it. None of the yokai seem particularly threatening, though, so the scenario essentially boils down to a supernatural version of the “living in an apartment building with wacky neighbors” gimmick that's been a staple of sitcoms, both in anime and out, for decades.
With such an ordinary premise, the execution will entirely determine the worthiness of the series. I'm happy to say that, based on the first episode, the series shows a lot of promise in that regard. Studio Shin-Ei Animation tends to specialize in long-running family-friendly series (like the Doreamon and Crayon Shin-chan franchises), but the look and feel of this series clearly skews more towards a teen and older audience. It features clean, highly attractive character designs for both genders which show some shojo influence, respectable animation, and nicely-detailed background art which make the apartment building nearly as much of a featured character as Inaba is. Also, the writing smoothly and succinctly lays out Inaba's situation without info-dumping in the slightest; for instance, we don't learn why Inaba has been living with his uncle's family until Akine comes across memorial tokens for his parents while helping him unpack. A lot of other series – including some ones which have already debuted this season! – could learn a thing or two from the writing here. Inaba is also a perfectly likable and understandable guy with a good male friend, while Akine shows promise as a female friend and the author should make a good adult guide to the situation. The yokai look like a broadly diverse bunch, too, and at least some look like they could have interesting stories; the ghost boy with his ghost dog is particularly intriguing, for instance.
So yeah, this one isn't doing anything too special, but it's doing about as well as could be hoped for.
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