The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Seiren
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Shoichi Kanata is in his second year of high school and beginning to face the fact that he's going to have to choose a career path sooner rather than later. His best friend Ikuo, who is much more academic than him, suggests studying harder so college can be an option, his teacher thinks he should be a mangaka because he likes stag beetles, and Shoichi himself is just floundering. Fed up with the teasing he gets from popular girl Hikari, he decides to change himself and study hard. But for some reason he can't stop thinking about Hikari, who's off at the beach while he's at a mountain study camp. So what will he do when Hikari suddenly shows up at his bedroom window in the mountains? Seiren is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 1:00 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Rating: 3To say that Seiren is a slow burn is a bit of an understatement. The pace of the series is deathly slow, with dialogue that meanders along with few endpoints in sight. In a way, this adds a touch of reality to the characters. Humans often think in rambling, open-ended ways, especially when it comes to idle thoughts like crushes, vacation plans, and even the future. But even though this fragmented narrative structure might be a little more true to life, it doesn't always make for easy viewing. Some of the scenes feel extraneous, while others take their sweet, sweet time getting to the pay-off. Others are just the insecure thoughts of teenage boys, weighing the various pros and cons of different social interactions. It's interesting that the episode is titled "Decision," because over the course of the 22 minutes, lead male Shoichi actually makes several. The big one is going to summer study camp, of course, but along the way he ponders other things—whether to say something about a friend's Decision to go on a trip with a girl who has a boyfriend; whether to sit at the lunch table of a girl who will undoubtedly ridicule him. These seem like insignificant decisions, but to Shoichi, they matter a great deal in the moment.
Such is the subtle charm of Seiren. It has a quiet maturity that only comes from having carefully analyzed one's own teenage angst. Between the stress of just being a hopelessly awkward teen, to staring down the endless corridor that is one's future, the show makes Shoichi easy to relate to, even if he's not necessarily likeable. The other characters have a certain charm, too, even the meaner ones. It's schoolyard drama at its most believable, even if the drama is so low key as to barely be perceptible.
The character designs are pleasant too, although truth be told, I had a really difficult time telling some of the girls apart, especially since their hair was so similar. I appreciated the more realistic designs over the usual candy-pop anime hair palettes, but it will probably take me a few episodes to get used to everyone.
Seiren may not be the best show for people who want a lot of melodrama and action in their entertainment, but for those who want their romances stretched out over an entire season, or who just want something to throw on while they're relaxing, this may be a good choice.
Seiren is the second high school romance to land this season, and it feels like it's in less of a hurry than Fuuka. Instead of hustling along to send the main characters on their first date, this episode is more concerned with introducing the cast and comparing their plans for the future. As leading guy Shoichi searches for a clear path forward, he allows us to see what everyone else's priorities are. There are positives and negatives to this less urgent approach, and the way they balance out will depend on what you're looking for in a romance series.
On the upside, Seiren looks to be pretty good at making its characters sound and act like real people. The script has a good ear for dialogue, which lets characters' thoughts come out naturally in their conversations without the need to force an artificial “here's what I think” moment. The result is a believable group of high school kids who have different points of view but aren't necessarily divided up into protagonists and antagonists. There's some good chemistry here, and not just between Shoichi and love interest number one Hikari. If things do eventually start to get emotionally charged, all of this early setup should pay off nicely.
Of course, that's assuming the story actually goes anywhere. This laid-back pacing leaves the first episode feeling unfocused and a bit meandering. We have a theme of growing up and falling in love, but not much of a conflict beyond Shoichi's uncertain feelings for Hikari. Unless Seiren starts putting some genuine obstacles in front of its characters, it runs the risk of coming up short on dramatic impact. Even a pleasant story about two characters starting a relationship needs at least a little bit of tension to keep it interesting.
If you're looking for a romance series with a more thoughtful approach and don't mind a relative lack of drama, Seiren might be the one for you. If brisk pacing is more your thing, then I'd stick with Fuuka. These are first impressions, though, and there's plenty of time for either series to fill in its particular gaps. For now, let's just be happy that we have at least two teenage love stories that haven't gone all in on the old harem setup.
