The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Fuuka
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Yuu Haruna has just moved to Tokyo with his younger sister. Their parents have accepted an overseas position for work, and rather than take their two kids along, it's been decided that Yuu and Chitose will move in with older sisters Hibiki and Maya in the city. This means that Yuu, already a bit shy, is being forced to start over at a new school in a new town. While tweeting about it on the street, he has an encounter with a vibrant girl named Fuuka Akitsuki. Fuuka accuses him of taking upskirt photos both at their first meeting and later at school, breaking one of his phones and causing him to lose its replacement. After she realizes that she acted rashly, and later when Yuu tries to “save” her from aggressive team recruitment, Fuuka decides that Yuu's not so bad. Are the two destined to become a couple? And does Yuu have any say in the matter? Fūka is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Yu Haruna is a shy boring teenaged boy living out his shy boring teenaged boy life. He's addicted to Twitter, and spends all day uploading pictures of his life for his followers. One day, while he's documenting himself walking down the street, he's mistaken for accidentally taking an upskirt shot of a young woman running past him. In retaliation, the woman – who comes, in his words, “wrapped in a summer breeze” – smashes his phone and runs off. This tumultuous encounter, which leaves Yu reeling on the pavement, turns out to be the beginning of their love story. As it happens, he's just transferred into her high school class, so they'll be be seeing each other every day. After a few more awkward encounters, the young woman – whose name is Fuuka – takes a liking to Yu's kind nature, and the two stumble into dating. A boisterous, tempestuous, and plain-hearted young woman, Fuuka livens up Yu's dull life. She's a prodigious runner (in fact, she's her parents are the main characters of another manga, the track-and-field romance Suzuka) but feels constrained by her talents. Instead, her heart's desire is to sing. A gale of a human being, it looks like she'll rope Yu into her ambitions, launching them both on the path towards light-music superstardom.
Based on these first two episodes, Fuuka looks to be a simple story about teenagers falling in love and chasing their dreams. When it comes to anime, Fuuka's actually a bit of an outlier for teen romance that it doesn't seem to have some sort of fantastical gimmick. There's a metric butt-ton of anime about high schoolers wading into relationship drama for the first time, but most of them try to spice things up by making them all vampires or something. Not Fuuka, though – this is vanilla teen love, only to be livened up by a bit of Band Stuff once that subplot gets off of the ground. I could see this relative realism (emphasis on the word relative) coming off as either boring or refreshing, depending on what a person wants out of their escapist romance. While I'm not super into it personally, I can see how someone could enjoy this. There's a slight whiff of Jun Maeda's style in this show, with its poppy musical fixations, earnest teen love, and reliance on narrative convenience. If you'd be into a (much) lower-rent version of the ideas and visual styles on display in Angel Beats! or Charlotte, then there's something here for you. If not, then I wouldn't recommend it.
As for the dub, Aaron Dismuke and Jill Harris are generally solid as the leads, minus a few awkward line reads here and there. I'd like to hear more of Jill Harris' singing voice before solidifying my decision on her, however – the snippet we received at the end of the second episode sounded a little rough for someone who's supposed to have a prodigious voice. Her speaking voice is fine, however, riding the show's general edge between normalcy and mild quirk. With the exception of Fuuka's bit, Funimation has decided to keep the songs in Japanese. I don't mind it, but I do wonder how consistent they'll be – so far it's only affected Koyuki, but Fuuka herself will be getting a proper song in a few episode. The weakest part of this dub is easily Yu's sisters. As comic relief/fanservice characters, they're given obnoxious screechy voices. The sisters were already the worst part of the show, but this dub rendition takes them to another level. Fortunately, they're not in it all that much. So far, Fuuka's dub is passable, but not outstanding.
Little more than a minute into the first episode one of the tritest lines in all of anime gets spoken:
“You saw it, didn't you?”
Yeah, it doesn't take long at all for this one to get to the “classic” scene of a guy getting smacked by a girl for accidentally seeing her panties. Never mind that it was her fault that she was in that position because she was running recklessly. Never mind that the guy did the decent thing and looked away immediately. If I could watch anime without ever seeing one certain type of scene again, this would probably be it. (Now, mind you, this doesn't apply to cases where the guy actually is at fault and/or is being inconsiderate.) And of course the guy doesn't get more than temporarily bothered by it because hey, it was a cute girl doing it.