When I said in my preview for Fuuka that we don't get this sort of "shojo for boys" very often and its fans would probably like to see more of it, I didn't realize that we would get another one only a day later! Anyway, here we are. Just like Fuuka, this is a "romance for teen boys" that dabbles in shallow melodrama and vicarious feelings of love without indulging in the otaku trappings of fantasy or ecchi that usually accompany guy-meets-girl (along with five other girls) stories made for anime. (They're also both made by a couple of the few well-known names working in this genre, Fuuka from a manga-ka and Seiren from a bishoujo game writer.) Even the fanservice (in both Fuuka and Seiren) feels like sex appeal in a more conventional sense, with more human proportions, body language, and less outlandish fetishes on display for cheesecake. It's a standard teen romance formula that hews much closer to reality and just happens to be animated, while never going quite far enough into that realistic aesthetic to break the teen-aimed veneer of vicarious escapism. So if you're looking for either a thoughtful character study or a harem populated with more familiar anime tropes, there are dozens of other options out there, but this ain't that. Seiren is a rare "vanilla love story made for boys" in anime.
Unfortunately, it's also deathly dull. I mean, Seiren is B O R I N G. It stars a nice boring boy with nothing interesting going on in his nice boring life, gradually falling in love with a series of nice boring girls, with just enough artifice layered over the top to avoid delving into more complex or honest emotions. I'm glad that male fans of romance have a few shows aimed at them this season (Masamune-kun's Revenge also counts, although it has a lot more "anime flavor" to it), but I find most low-key shojo aimed at girls pretty boring too, so inverting the intended audience didn't do much to keep me awake on this one.
Frankly, even when I don't like the end result, I do appreciate what otaku culture did for anime romance by making it fantastically insane. Moe and monster girls can occasionally be terrible, but they aren't really boring, at least not this boring. And while I appreciate seeing the female form represented in more respectful ways through Seiren's tamer and more realistic fanservice, if we're all just getting off either way, I guess I'd rather be flabbergasted with the audacity of somebody's fetishes than bored out of my gourd. Ah well. Seiren is a romance for nerd dudes with all the nerd stuff removed. If that sounds refreshing to you, you've got a couple options to choose from this season, but I guess I'd marginally recommend Fuuka over Seiren due to its slightly faster pace and slight increase in melodrama.
Here's the simple acid test: if you were a fan of KimiKiss or especially Amagami SS, the probability is very high that you will like this one, too. What's shown in the first episode of Seiren has a very similar speed and feel to both of those works – which probably shouldn't be surprising, given that the creator, writer, and character designer for this work also worked extensively on Amagami SS (including the character designs, which are so similar in style to the ones in this series that the two might well be set in the same world). Like SS, this one is even advertised as being broken up into four episode arcs, with the protagonist getting a chance to court each of the three different girls featured in the closer. The only question is whether this will be done in serial form or the story will be reset each time and go down a different path, as if this were actually based on a visual novel.
For those not familiar with the previous works, this is a mostly-serious but also somewhat playful romantic tale centered on a young man who is at something of a crossroads in his life. He is going to interact with many very pretty girls with varying degrees of friendliness towards him, including a sibling who is not intended to be a romantic interest. Eventually, after various minor trials, tribulations, and possible misunderstandings, he'll firmly hook up with one of the girls, usually with the result of them still being together years later. This is not going to be a fan service affair – SS was rated TV-PG for its American release, and I expect no different here – and won't have much if anything for big laughs, so the entertainment value will be in the character interactions and pretty character designs. Everything about the first episode is consistent with this.
Fortunately creator/writer Kisai Takayama has a proven track record when it comes to writing character dialog and interactions, making this a vastly superior work to the awkward Schoolgirl Strikers in that sense. Director Tomoki Kobayashi also teamed up with him on SS, so you can be assured that the pacing and scene framing is carried over, too. Technical merits are nothing too special but are consistent and clean.
Seiren does not look like it is going to be one of the more exciting titles of the season, but if you want something low-key that you can relax to, it should work just fine.