Fortunately the first two episodes are able to overcome that bad first impression, though the scene does set the tone for regular mild doses of fan service. (The protagonist's sisters hanging out underdressed in his presence seems to be a running joke, but Fuuka also gets involved in it, too.) The first episode overall leaves the impression of a classic “guy finds himself gradually becoming fascinated by the aggressive weird girl” scenario, and the second episode expand that out in the direction of a clear developing love triangle. The second episode also makes it clear (if the opener and the closer for the first episode didn't) that this is going to be a heavily musically-themed series, as we see the possible beginnings of the band that is playing in the opener. Given that one of the main female characters is an established idol and the other looks like an up-and-coming lead singer for a band, some juicy potential for romantic conflict is in the air.
Mind you, none of this is done in an extraordinarily fresh or compelling fashion, and none of these are fresh characters, but Fuuka has just enough pushy charm, enough irony is in play, and the writing sells just enough of a message about trying to find one's passion to pull it off. A great opener, which is partially animated to a band performing the opening song, also helps, as do some solid technical merits courtesy of diomedia.
Ultimately my enthusiasm for continuing with this series could be influenced by how dense Yuu turns out to be about the potential romances starting to swirl around him. (Hmmm, a female childhood friend you haven't seen in years who's become a successful idol calls you out of the blue? Not suspicious at all.) But despite the onerous start there's at least some potential here.
In a world of anime populated by elaborate harem scenarios and star-crossed fantastical romances fueled entirely by angst, it's downright quaint to get an old-fashioned teen romance between two moody kids with relatively normal problems and simple lives. If nothing else, Fuuka definitely feels like it's calling back to a simpler time and simpler audience demands. Given enough time, everything old can feel new again.
Allure of simplicity aside, it's always been my impression that if you've seen one Kouji Seo joint, you've seen 'em all. I couldn't make it through Suzuka back in the day, and I'm not sure I'd personally have the patience for Fuuka either. Basic teen angst definitely has its draw as an aesthetic, but if the characters are just going to be garden-variety obnoxious high schoolers, I won't deny that I prefer the extra kick that a supernatural twist or other juicy hook can provide. It would be different if this show was an in-depth exploration of complex feelings between adolescent characters, but Seo has never proven to be interested in that kind of writing. He's a man of simple tastes from what I can tell, who carved his niche in romance by writing basic teen dramas mired in the melodrama of love, just aimed more directly at a male audience than the female audience that tends to dominate that genre sphere.
It's a perfectly solid niche to occupy, somebody's gotta do it, but with that knowledge in mind, I'd say Fuuka is made for dudes who enjoy shallow yet satisfying teen romance that's angled more to their perspective than all the shojo standards aimed at girls. For that audience, shows like this probably don't come along often enough, and I'm sure they'll enjoy it. For everyone else, if Seo's past work is any indication, this is going to be the most basic teen romance premise stretched thin over familiar-yet-flat character types who'll waffle around in a love triangle until Seo's had enough of making mountains out of molehills and pairs them off. Make of that what you will, and maybe you can make room for this in your anime viewing schedule if something better doesn't come along. This season looks like a sparse one.
It's a tale as old as anime: bland guy meets charismatic girl, and they usually end up together after surviving a few dozen ridiculous plot twists. Fuuka may be working straight from the romantic comedy playbook, but its execution is solid enough to make a decent first impression. Not a stellar first impression, mind you, but one that's good enough to give a show a chance.
Yuu is as much of a wet noodle as any other male lead in this genre, and his constant use of his smartphone practically screams, “Hey, I'm a modern kid just like you, audience!” The good news is that he's at least a reasonably well-written wet noodle, observant enough to notice what's going on around him but awkward enough that he doesn't always know how to respond. For her part, Fuuka is blunt and forward without coming across as a one-note character. There's enough charm in her quirks to sell the idea of Yuu falling for her, which is always crucial in a series like this. There are some early signs of depth from both of them, so it looks like we have a mildly interesting central couple on our hands.
Not everything works as well as the main characters, and the story in particular has me concerned at the moment. Even in the first episode, we see a couple of boneheaded rom-com plot points, and watching Yuu and Fuuka walk around in circles trying to find one another made me want to punch something. The series also seems to lack any kind of subtlety when it comes to fanservice, as it feels the need to write in dialogue pointing out whenever a character's underwear is visible. Trust me, any viewer with a functioning pair of eyeballs would've noticed the fanservice without any help from the script.