Seiren seems to be taking a somewhat unusual structural approach - like Amagami SS, it's presenting an anthology of romantic comedies, with separate arcs for each of the main girls. I generally find this to be the preferred approach for adapting route-based visual novels, but Seiren's an original project, making it even more unique. This first episode introduces us to one soon-to-be couple of second year high schoolers: Shoichi Kamata and Hikari Tsuneki.
Structure aside, so far the most noteworthy things about Seiren are its oddly believable dialogue and its carefree approach to narrative structure. The two are somewhat intertwined; in Seiren, conversations often seem to be their own reward, as characters ramble about their idle dreams (“I'm gonna become a child-rearing idol”) and mess with their friends and generally enjoy their high school life. I'm actually a big fan of this approach. Essentially the one thing Seiren is truly trying to sell us on is the chemistry between Shoichi and Hikari, and letting both of them have enough loose conversations to develop textured personalities is one of the best ways to get there. Seiren's conversations and even plotting feel unstructured in a way that makes it feel a bit more grounded than its romcom contemporaries - all of its characters seem full of random thoughts, giving them a sense of unpredictability and humanity.
Seiren's rambling narrative also does mean it feels a bit unfocused. I liked how this episode presented a wide range of perspectives on shifting from high school to adult life, but there wasn't much of a sense of dramatic congruity in Shoichi's path to a summer study retreat. His Decision to better himself was prompted by his respect for Hikari, but with only a couple conversations between them, we're not given enough material to make his choices seem meaningful. Seiren's character-first approach, full of conversations that wander and seemingly purposeless moments, means it risks coming across as less a story than a series of disjointed events.
The show's authorial perspective and consistent fanservice also make it a little harder to embrace this romance on its own terms. There's a voyeuristic undercurrent to the show's framing that makes it feel like Hikari is often being presented specifically for the audience's enjoyment, which isn't unusual in this sort of show, but still undercuts the narrative's romantic pretensions. But overall, Seiren's flavorful dialogue, reasonable characters, and unique structure keep me intrigued enough to give this one another episode.
Welcome to the second romance of the season, SEIREN. Despite appearances, it doesn't appear to be based on a dating sim or visual novel – it's just made the Decision to give protagonist Shoichi Kamita three different storylines with three different girls, which actually might make the show fairly interesting, particularly if you end up not liking one of them; whichever storyline you prefer can be the “real” one. It's a gimmick that I admit I enjoy, and this first route, with bubbly Hikari, does introduce a good number of other girls who may end up being Shoichi's second and third plotlines without fully indicating which it will be. As long as his older sister Moe isn't one of them, this could be fun.
Despite this set up, if you have a short attention span this still might not be for you. The first episode moves pretty slowly, with a lot of lingering close-ups on Shoichi's face, which feels a little strange since he seems to go between roughly two facial expressions. (Best bud Ikuo actually has a more interesting character design.) Hikari's advances towards him seem to be based on teasing him since she caught him looking at the moisture left behind when she was sitting on his desk (sweat, presumably), and later using him for her own ends when she hears Ikuo is tutoring him in Classic Literature. For his part, Shoichi's interest in her feel entirely due to the fact that she paid attention to him. For a high school romance, that's actually not a bad reason, but with a limited episode count, there's going to need to be some faster development pretty soon. Of course, since the episode ends with a scantily clad, dripping wet Hikari climbing in Shoichi's window, we probably don't have to worry.
There's definitely a sense that this is for a slightly more mature audience than the typical male-oriented romance. Simply the damp outline of Hikari's thighs and butt on the desk is something both more adult and more subtle than we often see, and there hasn't been a single panty shot despite plentiful legs and short skirts. This could give the show an edge in that it teases rather than displays; even Shoichi's fantasy of Hikari at the beach eating meat is on the subtle side, with her in a one piece bathing suit rather than a bikini. That's not to say that it isn't suggestive – it just isn't quite as in-your-face as it could have been, which is true of the entire episode.
There's definitely some potential here. Right now the relatively slow pace and the fact that Ikuo seems like a more interesting character (and possibly one with more chemistry with Shoichi than the girls; I'm reminded of a certain scene in Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun), but all of that could change. This feels worth keeping an eye on in the romance department.
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