It's usually tough to tell how a romance series will play out based on first impressions alone, and Fuuka is enough of a mixed bag that I have my share of worries. On the other hand, the leads seem likable and the show is doing all right so far. As long as it doesn't go off the deep end with teenage angst and tragic childhood memories, it should at least be a serviceable romantic comedy.
Fuuka's first episode does not have a particularly auspicious start. Opening with our protagonist Yuu Hajime absorbed in his phone, it presents one of the most classic and played-out of romcom tropes: the boy and girl literally smashing into each other. Yuu is run over by heroine Fuuka Akitsuki, followed by a panty flash, an accusation of Yuu taking pictures, and an angry shout of “pervert!” accompanied by violence. It's a routine scene that anyone who's watched a decent number of anime will likely have seen before.
Fortunately, the show picks up pretty substantially from there. Fuuka's first episode is mostly just romantic drama setup, but it is significantly elevated by the fact that both Yuu and Fuuka seem to have actual personalities. Yuu is shy and insecure, and the ways the show articulates that feel human and endearing. He spends most of his time cataloging his thoughts on twitter, is relatively confident among his family members, but ends up mumbling over himself when forced to talk to classmates. And when he does something embarrassing, he actually obsesses over it, presenting an altogether solid portrait of a tech-savvy but socially immature person.
In contrast, Fuuka feels loud and confident in a way that only sometimes falls into typical tsundere routines. The two start off on stereotypically antagonistic footing, but she's soon opening up about her love of music, and expressing a solid mix of clear desires and romantic uncertainty. Fuuka actually asks Yuu out on a date, and responds to his “we're not a couple” at the end with a “we don't know that yet.” It's refreshing to see an anime romance where the girl is pursuing what she wants like an actual teenager.
So far, that's about all there is to Fuuka. The show has a clean look, but isn't particularly striking in either visual design or animation. The story isn't particularly inventive or propulsive, but the characters feel like reasonable people. If you can handle a few cliche moments and some random fanservice, Fuuka seems like an all-around competent romance.
Fuuka is the latest anime series to be based on the manga of Kouji Seo, who previously gave us Suzuka and A Town Where You Live – and you can tell. Like all of Seo's works, Fuuka follows the romantic saga of a young man who has recently moved to a new town (Tokyo, of course), has an encounter with a girl who is maybe one step away from a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and finds himself pulled into her orbit. That by itself doesn't make for a lackluster story – after all, it's a formula that's been working for decades in the rom-com world. What does make this a less than thrilling first episode is how very little it tries to do anything but follow the formula. Fuuka even looks like Suzuka, from the short blue hair to her athletic movements, and Yuu's addiction to tweeting his life is about all that thus far sets him apart from his fellows.
If you like this basic story, however, Fuuka does appear to be moving along at a nice pace. When Yuu's eldest sister Maya gives him tickets to a romantic movie that Fuuka wants to see, she convinces him to take her to it, letting it slip at the end that she's interested in seeing if they can develop a romance. That's a nice little change from the boy having to do all of the pursuing, and despite Fuuka's certainty that boys are trying to snap pics of her underwear (hint: if that makes you nervous, wear a longer skirt), she's generally sunny and uninhibited. Of course, these are characteristics that contribute to her obvious quirkiness; others include the fact that she doesn't own a cell phone and she prefers to listen to her music on CD. Yuu seems to find these more irritating than endearing at this point, and it will be interesting to see if her forwardness ultimately turns him off, especially once childhood-friend-turned-idol-singer appears in episode two.
Although there are some really weird looking scenes of walking and one head-bangingly stupid moment of Fuuka and Yuu circling the Hachiko statue in Shibuya trying to find each other, for the most part this is a fairly pretty episode, with decent animation and a soft color scheme. The fanservice feels a little forced, with Fuuka's skirt flipping up and Yuu's sisters inexplicably lounging around in their underwear (or Yuu's inexplicable discomfort with seeing his sisters, depending on how you feel about it), but not to the point where there are boobs jiggling all over the place or an incessant wind keeping skirts lifted. On the whole, this feels like the serviceable start to a very basic romance of the kind that we've seen or read before, even from the same author. While it may very well get increasingly frustrating as it goes on, right now this is looking like romance comfort food that isn't interested in playing with the recipe.
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